Ever Rohan Saskya
BIO: Ever Rohan Saskya (ROH) is the author of A Porch is a Journey Different from the House, published by New Issues Press, and a series of novellas from In the Book of Want: A Month Wanting a Body/A Body Wanting Paradise & Every Sound is a Music, forthcoming from Dante's Heart in the fall of 2012. She has had publications in The Offending Adam, 5_trope, and Double Room. She is the creator and writer for Live From Cooter County, an online series, which will be available for viewing in the winter of 2013. Her website for Visual Sounds is available at www.everrohansaskya.com. Ever lives in Denver, Colorado with four puppets. She considers her mind and the minds of others to be the greatest travel destinations.
An Interview with Ever Rohan Saskya by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum: "Instead" is what you call a sound poem, more of which can be found here: I'm wondering how it is that, one, you go about creating these images and, two, how you go about interpreting them with words that end up as poems.
Ever Rohan Saskya: I can explain it briefly, and then I can show you. First: I take sounds and digitally display the sound waves. Second: I capture the dancing of those sounds with another computer program. Third: I layer those captures underneath and over each other in chosen areas in another computer program.
From this formulation, sounds begin to take on a life of their own; each becomes visible and tangible. A Visual Sound Poem (VSP) comes from how my mind works while utilizing the software programs.
The following is a visual example to show how I layer sounds to create each VSP using three different computer programs:
1. I record sounds or use prerecorded sounds and then play them on the computer. In the first program, parts of the sounds may come out like the first or second visual below:
2. After a pattern appears based on those sounds, I capture it with a different software program. This is how I have the pattern and colors in number one. Sometimes I alter the capture and make it thin or thick, small or large. Sometimes I reverse the colors to see what is there, or what is not available from that moment of sound. The visual below is several steps into creation with accumulated sound waves.
I started with A in order to find B.
I expanded A in some areas in order to make B.
I made new layers with other sounds for C.
I started over with different sounds in order to make a third visual, which is separate from the previous ones in A, B, or C; the visual shown below in D was made the same way as the prior visuals: various waves written and layered under in order to produce a visual form.
Then I took all of those separate Visual Sound Poems and made one larger visual by connecting and layering them together. The layering process was the same as each panel became one solid Visual Sound Poem.
If you look at E and compare it with F, you can see the subtle writing of sounds that changes the colors and hues in the white section. I do not need to layer the new sound waves under the whole visual but can choose even a fragment of the visual and insert those sounds in its underneath. The visual becomes balanced and true to itself.
In G, I moved the panels around and changed the hue of the sound waves. You can see that I shifted the panels around and added sounds underneath that were recorded in lighter colors to change the visual and balance it out more. Colors of waves can be inverted using the software and come alive in new ways. Sometimes that is the best way to balance the visual artifact.
My favorite part in the process is when H begins. Sound waves take on a life of their own and create a new space. At this moment, I frantically add sound waves-sometimes in a dizzying manner--as the Visual Sound Poem commands additions to itself.
In I, this visual almost looks like a painting.
Since the visual is made entirely with sound waves, the artifact is layered much like language in a story or poem. I wish I could show each individual change as well as each sound as it is layered into the whole; I could note where each sound wave came from before it was inserted into the visual. I think that is a project for another time. My hope is that this explanation will give insight into the creation of this form. This completed Visual Sound Poem and the language that came for it are both featured here:
AMK: Why do you feel the visuals are necessary for the poem's creation or for their final presentation. Take "Instead" as a perfect example. It is one heck of an eerie, chilling poem, but I don't really see the connection between the images and the words that accompany them. Sure, it certainly looks cool, but I'm not sure it's essential I have the image along with the poem.
ES: The language of the poem would not have existed without the visual. The poem (the visual made from sound waves and the written language inspired by that visual) would not have existed at all had the visual not come into being in just this way. Much like a painter or story teller, there were revisions. As I layered the sounds, the visual evolved into its own space; I allowed that visual to take over until it reached completion. I see it as similar to how a writer knows s/he can do no more with the poem, and it goes into its own life. For example, the visual in "Instead" was made with sound waves from gospel music. That makes me smile because it looks so eerie even though the sounds used were meant to be soothing and healing. I like the contradiction formed when writing with sound waves.
In "Instead," the visual is sinister. I never think: "What does this visual say to me?" or "What should I write about this visual?" The visual draws the language to it. If I try to evaluate it now, I see the eye as something evil; perhaps that triggered the idea of someone looking through the crack of a door at a terrified child. Those were not my thoughts at the time. The red could be seen as the mind trying to take it in, escape, and survive. Again, those were not my thoughts at the time. After the poem was finished (I consider the visual element language in the poem as well), I can see how the entire poem could represent what the mind tries to hide from or escape when faced with its own finality. I wish I could say I have a model, chart, or magical way of interpreting each visual. I don't. The language simply comes for the Visual Sound Poem. I find the experience of being there in its creation overwhelming and invigorating all at the same time.
AMK: Can you talk about how the process of creating the image, seeing that which you see in the images, and the writing of the poems themselves. Not so much how you conduct this process but how each stage of the process informs the others. Do you create an image and leave it as is as the poem around it develops. Do you ever revise the images to fit your poem more effectively? Do you wait to write until the image in entirely finished or do they evolve, from time to time, concurrently? Etc, etc?
ES: The visual came first for "Instead." There are revisions when creating each Visual Sound as well as revisions when language comes to surround the artifact. The visual is moved sometimes all over the page to see where it fits with the language that comes for it. Also, language leaves. There are times when what comes for each visual goes away, and something else takes its place. Whatever the text or visual needs, I let it happen. If the text demands the visual be smaller, I shrink the visual. If the visual demands the text move beneath, above, or beside it, then that is where I place it. The visual is language and informs the language just as the language informs the visual-they live together on the page. Whether it is the Visual Sound or the sounds/words that surround the visual, the only thing I know for sure is when the piece is completely finished That is all I am ever certain of when creating: It is finished.
AMK: Would you call this a prose poem or a sound poem? By this, I mean is "Instead" in prose because that's the form you had in mind as you put it together or is this simply a block of text that fits well with the images that are below it, which is the form of a sound poem in and of itself?
ES: It is Visual Sound-you can see the sound waves develop a solid and, if printed, touch them. The text would never exist without the existence of the visual. To me, the visual is language, words, and a linguistic sing-made of so many varying parts; one cannot readily distinguish one chorus from the other. Without prior sounds, the artifact of Visual Sound would never exist. It did not come all on its own because it is both connected to former sounds and disconnected from them as it becomes its own visual. In this form, none of the sounds I used to create the Visual Sound Poem can be heard by the viewer or reader. In some way, the sounds in the visual can be read, viewed, and touched with hands. The square of the language balances the square of the visual in "Instead." I don't consider "Instead" a prose poem even though I know naming allows understanding and limits our understanding of what language is capable of all at the same time.
AMK: While I feel a little odd saying this, I just love that second sentence in the poem. It's the sort of joke that, again I feel odd admitting, I've heard before, so it has an authenticity to it that's very creepy, and the image and voice that comes through of the old woman and her judgment of those around her is wonderfully authentic. So the poem seems very real and very much immediate in a way that isn't as common in poetry as I think many of us would like. Can you talk a little bit about where this poem came from and how it came together? It almost has the feel of a news story you might have happened across...
ES: I wish I could say it was a newspaper article. I even thought of how to answer this question in a way that does not make me vulnerable to readers. The best way to explain the poem is to say this: I can write about disturbing events because I grew up in a house full of them. I'm not trying to make brutality beautiful; I'm trying to make it honest.
AMK: Are you writing a collection of sound poems? How do you hope they are viewed? In a book? Online? An e-book?
ES: I have two books to send off that are created using sound waves. One book I have finished was written based on the visual below entirely and is entitled, The Garden in Sanja's Mind.
The text is a graphic novella about Sanja and Nana, who live in the village until firestarters take over their land. After killing, raping, and mutilating people, firestarters take the people who remain to the tops of mountains to witness the burning of their world below them-all colors and items of history are destroyed in a fire. Sanja takes a picture of the land with her mind to keep her world alive for generations to come.
That is what this visual began; the entire novella is written from this visual. Other visuals are inserted and create language as well. The end of the text is 40 interconnected Visual Sound Poems that are made from all different sounds to create The Bright World (one larger piece of visual language). In The Garden in Sanja's Mind, The Bright World was created before the writing of the end of the book. I understand why Visual Sound is called an image because we do not have another word for it. I don't consider Visual Sound an image as much as I consider it a visual text full of sound that lives on its own terms.
The other text is called, Until the Last Breath Comes and has some of the poems from TOA in it and is about the death of a child. The text is actually about watching my Papa die slowly for two years after doing my grandmother's hospice. If I can make it about something else, it helps me get the storm out. Rarely do I ever switch the text back to what is actual. These two books have yet to find a home. Publishing the texts in color or with pages that fold out can be expensive. E-books may be the only option; even in that form, the pages do not balance on a screen. Both pages of the text are set up to balance perfectly with color, language, and visual when the book is opened by the reader as shown below:
Each page connects visually to the other. All that matters now is that each one exists.
Note: What I find fascinating is that the reader sees the finished project, and the Visual Sounds that made it to a complete vision. I failed so many times when I tried to make sound visual. I even failed when making various Visual Sound Poems. The beginning visuals (not in any book) are embarrassing as I look back at them now. In some way, those visuals make me smile. I can see where I started and remember the frustration. Then I see how far the visual has come, and I was there to see it and be a part of it. I love our language. Isn't that what loving something is about? You give yourself over to it fully even if you fail. I'm okay with failure as long as it is not the end but a new beginning--a chance to start over and learn what sound can do and language can become for us.
A "Mini-Review" of Ever Saskya's "Instead” by Zachary Macholz, Contributing Editor
Ever Saskya’s “Visual Sound Poems” (VSP) are literally made of sound waves. Recording sounds in various places and then playing those sounds (sometimes many sounds at once) produces random colors in sound waves, which become the “visual artifact,” that accompanies the text in each VSP. The visual artifacts in each VSP are based on sound waves, but those waves do not produce images on their own; instead, Saskya “layers,” the sound waves and “write[s] the waves into the physical space of a blank page,” in order to produce each VSP.
Those images, however, do not stand alone on the page. They are accompanied by text, words that emanate from or are inspired by the visual artifact of the sounds themselves. So, in short, sounds are recorded, become visualized through a program, are layered onto the page by the author, and eventually, the visual artifact of sound(s) inspires words.
There is something cryptic about the visual artifacts in “Instead.” Perhaps it is the background darkness of the images; perhaps it is the way the red part of the image resembles something almost evil, marauding; perhaps it’s the way the ghost-like gray outline on the right-hand side of the image looks eerily like an eye socket with no eye inside it. Or maybe it’s the way anything that visualizes in waves and lines has the capacity to evoke thoughts of unpleasant realities: seismic readings, or a heart-rate monitor, perhaps.
More likely, it is the image in conjunction with the prose poem that gives me this sense of darkness, of lurking evil. Though it’s not clear what the exact connection is between the image and the poem—again, the text is inspired by the image, and we don’t know what sounds led to the image’s creation—in the case of “Instead,” the two are a perfect match. Though the text would stand alone just fine, without the visual artifact, here the two seem to dovetail nicely.
“Instead,” seems to be about a disturbing event that almost happens, but doesn’t—the rape and murder of a young boy by his own father. The first sentence is eerie enough: “I’m certain his father would have carried his limp, naked nine-year-old body into the back yard, shoveled / cool red clay dirt over his limbs under settled moonlight, then buried him where yellow squash grows.” “I’m certain,” and “would have,” are the words that suggest that this thing almost happened, but didn’t. The first sentence instills the father with evil intentions, by suggesting he has the capacity to bury his own son’s dead body in the backyard in the middle of the night, in secrecy.
The second sentence begins the same way as the first: “I’m certain the gossiping old woman down the hill would have told the police about conversations she / overheard where that man had mentioned how tight a little boy’s ass was compared to an adult vagina.” It seems possible, but unlikely, that “that man,” is someone other than the father, but the next sentence clarifies that by referring to “other neighbors,” so we know we are talking about one man, Leonard’s father. We are disturbed, both by the thought of sexual violence against a child, and more so by the fact that his father is the one having the discussion (and is doing so repeatedly) loudly enough for a neighbor to overhear.
The third sentence is perhaps the least urgent sentence in the poem: “She would have added how other neighbors were also busy almost killing their own children as she / pointed to houses: there, there, and that pink one there.” This sentence seems to be more about the woman’s characterization as a gossip, and busybody, though it also seems to suggest that there is something nefarious happening to children in all of the homes on her street, or in her neighborhood, adding to the sinister undertones of the first two sentences.
The fourth sentence begins with the word found in the title and the word that the entire poem’s meaning really hinges on: “instead.” “Instead Leonard heard his bedroom door shut; / his father’s footsteps marched toward an adjacent room as he awoke alive in his body, then fell into a / deep, tortured sleep.” “Instead,” is what implies that all of these things came close to happening, but ultimately did not.
It is, perhaps, not a coincidence that the thing that wakes Leonard is the sound of a door closing and footsteps walking away. Sounds within the text of the poem play an important role, and they are rendered or hinted at in each sentence. In the first sentence, one might hear the sounds of a shovel breaking ground, of a body being dragged. In the second sentence, there’s the sound of a woman’s voice, and of police sirens and radios. In the third sentence, the only sound really evoked is the woman’s dialog, but then in the fourth sentence, we get a door closing and footsteps walking away. Sounds, in addition to being the inspiration for the text of the poem, are highly present within the lines themselves, adding a rich layer to the world being described by the poem.
The prose poem itself is highly compelling. Comprised of just four sentences, the poem is something like an onion, with each sentence peeling back a layer, revealing the next level of information that we get in a way that heightens the tension of the poem by keeping us on edge and only releasing information a bit at a time. The poem chillingly renders a scenario that, while quite uncomfortable to think about, is not uncommon. It deals with a difficult and painful subject matter without being coy or trivializing. And it leaves us uneasy because, although what could have happened didn’t happen, it only didn’t happen this time—there are no guarantees about Leonard’s future.
Ever Saskya’s Visual Sound Poem is probably different from most of the poems you’ve read lately. The more Type A among us might be desperate to know: what were the recorded sounds that led to the visual artifact, and is there a connection between those sounds and the sounds rendered in the poem? But even if that question is never answered, the visual artifact and the prose poem seem quite fitting for one another. Both leave us just a bit uncertain, a bit uneasy. Both are built upon an underlying darkness. It’s a darkness that draws us in and forces us to consider not just the image, and not just the text, but the connection between the two. Though the answer may not be clear right away, it’s a connection the thoughtful reader will want to ponder and explore, not just here, but in many of Ever Saskya’s poems