TEXT EVENT WITH FIRE #2
With Chris Burden on my mind, I wanted to set one of my new poems about perfume on fire, in a controlled way. I kept thinking about how Burden’s work was literally the act of making the work, how writers can talk about process all they want, but in the end, all we really see is outcome. Every moment, the body, after all, is a processual outcome (and so is the text). I emailed my friend Jonathan Bloomberg-Rissman about the essential idea of this piece. He offered (no, promised) NOT to shoot me. “That’s what friends are for.” I’m lucky in that I usually get rousing enthusiasm from loved ones when I make suggestions about setting something on fire.
I printed up four copies of “To Take the Thought and Turn it Into a Scar,” a poem I wrote about “Patchouli 24,” a perfume from Le Labo conceived by Annick Menardo, four copies in case we had to try this several times to get it to work. “Patchouli 24” basically smells like the cracked, orange-pleather chairs in a 1970s Russian nuclear lab, plus librarians burning old books just outside the window. So there’s the commemoration of war on this holiday weekend, there’s the burning of a poem about a perfume that smells like burning…ritual heaped on ritual, sense on sense. The poem is ten pages long, so I grabbed ten bowls from the kitchen and lined them up on a long piece of green masking paper laid on the floor of Peter’s shop. Peter adjusted the bowls to be perfectly straight because he’s got it going on when it comes to the space/time continuum.
We did a first run with blank paper to see how things burned. Peter thought it might work better to use an accelerant, which gave us a more even burn and a longer burn time. Using his acetylene torch, he quickly touched the poetry in each bowl with flame. Steve filmed the whole event. I took a lot of pictures—the soft and fragile paper, the hardness of the handmade bowls filled with ash. Once the paper burned, the text clung ghostly to the ash, and I couldn’t stop looking. Then we carefully emptied the bowls of their ashes onto the page underneath the bowl. Steve made a short film of the event and posted it on YouTube.