Small Press Snapshot: Timeless, Infinite Light

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Timeless, Infinite Light is a small poetry publisher based in Oakland, but to put it that way is to sap the force out of their astonishing vigor. They are a press of the dark matter of consciousness as a nexus between heritage and the glitter of possibility, of otherness as a radical force of nature blowing tenderly but insistently against the contemporary structures of power. Their “books are spells for unraveling capitalism,” as they put it themselves, and they “believe in the radical potential of collaborative, hybrid, and embodied writing.”

I have been in love with what has grown out of these ideas. They are a collective in the messiest, truest senses of the word. They operate out of the Omni Commons in North Oakland (along with organizations like Counter Culture Labs, Material Print Machine, Black Hole Cinema, and Sudo Room). They routinely retain authors to help with events, promotions, and production work. And they thrive on both a local and dispersed community of artists and poets and in a creative machinery that repurposes materials; records happenings; and finds marriage in collaborations of text, image, and performance—all efforts that unsettle deep-seated literary conventions. What I love most, however, is how they make me rethink the book.

So I wanted to talk just a little bit about just that, their books. If you’d like to learn more about the press itself, you can, of course, go to their smartly designed website, or check out this deep conservation with author Ivy Johnson and editors Emji Spero and Joel Gregory. But for right now let’s take a quick and loose look at three of their recent publications.

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levitationsLevitations, by JH Phrydas, published in November of last year. Rob Halpern’s blurb describes the project well, as an “odyssey of transfiguration, using its lines to build new architectures for nonviolent habitation.” It’s this idea of building and architecture: the design, with its section illustrations, echo architectural drawings, and Phrydas’s lines themselves shoot in intersecting trajectories that build up and outward, from the self to the dwelling to the city, balancing a fine tension between angularity and the organic: “These are architectural blueprints of a written animal, snarling. / Emerging, it lies in the laps of citizens. / A water-birth into language.”

Phrydas eventually populates his city with a variety of approaches, throwing lines left and right justified, falling into a deep and often anaphoric meditation, and blocking out prose poems that pan across their scenes, such as this acute one from “We Hope Daily to Witness Collapse”:

Her sidelong glance a red flash not fire but fading sun against the rough surface of glass. And in the street a form, upright against the sun, shoveling ash along brick byways. A pale on the horizon that begins to bend. Workers covered in soot, leaving impressions of shoulders during cigarette breaks along these stucco walls.

The project is thrillingly diverse and often haunting in its imagery at the same time that it can move with incantatory power.

black lavender milkIf Phrydas rafters his way upward, Angel Dominguez, in Black Lavender Milk (published in December, 2015) dives downward, into ancestry—specifically, the Mayan cenote as a gateway to the underworld. The book “offers the space of a ‘novel,’” according to the publisher description, “as a site of mourning, inquiry, and recuperation. Through a complex, hypnotic blur of language, the lyric-as-novel functions as an extended meditation on Writing in relation to the Body; Time, Loss, Ancestry, and Dreaming.”

Dominguez writes with lush prose: “I return to the orchard in dreams. The land grown wild with distance; time smudged violet, the citrus trees gave off a dim aura; years of night left, scattered. I cycle my blood through these words.” His attempt to reconcile the death of his grandfather, to enact a burial, is deeply personal and yet steeped in the traditions and spiritual structures of a collective existence. These structures are startlingly present in an otherwise familiar world (something I’ve noticed a lot in Timeless, Infinite Light’s books): we aren’t just in dreamscapes but constantly reawakening in the profane, real world. Dominguez moves between worlds  particularly well. Look at how he does it in this airplane assocational fever poem, a flight home, when he leaves the underworld for the heavens (the section illustrations throughout the book are all photographs taken from a plane, which nicely contrast the humid jungles and mysterious cenotes that are otherwise our primary locales):

From above the earth we witness the vast blank expression of time, disappearing. The power goes out in the house you grew up in. You fail to grow up. You fail to return; instead, you wake up on this flight, reading this book by an animal you don’t know; I washed my paws before coming aboard; did you do the same? I burned my wrist opening my body in the desert. I broke my toe in Tucson. I opened portals with bodies of light. Andrea taught me to think like a magi. I’m learning to be alive, turning myself inward. I know where to find it. The desert of my heart, I bury the night sky. . .

oil and candleThe scale of Black Lavender Milk can’t be overstated, nor its ambition, though it shares a similar one with many of Timeless, Infinite Light’s projects—this drive toward opening the body up to the mind, and the mind up to the unknown; a headlong pitch into the mystical. It’s something that Gabriel Ojeda-Sague, in his forthcoming Oil and Candle (publishing in the tract series, March 2016), does in a more steadied and concentrated way. In this book, Ojeda-Sague sets out a project of limpias, or cleaning, as well as path-opening, through the burning of an abrecaminos candle—recording his experiences in verse and, along the way, exploring a variety of heritage spiritual practices and beliefs from the Latino/Caribbean tradition.

Ojeda-Sague frames his experiment with anecdotally humanizing, honest, funny, charming—and also moving—vignettes, such as this one, when he realizes that he doesn’t know how to respectfully dispose of the burnt out abrecamino candle:

since it was my
first time and I had
to call the botanica
and ask and the
worst part is
I had to google
the word for dispose
because I had
forgotten and didn’t
want to be so
informal and just
say “poner en
el zafacon” and
they said I really
should just put it
in the trash which
felt weird to say
the least but I did
it and in my dorm
the trash is a long
metal chute not a
bin and I had to
hear it go all the way
down after asking
myself is this
recyclable

It’s such a vulnerable scene, and it is in stark contrast to when Ojeda-Sague does enact the ritual and record his experiences, and it seems like the more serious project gets underway—especially in the final long poem of this book (the book actually ends, in my advanced version, with “bonus material”–Jeffrey Cheung’s fabulous linocuts and a sneak peak at Jai Arun Ravine’s forthcoming The Romance of Siam, both quite enticing art pieces). In this long poem, Ojeda-Sague records his meditative journey in in an abrecamino and Tarot ritual, finding heights of extraordinary language. Here is a particularly good example, I think, a moment of luminous difficulty:

the Kevlar comes into the soil
in advantage of bordering

distance leaves artifacts

the soft
sleeps
in a glitch

decoding the govern,
my uncertain lover
is hitting the ground

most days
it isn’t easier than this

finding
the door

Timeless, Infinite Light seems to be a hitting a particular stride with their output, promising several more titles this year. The range and diversity of their list looks to be expanding, and I am eager to see what else they will bring in, how they will treat it, and what pathways they will open up. Progressive, urging, necessary—but often playful and loose—their books so far succeed at constellating rich personal, mystical, and cultural experiences and help establish further and further outposts of the possible; for a reader like me, it is these sorts of projects that offer one of the more viable visions for the future of radical poetry.

TIL LOGO

Lead image courtesy of Timeless, Infinite Light’s Facebook page. More information is available on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

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