ANMLY #31 :: To Speak as a Flower: a Folio of Performance Writing

Writing has a curious and unpredictable relationship to materiality: the desire to read overpowers the actual act of reading; a reader’s sense of the writer at work vanishes; or a reader forgets herself, too, as she is washed in language. A poem might be assumed either as autobiographical or as wholly distinct from an author. Whereas performance has a fraught relationship to writing: if it’s hard to forget the fact of a body in a performance, the body one attends to is not necessarily one’s own, or the writer’s; differences may go unnoticed; a conduit may enliven the language of the page—or not.

The ten works collected here live in these tensions, between the act of writing and its receipt, or report. While some have more traditional performance anchors, such as the play or the monologue, the language shifts these frames. Mariana Roa Oliva conjures 90-year old Lucía and her stories, paced and fragmented via line breaks; digressions spill open to accommodate different forms in Shin Yu Pai’s talk-poem on, at first, Zen meditation. Without leaving a reader to flounder, these works double and triple the sense of who precisely is writing, and when. In K. Henderson’s suite, writings emerge from a psychic medium, filtered through a performance artist, assistant, and editorial team; Julianne Neely’s uncoiling, recursive account finds how in writing there is “within the body, a movement”; and in An Duplan’s reverie the time of “I” slips, between now (the writing), now (a week ago), now (college), now (the immediacy of panic). 

Performance seems to be especially good at amplifying the anxiety of surveillance, of the impact that others have on you. In Jennifer Chukwu’s “report of evaluated academic threat,” the U.S. education system produces and documents dissatisfaction and depression, marking them as dangerous. Joe Harjo’s performance prints register how a single mark—a footprint—disconnects from the rest of its context, and can be reconnected, for good or ill, through language. In Justin Phillip Reed’s essay—on the 1999 film The Astronaut’s Wife as a way of theorizing how others enter an artistic text we’ve made, and change it—we see how writing’s persistence in time puts it away from, but next to, our own experience. Still, performance might also conjure something which never existed, as when Stine An introduces us to two new and kinetic K-pop bands, Li’l Bang and the Pink Blossoms, or when Diana Khoi Nguyen’s film works literally bring together two different times inhabited by related, mimicking bodies.

The wonderful thing about being attentive to a form is the discovery of its contours, and its content. Its world. From this folio we learn what can be done within a particular constraint—what can be generated by the possibility of presence, even in absence of its material fact, in a time when in the U.S. a pandemic makes it risky to be present, but when we must nevertheless decide when it is necessary. And in the specifics of the language that makes up these worlds, we have the pleasure of their unfolding.

S. Brook Corfman
September 2020

S. Brook Corfman is the author of the poetry collections My Daily Actions, or The Meteorites, chosen by Cathy Park Hong for Fordham University Press’ poetry prize, and Luxury, Blue Lace, chosen by Richard Siken for the Autumn House Rising Writer Prize, as well as three chapbooks including The Anima: Four Closet Dramas. @sbrookcorfman &