Five Questions with K Darch:
1. Could you tell us a bit about the writing of this poem? Was it written quickly or over a long period of time? In Ghana, Canada, or both? What was your editing process?
It was written quickly. I was in Ghana, a few weeks before heading back to Canada. I woke up one morning and wrote it down. It felt like a bomb had detonated in my chest. Everything fell back into place, but everything had shifted. It seemed that the thing that was immediately changed was me, and that the work was a record of that moment of change.
I left it as it was until I got to the University of British Columbia, then I had it workshopped in Meryn Cadell's lyric and libretto class, who read it as a persona poem in the form of song lyrics. I made some small changes based on their suggestions.
Before, the "pom" -- a term that means "British guy" in this context -- was quoted saying, "your emotional truth is my out of date currency," which I thought was funny and meant something very specific to me, but people found it confusing so I took it out.
2. This poem can be read as a companion piece to your last poem featured on OGOV, "her body is the land", as both an analysis of the financial and environmental abuse that occurs in a globalised economy. The connection between this poem and your analysis of galamsey in the last poem comes through most strongly in lines like "I've been staked out, mined, / melted down, embossed / found and just as quickly lost". Do you view these two poems as part of the same project? Can we expect more such poems in the future?
The narrator in this piece is articulating a crisis in which she is realizing her own lack of an internal locus of control. There's a nihilism that comes from the perception of having no control over the outcome of things, of having life happen to you. She's realizing that she may have sold herself short -- or, to get away from the monetary metaphor, she has let herself down. Like the earth in "her body is the land" she has been treated as a substance to be bought and traded, a currency that has no inherent value, and can either appreciate or depreciate in value depending on terms she has no control over. Except, for example, the control to conform to popular beauty standards, but that, she discovers, is not enough to keep her from being an object with a price that can depreciate to her peril. She's on the verge of saying, "Wait a minute. Even if I do all this work to conform, I'm still not winning. I'm still not an equal player."
In this sense, both poems reflect a concern about how market-driven concepts and market-driven language are applied to politics, culture and social interactions -- a language of efficiency, consumer choice, transactional thinking, and individual autonomy. And this language has a way of shifting risks and burdens of responsibility onto individuals rather than governments and corporations. This market logic extends into the realm of all social relationships. As Ayi Kwei Armah says in "The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born": "It is very easy to get used to what is terrible."
How does mining legislation play itself out in what we take as normalized labour conditions? How do racial and gender inequalities play themselves out in normalized interactions between men and women in Ghana? In both pieces I'm trying to rearrange the deeply familiar so that I can see it again. So that the anaesthetic, numbing effect of this market-driven language becomes aesthetic (i.e. something we can sense, feel). This language and these approaches strive to make themselves invisible -- this is how power protects itself -- by being invisible as such. I want to de-familiarize this approach by shifting context, putting it right into a poem or song for example, to make it visible, to take away its power.
Both pieces are about a moment where something you thought was deeply personal, that you thought was only you, only your problem, is actually the result of, say, legislation that was passed, or systemic economic or social inequality. The first realization is that you've been internalizing the burden of something that is really a systemic issue, and the second part is that there is a group of people who benefit from you continuing to think that it's just you, who benefit from you internalizing this burden. It's a huge slap in the face, but it's also transformative, because you realize that there are more of you and you're part of a story that's much bigger than yourself.
In this sense the pieces are part of the same process. I'll definitely continue to make things in response to this phenomenon as long as it continues and as long as it is a matter of shared concern.
3. Referring back to the lines quoted in the last question, this poem seems more concerned with rhythm and rhyme than what we've seen of yours in the past. Why is this? Was it an intentional decision or did it spring up organically in the writing of the poem?
It wasn't intentional at all. I woke up in the morning and there was this rhythm, and the rhythm invited me to put all this stuff there that was bothering me, to organize it. It seems that poems come from a seed -- one line or phrase that sprouts, and then songs start with a rhythm. The rhythm is like a lullaby to me. It allows me to take these things that are grim and painful and tangled and bring them into consciousness, which is a step towards transforming them.
4. Has there been any progress on the passing of Canadian mining bills C 300 and/or C 354, or on your own project, since we last discussed them?
Yes. Bill C 300 was defeated in parliament by six votes, 140 - 134. Again, this bill was meant to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for their actions in other countries. It's funny, how it looks -- it's just so bald -- that 140 Canadian MPs think that Canada should not be held accountable for its actions in other countries. An important caveat is that a significant chunk of Canadian pension funds are invested in Canadian gold mining companies, Goldcorp in particular, and Canadian pensioners don't even know it. Many MPs could have voted this way to protect the pensions of their constituents. Meanwhile, Goldcorp continues to contaminate water supplies across Africa and Latin America with cyanide.
The next bill to keep our eye on is Bill C 354, which has been described as stronger legislation than C 300. Even pro-mining blogs concede that C-354 is "couched in much more elegant philosophy," or just as better legislation to provide legal protection for those in other countries who are victims of gross human rights violations.
In my own work, I've turned my attention to the corporate privatization of universities by mining and pharmaceutical companies, because right now the university is where I'm positioned.
5. The new year has just begun - what are your political and personal wishes for 2011?
I was leaving Kingston, Ontario on the bus after New Year's, and I had this revelation that if I could go back in time a few years, knowing then what I know now, I think I no longer would have succumbed to the belief that my values and my success in the world were mutually exclusive. I wouldn't have been embarrassed about my values. Back then, I had a sense that my values (i.e. my sense of what was just, my intrinsic and political goals) were somehow at odds with my extrinsic goals: a career, status in a community, a living wage.
I guess my political and personal wish is to prove everyone wrong who would shame other people for their values. My wish is for my values to be my internal locus of control and for this to be the basis on which I earn a living wage.