All Writing is Experimental

Friday, December 21, 2018
Dave Drayton Interviewed by Nikki Bielinski

a portrait of Dave Drayton
Dave Drayton

2019 Summer School: Experimental Writing

NB: What first inspired you in the direction of experimental writing?

DD: The obsession probably started with the choose-your-own-adventure books of my childhood, was honed with bets I made with myself over breakfast about which letter would be the most prominent on the sides of cereal boxes, and hit the point of no return when I found Matt Madden’s comic-strip equivalent of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises In Style (and by extension, Oulipo, or the workshop for potential literature) on my mum’s bookshelf.

NB:  Do you see experimental writing as pushing boundaries, or breaking them?

DD: I think it has the potential do both, and would add all manner of verbs to the list: interrogating, establishing, eradicating, redefining, shaping, manipulating, caressing, obscuring…

NB:  What keeps you motivated to keep writing experimentally?

DD: One of the great benefits of writing experimentally for me is the framework such an approach provides for evaluating what is produced. As someone with a proclivity for self-doubt and self-criticism severe enough to render me entirely unproductive, attempting to reflect on and edit something I have written using metrics like whether or not it is “good” or “moving” is fraught and often unproductive. On the other hand, if I set out to write a text that does not use the letter E, or sestina where each line is an anagram of the one before it, these offer clearly defined objectives that I can measure my work against.

More generally, I continue to write experimentally as I see no other way of writing… I think all writing is experimental, in that it is premised on an enquiry and the results are uncertain: Will this sonnet adequately express my love? Can I express my inner thoughts and emotions in this diary entry? Will this strongly worded email, ending with Firm Regards, appear threatening enough that the overdue invoice will be paid?

NB: What are some examples of experimental techniques you use?

DD: The lipogram [a text written with a reduced alphabet following the conscious omission of a letter or letters] has underpinned a lot of my recent work. Last year I published P(oe)Ms with Rabbits Poet Series, a collection of poems for each Australian prime minister written using only the letters in each PMs name… This particular genus of the lipogram is known as beau présent, or beautiful inlaw. I am currently using the same approach for a collection of poems for each US leader, titled Beaux Prés(id)ents.

On the lighter/looser side of constraints, my most recent work, E, UIO, A: a feghoot is a love story in the form of an epistolary novella that is premised on the cheesy pickup line: If I could rearrange the alphabet I would put U and I together… I compiled a list of every word I could find that had those two letters side-by-side, and used it as the lexicon for these strange love letters.

Recently I have also been experimenting with the idea of the supercut, a technique that’s had some great examples recently in Jez Burrows’ Dictionary Stories and Tom Comitta’s Airport Novel. Expanding on a concept I used for a short story in Review of Australian Fiction, called Readings From The IMDBible, I am composing biblical-style books – of Matthew [McConaughy], of Cate [Blanchett], etc. – through supercuts of synopses from their filmography.

Some other experiments in the pipeline include twinned anagrammatic novellas O Marginal Fanfare / An Anagram For Life; the tale of a person becoming a computer that contains in binary (1s and 0s standing in for Is and Os) its inverse, the tale of a computer becoming human; an experimental translation of Jacques Jouet’s Metro Poems provisionally titled Trainslations; and an aesthetic response to Wolfgang Iser’s The Act Of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response.

NB: Which boundaries do to experiment with the most – characters? Plot? Narrative function?

DD: I think the best experimental writing uses its central premise/constraint/experiment to shape all elements of the writing. The way that Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, written originally in French and using no gendered language, could only be a love story. Or that George Perec’s A Void is not just a novel without the letter E, but a novel without the letter E about the disappearance of the letter E. In such instances characters, plot, and narrative all function as a further illustration of the governing premise.

NB: Where do you see experimental writing heading in the future and where would you like to see it breaking boundaries?

DD: I am fascinated by so many writers, Australian and international, that are pushing artistic/bookish/creative/dead/experimental/fetid/generative/helpful/illuminating/jaded/knowledgable/manipulative/non-existant/oppressive/political/queer/stupid/technical/unreal/vertiginous/weird/x-perimental/yolked/zany boundaries… It would be unwise to attempt to predict where experimental practitioners like Amelia Dale, aj carruthers, Ryan O’Neill, Jane Rawson, Michèle Métail and Frédéric Forte will take their writing, and plain foolish not to watch, closely, how they get there.

About Dave Drayton

Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, founding member of the Atterton Academy, Kanganoulipian, and the author of 'E, UIO, A: a feghoot' (Container), 'A pet per ably-faced kid' (Stale Objects dePress), 'P(oe)Ms' (Rabbit), 'Haiturograms' (Stale Objects dePress) and 'Poetic Pentagons' (Spacecraft Press). He received a PhD from the University of Technology, Sydney.