I have always admired the work of stonemasons, particularly those who practice uncoursed rubble masonry, where intact stones of various sizes are used to create a range of structures, from those that go unseen (foundations), to those that protect those who don’t want to be seen (compound walls), to those that denote the lodgings of those whose labour is devalued when discussing economies where the capitalist mode of production is operative (worker housing).
As a teenager I was told that if I insisted on writing unspectacularly I would do well to learn a trade -- so I read everything I could on masonry. When reflecting on a life in writing, I sometimes wonder if I, like Hesse’s Goldmund, might have been happier had I chosen to make my poems with, say, river rock, sand and earth, and not ink, paper and letters (and now plastic and electricity).
This April the Okanagan Valley experienced a confluence of conditions that resulted in rising water levels and flooding. Because I sometimes live here, and because I believe in the power of the occasional poem, I thought I would propose a collaborative project that linked my work as a (local) writer with those whose work is, if not masonry in the way we have come to know it, based on similar principles -- but with softer, homogenous and more expedient results: sandbagging.
What would such a collaboration look like? What are its terms? How and where would it begin? These are difficult questions to answer. Difficult because if I had answers, I would be on my own with them -- a failed collaborator.
A place to begin my inquiry could be with those who manufacture sandbags. Another place could be with those who have assembled sandbags and placed them in areas susceptible to flooding. A third place could be with those who distribute sandbags at times of emergency -- namely, government (a branch of which is the military).
As far as production methods go, that too is to be determined, based in part on terms offered up by my collaborators. With that said, in whatever discussions I enter into I will introduce the relationship between the written poem and that which is made with river rock, sand and earth, a form that has more in common with something we walk on -- a pathway -- than a poem or a prose paragraph.
At present, my proposal is a fantasy. Or if not a fantasy, it begins as such, perhaps similarly to the way Roland Barthes began his 1977-78 Collège de France lectures. In an essay prior to the posthumous publication of his lecture notes (The Neutral), Barthes writes of his interest in a “phantasmic teaching” concerned with the “comings and goings of desire,” and “that at the origins of teaching such as this we must always locate a fantasy, which can vary from year to year.”
This year’s fantasy is a trauma fantasy -- brought on by flooding.
2. Roland Barthes, “Lecture,” trans. Richard Howard, October, no. 8 (spring 1979): 5