The Unsung Letter No. 60


This week, Kate Kiernan tells us of a book of short stories examining transness and human nature in general:


In many ways [redacted]’s short stories succeed in establishing a trans subject whose transness is meaningfully enmeshed within a broader human (and, indeed, non-human) community; the revolt of her characters is not a queer one per se (a constructive expression aimed at a status quo) but a natural one (a destructive expression of who they are).


Read the full piece here.

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Brazil Residency – conclusions



I’ve been back from Brazil almost a week and have been reflecting on my experiences there. Time for a wrap-up post!


I (rather reluctantly) left Boiçucanga about ten days before I went home – this was because the residency actually officially started a week before I came (with short notice I had to come later!). So I took the bus to Sao Paulo and hung out with the artists I’d met in the beautiful spot by the sea in their city – there I saw the bustling streets, high-rises, graffiti, buses and underground, restaurants, bars, art galleries (MASP was a highlight), and their homes.  The video of translations and original versions of my work was broadcast at a gallery opening, which was, quite frankly, mindblowing. People were so incredibly generous to me, and I felt that I didn’t have enough time to give everyone their due. Huge thanks in particular to Lourdina, the residency founder, for her kindness, and to Bea, for putting me up for so long.


While I’d had warnings that Sao Paulo was dirty and stressful with little to attract tourists, my experience was so personalised that I couldn’t help but see the sunny side of things. I managed to do less work than I’d have liked, since my laptop succumbed to the blue screen of death for reasons unknown early into the Sao Paulo stint. But I took a lot of photographs, some of which I hope to share on Twitter and other places.


I’m home now, and as I thought, have a lot to think about regarding my time. I started work on a poetry collection while there – I’ve had a few poems published over the years, but have never really felt like I had a whole collection in me, until now. It’s exciting and challenging to approach it. They are poems about Brazil, about Boiçucanga and my time there. There are possibilities of working with a translator and getting in touch with Brazilian publishers about the finished work, and ideally I would like to return to the country for further research. I’m working too on a project to build a connection between Scotland and Brazil for visiting and local artists and writers, though it’s at a very tender stage, with much research still to be done on the practical points. I hope it will bring good things for many people.


So, at the end of all this, I think back to the point where it started – where I realised I could actually make it. Massive thanks to Kaaysa for hosting me, and biggest of all to The Saltire Society and the Society of Authors for providing the funding – at great speed, as was needed – to make it happen. Thank you for everything. The effects are ongoing, and I will feel them in my work, possibly forever.

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The Unsung Letter No. 59

This week’s Unsung Letter comes with a delay due to technical troubles with my laptop in Brazil, but here it is at last, from Emilie Kirstensen-McLachlan:


The novel is a striking example of how literature can open your eyes to other people’s lives, surroundings, and understandings of the world. Janie Ryan grows up in an environment full of people often demonized by large parts of the population as being lazy and worthless. This stereotype of the “lazy poor” is as common in Denmark as it is in the UK. Kerry Hudson’s on-point, heart-breaking writing reveals the inner-lives of characters about whom the close-knit circles of power and the media so often speculate.


Read the full thing here, and as ever, sign up for The Unsung Letter here to receive a weekly missive on an underhyped book by a living author.



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The Unsung Letter No. 58

Is here – apologies for the delay in posting. I’m still in Sao Paulo, bouncing from one place to another, head spinning.


Here is Harry Harris on a book of essays on famous women in popular culture:


Massey approaches her subjects as a fan, first and foremost. Not a fan in the sense of being uncritical or idolatry, but more with that obsessive, analytical desire to dissect and examine what sets these women apart.


Read the whole thing here. As ever, you can sign up for The Unsung Letter to come straight to your inbox with all its goodness – the personally adored secret or semi-secret books of its authors – here.


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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 8



It’s been a while since I posted – I had fallen into the rhythms of the residency – work in the mornings when it was cool enough, then go out to the waterfall, or the beach, or the market, then prepare a meal with the others, then talk long into the night about art and life while the insects chirricked.


At some point, I worked with one of the other artists to create a translation of “Stick to Me, Peel From Me” and “Take Care, I Love You” into Portuguese. The second is a kind of dialogue so we blended it into both languages. In the picture about you can see Pedro reading his translation for the camera. He works with video, and so edited our performances together with footage from a shared meal at Kaaysa, and then we had a screening, projected on the studio wall. The process of translation was incredible – it has changed how I relate to those stories, how I understand my word choices, themes – everything. I hope to work with more translations, a whole book of them is the dream now. Working closely with the translator is bound to provoke new stories too, new modes of seeing.


And now, today is my last day at Kaaysa. It has happened very suddenly and time seems to have rushed and drawn out for years at once. I feel completely changed by my experiences here – in good ways I think, productive for my writing. But all change is disruptive, so I will have to see what a return to Scotland brings. Anyway before then, I have another trip to the waterfall, and over a week in Sao Paulo, kindly staying at the home of Kaaysa’s creator.  I’m viewing it as a second stage to the residency – with hopefully time to write rather than just take in another unfamiliar, hopefully wonderful environment. While in the city I am planning on attending a show Kaaysa are putting on, and seeing loads of galleries and hanging out a lot with many of my new friends. I hope to write another post about my time there too, though internet may be even spottier than it is here (or at least, my access might be). Watch this space.

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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 7



Yesterday a small group of us went to an Amerindian village to meet with a shaman. The above picture is of the ritual hut, where we watched a ceremony unfold, full of stories and musical instruments from the pipes to the lyre and drums. The floor of the hut was dirt, and we sat on pallets or on mats or chairs, or stretched out on the floor. A fire was regularly stoked with long branches, sending snowflakes of ash falling on our heads. The shaman laid out his objects and spoke slowly and at length. Thankfully one of the artists was kind enough to translate the discussions of his cosmology – the four elements that make up the world, and Patchamama, the (if I’m understanding it right) nothingness that rules it all. Some people took a kind of tea made from cactus called Wachuma – not a hallucinogen but a kind of drug that makes you look inward, that is to the shaman the personification of an ancestor who was seeking knowledge and was reborn into this plant.


There was a rhythm to the events, and everything happened at a leisurely pace.  The process of storytelling and ritual and music took over six hours and in the end we all walked back a couple of kilometres in the falling dusk, rather wordless about what we had seen.


Even now it’s hard to distil, an experience which is ongoing and will take some time to unfurl.



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Brazilian Residency Notes 6



(the artists’ studio, taken from the basketball court)

A full week has passed since I came to Kaaysa in Sao Paulo state. Here’s some of what I’ve learned, in an experience overflowing with expansive moments:

1. I am the only native English speaker here, though there is a French-Canadian woman here who, like me, doesn’t speak Portuguese. This state comes with its benefits and challenges.


2. The benefit of being surrounded by people who speak a language you cannot understand is a sense of freedom in social situations. There is no expectation that you will talk. You can flit here and there. You can busy yourself with your work, if you are working in a shared space, the sound of the language flowing over you. When people do talk to you, you know that they are making the effort. Their speaking in English is a kind of gift to you. You can cherish their words a little more.


3. The challenge is similar to the benefit of freedom. You are, in some ways, the ghost at the feast. With so much liveliness and companionship (people are very friendly here), you are the figure that can drift unseen or unacknowledged. Some times plans are made – for an excursion, for a talk – and you will have no idea until it begins to happen, at which point you must awkwardly ask what is going on. That question comes up all too often for my liking to my lips. What’s happening? You must always sound a little clueless.


4. I am the only writer here. The rest are visual artists. That is a double kind of invisibility – perhaps triple, with the language issue and my own introversion. All their art is in the studio, on the walls, on the table. It’s beautiful and complex. It sings out. My writing is in the books of mine I brought to share and on my computer. I have lent one of the artists my book; the rest have not seen my work at all, though we have had lots of conversation about their process, and a little about mine, only in the most oblique, partial way. It’s this that is possibly the hardest part for me. For my work to be unseen in the milieu of vibrant creation here is far harder than for my self to be so. This is some new thing for me to learn.


5. Things happen on their own schedule here – or appear to (see above). When someone is going to give a talk, there is no hour that is deliberately set aside for it. Lunch can happen at 1 or at 4. Dinner can start at midnight, long after you’ve broken down and cooked something and eaten it by yourself.


6. Sleep is a good idea. Brazil is so beautiful, and even with the days of rain we had, there was still so much to see and do, and a desire for the charming company of the others here, and even just listening, learning, writing, writing – people stay up late here, working at times that I have tried to emulate, for the experience. But all this comes at a price. Yesterday I was exhausted all day, and finally I made myself go to bed at the (ludicrously early) time of midnight. I slept til ten thirty, finally, rather than springing out of bed at seven after five hours of sleep as I had been doing. I feel better. A little tender round the edges.


7. I miss the rain. Now it’s gone. I have started listening to Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, and I wonder if she says anything on the role of rain and loneliness. It is a specific type of rain, though, with its own steady, kindly rhythm, that is not found in NYC, which her book deals with. I am fascinated to see what she has to say about visual art and loneliness, to listen to it, here, while I am surrounded with the stuff of it.


The learning continues.



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