Dani Spinosa: Hi! I stole from you. Are you okay with that? Is that all right?
Marianne Holm Hansen: It is. But also, I want to be honest, I have come to appreciate it, but my first reaction was, “You have what?!” I had kind of an immediate knee jerk reaction, from all the times that work has been stolen from me or misappropriated or, you know, presented in a ridiculous context without any kind of acknowledgement offered. So, I had that first feeling, … “what have you done?” In thinking through it, and then reading through your book, I actually think it's a generous thing you have done. I'm really pleased with it, because of what it did, to me, looking up names, being curious about other peoples’ writing, what the original looks like, about your process. I was initially approaching the publication as your work and reading it as such but then becoming very interested in the originals. So, it has done what you said in the foreword, I think. For me, it has broadened the field and I also feel like I'm in very good company.
DS: I think you are. I think there's some really brilliant people that I've been reading in this field, and I'm glad to know that it's making you look for those originals. Have you had a hard time trying to find them?
MHH: With some of them I have, because of course I've gone online rather than to a library, which might have worked better, but I don't even know if that work exists in collections or anthologies? I mean, I must say that I don't follow or study visual poetry or concrete poetry as such. So, what I already know is very ad hoc. People I fall across or become curious about. I haven't done a study. I don't feel like this is my discipline. I would readily admit that I don't know a lot about the field, but I was still surprised about how many I didn't know.
DS: That’s refreshing, because when I talk about this, I usually talk to people who are academics, who are in this field, and to be honest with you, they say the same thing. “I was surprised. I was surprised how many I hadn't come across, how many I didn't know.” There was a lot of excavation involved in this project to see who we tell the story about.
MHH: Yes, absolutely, I think it's done that. I appreciated that about it. So, I've definitely moved to an appreciation for what you have done and it is interesting. I’ve always been really interested in how people interpret or use my work or respond to it. And I'm very happy when I give stuff for exhibitions or publications where people make those decisions, because it opens up the work again, and for me, comes back differently. But yours is different because you work into it; your work truly works on top and obscures it. It's a very different thing from just creating something next to it.
DS: Oh, I like that. Like inside and over top of it, instead of next to it. I love this spatial metaphor. I love that. So, can you tell what I've stolen?
DS: Oh, good. Good! Do you want to talk a little bit about your relationship to that work originally? It's a very, it's a feminist work. I think what you're doing is a feminist project there. Does that influence how you feel about me stealing that particular work? Would it have changed if I was stealing, say from typing (not writing) would you feel maybe differently about it?
MHH: Now I'm very curious about how you see that as a feminist work or how you pick that up?
DS: Well, maybe it's because of the way that I had … I don't know how personal I want to get here though. I was reading your work as I was finding out my sister was pregnant and she's my younger sister. It’s not a big thing in my family. Everybody has kind of accepted that I'm not going to be doing that, but there's still this thing of like, “Oh, the second daughter and not the first just having the baby!” So there was this whole thing of these poems as my babies and making a poem as a collaborative thing, producing a child. And so much of the body and this idea of expecting, it just read to me right away as, “OH, these are my little typewriter babies!” Do you feel that? Do you feel like your works are your babies?
MHH: It's such a hard process but one of the things that was interesting to me is that you have written, on my typing, about something that appears to be a very physical experience. That's how I read it. It's very physical. Mine is off the body, and that particular typewriting appeared at a time I had a traumatic shock that was entirely unexpected, but it was off the body. It kind of numbed me. I think it physically might have changed me. So, it was interesting that you had responded with something physical that related to what was very physical to me too. That's interesting.
DS: Something was happening there.
MHH: Yes, something must have been happening there. I mean, typing is already physical thing for me. When I sit down, I have to concentrate. I'm working and thinking very hard. And I know that because in this period, the coronavirus lockdown, my brain has not been fully functioning and I haven't been able to … Well, I've been able to type, but I haven't been able to produce anything that I would classify as meaningful work babies, to use your term. They're just not happening.
DS: Okay, good. That makes me feel better because me too. I didn't realize how like therapy this was going to get right away. I should've maybe expected. So I'm a thief in my poetry. I'm always stealing from other texts. Are you? Do you steal and from whom or from what do you steal from the most, do you think?
MHH: I was thinking about that because I do. I'm sure I do. I don't know if there's anybody I steal from in particular. I can't think of anybody, but I know that I'm looking, and if I'm doing work for something in particular, I think I'm looking for structures or ways, compositions or approaches, as much as individual words or ideas. But then, I also know that when somebody says something, it can be a single word or it can be a turn of phrase, then I can suddenly be excited about it or curious about it. So those things happen. It may come from texts; it probably comes from poetry as well. And it also comes from those passing conversations you have or strangers on the street that might say something that you overhear. And then, it comes, a lot, from misunderstanding things. I love misunderstanding things, misreading things, when language suddenly opens up to new possibilities, when there is a word or term that suddenly, kind of, flips everything around, and all it is is a misreading, but much more exciting than what was intended.
DS: You would love my partner. He is always hearing the wrong words in the most funny and strange ways. And he'll be like, “What did you say? Orangutan tree?” And I’d be like, “Why would I say that?” But he always hears something like that.
MHH: It makes language slip, doesn't it? It just opens up for new possibilities or new ways of thinking from the ridiculous to the quiet or profound. I’m thinking about the meaning of things and thought in itself. I love it. There's a term that's called cryptomnesia. Have you heard of it? I don’t know if it's Harold Pinter who made up the word. I have a feeling I should have researched it, but I haven't. But, it's when a forgotten memory resurfaces and you think it's a new or an original idea. You absorb things from other people and then suddenly it comes back to you and you think that you have invented this or suddenly thought of that. I think that probably happens, if I'm honest, to me a lot where I remember a sentence or a phrase, but I'm not sure where it came from. If it came from me or it came from somebody else.
DS: Does it bother you? Do you want to strive for originality or do you like that your work is this mess of influence?
MHH: I think it's fine. That's the way it is. I pick up things or they come from somewhere. But then, I really want to acknowledge it. I sometimes have a problem where I think, if it's a very specific phrase, that's not just something I wrote down, but probably a quote from someone. And then I'll be quite keen to acknowledge that or quote it properly, to not just present it as mine, because I see too often where people say, “I have invented this new thing,” and they really haven’t. So, I'm quite keen on acknowledgement. But then, I also realize that sometimes I have no idea if it is something I wrote or if it is something that came from somewhere else.
DS: Yeah. I mean, obviously to me, that acknowledgement is key. Embracing a lack of originality, but then acknowledging all these places where other voices are coming in through me. That’s obviously what I have been wanting to do here. So I think that's a nice way of looking at it. And I agree. I see too often people who are presenting things as their own that are not.
MHH: Yes. It's infuriating and it makes me so mad.
DS: Yes. And I think it very, very often happens to be male writers presenting other women's ideas.
MHH: Yeah, I think so. I think so.
DS: Let's talk about lines then. NO wait! First of all, I want to ask … do you consider yourself a poet? Do you consider yourself an artist? Where do you draw that line?
MHH: I've come to call myself an artist and I work in other media as well. I don't just work with language, but language is central to my practice and moves across all of them. I also think that what I do with the typings is not concrete poetry. They're not even visual poetry because that's not the intention of them. They're really for me, or they started for me, as a way of trying to work out language. They stem from exercising or exorcising things and attempting to pin down meaning. And then of course in doing that, in trying to pin things down, things explode and open up. So I really, again, acknowledge what it looks like and how it has an affinity with both visual poetry and concrete poetry, but I don't consider myself in those disciplines, if that makes sense. It's about something else. For me, it's really about exercising, pinning down or investigating the (im)possibility of language.
DS: It's just another medium through which you're doing your art. The typewriter is a medium, just like any other visual medium would be?
MHH: I have a long history. I'm very old, so I have very long history with typewriters and I always loved them. And I think when I started doing this, I never thought of them as work or artworks. It took collaboration with writers who invited me to present them for me to think that they may be more than just my little exercises or my own thinking-throughs, that they could be more, they could be meaningful to someone else.
DS: I love that. Let’s talk about the line because the line is very much a thing of poetry. So, what, what's your relationship to the line here? How does lineation work in your work?
MHH: So, this was one of the questions that threw me completely because I guess a line is something that moves from one point to another point. And then, because of the work Petra did (typing [not writing]), I should know, I've been thinking about this. There are lots of lines in my other work, drawings and 3D objects. And in those works it's always been about the potential of the line, like a blank canvas, and the difficulties of that line. I think in the typing work, it's much more about the gaps, the break of the line and what kind of space that creates. I was looking through Petra's book the other day, which includes this idea of lines and also how they're defined, the words that relate, the fault line, the touch line, and the things that this evokes. So, even though I did all that work on lines, I don't know if I think specifically about them except as in breaking the line or lineage, maybe in breaking the line of [established] thought as well.
DS: Because I can't go through a book like your typing (not writing) and then say, “Oh yes, I have received the message. Marianne has encoded this message for me, and now I've received it.” This book is not working in that way. But it's also not working in a way that's just: here are here are these images and you look, and then you walk away. There is something being conveyed; it's not semantic sense meaning, but it's still meaning,
MHH: I think it is. I was very pleased with it because the thought of putting stuff out there is not, for me, about putting out a particular message or a particular thought. I think it's much more about the instability of language and the room that you can create in language for thinking about it in different ways, that fault or that break in the line gives you the space to think or to insert whatever it is that you insert.
DS: I love that so much because I come to the typewriter poetry through concrete poets who were so interested in this rigidity, the grid that the typewriter makes for you. And I can make these shapes that follow this very squared-off grid. And there's something in the format of the typewriter for you, for me, about those spaces in between, these gaps, these fissures, that are calling out. I think that's a radically different approach to the shapes you can make with the grid.
MHH: Yes, the mess, which is probably good. I think that it is about hesitation, writing, restating, obscuring … no, you still don't quite get it. You think you do and then it kind of disappears. There's a cross out or a line through because that's not quite right, but this is not quite right either. This seems to fall on top of that. Do you know what I mean?
DS: And where we can disrupt that grid structure. And in typing (not writing) you are, maybe less than in some of your other typing, but you are still writing over and you are still obscuring a bit, although this is in some ways quite clean for you. I think that's why you like Petra's last page so much.
MHH: I know, it is interesting. Isn't it? Because when you were asking about messy and clean I thought, “Well, mine is really clean.” And then I looked at them and I thought, “No, it's actually not. It's not tidy at all.”
DS: No. I think, looking at your work gave me some license to be messier, compared to what I was using from other poets, how I had come to the typewriter and making this art with a typewriter, I think, even when it's a bit messy, like say Steve McCaffrey and Carnival … that's not a grid, but it's still very organized. He has a shape he's working towards there. I wouldn't call it mess. I love that you say you come to all of this work through the typewriter that you were always enamored by the machine of it. Do you remember your first typewriter?
MHH: It might be a case of cryptomnesia, but I think I have an early memory of pretending to type on a typewriter. Perhaps, when you mentioned secretaries, this kind of pretending to be one, but writing nothing, you know, just characters. I feel like I have always been attracted to them. I mean, I'm old enough to remember borrowing my neighbor's typewriter to write my first CV. And because I come from a background in photography, and it always incorporated text, or very often did, I used to go to Kinko’s, who had typewriters at that time. You could hire a typewriter and I used to go and type on acetate so I could use it in the photographic process. This is when I was in New York, early nineties or something. It was a real tool in many ways; it had to be used. It was a useful tool. But it also makes you write in a very different way. I don't know if you think so, but it's very different compared to writing on a computer. It's a surprisingly different thing, you know?
DS: Let's talk about that. The biggest thing for me is that it's a much higher stakes game. A mistake is a much bigger mistake. What about you? What is so different about the process for you?
MHH: It's really physical. I think it is. It depends a little bit on your machine and how hard you have to press, but it is very physical. And it 'records' everything. I have an electric one that can erase. I know! It can go backwards. It's probably the oldest one I have. My dad gave it to me and I've been lugging it around the world, but it still leaves the imprint of what you wrote first. So, for me, it's very close to drawing in the sense that it always leaves a mark of the process. And, because my mind functions differently when I type on the typewriter, I think there is also something about how it may give you permission to be more immediate and playful, compared to writing on a computer. I don't sit down and just start writing with a goal in mind. It's interesting to me how the process, not only the writing, is different from the computer. It's almost like my thinking is working differently as well. So, writing on a typewriter informs both the way I think and the way I work.
DS: Is it slower? Aren't you much slower on a typewriter?
MHH: I pause to think much more, longer and differently, on the typewriter. What I associate with each medium is specific, I write clean and tidy and proper sentences on the computer whereas I can be much more playful on the typewriter. Despite, as you said, there's the issue that the mistake is so easily corrected if you're on a laptop and not at all when you're typing.
DS: There’s something about the computer that feels as though you are … like Wittgenstein calls it “the language game of giving information” and then for Wittgenstein, poetry doesn't do that. I don't know that I agree with him. But, there's something about the medium of the typewriter as we use it, and that's why I think I'm drawn so much to this idea of “that's not writing, that's typing” is because I do feel that a little bit. I'm not so invested in this message or something being complete. It's the shades, the line, the spaces; that's a different thing. But also I'm slower on a typewriter. It takes me forever.
MHH: I also think you are much more aware because you have to think about how you move across the page. You have to think about where the placement is, which in one way, is easier on the typewriter than it is in Microsoft Word. But at the same time, it's more thoughtful. Where do you place things and how do you move to the next line? You don't just write. You have to physically shift, consider how many lines you shift, and why. So it’s a whole different kind of construction. You're constructing. Constructing and composing perhaps, because as much as I say I'm not a concrete poet, I still think that it matters where things are on the page. It’s a visual thing, but I’m thinking in terms of meaning. What happens if I put this much space between two words? A pause, potentially impacting how you read it.
DS: It’s not with the concrete or visual part that I see the disconnect with your work. I think it's the poetry part. There's something about poetry, the naming of the genre, the naming of this format, that I think puts a limitation on your work. Even this book with Petra … Petra’s work is in poetry. That's what she does there. And even that book is still resisting this designation of poetry. I don't know what to say about that. I just think it's interesting.
MHH: Yes, this is what it is. I would never call myself a poet.
DS: Okay, good. So then occupying this photographer artist typewriter position, do you still find your fields, however you define them, are male dominated? Do you ever feel like you have to speak for, or about women in your work? Do you feel like your work is feminist? That's a million questions?
MHH: That is a million questions. It's definitely male dominated. I think everything is. And I'm super conscious especially because I teach. I sometimes work with groups or bring people together, and I'm very conscious about diversity, the representations that I do, who I include and, if I show examples, who I show examples from. So, I'm very aware of that. I'm very aware that I don't just represent the canon, which is mostly male. At the same time, I also kind of resist being a woman artist or a female artist or feminist artist, because it would be nice to just be an artist, you know what I mean? I think in that sense too, the politics is more in doing the work than explicitly in the work itself. Of course, all the experiences of being a woman in the world, not just physically, but in the world, that all filters into the work, including what I pick up on and how I might present it. I'm sure that happens. But, I don't specifically approach it in the work as such, whereas in my work with others it's an important thing to do and be aware of.
DS: Do you feel still like the typewriter is this gendered thing or as it’s been obsolesced, do we not think about it like that anymore?
MHH: It’s very hard not to. I think it's still very hard not to. But then, it's also interesting that so much of what you see is still men relating to the typewriter. I saw very recently a display of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript, which is this huge, very expensive typewritten scroll. And I do think it's interesting. And Jack Nicholson in The Shining. So, there's always the image of male writers typing away and none of the women, including the female typewriters who wrote up the corrected versions of the manuscripts. So, the image is one thing and the history is perhaps another.
DS: The image and the history and that disconnect there. I think it's so loaded. Lately, interviewers ask me about Tom Hanks because he apparently collects typewriters. So, they're always like Tom Hanks has a huge typewriter collection. Like why ask me that?
MHH: No, I know exactly. See, I didn't know that. And what is he doing with them? Cause that's the interesting thing. Why does he have them? What is he doing with them? What is he using them for?
DS: Probably a long and exhausting memoir.
MHH: Maybe. So, we have to change that, like you mentioned, just bring to the forefront that that's not reality or really what happened.
DS: Yes, yes. Will you tell me about your typewriters?
MHH: I will! It’s so funny. I was in the studio this morning and I had all my stuff around me. And then my heater exploded, it stopped working. So I had to relocate to here. But I took this with me. I made an index of them. I did this because when I did the book with Petra, she said, “What typewriters did you use in this?” And I thought, I have no idea. I need to actually type our each of them to remember because I have 10. I think there are 10.
DS: Oh, I'm so jealous.
MHH: I know. I have stopped myself buying anymore! But the thing about typewriters is each of them has not only a different feel, but a different font and the font matters hugely. I have 10. I have Olivettis and other more famous ones, but I never use them. I rarely use them because the font is too round and too beautiful, almost too nice. And then I have the one my dad gave me that is electric, a Triumph-Adler. That one I use a lot; I like the font, and also it makes beautiful lines. Just the underscore makes a really nice slim tidy line. It also gets pulled out when I'm tired, when I can't face a manual or when I just need a really fine line. So, it all depends. I was thinking this is too many, you know, they take up too much space, but no, you need them. I think you need them.
DS: You need them. I have four and it's not enough.
MHH: It’s hard. Isn't it? I had a residency in Finland a few years ago and I dragged a typewriter with me because I thought, I surely need this. And I did use it, but not specifically or not a lot. And then, in the last week, I came across another one in a secondhand shop, an old Hermes, it was five euros and it was heavy, but I had to buy it. Yes, yes. I mean, it's beautiful, right? It types like butter; it is really nice. And then, I'd been doing a lot of work around the void, around the gaps, holes, and pauses in language and beyond, and I realized that it cuts out the, O, the inside of the O. It’s too sharp, so it makes holes where the O is typed. I know, it's just ridiculously fitting. So, I had to drag that one back too. I thought maybe I'd donate it. But I was like, no, no, no. I'm keeping it.
DS: Yeah. That's so beautiful. Obviously I love the O. Right now it’s my favorite letter. And you find sometimes the most differentiation across typewriters in the O. You would think it's such a normative letter, but actually the roundness or the hole fullness, the thickness, the way they get colored in the middle. I love a typewriter that colors the whole thing, like a big hole.
MHH: I had one where the O just got filled with stuff. And I just loved that. It typed like a big full stop, a huge mark. And then, since then, it must have fallen out or something. I'm so upset. I've been kind of thinking about how do I fill it up again?
DS: That solidness. Yeah. I like to touch them. I like the way that they manipulate my hands. I like the physical engagement of the thing.
MHH: Yes. I have been thinking about language that touches you, but then also touching language. And I think typing is probably what comes really close to that, because you physical connect to the letters, you touch the keys, you're engaging very physically.
DS: And the way that the letters make their imprint on the page too. It's physical. I say all the time, whenever I'm in interviews or whatever, and they say “What's different about writing on a typewriter?” I always tell them that I like to have long nails and you can't with a typewriter. Do you have long nails?
MHH: No. Maybe that's why I never had that issue with typewriters. I didn't know that. See, I can’t keep them clean. That's why I can't keep my nails long.
DS: Oh, yes. I know.
MHH: But I don't mind.
DS: You're talking to a bunch of poets here. What would you like to say? What would you say to poets that we need to think about and learn from and pay attention to that your work with a typewriter has shown?
MHH: I'm not sure. I feel like it would be arrogant of me to suggest anything and anything that is not probably already happening in poetry. Can I think about it and let you know if I have anything to say to the poets?
DS: Okay. I'm your delegate. I'm your liaison with the poet world?
MHH: That's great because I just had a talk with a friend who is a poet writer. I don't know if he would call himself a poet actually. And I assumed that he was working with pauses because he also plays with the way that things are presented on page, although in a very different way. So, I said, “That's obviously part of what you do.” And he was just like, “No, it's not, not at all. I don't think about that.” And I was like, “You must!” Because, we had a conversation about how there's a reading, including pausing, that kind of accompanies that typing, even if it's not intended to be read out loud, so I assumed. And that's interesting, but it just goes to show, I know nothing.
DS: When you say reading in your head, do you mean it's aural, that there's a sound happening in your head?
MHH: It's not necessarily. It's not that I hear it, but it's there. Does that make sense? So, it's not a voice that reads along, but there is a reading that takes place.
DS: Yeah, that makes sense. Because I was just struck with this idea of a sound that's behind your such visual work. But there's a distinction, I think, between a sound reading and reading to me makes more sense.
MHH: Yes. I think there is because I've been thinking for a long time if I can read them out loud and then I think I don't have to because there's already reading in them.
DS: Have you been invited to read from your work? Do you read from it?
MHH: I have. I had a conversation with somebody, who was a writer as well, about reading. It never came to anything. And I think that was because I was uncertain about how I would do it. But it's definitely planted a seed in my mind about what is the relation to this kind of internal reading that happens and reading out loud. And how would that be done? I know it's something to ponder and maybe test out, but I haven't done it. She read from them, which was really exciting. So I'm happy to hand them over and I'm still thinking, is there anything I can do with that that's meaningful or makes sense?
DS: It would have to be more musical, I would think, than it would be reading it because I think the relationship is so affective or sensational rather than it is, like we were talking about before about encoding and decoding and meaning. For me your work is more musical or like a sound poetry experimental thing.
MHH: I can't quite see how it would be done. Do you know what I mean? I can't quite see it. I think it would have to be a different kind of writing that might be around some of the same themes, or the way I think about the typing, but not necessarily?
DS: I'm the same way, which is strange because poets are often called upon to give readings and much of the work in my book, I don't know how I would read. I read my poem on your work very often because there are lines I can say aloud, there's something that I can get across. And then I like to talk about cervix and IUD and discharge and stuff like that, to say that in a zoom room full of people. It's just nice to remind them about vaginal discharge.
MHH: Yes. I think that's important.
DS: Well, this has been lovely. I feel invigorated and like I might be able to write something.
MHH: Excellent. I might go and have another look again, see if anything happens.
DS: Let's see. I needed it though. And I do feel comforted by the fact that you also are having a hard time typing.
MHH: I was thinking maybe this is the lesson for me right now, everybody feels it. I think it’s really shared. We hear about everybody being super productive and doing this and doing that. Or, you know, that's at least what many present. But the reality is, I hear lots of people say that they can't. I just can't concentrate. I can't have any new thoughts. I think maybe for me, that's the lesson, to say that's okay. Yes. That's okay.
DS: That's okay. My attention is elsewhere these days. I just want to bake and eat.
MHH: I've been darning socks!
DS: Oh, I love it.
MHH: My partner was saying to me, “You know, we can afford to buy you new socks.” And then he looked at me and he said, “that's not the point is it?” And I was like, “No, that's not the point.” I just need to do something that's quiet and practical.
DS: Me too.
Marianne Holm Hansen is a Danish artist based in London, UK. She works across media to question how established systems – methodologies, behaviours, habits and, in particular, language – impacts on experience and knowledge. Her typewritten work has appeared in numerous exhibitions and publications, most recently as Typing (not Writing) – Lines, a monograph produced by Petra Schulze-Wollgast for Plaugolt SatzWechsler, Germany and Timglaset Editions, Sweden (2020). Her other books include 100 things not worth repeating: on repetition (LemonMelon, 2011) and VOID AS (A) – A Proposition (London, 2020). She can be found online at www.criticalm.org
Dani Spinosa is a poet and a scholar and an adjunct professor. She's a co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory, and the author of one book of poetry, OO: Typewriter Poems, and one book of criticism, Anarchists in the Academy. You can find her online at www.genericpronoun.com and in person in Toronto.