April 26, 2014

Weaving: Telling Not Just One Story

Weaving Text

Think of writing text as weaving. The result is fabric. The word text comes from a Latin verb texere,  to weave, braid, intertwine or compose. Words with the same root are texture and textile.  Writers are weaving together people, places, things and other stories.  My mother was a weaver, and I write. The texture of the writing reflects all of these things; these together with the personality comprises a writer's voice. The context has to do with time, place, community and purpose.  For Tillie Olsen and many women writers, the practice of incorporating other texts and stories acknowledges and honors the struggles of others. Olsen's mission was to lift the voices of those who are not in the history books. 

Hypertext and Intertext

The internet creates the opportunity for weaving. Hypertextuality can provide links to images, oral and written history, maps, other texts and stories; therefore, it increases content and provides more context.  Hypertext increases the intertextual links between stories.

Many beautiful works of literature are intertextual: The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys presents an imaginative development of the earlier life of the character Bertha, the madwoman in the attic, in Jane Eyre.  West Side Story reflects Romeo and Juliet. Films often reference or "remake" stories.   Intertextuality, often discussed in women studies, is defined as the interrelatedness between one text and other texts. Georgetown University has a good description:
A term most fully and originally explicated by Julia Kristeva in the school of poststructuralism, intertextuality has taken on a variety of meanings since her discussion of the term in the 1960s. On its most basic level, intertextuality is the concept of texts' borrowing of each others' words and concepts. This could mean as much as an entire ideological concept and as little as a word or phrase. As authors borrow pro-actively from previous texts, their work gains layers of meaning. Also, another feature of intertextuality reveals itself when a text is read in light of another text, in which case all of the assumptions and implications surrounding the other text shed light on and shape the way a text is interpreted.
These used to be called "literary allusions."  Ernest Hemingway alluded to John Donne. Maybe it borrows thunder. Maybe some characters are so vividly drawn that they continue to live in our imaginations, and we must revive them with new stories. In Textermination, Christine Rose (1992) created a droll novel using characters of other famous novels concerned about their diminishing readership who come together for a literature conference in San Francisco. This is creativity not piracy. It acknowledges the sources and extends the pleasure of the earlier works.  It's a remix.  The popularity of fan-fiction, where author's borrow famous literary characters and create new stories around them, attests to the ever widening web.  

Leslie Marmon Silko, in "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective," identifies her storytelling structure. In the Pueblo perspective, a storytelling is not complete until those in the audience include their own story -- it is an act of continuance.  Single words have stories. Stories are made of "historical, sacred, plain gossip." It may seem digressive but it is web-like and contained within the story of creation. It is connected to the land.  We are all connected, and the story is tantamount.  

 Warp and Weft: More Textile and Texture

My mother and grandmother had looms, and they made rag rugs. Each rug was a testament to the garments worn: winter wool pants, dark rayons, cotton fabrics were cut into strips and pulled into the warp.  The warp are the vertical threads, and the horizontal or filler is the weft or woof. The best fabrics were tight and strong. Skill and experience strengths the craft.   

My work is intertextual. The print book is a small part of a larger story about the people and places of the Iron Range.  In my poems, I wanted to bring out the stories of women on the Iron Range. History goes in books, but herstory is often not recorded, disregarded or forgotten. I wanted to contribute to the literature of this place.  

I use web forms to provide images, hyperlinks, back stories and to fill in biographical information related to people in Night Train Red Dust. This involved using a bookmarking site and a blog. Whenever I found an online source--a website, a Youtube video, an image--I linked it on the bookmarking site. This site also allowed me upload my own photographs or pdf documents that were not web-linked.  I used to the blog to write literary journalism. I wrote about the authors, poets, forms, and texts that I recently discovered or that had long been influences. I love this work, it leads me to new discoveries.  Initially the work appeared as poetry, and now it has continued into essay forms: literary journalism, biography, and literary criticism. When the work is performed, Kathy adds the medium of music and film.  Applying or adapting one piece of writing to a new genre or medium is called "remediation."  It takes on more nuances of meaning, and more intertextuality.  

These are examples: The title of one of my poems, "Sketch," (a poem about a shooting in Biwabik amid union strife) refers to the depression era poet Joseph Kalar used to write about mining and the lumbermills. On my blog, I've written an article how "sketches" were used by proletarian writers and about the life and poetry of Joseph Kalar. These are more than textual notes. In two poems, "Bonfire of Roses" and "Refuge," I am referring to Meridel LeSueur and borrowing some of her rhythms. Meridel LeSueur was a journalist, writer, and speaker. She visited the Iron Range before I was born, and I've felt her influence. "Conjuring a Bear" evokes the Kalevala, the epic collection of ancient stories from Finland, with its many charms or spells. The poem "Not Just Bread" is a 'found poem' from the writing of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. After her work as a union organizer, she later became one of the founders of the ACLU. I found a sentence from her autobiography that provided a snapshot of the Iron Range. Perhaps it meant even more to me than it did to her.  While she was here, her hosts arranged transportation for her in a bread truck. I recall the Italian bakery in Virginia; we had always shopped there as a family, the bakery is a meaningful landmark on the Iron Range.  I gave her quote a title, arranged line breaks, and added the first line. I want these stories and texts to speak; I wanted the manuscript to become polyvocal and communal. This form lends itself easily to the web environment.
Other writers combine journal entries, letters, drawings, reports, news items, and data. This suggests the possibility of a hypertextile with hypertexture

Media: New Threads

This gets bigger--as it does for all artists who are collaborators.  My work goes into collaborative performances with Kathy McTavish, a composer, web developer, and film artist. At first, finding a name for what we did--combining cello and poetry--was challenging. I felt similar to the traveling minstrel singing Kalevala verses, and then she began to work in experimental film, and we added this to our projects. The web continued to widen. When I was Duluth poet laureate 2010-2012, engaged in large community writing project called Migrations, participating writers also became part of our performance. These were 75 writers whom I'd selected to publish in our book, Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life's Transitions. Celebrating the publication, we arranged seven public performances in seven different locales.  Writers performed their own work, but I had arranged the order to tell a story about change.  Each performance was unique and interesting. 

Transmedia: More Threads

The best definition so far is work that enters and travels across more than one media, and each media extends its meaning.  In collaboration, the new goal we have is to find ways to build participation and interactivity into the performances. Kathy and I are using our individual texts in the film projection. Juxtapositions create flashes of new meaning.  This new experiment will be part of The Hole in the Sky, a work that she composed for the Zeitgeist New Music Quartet in St Paul that will also be an installation. For more info and tickets go to http://www.zeitgeistnewmusic.org/performances.php  

For her last opening, she had created portals for "designated writers" to input text that appeared like graffiti on the film and she had added a live twitter feed (it received tweets from Global Climate Change twitter accounts) for visitors at the gallery to add text.  It was a film, but it was also a book, but it was in motion, a new kind of reading.  Of course!  Afterall, Virginia Woolf told us that reading is not just seeing.  To read is to weave oneself into another text; to weave that text into your own story. Now we contemplate this and other ways to invite others into the project, because the work of weaving the fabric of a community is ongoing and requires many hands.  Vision.  I'm thinking about starting another community writing project using texting....

Work Cited: 

Learn more about text games or writing your own hypertext stories at http://twinery.org/

Narrative Wiki.  Georgetown University. 2012. Web. Retrieved 24 April 2014. http://narrative.georgetown.edu/wiki/index.php/Intertextuality

Silko, Leslie Marmon. "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Perspective."  Web. http://www.classfolios.org/learningresource/SilkoEssay.pdf

The beautiful rag rug image is from a weaver:  http://palttina.blogspot.com/2008/03/rag-rug.html

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