Creative Projects

One of my greatest fears is that I will die before completing the projects which have a hold on me. In the interest of eventually writing something others might actually enjoy reading, I promised myself I would not put my creative work on pause while pursuing my PhD. I often feel guilty when I account for my time by pointing to this work, because it is not the work I'm 'supposed' to be doing. Still, I sense that if I wait to write, I simply never will. My creative work has been slow but constant. Sometimes I feel frustratingly dispersed, but my plan is to keep juggling philosophy and creative writing, to keep all the balls in the air, to keep doing what I'm doing.

My first poetry chapbook, Black Bile Feminisms, is forthcoming with the Toronto-based small press espresso.

I started a collection of experimental poetry in 2014. It is nearly complete! A long poem from the collection won the Robin Blaser Poetry Award in 2015. It's here in The Capilano Review's archives.

One of the poems in the collection, "The Amenorrheic Werewolf Writs," appeared this year in Works for Now: an espresso anthology  (espresso).

In April 2019, I performed "Adustion," another long poem from the project, at TEXT/SOUND/PERFORMANCE, a conference on experimental writing and decolonization at University College Dublin. The piece is an amalgamation of Robert Burton’s classic text The Anatomy of Melancholy and numerous theoretical sources. It explores the different forms of violence writing can fall prey to by dint of being either opaque or clear.

In 2018, Adam Katz (University at Buffalo) included one of my long poems in Partial Zine 1. Adam glossed his aim as the curator of this zine as follows. "I'd like to rise in defense of thinking as partial. An incomplete use of human life, unable to root out all its presuppositions. What happens when we commit more resources to that than we can spare."

In 2017, I was thrilled to perform one of the angrier poems in the collection—"Lady Lazarus, Resembled"—at a reading held to celebrate Donato Mancini's then new SAME DIFF.  

In 2016, I was honored to read an experimental prose piece at the 'ReMix Party' which launched Mat Laporte's RATS NEST. The launch was the occasion for the piece; I think of the piece as part of the aforementioned collection as well.

From the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2016, I wrote for Douglas Glover's rhizomatic lit zine and true labor of love, Numéro Cinq. For the essays, book reviews, and interviews with writers I completed during that time, click here.   

In 2013, I defended a hybrid novel to fulfill one of the requirements for an MFA degree. Dionne Brand supervised the project. Margaret Christakos mentored me during my time in the program, shaping the project indirectly. The original text combines academic, dramatic, poetic, and fictional writing while querying the difference between violence and assistance, and the self and the other. I have been developing and rewriting the already-extant parts of the novel since I graduated. I hope to find a form for it that satisfies me, and that I can shop around, within the next two years.

Early Years

I started to make a concerted effort to write poems when I was seventeen. I carried around a small red thesaurus and penned a lot of verse that was objectively humiliating. I took creative writing classes while completing my undergraduate degree at the U of A, studying lyric poetry at first with Bert Almon, but subsequently turning to experimental poetry. Christine Stewart introduced me to various experimental traditions and mentored me. I loved the theory I was studying in my capacity as a philosophy student; while lyric traditions often seemed theory-hostile, the experimental traditions embraced it. Experimental poetry agreed with my brain, though it still took time for me to figure out how to practice it in a way that worked aesthetically.

The others who mentored me at the time were just my close friends: Jeff Carpenter, who was part of the short-lived sound-poetry duo 'Tonguebath,' and who was working for the U of A Press, and Joel Katelnikoff, who was also at the U of A, doing a PhD in English. Jeff was a bpNichol enthusiast and a book-hoarder in general. I coveted his library: he had all kinds of rare chapbooks and ephemera, texts by Jarry, texts on OULIPO, and a lot of the continental philosophy I loved but was only beginning to understand. Just chatting with him about his interests shaped my understanding of writing and my practice. Joel helped me learn how to evaluate my own prose.

I started to get a sense of what it means to create an aesthetic—sonic, visual, somewhat enigmatical—experience for another person, using language.

At some point before I packed up and left Edmonton, I was a chapbook designer for The Olive Reading Series. glenN robsoN taught me what I needed to know.

Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I did a fair amount of writing, and performed, for HERMEN, a local reading series which Joel helped organized, alongside Stephanie Bailey, Eleni Loutas, and Mark Woytiuk. 'HERMEN,' short for Hermenootyk, was supposed to signify "a bastardized science, a brand, a collective of individuals interested in...half-baked expression, vague dialogue and alternatives to speaking in the way that the everyday speaks." HERMEN readings remain among the most high-energy, playful, and stimulating I've ever attended. All of the performances were themed. Eleni introduced the Dada/Surrealism show. She set up a metal ladder and climbed onto it, miming something, or reticent in a way whose particulars escape my memory. There were actual readings, but two of the performers decided they would riff off of the venue’s ‘no external food or beverage’ policy. Their piece was entitled “No External Food or Beverage.” One 'reader' produced a Spider-Man Popsicle, ostensibly from ‘the outside.’ This incensed the other, who produced a mini blow torch, reducing the Popsicle to a charred stick and a puddle of liquid sugar. The sight of the puddle incited the original malefactor, whose fit had the air of sound-poetry. The art escalated. Both “readers” inclined toward one another, steam-whistling back and forth. Soon the exchange became physical; one reader left the other “unconscious” on the floor. He picked up the body and dragged it circuitously around the tables in the venue toward the exit. The venue's walls were mainly windows, so it was possible to watch the performer tow his flaccid collaborator around the building to his car. He loaded him into the trunk, started the car and drove off into the night, never to return.

© 2019 by Natalie Helberg. Created with Wix.com