J. R. Carpenter is a Canadian-born UK-based artist, writer, performer, and researcher. She has been using the internet as a medium for the creation and dissemination of experimental writing since 1993. Her pioneering web-based works of digital literature have been exhibited, published, performed, and presented in journals, galleries, museums, and festivals around the world. She is a winner of the New Media Writing Prize, the Dot Award for Digital Literature, the CBC Quebec Short Story Competition, the Carte Blanche Quebec Award for a work of creative non-fiction, and the Expozine Alternative Press Award for Best English Book for her first novel, Words the Dog Knows. Her second book, GENERATION[S], was published by Traumawien in 2010. Her third book, The Gathering Cloud, was published by Unformbooks in 2017. She is a fellow of Yaddo, Ucross, The Vermont Studio Centre, The Banff Centre, and the Eccles Centre For North American Studies at the British Library. She is currently a writer-in-residence at the Archives Nationales in Paris, a member of the Scientific Committee of Labex Arts-H2H at the University of Paris 8, and an associate lecturer at Plymouth University. Her long-awaited poetry debut, An Ocean of Static, is forthcoming from Penned in the Margins in April 2018. http://luckysoap.com
What do you suggest people might read in advance of hearing you?
My most recent web-based work, This is a Picture of Wind, is part poetic almanac, part private weather diary, and part live wind report for the South West of England. The work attempts to call attention to climate change by picturing through variations in language the disturbances and sudden absences left in the wake of wind. A new text will be added for each month of 2018. The work is designed to be read on smart phones. It’s online here: http://luckysoap.com/apictureofwind
All of my web-based works and links to other writing can be found on my website at http://luckysoap.com
Where can we find one critical (or other) response to your work that you have found provocative, interesting, insightful or generative?
I like the way Mary Paterson wrote about my recent hybrid print and digital work, The Gathering Cloud, in this review for Furtherfield https://www.furtherfield.org/review-of-the-gathering-cloud-jr-carpenter/
Point us towards some examples of work in other media (art/cinema/music etc) that inflect upon your work, in any way at all:
I went to art school. I studied textiles, sculpture, drawing, collage. I came to writing through the material practices of sewing, sawing, drawing, crochet, photography, photocopy, cutting with scissors, and pasting with glue. My art school heroes included Anni Albers, Magdalena Abakanowicz, El Lissitzky, Joseph Cornell, Max Ernst, Hanah Hoch, Ana Mendieta, Eva Hesse, and Rebecca Horn.
I enjoyed the Joseph Cornell exhibit held at the Royal Academy a few years ago: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/joseph-cornell
And I was really impressed with an installation of William Kentridge’s three-channel video projection Notes Towards a Model Opera, which I saw at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris last spring. This video doesn’t do it justice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqUwaXeomtQ
What readings or performances most shook you up, and why?
I really liked the Reading Club http://readingclub.fr/info project by Annie Abrahams and Emmanuel Guez. I love Jorg Piringer’s digital sound poetry performance work abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz http://joerg.piringer.net/index.php?href=performance/abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.xml&mtitle=performance I saw cris cheek and Steve McCaffery improvising on McCaffery’s concrete typewriter poetry book Carnival at Berkbeck a few years ago. If you don’t know the work, do a Google image search for McCaffery Carnival and try and imagine it. I heard Oana Avasilichioaei reading from her book We, Beasts at Falmouth a few years ago. She created sound images that hollowed out then haunted my whole body. And Lisa Robertson reading work in progress is like witnessing the wings of the world unfold.
What writing (or whose writing) is exciting you now?
My work involves a ridiculous amount of research. I get very excited about obscure things in libraries and archives. I spend a lot of time looking at weather diaries, ship’s logs, and old maps. Last week I read Boyle’s General History of Air and Teju Cole’s Blind Spot one after the other. Both were brilliant. I’ve come late to the poetry of Etel Adnan. I loved Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts, Caroline Bergvall’s Drift, and Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s Swims. I’m pissed off both that I waited so long to read Sheila Heti’s quasi-novel How Should a Person Be? and that I’ve now read it and no longer have it to look forward to.
What/who do you wish people read more of?
History. Natural History. The Classics. Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe. Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Spinoza’s Ethics. Darwin’s Voyages of the Beagle. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism. Does this list sound pretentious? I had a pretty meagre early education. It took me a long time to find the books that make all the other books make much more sense.
What do you wish you read more of yourself?
French. I lived in Montreal for nineteen years. Since moving to England I have worked closely with colleagues in Paris on numerous projects. I enjoy speaking French, in part because my limited vocabulary keep me grounded in the present tense. I have to really listen. I can read fairly well if I already know what the topic is. Literature is harder because it’s suggestive, allusive. But I keep going back to it. Knowing I don’t understand everything I’m reading in French reminds me that I don’t really understand everything I’m reading in English either.
What is your writing for? And what is it against?
I think I’m trying to find ways to think about things that seem too big to think about, like place, displacement, loss, longing, belonging, migration, and climate change. I try do this thinking mostly by doing – by reading, by writing, by talking, by listening. I try to smash too-big-to-think-about things together to see what falls out. And then call attention to those small details. Up with fragments, fractures, and open-ended structures, I say. And down with totalising principles.
Ask yourself a question you’d like to answer. It could be one of these from the questionnaire in the last issue of the Little Review or anything else at all you think might be good.
When does leaving end and arriving begin? When does the emigrant become an immigrant? What happens between question and answer, call and response?
I don’t know the answers, but I’m pretty sure these are the questions.