Angela Rawlings: Microphonic Body Machine

Microphonic Body Machine

Published October 24, 2014

Angela Rawlings in Norway, and Iceland

Microphonic Body Machine

Angela Rawlings in Norway, and Iceland

Ekeberg Park, Oslo: The September sun reflects in yellow leaves. Angela Rawlings and her colleagues reach the centre of the posh sculpture-park: a forest of glass. The walls capture, care for, and feed back the voice of Angela and a partner in crime, Elfi Sverdrup, transforming a gentle acoustic test into what Angela herself calls “an unanticipated partnership.”

And what a partner Angela makes; the 2001 recipient of the bpNichol Award for Distinction in Writing, an award winning poet, a much sought after arts educator; of creative writing, ballroom-, swing-, and salsa dancing—and a producer of festivals, magazines, magical soundworks, plus so very much more.

Angela Rawlings, in 2014


As you read this, Angela is being presented by the Norwegian nomadic literary festival “Women on the edge“—in Reykjavík, Iceland. This time last year, Angela was featured at the 2013 edition of “Edge“—in Lofoten, on the northern edge of Norway. During her visit, her project NORD emerged. The collection features a series of photographs of sound museums, juxtaposing the wintry and dark Arctic north with Norwegian signifiers: lyd (sound), lys (light), ord (word), nord (north), navn (name). NORD also includes a long poem investigating the Norwegian idiom “Det er ugler i mosen” (“There are owls in the moss”), which implies that mischief is at hand.

In Oslo, we spoke:

It seems that Norway—like Iceland—inspires you…

Yes, there has been a confluence of energy this past weekend! Both of my visits to Norway for literary action have been remarkable, generous, and generating experiences!

“I’ve had more exposure to Iceland’s highly politically engaged, DIY punk aesthetic and have been thrilled with that. Events happen suddenly; collectives leap into being for a few years and then blink out. Feminist, tough, confident, provocative, and often sublime.”

What are your thoughts on Norway and Iceland as Nordic neighbours, and how this comes out in the arts?

I’ve had more exposure to Iceland’s highly politically engaged, DIY punk aesthetic and have been thrilled with that. Events happen suddenly; collectives leap into being for a few years and then blink out. Feminist, tough, confident, provocative, and often sublime. There’s a large flow-through of visiting artists over the last years so, to me, Iceland’s scene feels quite informed and enriched by this succession.


In Oslo, Angela reads at Kunstnernes Hus. When she vowels like a wolf, an experienced exposé to poetry, festival organizer Torunn Borge wipes a tear from her cheek.

“It is about her way of reading. It affects me also, directly and instantly, and I am not certain how.”

Torunn Borge is not just “any listener”—Norwegians know her as publisher and consultant of text for a variety of magazines, publishing houses and private persons. So, what is it that Angela Rawlings does that many of the Norwegians in the audience are touched by? Is her style purely Non-Scandinavian? I seek answers with Danish poet and visual artist Amalie Smith. She, too, is thrilled by the Canadian author: “Angela’s works are also unusual in Danish terms and traditions. It is more like a concert. It’s about the way she uses her voice.“ And the way authors use their literary voice may change languages on a long, long term.

NORD - Visual Poetry by Angela Rawlings

(“there are owls in the moss”)


In Oslo, Angela sleeps a couple of floors above one of the busiest shopping streets. A stone’s throw from the Royal Garden and The Castle, Bogstadveien starts. The House of Literature is just across the road from her bedroom; below, you’ll find speciality stores like Palais du Thé, Fillippa K, Marimekko, North Face, and Tiger of Sweden.

This city of literature and cultural multitude and internationality has and nickname: “The city of tigers“ (Tigerstaden). The name is now a common saying, a part of our language. And, which is the case with so many common sayings, some of them now clichés, is its origin: From a book, by a brilliant author, an original voice. “Tigerstaden“ was coined by novelist Knut Hamsun some hundred years ago. But it is not the socio-economic harshness of the city that keeps the Canadian inventor of language awake. She has just met fellow Canadian researchers of language. Christan Bök, Adam Dickinson and Jordan Scott are poets and associate professors at Canadian Universities. No wonder Angela is excited. Old memories pair up with the revitalizing of language. And social options are numerous. Angela comments:

“I was wildly grateful by our immediate rapport, care, and enthusiasm. We’ve pursued correspondence over the past few years since we last met, but the collegiality catapulted into an infectious camaraderie that’s never felt as easy as it did this time.“

What was important in this, for you?

Of importance to me, especially, was the opportunity to work and think with these practitioners within the context of a foreign arts community. The cross-cultural dialogue that unfolded helped us see our connections perhaps more strongly than we would typically sense in a familiar “Canadian” context. We each enthusiastically, obsessively work with the English language as our primary material, and we all have commitments to endurance projects that we document in text, sound, and image throughout their creations.

Within Canada, we’re just writers, you know?

I didn’t know! Explain!

We’re without that geographic lens— or we don other regional or municipal lenses. So it’s a pleasure to reflect on our intersections and collusions through the Canadian lens.


Kunstnernes Hus, September 7: In Oslo, it is Angela’s fourth day, after three nights of half-sleep crossed with half-digested impressions of meeting fairly new friends in a fairly new city while reuniting with old friends from a previous decade. A couple of them stay up all night—for that waking dream. Angela feeding her practice as a poet, vocal performer, gatherer of sounds and acoustics, bits of natural beauty. She gives the impression of a woman in touch with nature and her own, poetic powers. In other ways, she comes off as a grounded girl, down to earth. Yet, her stiletto-heeled shoes resonate through the houses of Literature and Artists, and The Ibsen Museum. Angela brings something new to the Norwegian arts scene. Is the fascination mutual?

How does the Norwegian art scene resonate with you?

I’ve had such brief exposure to Norway’s arts scene that I’d feel irresponsible to comment much on it. Although I’ve been quite struck by the fierce sound-art practices evident through my contacts here. I’m a long-time fan of Maja Ratkje, as a composer and vocalist.

Maja is not only important, in Norway, as a composer and vocalist. She is also an ecocritic, and an active spokeswoman for sustainable living. It that a part what fascinates about her artistry?

Only subconsciously, as I haven’t been exposed to any of Maja’s ecocritical thought. I would adore recommendation for where I might, though!

Check! What other Norwegian artists interest you?

Practices with connection to acoustic ecology are flourishing as well; Siri Austeen’s soundscape documentation project in Northern Norway, and Elfi’s compositions of restructured field recordings are two examples

What were some highlights of your second visit to Norway?

A highlight of the Oslo Poesiefestival for me was the commissioned collaboration between writer/singer Aasne Linnestå and accordionist Frode Haltli, focusing on regional flora such as the red-listed saxifraga osloensis.

Are there still artistic or social reasons for you to return to Norway?

I’m very keen to visit Norway again, perhaps somewhere rural, coastal, Arctic. I’m keen to further develop NORD, and eager to spend more time within the company of writers Monica Aasprong and Aasne Linnestå, as well as singer-songwriter Sasha Siem, to see what we might create—by positioning ourselves in close working, thinking, and feeling proximity. In them, I’ve found kindreds.

Poetry festivals: they're fun!

Poetry festivals: they’re fun!


Angela is born in Indiana, USA, and immigrates to rural Ontario, Canada, when she is nine. In her 20s, she moves on—and lives in proximity to Lake Ontario. She edits a magazine, studies literature, and publishes her first book of poetry in 2006. Wide Slumber For Lepidopterists is shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award for Best First Book of Poetry, wins the Alcuin Award for Book Design, and was listed in The Globe And Mail’s top 100 books of 2006. Hence, Angela is invited to perform at the 2007 edition of the Nýhil International Poetry Festival.

After the festival, Nýhil spearhead and colleague Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl takes Angela to a bar called Kaffi Amsterdam, to see this childhood friends from rural Ísafjörður play in a band called Reykjavík!. At the show, Grapevine editor-slash-Reykjavík! guitarist Haukur S. Magnússon welcomes Angela to the stage at the urging of her colleagues, hands her a bottle of whiskey and a microphone, and tells her: “You may stay onstage, but only if you speak or scream into the microphone.”

“He was very polite. I think that was the first proper chug of alcohol I’d had in ten years,” says Angela, who returned to Iceland the year after, to read attend a concert arranged to spread awareness of Björk’s Náttúra campaign.

Does Angela Rawlings see wonders in microscopic pieces of algae—as well as in a—at first glance—flat and lifeless stretch of mountains. Did she inhabit Oslo; reading about falling in love and falling into habits. Does she inhibit, habit, rabbit, being inhabited by love, as she inhabits me with this poem of her, and inhabits Oslo

In 2010, Haukur introduced Angela and me, inviting us both to his house, for card games and whisky, and an early morning ride in his halting piece of motor vehicle—some neverending summer’s evening/ day/ night. It was June 2010, and close to Midsummer’s Eve, and the perfect time for staying up, watching mist come and go, light come and come. Since then, I have seen Angela gather and study nature; in concrete and abstract meaning of the word. Like a flaneur of mother earth; gathering impressions. Organic and inorganic, sounds, and the optically perceivable.

Does Angela Rawlings see wonders in microscopic pieces of algae—as well as in a—at first glance—flat and lifeless stretch of mountains? Did she inhabit Oslo; reading about falling in love and falling into habits. Does she inhibit, habit, rabbit, being inhabited by love, as she inhabits me with this poem of her, and inhabits Oslo. And wasn’t it Gertrude Stein who claimed that question marks are abundant. Didn’t Stein say the writer with a command of language and punctuation needs only full stop.

Is poetry the science of language. What is the science of poetry, and the poetry of science. Those are themes that Angela and fellow Canadian academics and poets explored in Oslo.

a rawlings by Matt Ceolin

Foraging for poetry. Photo by Matt Ceolin.


Angela assisted associate professor, and poet, Jordan Scott with editing his 2007 book “Blert“, and says: “I worked with Jordan on his book because I feel his approach to text is embodied, genuine, and necessary. I love Jordan’s literary activism, critical thought, and creative output. I’ve been a fan of his work since we met in 2004.” She had by then been involved with the literary scene of Toronto, Ontario, for a long time.

Why is this article seemingly uncritically word-gobbling Angela-loving. How do I justify this text. Is it right to—seemingly uncritically—give the microphone to Angela. Is this copy Angela’s microphone. And did Gertrude Stein claim that question marks may be excessive. Stein definitely wrote: A rose is a rose is a rose.

Angela needs not my acclaim. But, like a rose is a rose is a rose, I wish this text to be text be like the festivals it seeks to describe: Oslo International Poetry Festival, and the ongoing “Women on the edge“ right here in Reykjavík: It is much about directing microphones to voices having relatively few venues to be featured. Artists working in unusual genres, like multimedia. In Norway, female artists are, statistically, less exposed than men. Hence, this text is like a microphone. Man, does the woman not need the microphone. The woman is a machine of sound, of rhythm, of music and beats. And wow, does she, the whining wolf, detract the “tigers of Oslo“. “Tigerstaden“ Oslo is no longer to be heard, when Angela reaches heart, body and mind—simultaneously. “Bravo!“ Such expressiveness is rare in the middle of the day, in the middle of a busy year, a busy era for the Norwegian capital.

Mette Karlsvik (b. 1978) is an author, and in the editorial group for the Oslo International Poetry festival.

WOMEN ON THE EDGE is happening RIGHT NOW! Go to LOFT HOSTEL at 17:00 for some edgy, womanly action!  

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