In 2019 I launched The Daily Breath, a poem-a-day-for-a-year project, extending and solidifying my previous adventures in cut-up poetry. Several things were fundamental to The Daily Breath. The first was it would honour my creativity in a way I hadn’t been quite brave enough to ask for: it would be a private, paid subscription service. In this way, it generated a small income but also gave me the freedom to come and go from social media as I chose. It asked me to show up every single day for 354 days (the number of days in a lunar month) regardless of how I felt, regardless of how inspired I was and regardless of whether I thought I was making a difference in the world (or not). I had never done something every day for a year (other than eat and breath)!
The Daily Breath was also, for the most part, a physical project: where possible, I made everything from scratch. I sometimes used commercially produced postcards, mainly for the aesthetic or the artists or designer and there were also the occasional digital series, again mostly because it allowed a flexibility that analogue items couldn’t give to that series.
Across 18 months, I built more than 500 poems for Daily Breath subscribers. At least 3/4 were actual physical pieces which now reside in the many corners of the world, on more than a few walls and fridges (which makes me tear up when I think of my work on someone's fridge, because we all know as kids that pride of place was on the fridge!)
With such a huge back catalogue of work, had I considered creating a collection? Yes, but reproducing cut-up poetry in digital form is tedious as fuck (I know, I’ve tried). I considered just the words without the pictures but that felt empty because there was always an interplay between the words and the pictures. I considered creating a hybrid but the photos had been chosen to make postcards and were not all in uniform orientation needed for a book.
Shades of Paradox was a perfect storm in so many ways. It was the most ambitious series I undertook in the 18 months of The Daily Breath. The series was inspired by Kaolin Fire's urban photos...the paradox of images and the layers within layers gave me an artistic sensibility I wanted to explore from a poetic dimension. The poems were created as longer, thinner pieces, where the photograph was only pasted at the top and was lifted to reveal a longer poem behind. The dimensions was a sheer fluke. All I knew was I wanted to be able to lift the image up to hide a different poem beneath. In the space below the photograph, a short poem appeared.
While my world hunkered down mid-lockdown and then the wider world howled with injustice and erupted in violence across late May and into June, I turned up and found solace in my daily cut-and-paste. It took me more than two hours to make these every day. Each poems was between 14 and 17 lines long. It was a gruelling creative endeavour, as my trauma bubbled to the surface and ate away at my desire to be here. All my poems mean something to me, but the poems for Shades of Paradox were (and remain) more. They were my anchor to stay here, and I wanted them to be more, as I wanted to be more than a husk.
They were poems that demanded a second life, but my sights were set smaller initially as to what that second life would look like.
I decided I would create a collection, with an extremely limited print run of three for a friend's birthday: one for Kim, one for Kaolin (who gifted the use of his photos) and one for me. When I started assembling the photos and words in Indesign, late one night in early August, there were so many reasons why it shouldn’t have worked, but there is magick in this collection.
It created itself.
And when I got parts of it horribly wrong, it pivoted itself into a better fit. And then again, when I returned to my (disappointingly imperfect) proof copies a few months after they arrived. I dug into the poems in a new way so they could be the best possible poems, letting go of the need for them to accurate reproductions of the originals, and in doing so, release them to be what they wanted to be.
So, for anyone who owns an original Shades of Paradox poem, you are more likely than not to see your poem in a different rendering here. Or you might be surprised to find yours untouched.
If nothing else, 2020 has shown us how the concreteness of stability, order and structure is an illusion. The world we live in is far more complex and simple than we thought it was. It is freer moving and more stubbornly resistant than we gave it credit for. The words of Shades of Paradox held me in the most patient and comforting of ways when I was falling apart. The words, the poems and the images exist in the light and the dark, and I believe there is a mercurial nature to them, so they are in no way firmly fixed in either, but have the capacity to morph to be what they need to be for you, in any particular minute of any particular day.
For that reason, it is a wee book, perfect to be tucked away in handbags and satchels, to be ready to hand when you might need it most.
My hope is you too find a gift in these words as I did; where they can hold a space, and hold you, in the extreme of times and in all the shades between.
Pre-Orders are open now for the paperback, with the ebook and a digital pay-what-you-want to follow. Release date is December, 1st.