10 December 2012


j/j hastain is a performance artist, photographer, musician, and writer living in Boulder, CO, as  well as the author of several books and chapbooks of poetry. j/j's most recent collection cadences (Triton Books, 2012) explores the confluence of language and the body in order to “invent then arrange” the “infinite refractions” both through a series of longer poems and lyric essay that read as “strange, misty sequences.” hastain kindly took some time via email to answer some questions for me about the book.

In the afterward to cadences, you mention that the book works with "language in an attempt at making new constructions that refuse binary norms and enable multiplicity." Could you explain, perhaps in a bit more detail and pointing to particular instances, how specific language in cadences achieves this goal?

Thank you! I would say that as much as cadences attempts this goal of enabling multiplicity and refusing (torqueing, altering) binary norms, it “achieves” it. I would love to explain how the attempts/intents work/ed for me.

First off, the entire book is a large scale progression from what could be termed poetry to what could be termed prose. By poetry (called “divergent virago” in cadences (eg: “shared/we are/coming/to identify as a realm wherein/the vivid feels”)) I mean, pages whose obsessions include line breaks. By prose (called “cultivating cadences to invert the given creed” in cadences (eg: “on that brink or this one, compressed and drenched feathers are often mistaken for human blood”)) I mean pages whose obsessions include the flow of language, the elongation of lines into stretches in a continuity. There is a middle section of the book (called “in desperate pursuit of non-vaginal virginities or “now that we are here what other ways are there for us to cross”” in cadences (eg: “It helps to not be able to see the sky or the ground. Instead such concentrated elaborate mid. A marsupium unearthing. We/ eat phallic shapes/ in public”)) that blends both of the above stated obsessions. I see the mid-book as a location that expresses a healthy refute/alternate to the poetry/prose binary.

cadences was composed in the above stated regard intentionally, in order to provide and establish a path (parallel) to enable embodied examination of the binaries of masculine/feminine and male/female. It was important to me that the poetry/prose binary be turned into a poetry-third thing-prose place (the seeming poles brought together and connected by something of more duration than a hinge (as is often at the middle of a binary). I wanted to create the sense of a ‘third thing’ holding space, a boat (that thought it bares the historical weight of having two ends) that had enough (a blend) of both poetry and prose obsessions in it for it to offer realm, croft, a hearty, meaty middle (as opposed to it offering only a hinge and the poles on either side of that hinge).

Much of the content of cadences is artful undermining of the traditional masculine/feminine and male/female binaries (“a completely sexless body/with projections and holograms/of both unforeseen/adams and eves over it” and “you whisper to me/ tell me to slide back onto your/strapping/but only when I am ready/I slide/slowly/backward/feel you filling/that this is a gender is a sex/is a grandeur/far/beyond/frill” and “is woman to man at times a mistaken carcass?”). This is definitely my intent/attempt. I had a dream the other night that to be part of the ‘cult of beauty’ (whatever that means? I remember the actual phrase from the dream itself) is to embody beauty’s capacity to include many varying particulars. For as far back as I can remember I have longed for particular forms of public space which include the variances (and thereby are capable of accurately addressing the needs) of the queer body. My work to have the content of cadences be inclusive is my effort to compose and reify just such public space I have long yearned for. I am learning that it is better (for me) to compose and generate the spaces that would most hold me (if they were offered to me by another) by way of my being an active agent in such spaces’ generation.

One of the ways that I am an active agent for inclusive/queer space is through sound. I mention that here, because to me, sound is the great substitute for any either or (binary) scenario. In cadences I approached sound by both ear and content and provide the following examples: ear-“which means/always amidst/a stratum of mixed” and “poppet in need of being translated” and “to be an askew averting,” content- “this makes us royalty based in tactile sibilance.”

What is the opposite of sound? The answer?—NA: not applicable. It is much more applicable to query the purposes of sound. If sound is itself the queer alternate to binary norms, and sound is the combination of many different frequencies within a large scale movement or event, then perhaps sound is multiplicity enabled. When you read the book do you feel the sound loops gently rocking you on the boat? I do. My soul is sound, and I will consider your soul as sound too, if you choose to self-define in that way.

You mention that one of the ways that you are "an active agent for inclusive/queer space is through sound." But when attempting to vocalize (perhaps) a trans body or persona, the speaker of the collection, at times, is unable to sound. I'm thinking specifically of the passage: "This more than woman or man or _______________________" (179). Likewise, there even seems to be a desire not to sound, as in: "perhaps after the work of books and forms and bodies / we will find a hushed place to play" (30). Could you address these excerpts in relation to your concept of sounding as space creation?

Ah yes, thank you. This is an inviting question. I would say that the speaker in cadences (when they use the dash to communicate (179)) is attempting to have a sounding space (the book) inclusive enough that there be room enough for a you to feel at home there. I consider the dash in reference more as content than as gap or blankness, actually. It was something I put there to court out and into the book (by way of a you, a reader) what else exists besides woman or man. Sort of like, please, fill this, make this moment studded, plethoric (based on your own experiences of divergence). Sort of like a clarifying, stone mandala that remains in an environment, a public space that a you can visit at any time, in any season, in any mood. In other words, fill this dash in with your own sound, please!

In regard to the quote you referenced (30), this is interesting. I see “a hushed place to play” as somewhere that is not at all not sounding, but perhaps alleviated from external noise, meaningless chatter, T.V. static, historicized dogma, the radiating hum of traffic, your parents yelling at you because you are telling them for the fortieth time that in order for you to come to Thanksgiving they have to call you by a different pronoun than they want to, etc. I want to hear the flag blowing in the gentle wind. I want to be able to attend to the subtle buzz of the growing plants, to know when to water them before they show signs of their need.

Perhaps more than anything else though, the above referenced quotes and examples are sites (in cadences) that articulate the human wish for reprieve (which re cadences is definitely not found in some void or in silence or in lack).

Your question also makes me want to mention that the space of the book is not my property (just because I work as agent within it does not mean I am writing it for “me”). cadences is the sensory property (as a feeling space, a somatic ashram) of the commons.

I do think it is important that as sounding agents, we consider what to do with gaps or limits or voids--the ethics involved in that. I see it as integral to consider how to make bridges out of our own skin or volition.

The poems or lyric essays of cadences are rather long; and, as an audience member, I read them as “strange, misty sequences” that explore the intersection of language and the body. What does composing a longer piece offer to you, as a writer (and to the reader as well), that shorter texts cannot or do not provide?
First off I want to say that the comment that will follow is not a comment against shorter texts. The length and the mists of cadences are not in any way opposite to short works. Opposition is not their nature or their agenda. Let’s just get that out of the way.

I agree with you that the poems or lyric essays are strange, misty. I guess that the fact that they are longer, wandering, stretchy, ellipsis-like has to do with my wish for a lightning flash to remain with us longer than it does. I wish with passion on behalf of the lightning flashes that would keep the sky open and validated for a bit longer than what is thought to be usual.

Alchemical inductions of enigma, nourishments of enigma, the body being courted, cultivated and counted on as the materiality of enigma; all of these are what I am offered when composing longer, misty work.

Your bringing in the notion that the work is an exploration of “the intersection of language and the body” feels very accurate to me. As a queer person who writes and makes things, the two (language and body) are indelible priorities of mine. I hope that cadences sings by way of them!

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