Guest Post: Afton Wilky on Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea


Hi all. I’m really excited that you’re participating in a multimedia “writing” workshop—there are tons of possibilities and I know you all are going to make amazing pieces. I wanted to share some thoughts and questions about process which began my book project—a project I like to call a material narrative / a narrative of material.

One of the most invigorating things for me about contemporary writing and art is the attention to process (a.k.a. praxis). When we consider the way something is made as part of the content, a very different narrative becomes important.

This narrative of material and the artist/writer and the way it parallels the kind of narrative you’re used to seeing in a novel, movie, or TV-show was one of the things I was able to explore through my project, Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea. But of course I didn’t know I was doing that at the beginning at all. I had all sorts of ideas about collage and even taking photographs of miniature vignettes I’d construct. Most importantly, I was making things and asking “what if I did this.”

Because I didn’t know how the shift would change the project I was developing, I can’t even tell you exactly how I got from collaging, where you’re cutting up and adding material to a surface to the cutout poems, where I’d cut material out of something that was already seen as complete. The process is basically a variation of erasures, but the main difference is apparent when we start seeing the process used to make these poems in a narrative or significant way.

If we start articulating what’s going on in the two processes, erasure and cutout, we can read the differences in what’s being done to the material.

• Erasure marks out words and letters by adding ink or paint on top of what’s there while cutout detaches and removes parts.
• Erasure leaves the original page whole while cutout makes the page very fragile.
• Both erasure and cutout indicate the position of what has been taken away in the way a map does. In this way they both reveal their process.
• Both change the original significance of the text.
So recognizing these differences of process, actually gives us a lot of information about what we mean by “erasing.” When we start to put words to what we see happening then a whole level of significance emerges. More importantly, we can see another space of possibility for our work to explore.

The other important thing to remember is that we’re not just experimenting on inanimate material—the actions we perform as writers and artists are manipulations of our bodies. And text too, what happens when I start manipulating pronouns by cutting the “s” out of “she” in order to make “_he.” That’s not the same as “he” at all, is it?

And aren’t pronouns themselves a kind of erasing of the body? They take away the particulars—almost anyone can step into the position set up by a pronoun. It’s a kind of echo chamber in which anything might occur and accrue.

What happens when we start to think of social and linguistic erasures where the trace of erasing is wiped out and lost?
What happens when we make the thing we want to talk about, call attention to, and/or understand?

What happens when we take the thing we thought we wanted to throw away and make it something?

As you can see, to start a project you don’t need any complex system or insightful idea. You can just start making things and as you go along you ask yourself “what if” questions about what your doing. Or questions like “how am I getting from point A to point B.” If you’re doing something like this, the project gets complex and really interesting gradually. You get to know your material, start asking even more interesting questions, and make really interesting observations that compound each other, etc.

After reading this, I hope you want to try to develop your own method of erasure. What are you going to erase with? How are you going to erase? What are you going to erase? Why are you going to erase from it / all of it / out of it? Will we be able to tell what’s been done?

As a sort of inversion of the process of erasure, here’s additional / alternative prompt:

Go someplace you’ve never been before and stay there for at least 20 minutes.
OR Go someplace you’ve been to with your car using an alternative mode of transportation.
OR Go someplace you’ve been to with your car and get out of the car and stay there for at least 20 minutes.
Record your experiences and thoughts in some way.