Robin: Cool. Um, alright. My name’s Robin, I live and research on the unceded lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I would like to pay my respects to their elders past, present and future, and express my solidarity to their ongoing struggle for justice. One in two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lives with a disability, and there’s no pathway towards disability justice that doesn’t also include justice for Indigenous peoples.
Q: I’m Q, I’m on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh lands. My relation to this land is as a settler and a descendant of colonisers. I’ve lived here for six years and strive to be in good relations with the people I am… currently occupying.
Robin: So… We’re talking, we’re having a chat, as part of an event for the Digital Writers Festival, which is Australia-based, and our conversation… we’ve called Crip Intimacy and Digital Detritus, Quin Eli and Robin M Eames in conversation.
Q: Well I am in what is colonially known as Vancouver, on the west coast of so-called Canada, and so that means I am in Pacific Standard Time at the moment, and it is 7:35pm on Monday, September 30th, for me, and that’s not your time.
Robin: Nooo, it is Tuesday where I am, a bit past noon, which means I’m in the future [Q cackles] and we’re having this conversation across space-time.
Q: We are.
Q: I really do want to get right into crip time, queer time, what all of that means, and like, just how constructed time is in the current operation of it, as we represent it, because so many of us live in different ways and different…
Robin: And different speeds. Um, and that’s something that I think gets lost a lot between these very, fairly inaccessible academic conversations and maybe some of the conversations we’re having on the ground, is that socially constructed doesn’t mean not real. It just means socially defined and defined according to a cultural context. Like, currency is socially constructed, that doesn’t mean currency doesn’t exist or has no factual basis or link to material reality. But… Crip time is something that Alison Kafer writes about, and she’s drawing on earlier theories of queer time. And crip time, what she’s talking about there is… Disabled people move at different speeds, and according to different times and structures of times, than abled people. And one really easy example is, for us as wheelchair users, either we’re going a lot slower than abled people or we’re going a lot faster.
Q: 100%. That’s always my first thought. I make up so much lost time on downhills, but I lose it on uphills and at elevators. The elevators are where I lose all my crip speed, waiting ages for this one elevator that goes down one level, then up two levels, then down three levels, then up another level, and then back down to me, finally, and then I have to do all of that again before I can get anywhere I wanna go.
Robin: Yeah especially when you have to ask for someone to unlock the elevator because it’s a goods and services elevator.
Q: I love being goods and services.
Robin: Yeah. I’m a bad and useless. [Q laughs] Sorry, I’m not a good and serviceable.
Q: I think as writers we come from a place of a lot of physical and very grounded reflection a lot of the time. Because it’s our experience, right.
Robin: I think we have a much keener sense of embodiment, and of being in the world.
Q: Which is really funny to me, because like. Constantly dissociated. [Robin cackles] So the thought of constantly being embodied and embodying myself in my work…
Robin: What are bodies? We just don’t know.
Q: Yeah it’s my poetry. That’s my body. Forget this one.
Robin: I think it’s really important to remind ourselves that surviving is part of it. And keeping on is part of it.
Q: I think often we – and by we I mean me – I try to find some kind of resolution to anything I’m saying or thinking. And lately I’ve just had to be like, there is no resolution at this point. There might be at another time, there might not be, the resolution might be dying eventually… [Robin laughs] That’s a resolution at the end of the day, as much as we put it off. The ultimate procrastination. [both laughing]
Robin: That’s one way of looking at it.
Robin: Oh maybe later.
Q: Maybe later. I’m too busy being sad right now. [laughs]
Q: But yeah, bipeds are so uncomfortable with anyone who moves differently from them.
Robin: So uncomfortable. So uncomfortable.
Q: It’s like, they’re just so used to being the default, that kind of shaking that up for even five seconds throws them for a loop for the rest of their day.
Robin: And the way that they imagine and conceptualise wheelchair use is just so at odds with the way I think the majority of us conceptualise it. Because in the abled imagination using a wheelchair is about being confined to a wheelchair, and it’s about being wheelchair bound, it’s about being trapped, it’s about loss of mobility… And for us it’s a fucking mobility aid! It aids our mobility. It’s in the word! It’s a mobility aid, it aids our mobility. It’s an agent of freedom. And you know, without it we’d be stuck and confined and trapped and all of those things, and with it – we have access. We have a world to live and be in. And go down hills really fast in.
Q: Yeah. Yeah that’s the best part.
Robin: That’s such a disabled joy.
Q: It is! And no biped is ever going to understand it.
Robin: No, because it’s not the same as zooming down with a bike or with any other…
Q: My favourite part of coming home is taking that big hill that we did right by the train station. And I get to do that any time I take that train route. And sometimes if I’m having a particularly bad day, I specifically plan my trip home around that one joy of zooming down the hill and it’ll turn my whole day around.
Robin: I do that around the uni, I do that around Victoria Park, I make excuses and go out of my way to go down Science Road and the big hill through Victoria Park, just to… They’re both beautiful hills.
Q: Then you get a beautiful view, you get the wind in your face…
Robin: Yeah and the sound, the rush of the wind, and you just feel this sense of movement and… It’s a very pure feeling, it just makes everything settle down for me. It just makes everything go quiet and simple.
Q: Can I actually read a line from a poem that I wrote like two days ago?
Robin: Do it! Do it, we’ll add it to the…
Q: To the snapshots, the little fragments and detritus and whatnot.
Robin: I don’t know how to pronounce that word, I put it in the title and I don’t know how to say it.
Q: Detritus, detritus, [emphasising different syllables] I’ve just been mixing it up.
Robin: I do this…
Q: I think it’s actually one of those ones where you can use both.
Robin: It’s one of those… My written vocabulary is so much larger than my spoken vocabulary, and so much of it is just faking it until you make it.
Q: It is. Like you see a word and you’re like that could sound like this…
Robin: Mm. And then you realise you’ve been pronouncing it wrong…
Q: Because your English 10 teacher makes fun of you. [Robin laughs, Q laughs at them laughing] This little snippet of a poem, it’s from a poem called “What have I loved more than stitches across false borders pulling me into arms I’d never known if not for this endless burying…” Which is a very long title.
Robin: Good title.
Q: Thank you.
Robin: You’re good at titles, I’m so bad at titles.
Q: [laughs] It’s my one strength. Um, it goes… “more than ugly more than bloody more than dying deathly ruddy until taken dirty knees tearing gums flickering bolts nutting in our mouths coasting down hills til the cut pulls rubber from pore”. And in particular that last part, about the “flickering bolts until the cut pulls rubber from pore”… A biped’s not gonna understand that.
Robin: No! They won’t read it and understand what you’re invoking. And I often feel like I have to somehow have foreshadowing or exposition for the fact that I’m a wheelchair user, when I’m writing page poetry and not reading in public, because otherwise they won’t understand the metaphors that I’m invoking or the words and senses… And there’s still a lot of sensory information and, you know, lyrical stuff that they’re gonna miss, but I have to flag it really obviously. And then in person it’s kind of the opposite because I feel like then I can’t go up and be a wheelchair user reading a trans poem without explaining why I’m also a wheelchair user first.
Q: Yep. Yeah, no, I think in a lot of crip art there’s a lot of expectation of hand holding and explanation and even if something isn’t, like, outside our art, disability art specifically, if it involves disability, if it involves metaphor that isn’t explicitly able-bodied neurotypical, then we owe them explanation.
Q: Yeah. Justification for being in their spaces, and using their time and their ideas. Because I think that’s how I often feel, that I’m seen as using something that doesn’t belong to me.
what have i loved more than stitches across false borders pulling me into arms i’d never known if not for this endless burying
for the bad cripples
and all the dead ones too (you’re the very worst)
what has the cripple loved more than
the rotting tooth, the creaking palate, the shattered femur, the buried forgetting what ‘ leave behind, the
prophetic sunless rise yoked to yet another coffin tilling fields forbidden to our reapers
what have we loved more than
the repetition of red lights across cities, the succession of removals, the knife under cartilage unsinging the womb so carefully knit, new seams on the tip of our shared tongue split down the vein of forbidden ancestry
more than this wobble of top unspun, this electrical flutter in rabbit’s hollow, cavities cracked wide chestnut christmas day, storytellers spinning mahogany to bury gutted truths of censored maps cut from arterial vestibule always speaking in u-turns
more than ugly more than bloody more than dying deathly ruddy until taken dirty knees tearing gums flickering bolts nutting in our mouths coasting down hills til the cut pulls rubber from pore
what have we loved more than this forbidden joy pulled taut from our breaths this spilt membrane of orgasmic rot this triumph of mossy stillness whet on our thighs
Robin: There is, I think, a difference between disability poetics and crip poetics. And primarily, for me, it’s an idea of radicalism, and of something specifically appealing to community and a kind of radical identity, and… maybe not activism in the traditional sense, but a sense of… justice, I suppose. And of making change, making good trouble, that disability poetics doesn’t always have or doesn’t have to have…
Q: Yeah, it’s not inherent.
Robin: Disability poetics can be perhaps just about the individual, about disabled embodiment, maybe about symptoms… It can have a lot in common with crip poetics – and I don’t think either is better or worse, they occupy different space and they have different methodologies and different purposes. And not every disabled person IDs as a crip, and nor should they, but there’s something that I really love in crip poetics, and for me I think it’s the sense that it bites back. In much the same way that “queer” is a really biting word with its own energy. Because it’s been used in a marginalising way, and because it’s about taking back that power.
Robin: And you can’t have disability justice without anticapitalism, because you can’t value people based on their capacity for capitalist productivity and simultaneously support disabled people.
Q: And that’s what’s so different about disability rights and disability justice, that is the fundamental differing tenet, is that disability rights is looking to get us into capitalism and disability justice is looking to acknowledge and bring to the forefront how much we do not belong there and should not and no else does either.
Robin: I think human rights frameworks are always really fraught because they always come at someone else’s expense.
Q: For sure.
Robin: There’s always groups that are not afforded rights, there’s always people pushed to the margins. And the ways in which the framework of rights works, is to appeal to the State, to authoritative bodies that are in charge of imparting those rights or enforcing them. Which is bullshit.
Q: And immediately you’re losing the non-citizens who are going to be the first ones to be completely missed out on in the rights debate.
Robin: We are so lacking in connection to culture and community, for a lot of people – I know for me once – it is a very radical idea that disability is not just an individual experience of suffering or tragedy, but that it can be a point of connection and celebration, and I mean that’s another thing that people can get quite anxious and funny about, is the idea of celebrating disabled identity. Because they are so attached to seeing it as emblematic of pain and suffering, and to them it’s about glorifying pain, when to us so often it’s about celebrating survival. And just celebrating the lives that we’re living.
Q: Yeah, against so many odds.
Robin: People don’t want us to feel joy in the bodies we have, they want us to always strive for cure and redemption.
Robin: Art can be an incredible mechanism for catharsis, and for processing, and for communicating and reaching out to people. And it’s one of the areas where I’m always just sort of thinking, like, yes it’s real and legitimate and valid for disabled people to write and create art about disability that is about suffering and grief and tragedy, but if that’s all we have, where does that leave us? What does that tell us and other disabled people about our options for our lives, about what our lives are gunna be like? About hope, or change? And it’s not that I have this kind of false optimism or that I’m in denial about pain or marginalisation or any of the rest, but I’m just so much more interested in hope and in love. And I think poetry in particular can be a really powerful avenue for connecting with people outside of your experience. And showing them where you live, and around your body, and bringing them into a world that isn’t theirs, just for a moment. There’s a point of connection.
Q: Yeah. I think the two mediums that I’m most drawn to, and this is funny, the one for my creation and own involvement being poetry. I have a deep and unending love and loathing of it. It is as I recently said, the most invalid art form, to the point where only cripples should be making it. [laughs] And the other, so starkly different and yet very, very in line, is comics and zines. Because these are, like, poetry and short form zines, comics, et cetera, are both accessible ways to get into those worlds, to enter them in a really beautiful and personal way.
Robin: Yeah and in these kind of fragmented, snapshot ways… that, you know there’s an arc that I think both mediums have in common, this expressiveness, you know, exaggerated emotion and form and speech. Or, you know, subdued, those things don’t always have to be obvious. One thing I like about poetry is the moments where it can be subtle, and where it might not make sense and you have to bring your own reading to it.
Q: I think as a, my roots being in performance poetry, take that as anyone may, but as someone who’s coming late to page poetry – I think that’s something that I am loving with it is the nuance and the wordplay and lineplay that you can really have there. Because changing a line break fundamentally changes a poem.
Q: In some really fun and interesting and stark ways… The thing is, it’s my favourite, is that in my experience in my crip and trans poetry, it immediately reveals to me who in the room is my people. Because they are the ones… cackling on the recording. [Q dissolves into laughter again]
Robin: Why must you call me out like this.
Q: Because it’s so easy. [laughing] You give me so much material.
Robin: I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now.
* Alistair Baldwin’s NYWF set for Nailed It!, with Robin cackling in the background, sometimes at moments where the rest of the audience is utterly silent: https://omny.fm/shows/nailed-it/80-alistair-baldwin-a-lifehack-for-the-able-bodied
Robin: I think humour as well can be a wonderful point of connection. Because people let their defenses down a little. I wrote a poem recently that was just interspersed with memes, [Q laughs] that I had also created. And it’s one of my favourite pieces, and I’ve read that poem aloud, and it takes such a different shape. It takes such a different shape online and in person, because it takes different space, different time, it looks different, it feels different, the ways in which the stanzas are kind of punctuated by the visualness of the memes – I couldn’t bring that into a physical space. I suppose I could have printed them out, but I couldn’t be bothered. And you know… [laughing] I wrote that piece initially, really, to be read, more than to be on the page, and then the most whole form it has taken is one located in digital space. And I find that really interesting.
Q: Yeah I think… I have, oh, I have this one piece that I’ll be recording on Wednesday, my Wednesday, which means nothing to this recording… [laughs]
Robin: What is time?
Q: It’s a construct. We explained this already. But, I have this piece that I call, loosely, a sound sculpture, or a poetic sound sculpture, in that it needs to be performed for one aspect of it to be clear, in that it involves the audience in very physical ways. But then the written version of it is beautiful because it has symbols and arrows and guidelines and instructions on how to read it and how to perform it. And it was really fun and interesting and weird to construct on a page. And it only really works in a Google Doc. But it was wild and fun and such a departure from what we’re told is poetry, and what we’re told is page poetry.
Robin: Yeah, oh yeah. And poetry is thought of as such an elitist ivory tower thing, but I think in a lot of ways it has the potential to be a really accessible art form. It can be so interesting and experimental, and push the boundaries of what language is and what it can do. And I’m so interested in that. You know, particularly coming to things as a disabled poet, my relationship with language and expression is so specific to my context. And when that’s something I can bring into my art, I really enjoy it.
[a brief silence, Q’s oxygen concentrator quietly clicks and hums]
Robin: Uhhh. I’m running out of energy. [laughs]
Q: I just looked at our recording and it’s like, an hour and forty minutes.
Robin: [laughs] Ohhh god.
Q: I think we ended on a beautiful note there, if we wanna end it there.
Robin: I think we did. Yeah. I always love talking to you about art. And thank you so much for this conversation, I’m glad we got to have it. I’m glad we both found time in and amongst our respective nonsense.
Q: Yes. Absolutely. And I’m so glad we gave it three magical shots. [laughs] Yeah it’s like quarter past nine for me here, and I’ve been awake since six in the morning.
Robin: Okay. Alright. Time to go! I will let you leave.
Q: Yeah. I’ll let you get home.
Robin: And I’m gunna go home and get a fuckin heat pack.
Q: Yes Good plan. Oh I’m gunna get my ice pack. But it was really fantastic to chat.
Robin: Alright I’m gunna end the recording.
Q: Yes, end the recording now.