To Live There: on ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’

By and | 1 February 2019

Dispatch from the Future Fish’ is a visual poem that is deliberately referential, opening up conversations and foregrounding the notion of writing into certain traditions: those that are given to us and those that we choose.

The first lines,

I come from
an archipelago
where land is built
on top of water
and that is called
a reclamation

come from Kyle Dacuyan’s poem, ‘American Vernaculars’. The section title, ‘Your President, Eileen Myles’, is also the title of Myles’ event organised by The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne in May, 2018. The Lobster is a 2015 film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The last lines of the poem, ‘We are all going forward. / None of us are going back’, are also the last lines of Richard Siken’s poetry collection, Crush.

‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’ opens and closes with a reference, both of which are taken from queer works and/or queer artists. These careful citations reflect on the practice of honouring queers who have encouraged other queers to walk down the path of living a queer life – whatever that life may look like.

It is also the case that much trans* art and many trans* artists may be drawn to these kinds of assemblages. Jack Halberstam writes of this in Unbuilding Gender where:

Trans* bodies … function not simply to provide an image of the non-normative against which normative bodies can be discerned, but rather as bodies that are fragmentary and internally contradictory; bodies that remap gender and its relations to race, place, class, and sexuality; bodies that are in pain; bodies that sound different from how they look; bodies that represent palimpsestic identities or a play of surfaces; bodies that must be split open and reorganised, opened up to chance and random signification.(n.pag)

‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’ takes from trans* criticism the imperative to be open to transformation. It is significant, then, that the poem is also a collaborative effort between Darlene Silva Soberano’s words and Eloise Grills’ interpretive illustration. The handwriting within the piece comes from both artists; Soberano wrote the section titles (‘A Reclamation’; ‘Your President, Eileen Myles’; ‘A Reclamation Part II’), while Grills has transcribed the words of the poem. The words of the piece have gone through several forms, first typed in a Word document, then written by hand into the comic’s visuals and finally converted back to a digital form readable online. The words bend: open to human hands holding both pen and pencil as well as typing. In the visual images they follow the rivers and are depicted as being among nature.

The first instance of the poem emulated Myles’s signature staccato style of language, but Grills’s visual arrangement of the poem suggests a slower reading. Consequently, in this final version, the dedication to Myles suggests both a marker of time as well as an acknowledgement of style. At its heart, ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’ is a poem that rages against aloneness, and both its referential nature and collaborative creation echo this discussion in the work.

In the section titled ‘A Reclamation, Part II’, the lines, ‘I stop for a second / It looks me in the face / holds my gaze, / and calls me by its name’, are lightly paraphrased from the last lines of André Aciman’s 2007 novel, Call Me by Your Name. The title references the character Oliver talking to his lover, Elio: ‘Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.’ This line celebrates the sameness of the two lovers; their sameness of sex, sameness of two different selves in an intimate moment. Their sameness is queer – that is, also strange; it is strange to call somebody else by your own name. And still. It is a strangeness taken upon by queer people, especially in the way the world perceives us: ‘we don’t have to be witty and charming people who keep our lives discreet and marginalised in the straight world’ (Love, p. 157).

In ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’, the speaker encounters a fish from the future. The fish calls the speaker by its name and, in doing so, claims the speaker as its own – encouraging them to adopt they/them pronouns. Unlike Call Me by Your Name, the encounter here is not necessarily romantic, but still reckons with the idea of strange sameness. Here, the two different selves in two different forms, the fish and the human, become one.

Many people considering using they/them pronouns hesitate due to the strangeness of the language. Despite efforts by dictionaries to continue asserting that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically correct, and despite the fact that ‘it’s likely that singular they was common even before the late fourteenth century’ (Baron, n.pag) – the term is still perceived as being grammatically awkward and confusing. Eileen Myles argues for the embracing of this awkwardness, or assigning personal significance to the awkwardness of the pronoun. In an interview with Emma Brockes, Myles describes how: ‘[w]e are many. I like the collective notion of self. I think more people for more reasons should take on ‘they’’(n.pag.).

It makes sense then, for the last lines of ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’ to be grammatically awkward: ‘Future fish, I know who you are / I am they’. They is truly strange and to deny this aspect of the pronoun in service of progress is to deny queer practice. They is still undergoing transformation. To be they in this moment of history is to receive the benefits earned by the plights of older queers – but to be suspended before solid entrance into the mainstream. Like the early years of drag performance. Like the early years of the word, queer – its history now has the luxury of being forgotten; the luxury of forgetting why it was chosen – ‘because it evoked a long history of insult and abuse – you could hear the hurt in it’ (Love, p. 2). The dream, perhaps, is for the history of they to be forgotten – which is irresponsible, but such is the conventional marker of progress. For now, however, they/them pronouns contain a certain magic, for it ‘wakes us with its strangeness’ (Kaminsky, n.pag.).

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