[A sound recording of this is available at Mipoesis]
2007 AWP Talk
Hello this is Joyelle McSweeney talking to you through the larynx of my cyborg/golem, Lara Glenum. My gratitude to Lara and to Danielle Pafunda for including Action, Yes in this lineup of webjournals.
With Action, Yes, practice somewhat preceded theory. Johannes Goransson and I decided to start a web journal right after we finished reading for our first (and so far, only) Action Books contest in early winter 2006. We were introduced to the work of so many strange and interesting poets through the contest that we wished we had the resources to promote more of them, since for money reasons the contest would only produce a single, single-authored perfect-bound book. We reasoned, in a nascent way, that a webjournal would be economical, accessible to as many readers as possible, and elastic in its size, allowing us to fulfill our dream of showcasing a greater number of authors than the book press allowed; as a bonus, the webjournal would allow us to do more to bring into contact American and international poets, and to blend together American and international readerships-- both goals for our book press as well.
Armed with that vision and the manifesto we had already devised for our press, we enlisted John Woods to design the journal and he soon gave us the incredibly distinctive format that you can see today if you go to actionyes.org. But as soon as the venture was in webformat, it started to grow and exceed our original vision in dynamic and interesting ways. Looking back, our original vision of the webjournal was essentially that of a paper journal that just happened to find itself on the web. But as soon as it existed, Action, Yes was more than that. It had occurred to us to include both visual content and translation in the journal, and we accordingly collected a complement of such images, collages, translations, and originals as well as English language poems and forwarded them all to John. But the design John produced reminded us that it is impossible to distinguish between form and content with hyptertext. In particular, John used mouseover technology to bring translations and originals, visuals and verbal texts into dynamic and surprising relationship with each other, jostling each other with their presence rather than sitting side by side like dead specimins pressed flat in a book. Encountering the first edition of Action, Yes, (‘reading’ seems like too limited a verb) one can flip over playing cards to read poems apparently ‘printed’ on their faces, mouse over Swedish to read English, click through a grid of cartoon images to open a further grid of comic strips associated with each one.
The unsettling strangeness of these reading practices in turn ‘infects’ the reading required by even non-visual, non-translated pieces such as the excerpt from Cathy Park Hong’s Dance-dance Revolution, in which the main text is written in a kinetic pidgin of extant and extinct languages, dictions, dialects and slangs, complete with faux-scholarly annotation. In the first excerpt, Hong’s speaker entices us to a stay at a luxury hotel:
Twenty rooboolas, kesh only . Step up y molest
Hammer y chicklets studded in ruby y seppire almost
bling badda bling. Question? No question! Prick ear.
Coroner diagnose hotel as king of hotels 'cos
luxury es eberyting. Hear da sound speaker sing 'I get laid in
me Escalade/but I first sip gless of Crystal/den I whip out me pistol.'
No worry. No pistol in hotel, only best surgeon feesh y beluga
bedtime special. Deelicious
As we shift by ear among the various registers of this joyfully mongrel text, we find ourselves employing a certain internal ‘mouseover’ technology of our own, an absolutely non-linear reading which forces us to jump among formerly separate orders of knowledge, a reading which priveleges recognition, flexibility, and willing not-knowing over interpretation and ‘meaning’, which drops us through trapdoors and shoves us merrily out onto wildly swaying limbs.
In this way, the hypertext dynamic of the Action, Yes design leads us to the possibility of reading all texts as hypertexts—hyperactive, multidimensional, full of agency, never anything so boring as merely linear. Although each issue of Action, Yes presents the reader with a neat, conventional stack of contents in the center of his or her screen, one may choose any place on these contents to begin, opening window after window for a pileup of competing texts, bios and images, any one of which enters into a unique correspondence with any—or many-- others. In this way the hypertext format, which is not special to Action, Yes but is employed by John’s design to an extent not found on every website, denaturalizes the rigid structure of the print journal with its serial perogatives. To decouple and relink a print journal in such unexpected ways, you’d have to rip it to pieces. The New Critical imperative to ‘unlock’ meaning from the dry bones of the text, to dissect each text object in isolation from others —and most certainly in isolation from the biography of its authors—dries up and blows away amid all this juicy reading-work.
Most instrumental has been the way Action, Yes adjusted my thinking about translation.
For example, recent issues of Action, Yes have included poems by Don Mee Choi, as well as her English language translations of the contemporary Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, as well as Kim Hyesoon’s poems in Korean. The three sets of texts float in a challenging relationship to one another, a sort of flexing Venn diagram. Rather than the same old painful dialectic of translation vs. original, target language vs. source language, dialectics which are generally used to connote loss and which generate anxiety and self-loathing even among translators, we now have a snaking and fertile set of three. Or, one can choose to decouple Choi’s poetry from her translation project, and read it in concert with other prose poems that surround it—say, the prose work of Jennifer Hyashida, who herself also translates from the Swedish—which opens up a whole other can of pleasantly pliant worms. It is impossible to think in terms of the ‘loss’ of translation, or bemoan the impossiblity of one language ever being faithful to another, when one is engaged in such messily fruitful de- and re-coupling. And let’s not forget that the web-format allows for the porous interconnection of one site with another as well, potentially placing Action, Yes in alliance with any number of holy and unholy, literary and non-literary, formal and informal concerns.
Over the past four quarterly issues, Action, Yes has infected and expanded how I think about poetry, how I think about translation, and how I think about publishing itself. For example, although I am obviously an editor of Action, Yes, I learn the most about it when I come to the finished issue from the position of a reader, and realize I can dismantle and remount it in all sorts of provocative positions over and over again. Because of the flexiblity of John’s design, each new reader becomes an editor of Action, Yes, composing and experiencing an entirely different version of its contents and calling different combinations of texts into contact. Such a dynamic and involved readerly engagement is all any editor could ever hope for any publication in which she had a hand, and it is my sincere hope that this is the experience readers have when encountering Action, Yes. It is also my hope that they use the further resources of the web—and of course their friendly neighborhood libraries—to go deeper into these texts and authors than we do with a single issue, to discover—and build—new zones of contact and perhaps bring about new publishing and collaborative projects which it would be my great pleasure to read.
Here’s a final illustration of how thoroughly Action, Yes has reworked our mission as a press: though we originally simply plastered our Action Books manifesto up on the Action, Yes site, we soon not only created a distinct manifesto for Action, Yes itself, reflecting its cockamamie energies and entropies, but also decided that it should supplant the earlier Action Books manifesto and become the battle cry for the entire two-headed, huge hearted, manyboweled creature. In this way, Action, Yes has taught us something about the kind of publishers we wanted to be:
1. Action, Yes is the online arm of Action Books.
2. Hybridity, Entropy, Inflammation.
3. We 're not so interested in tchotchkes from the style-mart.
4. Translation teaches us to read adventurously.
5. It's the sun, not carrots, that makes us see in the dark.
6. The quest for sincerity is like the quest for a perfect lawn.
7. The cult of elegance is xenophobic.
8. The cult of eloquence is eugenic.
9. The bacteria carried by the immigrant will rejuvenate the traumadrome.
10. Knock down all the pipelines and employ border guards as guiders
11. A fine ear is a severed ear.