I first became aware of Kristine Snodgrass’s art through WAAVe (Women Asemic Artists & Visual Poets,) a project for which she is founder and curator. Asemic art/writing is a developing art/writing form which utilizes the gesture of writing (without established semantics) within the artists/writers creative output. As an asemic writer myself I am curious about what the form means to others practicing asemics and how they use the form in their own work. Kristine’s work is electric and exciting and, in some ways, very different from my own. I had many questions for Kristine and she was gracious enough to agree to an interview based on her chapbook Rather.
–Karla Van Vliet
I’m curious about your process? In creating “Rather” did the art pieces or writing come first? Or did the pieces work off each other in their creation? How did you decide which poems and which visual pieces to include?
Great question! The visual pieces were created separately at different times with no intention of being put into a series. The poems were also created separately. I find that the more I dive deep into myself (diving into the wreck?) I drudge the real stuff. In that layer, it is all the same, so the venue, the medium, the intention is lost in that. When I look at a series of my pieces or a larger view of my work (visual and written) I see the comprehensive message. Although each series may vary, all my work is the same. Virgil Suarez asked me to put some work into a chapbook, so I sent him some images I liked that I had been working on. We ordered them and then I chose a few poems as companions. He chose the cover.
“Rather” is one of several books / chapbooks in which you engage in visual art, vispo, asemic work; what inspired you to explore this venue of expression?
Ah! I never intended to explore vispo. Asemic work came from an urge to “fight” with something that was difficult and infuriating. It was a response. I think all my work has been responsive. I entered the art with great fury and there I found love and creativity. Isn’t that weird how we can get love out of such incendiary moments? I mean love for ourselves. My art just kept developing. I have only been in this realm for two years or less and already my work has grown and changed so much, but I think that the visual art is so much more freeing than conventional poetry. I was starting to get frustrated with words. I think they are so limiting. In asemics, the semantic limit has been lifted, or worked out. The asemic writing leaves any formal, semantic meaning at the door. We are halted when we look at asemic writing—sometimes desperate to see a word we know. What does it say? If that semantic construction is dismantled (maybe a deconstruction although I don’t know) it is also remade. The reader then has to bring in what is left to fill-in. This is spectatorship. I don’t even mean the “panopticon”, I mean together. We are always seeing. If you see my face, is that different than if you see my words? Rather also has some collages in it which I do very rarely. I like the bodies together without faces. Rather, is a space from me to you.
In your endnote you say that your “work deals with ideas of voyeurism, sexuality, and performance.” “Rather” also seems to wrestle with issues of image, persona and identity, specifically the female identity. How do you see these concerns weaving into each other, if you do?
This is so complicated. I think my whole life I have been trying to both unravel these questions and sew them back up. What work! I think my identity as a woman can at times be largely built on sexuality. It always has been. I want to own that. Now that I am almost 50, I feel like I do. For the sake of understanding the work more, let me tell you about all the times I have been cat-called, groped, assaulted, harassed, silenced, called “hot’, “slut”, even “Saturday Night Special”. It is constant. If you look at my Facebook timeline, you can see it there. I have been told not to wear lipstick in my poetry readings, but that rather I can wear it in a “private show”. All kinds of things have been said. When I was in first-grade, a stranger stopped me in the woods and took my pictures. I freaked out and that feeling has never left me. I felt ashamed and gross—that I had done something wrong. Can you imagine? At six-years old? As women we get that feeling that is purely ineffable and we throw it into differing realms to either suppress it or manage it. No one knows that feeling but women. The shame goes on and on. For years, I tried to play down my sexuality to avoid problems. That is not fair. For years, I could not look at myself in the mirror. That is not fair. I belong to me. The voyeurism is controlled by me on social media—there I create my identity. Sex is so performative, so is social media. They just fit together. I like to play with that. Everything I do is my art. Everything I do is my identity.
The first poems are short lined, repetitious, and use an often staccato rhythm which creates an almost trance like state. These poems lead us to your longer prose poem which acts, in a way, as a contemplation on existence. What was your intention in using these two styles of writing within the context of the visual pieces?
Intention! What is that? I am laughing because I am so in the moment with my work. There is not intention. Maybe I will say, ok a short line. It is more convenience, I think. The prose poem may be a nod to Baudelaire, Stein—I don’t know. It may be that is what I was teaching in poetry class that week! I do think the mix of the two forms can be jarring. And, really, I want the book to be jarring. This is hard work—traveling space and time like a rubber-band.
Your visual pieces engage a free style and gesture, and incorporate asemic writing. The face is a repeated image, and you often use brilliant primary reds, yellows, and blues. Is there a relationship between this style of art and your consideration of “voyeurism, sexuality, and performance”?
The face is a theme that appears over and over. I started posting selfies of myself on “Face”book and Instagram a few years ago and discovered that I got a lot of attention from men. I started getting messages and “likes” and it was fascinating to me and it was euphoric many times. Social media is set up so we can create our own personas—and we must remember they are not real. I have always known that. My selfies gained a lot of attention and the faces started appearing in my art. I can get more “likes” with a selfie that with my art. Isn’t that fascinating!
Now, that I think about it I have always drawn faces of women. I don’t know what the face means—an imagined identity, the look of who we are, the guidance of sex. I found that with the selfies, I could actually control my image and persona. I have at least one persona on Facebook that was built out of all the images I have posted.
It seems contradictory to give all of yourself over to social media and then feel empowered. That is the intersection that interests me. I can see faces in all the art I do; I try to bring them out sometimes. Karla, with our collabs I did the same thing. It is so ghostly. Maybe it is the ghost of women who are speaking to me. That seems like something you tap into as well. When I collabed with De Villo Sloan on WHISTLE, the faces became part of our fight. It was a fight. Pretty erotic, too. Eventually, he drew a face and wrote words: “I don’t do faces” which was what we called a “breakthrough” piece. Our own images and their packing are always extended to others. There are always constellations. We should really track that. The red and yellow are just colors I am drawn to; I find yellow a very sexual color.
You often work in collaboration; several of your books have been created in collaboration. I’m curious how putting together “Rather” was for you compared to creating a collaborative publication?
It is easier to work solo than to collaborate. People are so weird. Relying on other people to put things together, communicate, and edit is so hard, but I love it. I get so much energy from other people (has to be the right person) which is funny because I am such an introvert. Rather, even though it is a solo project, had help from Virgil Suarez, the editor. I was very intuitive about the selected pieces.
As a leader in the asemic writing community, what role do you see asemic writing having in the greater vispo world and poetry in general?
I can’t believe anyone would call me a leader! Asemic writing is in a great time right now. More and more people are finding online groups and communities to share their work. There still seems to be some contention over what exactly makes something “asemic” and I think that is good, especially for people who don’t come from a theoretical background. Old conventions need to be redefined. It is painful for some, but much needed. I am interested in the women doing asemic and vispo. They are leading the way. Often the women are working against real patriarchal structures in these communities. Gatekeepers still publish majority men. I will always push for women. That is why I created Women Asemic Artists and Visual Poets Global-a Facebook group. I have met so many amazing women. We are really a movement. So, I see asemics as really pushing the boundaries of vispo. Also, it seems to be more acceptable in mainstream publications.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?
I am editing a book of women’s asemic writing and visual poetry: WAAVe Global Gallery. This is going to be an amazing book. Six editors chose several artists and created a themed section. We liken it to a gallery. I am the managing editor and section editor. It will be out July 202I from Hysterical Books. I hope it will shake up the community; we have not seen this kind of anthology with all women. Can you believe that? My hope is that it will become a serial project since we could not include so many women. I do know that there are many more projects focusing on women on the horizon from other sources. I am also working on a collection of my glitch work, American Apparell, which explores the intersections of digitalia (platforms and modes) and social expectations of women in Capitalistic messaging. I call the glitches, femmeglitch. It has been a real obsession for me. I have over 1,500 digital pieces! I may have to do a library due to the size of the project.
Kristine Snodgrass is an artist, poet, professor, curator, and publisher living in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the author of Godlessness from Alien Buddha Press, Rank from JackLeg Press, American Apparell from AlienBuddha Press and Rather, from Contagion Press. The proud founder and curator of Women Asemic Artists & Visual Poets (WAAVe), Snodgrass searches to create an online space for women in the asemic and vispo communities to share work, offer support, and network. Her asemic and vispo work has been published in Utsanga (Italy), Slow Forward and featured in Asemic Front 2 (AF2), South Florida Poetry Journal, Voices de la Luna, Brave New Word, and Talking About Strawberries, and forthing coming in Street Cake. She is the art editor for SoFloPoJo. Snodgrass loves collaborating and is always searching for new projects with artists and poets. You can find some of her writing about collaboration at TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism. She is excited about her newest chapbook, zero-zero, poems in collaboration with Maureen Seaton. More about Kristine Snodgrass at kristinesnodgrass.com.