Geist blogger and Editor-In-Chief of Poetry Is Dead, Daniel Zomparelli, will be organizing an ongoing series of interviews with poets, and people doing interesting things with poets. If you are a poet doing interesting things or have a tip off for Daniel, you can email him at email@example.com.
Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline proposes a massive infrastructure that will have large social and environmental impacts. In response and in opposition to this, Christine Leclerc is producing a 1,173km poem involving collaboration from poets and writers around the world. Geist.com met up with Christine to talk about the project and about the idea of poet as activist.
Daniel Zomparelli: What was the inspiration for starting the Enpipe Line project?
Christine Leclerc: The inspiration came out of a desire to see Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal withdrawn and a desire to collaborate with massive numbers of people from around the planet on a project that would daylight resistance to socially and environmentally destructive projects like Enbridge's proposed pipelines. But the communities and activists who give destructive projects (and the governments that back them) the NO WAY day after day inspire the heck out of me. Many poets raise me up with their work and/or community. This list is not exhaustive, but an attempt would include: Nnimmo Bassey, Ken Belford, Stephen Collis, Jen Currin, Krissy Darch, Jeff Derksen, Roget Farr, Brenda Hillman, Ray Hsu, Reg Johanson, Thea Kuticka, Peter Macdonald, Kim Minkus, Miquel Murphy, Michael Nardone, Press Release, Nikki Reimer, Rhizomatics, Bruce Weigl, Jonathon Wilcke and Rita Wong & Larissa Lai (as collaborators and individually). I could go on and on, so don't even get me started on journalists and other (supposed) non-poets!
DZ: How far along are you from your goal for the project?
CL: The project's goals are several. There is the goal of achieving a 1,173 kilometer-long line of collaborative poetry. This is the game structure of the poem. The Enpipe Line was launched on November 1, 2010. It is just over 30 kilometers long, and growing every day. Another goal is to make resistance culture visible through community engagement. As with many projects being developed by cultural workers around the world, the existence of the Enpipe Line achieves the goal of daylighting a culture of resistance minute by minute. An important feature of the Enpipe Line is that collaborators co-facilitate the way the line is presented on- and offline. They improve the blog, spread news of the project through social media, organize photo shoots and demand writing workshops through their suggestions. They also come up with ideas for games that would allow people to contribute and collaborate in real time. Poetry twistering the headquarters of human-rights-violating corporations is one of my personal favourites.
DZ: Has anything unexpected sprung up from creating and producing this project?
CL: Every contribution brings something unexpected, but I find it interesting and apt that water and gold extraction are high on the list of recurring themes. My mother's desire to contribute poems was also unexpected!
DZ: The poems for Enpipe Line are quite broad in respect to their authors and the content. I love that I can see Rita Wong next to a Facebook status update by Trevor Battye. Can you explain a bit about how you choose what goes into the project?
CL: I don't choose, you do. The idea is to cast the net wide, so I'm more interested in what others think should be in the line than what I think I should think should be there. I want to be surprised, challenged and inspired by the works that arrive. On occasion, I do request things that grab me. Trevor Battye's Facebook status is an example of that. I've also requested permission to use Maude Barlow's recent COP 16 Democracy Now interview in a transcript poem, but otherwise, I just put the call out and see what comes back.
DZ: In Enpipe Line you are creating a resistance long poem against the Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal. What I love about it, is that it is building a structure of something beautiful as act of rebellion. The discussion that I see between poets, is how poetry can or cannot be an effective tool for change. Where do you stand on this issue?
CL: This is a great question, and one I've been getting a lot, in the form of: But can poetry change anything? This question tends to come on the heels of unbridled enthusiasm for the Enpipe Line. I want to talk about the role of culture in defeating oppression, but first I want to say that I don't think the enthusiasm-hesitance sequence is coincidental. Why do many of us shy away from what most excites us? Okay, I'll admit, reasons to shy do from time to time exist, but I think that in most cases, it stems from defeatism. Do we want what we want or don't we? And if we want what we want, shouldn't we be going after it? For example, if we want a culture that resists socially and environmentally devastating projects, shouldn't we be building it? If we suspect that there might be something to writing poetry, shouldn't we be going for it?
But what are those somethings? That's usually the question that follows Can poetry do anything? One thing that poetry often does is daylight resistance and document atrocity, as well as the sometimes mundane aspects of alienation. Poetry can expose (I think of Reg Johanson's Escratches), pose (see Ray Hsu's "Questions for a Rubber Stamp") and propose (as with Brenda Hillman's call for poets to write their ways through marches). But aside from rhetorical strategies, poems themselves, or in some cases, poem-making (if the making is made public), contribute, generate, and invigorate cultures of resistance.
Cultures of resistance can be small. They can be fleeting. Activists understand this. The most effective activists are persistent in their engagement of the public. But activist cultures, and the intense levels of engagement that exist within them, sometimes struggle to move "the public" beyond a basic level of engagement. It may be that for many activists, engagement is the the end goal, but to achieve fast and lasting change of the kind that is needed on issues like climate change, community is key. Even if we woke up in a world of policy perfection, it would take hella info-sharing and teamwork to unroll change on the scale required. It would take mad community.
Culture is part of where communities store themselves. And one way to build community is to build culture—a space where people can come together and interact over, around and through artistic activity. In writing publicly, persistently and in resistance, I think we can use the cultures we generate to help pull ourselves into the kinds of communities that will sustain us through sea change.
Not exactly a short answer, but there you have it.
DZ: What is the next step once the Enpipe Line is completed?
CL: It will probably be a couple of years before the Enpipe Line reaches a length of 1,173 kilometers, but I would like to see the first one 100 kilometers published as an anthology. I also think it would be cool to see some portion of the line used in the creation of a libretto. I think there is a lot of potential for the line being translated across mediums and languages. Language translation is beginning to emerge as a feature of the line, as are video poems.
DZ: Where will we be able to find the Enpipe Line project? Will it find itself in different formats once the project is complete?
CL: The Enpipe Line can be found at http://christineleclerc.com. It also exists as RSS, readings, sound and video recordings and as broadsides used to promote the line's first writing workshop—to be held in the multi-purpose room at the Mount Pleasant branch of the VPL on Thursday, December 16, from 7-9. People also might come across part of the Enpipe Line in their notebooks. If so, they should definitely send those parts to firstname.lastname@example.org.More info on how to collaborate here.