Aki Schilz: Writer

Ramblings In a Teacup

On Desire and Distance

“We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the desire between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your own longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.

The mystic Simone Weil wrote to a friend on another continent, ‘Let us love this distance, which is thoroughly woven with friendship, since those who do not love each other are not separated.’ For Weil, love is the atmosphere that fills and colours the distance between herself and her friend. Even when that friend arrives on the doorstep, something remains impossibly remote: when you step forward to embrace them your arms are wrapped around the mystery, around the un-knowable, around that which cannot be possessed. The far seeps in even to the nearest. After all we hardly know our own depths.”

From A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

The Hideaway

The Hideaway

Tucked away
in the fold of a hill
through a bridal archway
of rowan, oak and beech.

Perhaps you are here
in Summer, awash with
blossom spill, the earth
fulsome and red,

or in Winter when
icicles hang like jewels
from the eaves of the roof,
and frost snaps underfoot

or in the Spring months
with their cool sunshine,
clear as water in a brook

(do you hear it,
running through
the fields beyond?

or birdsong? Here,
leaf through the book
that tells you their names,
the shapes of their tracks:

learn them by the fire,
so you can sing them later).

Or perhaps you arrive in Autumn
when the shells of nuts scatter the path
and leaves fall in spirals through the blue –

catch them with
the rain in your hands.

Wait,
at night,
for the stars.

Gorfanc1

Gorfanc Hideaway, Powys, Wales

 

On Opposing Forces

Do you drive? Rob asks me.

We are sitting in the kitchen while Pippa glues labels to honey jars. The labels read: ‘PURE WELSH HONEY’. On either side, flowers. Beneath: ‘PUR CYMREIG MEL’. I have come into the house on my last day here, where I have been tucked away in a small cottage to write, away from the city where I come from, away from the crush and stress and noise of it, and the constant buzz of technology. Blinking phones. Traffic lights. Email notifications. Twitter. WhatsApp. Out here, there is green space, and birdsong. The occasional text message makes its way through, a brief flutter of WhatsApp communication with a friend in Paris, but otherwise, quiet. I have left my muddy walking boots by the front door, and Rob is pouring coffee. Proper coffee, he says with a grin.

I take my coffee in a mug which has a puffin stretched around the curve of it, bulging at its yellowish midsection. A puffin in mid-Wales. No, I say to Rob. I don’t drive. We have been talking about forests, and bookshops, and how we orientate ourselves: what it is to find and to lose ourselves. How easy it is to take out the wrong map in a foreign place, or to lose the map, or never to have had a map at all and to get muddled in the Street View of things, the snapshot mosaic of modern topography.

When driving downhill, Rob tells me, it’s easy to feel you might be out of control. You lose perspective. Lots of people find it hard, or if not hard, then challenging. It’s largely psychological.

I tell him I didn’t know that. I had always thought the same might be true for driving uphill, which has always made me, even as a passenger, feel mildly anxious. How can you be sure the car won’t simply start to roll backwards? How is it that it doesn’t? Has he ever felt anxious about this? I wonder if perhaps this is a non-driver’s concern, one that would vanish in a moment of good-humoured clarity if I were to find myself behind the wheel instead of beside it.

Rob thinks for a moment, then says, very slowly, no, he doesn’t worry about that. Driving uphill, he says, you can feel the car pressing into the hill, and the hill pressing back. It’s a means of orientation by physical resistance, and the locus of control is the spot at which the two forces meet. You push the car. The car pushes back. And somewhere between is the hill, which is also a force in this equation. Travelling downhill, particularly at high speed, that sense of clear orientation (driver held into place between two opposing forces) vanishes, because the car no longer feels within your control; it feels as though there are no forces acting on it, no resistance. The locus shifts, or is dislocated, and falls behind you with the rushing landscape.

We have a lot of problems in this area, with young drivers, Rob says, shaking his head and stirring honey into his coffee. I wonder to myself if this has to do with control. Young gods, testing the limits of velocity. Restless village teens impatient with the slowed-down pace of things, excited by the possibilities of rough roads, steep inclines, sharp corners. Rob thinks in more pragmatic terms. At least, he says, in older vehicles, you could feel the car’s movements, its resistance, and that of the road; you could feel the calibration of each of your own decisions – to turn, to ease on the brake, to work through each gear. And each decision had a physical reverberation; through the gearstick, the pull of the wheel as you move through a turn. Now, cars seem to be designed to remove any distraction. Ergonomics from the inside-out. The engines are whisper-quiet, the windows roll automatically, the wheels have power steering and they are kitted out with sound systems that blot out everything else. You flick a switch and it’s as if you aren’t driving at all. As he speaks, I am trying to understand this in terms of movement, closer to a language that has textures I can visualise; I think perhaps he means, you aren’t a bird in the air any more, moving through a current; you are a slipstream. I recall an accident in the local area; it had been on the national news a few days before I arrived. Rob nods. Yes, we have a lot. That one was particularly bad. Five young people died. Accidents like that simply come up on you with no warning. I think of the sets of choices we move through, the young gods and a desire to crash through systems and regulations, wilfully ignoring every stop sign, each one a chance to slow down, to stop, to change direction, to turn around. You can’t feel the give in these modern cars, Rob is saying. The warning signs are obliterated by the ergonomics of the machinery: the rattle that tells you to shift down a gear, the pull that makes you steer harder or more wide into or out of a corner. Without this, you are out in open space, simply deciding to move this way or that, and assuming the car will mirror your movements exactly. And then, suddenly, it doesn’t.

We each take a biscuit from the plate. The honey jars are stacking up in the crate by the table, gleaming with trapped sunshine. Outside, a bird calls, and I want to ask what its name is, but I don’t. I wonder how far it has flown, how hard it has had to push into the wind, or how far a single current might have taken it on its way, without it needing to engage a single wing-stroke. When I’m driving downhill, Rob says, if I ever start to feel that wildness creeping in at the corners, I know it’s isn’t the pull of freedom, but the threat of disorientation. It’s always been important to me to know where I am. I’ve always had a good sense of where I am, only needed to be in a place once to know my way around, and back there. Now that I’m getting older, it’s not as automatic. I have to work at it. I can’t afford to lose myself, my perspective, or my control. So I adjust my mind. I think to myself, a gradient is only what I perceive it to be. I level out. This is not a downhill road I am falling down. It is simply a road I am driving along. And then, I’m back in the car, back in control, and I am driving again.

Kids these days, he says, getting up to check on the hens that are clucking at the porch, they want to drive without driving. And that’s a problem.

The Electronic Encyclopaedia of Experimental Literature

I’m incredibly happy that a piece of mine, a dream-story fragment, has been selected to feature in theNewerYork magazine’s Electronic Encyclopaedia of Experimental Literature. It’s a beautiful magazine, and a fascinating archive; well worth diving into and swimming around for a bit.

Here’s my piece, The Anxiety of Ideas. With special mention to Ryan Reynolds (no, not that one) for his artwork and to the editorial team for publishing my piece, and for pairing it with this stunning image.

AnxietyofIdeas

Copyright Ryan Reynolds

Interrobang November 22

I will be performing at Interrobang, an all-day live arts festival in London with music, poetry, storytelling and comedy on November 22nd. Tickets are £7 on the door, the magic kicks off at 3pm and we’ll keep rolling until 11pm. You can join the Facebook event page here.

This year’s Interrobang is spread across the Free Word Centre (where there will be a Book Fair for all your zine, pamphlet, chapbook and literary publication needs) and the Betsey Trotwood, which will be hosting the above-mentioned live entertainment. I’ll be performing with Nick Murray as part of Camarade, a redacted version of Camaradefest, and will also be doing some storytelling. It promises to be a wonderful day.

InterrobangCamarade

Camaradefest II

1) I am not very good at updating this blog

2) This is a post about Camaradefest II

3) I have prepared a document that will (hopefully) give some flavour of the event but the basics are as follows:

On October 25th a collective of 100 poets gathered at RichMix London for an epic 10-hour day of back-to-back, brand new poetry collaborations: CAMARADEFEST II. From the performative to the reflexive, the percussive to the profound, with movement, images, mobile phone feedback, gameplay, costumes, sonic experimentation, storytelling, humour, heartbreak, music and madness, each pair trod new ground, bared souls (and revealed PIN numbers – it got intimate), spoke in many tongues and voices, about journeys on buses and across shingled beaches, komodo dragons and living in strange skin and pressing faces close to the ground, created stories on loop, read from novels and iPads and paper and from memory, imagined psychoanalytic encounters and chance meetings, looked out on henges and motorways, through rain-splashed train windows and mirrors and glasses, talked boybands and feminism, hashtags and leaves falling through sky, drowned worlds and lost love, from the micro to the macro, the chromosomatic to the big-wide-world of everything we know and don’t know, via allegory, metaphor, puns and just bloody good poetry. It was nothing short of astounding. I feel privileged to have been a part of it (video below).

I wrote a few micropoems on Twitter throughout the day, taking bits from everyone else’s poems to compose a sort of ‘mashup’ collection/overview of the event. After several frustrated attempts at retrieving these micropoems retroactively via Twitter, then further frustrated attempts at copying and pasting them effectively into a Word document, I realised there was something quite apt about the junk that had filtered through with my copy and paste job, about the surrounding bits and squiggles.* So I fiddled around a bit, and left them largely as they were. I quite like the result. Here’s my round-up, therefore, of the day, bits and squiggles and all:

Camaradefest II.

*Not a technical term. As far as I know.

Special Mentions:

The day was organised by the inimitable SJ Fowler, who deserves a special mention for his incredible energy and diligence as curator (he’s a brilliantly sharp and intimidatingly prolific poet himself) of a full day of sometimes spontaneous performance that managed to draw a crowd so large extra seating had to be put out in the main hall. And whom I have to thank for inviting me to be part of the day, along with my poetry partner in crime, Nick Murray, editor and publisher at Annexe Press.

Here’s me and Nick performing the experimental poetry-game we devised for Camaradefest:

For a full lineup and all the videos, click here.

Camaradefest

On Spiritual Morality

This extract is taken from the (brilliant) novel Jerusalem, by Goncalo M. Tavares (translated into English by Anna Kushner) and concerns Dr Theodor Busbeck, whose life work is to produce “a graph—a single graph to establish, to summarize, the relationship between history and atrocity. To chart whether horror has been increasing or decreasing century after century.”

Here, he contemplates spiritual morality, mental health, and the pervasive sense of loss which drives all human journeys.

p.54

Despite this fear of his own mind and where it might be leading him, Theodor was, by any standard, the picture of health: physically, mentally, spiritually. In fact, these three categories represented the essential axis around which all of Theodor’s life – or at least his sense of his own life as being a healthy one – revolved. In this regard, seeing health as a holistic process, he was rather more open-minded than the majority of his colleagues at the clinic, who tended to boil down mental health to a state in which our muscles always do what we want and we always want them to do something sensible. To Theodor, that kind of ‘healthy’p person – with ‘normal’ desires and the ‘normal’ muscles to carry them out – was still missing what he called spiritual normality. And what does spiritual morality entail? Here’s Dr Busbeck’s theory: The truly healthy man necessarily spends most of his life trying, like a child, to find what he feels he’s missing… because he lives with a feeling of constant loss, and this sensation is easily mistaken for the feeling of having been robbed, the feeling that someone has stolen something very important from you, a part of your own self – a part that, for the sake of argument, we’ll agree to call ‘spiritual’. So: the truly healthy man, wanting to become whole, goes off in search of the burglars and whatever it was they took – even though he couldn’t really tell you what he’s missing, doesn’t know the shape or substance of his stolen goods. It was the initial discovery, the realization that one had been robbed – on a spiritual level – that Theodor saw as the essential thing. A truly healthy man wants to find God – to put it more directly. And Theodor didn’t just say this in private conversations with his colleagues – he mentioned God at conferences too; something that left many doctors in his field perplexed, almost outraged, feeling that the mention of God in a professional, medical context was akin to heresy. Nonetheless, Theodor held fast to his opinions – or his instincts, as he put it – legitimizing them, provocatively, by referring to them as scientific. 

What conclusion, finally, did the scientific instincts of Theodor Busbeck – and of which he was so proud – lead him to develop? We could sum it up as follows. A man who doesn’t seek God is crazy… and crazy people need to get treatment.

 

I bought my copy of this book from my local independent bookshop. If you’d like to buy an independent-friendly copy online, you can do so here.

Jerusalem, by Goncalo Tavares

I, Woman

I’m thrilled that a poem of mine, ‘I, Woman’, has been featured as part of The Vagina Project, an international online initiative encouraging women to create art around the subject of the female vagina; as a word, a concept, a semantic conundrum, a political statement, a personal narrative, a commentary on gender, a component of and tool for discussion around feminist and gender-related ideas.

You can read my poem on the website and see the other contributions to the project here. Please note, the header image is strictly NSFW (Not Suitable for Work) so I have posted the poem below. Please do however find a moment to browse the project’s homepage when you can, You can also read more and join the discussion on their Facebook page here.

I, woman.

Dream, Transcribed

Andre performs a poem for his ‘mesmerisingly beautiful wife’ on the pavement outside the house where the party is we have just stepped out of, and just stepped into, moments after falling asleep. His hair is dark and half of his face is lit by a lantern hung from a tree, and though I know it is day the sky is dark. You touch your hand to mine. The sun is behind a wall. He says he married her after just three months. He tells us she is beautiful. ‘So, so beautiful.’ I forget the poem.

‘It’s possible,’ he says.

We grin at each other.

Let’s get married, I say.

We do a two-person conga. I close my eyes.

Outside there is a lawn sloping down into bright white streets circling a house stacked twenty storeys high, with tall French windows at ground level that catch the sun and balconies leaning out at angles that might be impossible or even dangerous if we were awake but are beautiful here. So, so beautiful. It is warm, and there is music playing. Women are packing belongings into cars with open doors and blacked-out windows. They stack boxes, and throw materials into the boxes. Dresses with long, pleated skirts. Tasselled curtains. Reams and reams of fabric. It spills onto the white streets. There is no wind to move them. The women gather the colours in their arms, over and over. There are no men here, and no flowers.

There is a pool. In my dream I can swim. I have been told to use the steam to cure the redness in my face. I think it is embarrassment, but I know I cannot blush. I catch sight of myself in a half-smeared glass; the redness looks like something feathering in tiny, fanning strokes across the ridges of my cheeks, from inside my skin. I look more closely. The marks could be tribal patterns, in miniature. I bare my teeth at my reflection.

You tell me I can swim naked. I remember that I left my green bikini in one of the lockers banked at the side of the pool, a haphazard set of squares and rectangles, doors open, keys scattered and glinting across the misted tiles leading to the pool, where I dip a toe in at the edge. I can’t tell if it’s cool, or warm. You point at a man cutting through the water in a lane lined with a bright yellow rope. The rope is plastic; the strands flick out stiffly as the rope twists. As he swims, water clings to the man’s body like a second skin. The hulk of him glistens. Becomes less and more human with each movement. The body as object. The body as flesh. Flesh as object. Flesh as meaningless. He has not come up for air. The water conceals nothing. We both laugh.

We haven’t stopped touching. Lightly. Elbow to forearm. Finger to wrist. Just enough to check for skin. For the tremor of a pulse. Just enough for closeness.

You push me up against a wall, but gently.

It only takes a few months. Let’s dream we are kissing. Let’s dream we are married. Let’s dance a two-person conga line through bright grass, silver water, and sun-white streets.

We are happy.

Wake up.

We are happy.

Wake up.

We are happy.

Pleiades, Max Ernst

Two Pieces in The Bohemyth

I’m delighted to have two pieces featured in the July issue of online lit mag The Bohemyth. My flash fiction ‘Cliff Diving’ is about unsent birthday cards and cold January days spent in the shadow of clifftops, and my prose poem ‘This Is The Place’ is a fragmented look at some of my experiences of being plunged into the entirely new environment of Mindo, Ecuador, which for a brief period in 2013 became the centre of my world. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Cliff Diving

The market is an isthmus, and for a small moment I wonder if I ought to wait for the tide. But then the light goes green. I cross, not looking, not breathing, and my heart is the swell of a wave pressing against the lip of a shell; the kind of shell we found that day at the beach by his house, at the spot with the rockpools catching sunlight where he said he saw a man fall from the clifftop. He was looking from his window at the top of the bay, and the man was so small as he fell, insubstantial as a piece of litter, thrown carelessly over the edge. Just the smallest scattering of light. No movement in the shingle. No sound. The ambulance came in twelve minutes. No sirens. People fall all the time, he said. Don’t they jump? I asked. He said…

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