“What place does the slow-moving technology of love have in our world?”
Plainspoken but never simplistic, the writing of Ashley Obscura and her press, Metatron, is emblematic of many of the young voices rising up all over poetry at the moment. These voices don’t have time no not say what they mean; they’re too busy trying to live. This is a generation and an esthetic that cannot afford to be misunderstood, so must speak as clear as possible.
At first glance, Ambient Technology is a collection of serial love poems, but these poems seem to want to interrogate love, to inspect its universality. “Love is in the connection of things/ Where one thing meets another/ Where energy flows endlessly// A radical experience of the existence/ Of an other” From “Wings, Candy, Push Notifications.” What is your version of a love poem and what drew you to the style?
I am such a romantic! My mother is Mexican and growing up around that culture instilled in me a great sense of romance, sensuality and passion that often felt at odds with the realities of growing up and dating in Canada. I’ve always been drawn to and have sought out love poetry—whether it be Neruda, cummings, Rumi, or Adrienne Rich. I was going through an awful breakup when I started working on Ambient Technology. Ambient Technology came from a need to know why we give up on people who love us. I became very interested in human connection and why or why not we consciously nurture our relationships or not. And during that process of investigation, I began to think a lot about the conditions outside of our personal relationships that influence us and our ability to connect with one another. How does technology influence our relationships? What about capitalism? For instance, capitalism makes it so that we don’t need each other in the same way we used to. Money, digital avatars, and even AI have replaced and will continue to replace our need to physically connect with others. And, what about the instant gratification that technology fosters? Has it made us satisfaction-seeking addicts who can’t be bothered by boredom or difficulty? I think both capitalism and technology are influencing our relationships in ways we’re not really thinking about. What place does the slow-moving technology of love have in our world? If we’re not getting married or having kids, what function do our relationships serve? I feel like we are living in a time when it’s incredibly difficult to love and commit to relationships. At least for Millenials, how does one commit to something with so much precarious uncertainty around us? Why even bother trying to hold onto anything at all? From jobs to the climate, there is little to no small sense of security for us. And for me, as a response to this, it’s so important that I am creating, advocating and nurturing a culture of love because I think it's the best remedy against greed, corruption, abuse of power. Ambient Technology was a process in trying to understand what place love has in the world, and a place I could explore my sensuality and longing for romance on the safe space of the page.
How do you define love? It can be such slippery concept with subjective meaning for each of us. I’m always fascinated that obviously hateful, greedy, corrupt and abusive people still find a way to love someone or something.
Love is wonder. As soon as you try to define it, its definition expands. There’s a line I wrote years ago that still resonates with me: “Nature is space in love with space.” It’s a feeling at first that makes one's sense of self and belonging expand and vibrate. I think ultimately love is composed of actions that empower as opposed to disempower others. It moves us to be better, to try harder to overcome our struggles and uplift others as opposed to tear them down. Love moves us to live for more than just ourselves. It’s a language that everyone understands, and ultimately what binds us to one another regardless of our differences.
Are we born with the capacity to love like this, or is it something we learn from those around us? If we are born with this amazing ability, how is it we forget it? Is it possible for us to get it back?
I think we are all born from a place of love and that life is a process of getting back to that frequency. Love is something we learn and unlearn constantly throughout life. I think our capacity for love is incredibly important in the next stage of conscious human evolution, just as important as technology and innovation, if not more. I like to imagine a world resonating, as a whole, at the frequency one experiences when they feel love.
But that’s all just the dreamy side of me. Another side is really actively thinking about how to create space for more love to move through the world. For those who aren’t operating from a place of love, how do we love those people? How do we love people who are flawed; who have made mistakes? How do we hold space for people to fail, to learn? How do we stop the cycles of violence? Of oppression? How do we forgive people who have wronged us? How do we hold people accountable, but still hold them? I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by love in my life and in my writing, but I think it genuinely comes from a place of needing to have something to believe and have faith in. For me, love is the only absolute truth and the only reason we’re here on earth: to learn how to love and be loved. We need a culture that engages with questions of love more than ever.
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As the founder and managing editor of Metatron Press, I was wondering if you could tell us something about why you founded the press and what kind of writing you are interested in publishing.
I started Metatron after doing an undergrad in a creative writing program and tampling a bit in student journalism. I wanted to work at a publishing press and practice the art of publishing poetry, but there were no opportunities to do so. So I started Metatron as a sort of need for me and my peers, because on a vaster scale there was also a major lack of publishing support for young writers in Montreal and Canada at large. I wanted to create a new literary publishing press that invested time and energy in emerging writers and a new style of writing that I perceived was emerging in a fun, refreshing and relatable format. And, beyond that, I wanted to nurture a new culture of literature that was in line with contemporary concerns and ideas. I’m interested in publishing spirited, cutting-edge and daring literature and highlighting emerging voices that haven’t historically been given the spotlight, and doing so within a community that is open-minded and supportive.
Metatron definitely does seem to have its own unique voice. Are there any stylistic similarities or trends you’ve noticed your writers have in common?
I like to think of our books as being relics of this particular time and space we happen to be living in and the idea of future generations stumbling upon our books and being like “Oh, this is what is was like to be young and living in the early days of the post-Internet technological revolution!” I think a certain sense of emotional vulnerability comes through in all our books. All our books are affirmations of our authors existence—their emotions, thoughts, fears and dreams. Our books span vast subject matter, but there is still something that connects them all that I’m still not able to put my finger on. Nostalgia for a better future, maybe?
You co-wrote an interactive Virtual Reality project called The Museum of Symmetry for the NFB. What did the writing process for a VR project look like? Were there any similarities to how you write poetry?
It was an incredibly unique experience writing for VR. I had to reteach myself about the possibilities of language and what storytelling may look like in a non-linear, visceral kind of way. It took us a couple years of brainstorming to come up with the storyline and to figure out the mechanics and technology we would need to express Museum of Symmetry. I had never experienced VR, so I did a lot of testing of various VR experiences at that time. I was very inspired by the possibilities of this new form, the potential for immersive poetry. Those early stages I worked a lot on character development. I pulled lines from some of my poems and from my Twitter as sample snips of dialogue. Once we got the NFB committed to bringing Museum of Symmetry off the ground and once we got with Casa Rara, the VR developers, it all happened so quick. I would go downtown and slip on a VR headset and watch what they had made of a certain level, take down some feedback and notes, then go home and write out dialogue for the characters inside a Google spreadsheet. I would also record the lines when submitting each draft which were then dropped into the builds for the following week. The next week I would, again, watch what they had accomplished during the week, take some feedback and notes and start the process over again. That process continued rigorously for a couple months until we had finished it. It was a collaborative, creative, organized and efficient process, but one that was always spontaneous and open-minded. Working with poetry within a 3-dimensional environment taught me that you don’t have to say a lot to express or explain your story, it’s already there. My job as a writer became a question of, how do I breathe sentimentality through this environment through dialogue? What purpose does language have in this unrealistically fantastic world? That question is actually at the heart of all of my work—in poetry or publishing or VR or whatever—that deep desire I have to express, through language, what an unrealistically fantastic world may be like.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
James Lindsay has been a bookseller for more than a decade. He is also co-owner of Pleasence Records in Toronto, a record label specializing in post-punk, odd-pop and avant-garde sound pieces.