A decade later it’s here: The Strip Hay(na)ku Project. A collaborative experiment in sequential graphic poetics (Meritage Press & L/O/C/P, 2019)

The Strip Hay(na)ku Project book cover

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The Strip Hay(na)ku Project.  A collaborative experiment in sequential graphic poetics

Edited by Ernesto Priego

With contributions by John Bloomberg-Rissman, Sam Bloomberg-Rissman, Amy Bernier, lola bola (Jane Ogilvie), Horacio Castillo, Ira Franco, Ernesto Priego, and Ginger Stickney.

Foreword by Eileen R. Tabios

Introduction by Ernesto Priego

ISBN 978-1-934299-13-5

Release Date: April 2019

Page Count: 48 pages, full colour.

Price: US$14.00 or equivalent

Distributor: Lulu (Laughing/Ouch/Cube/Publications account)

For more information: meritagepress@gmail.com



Meritage Press and Laughing/Ouch/Cube/Publications are pleased to announce the release of The Strip Hay(na)ku Project, a collection of hay(na)ku poems in comic strip form, edited and co-created by Ernesto Priego with contributors John Bloomberg-Rissman, Sam Bloomberg-Rissman, Amy Bernier, lola bola (Jane Ogilvie), Horacio Castillo, Ira Franco, Ernesto Priego, and Ginger Stickney.

“Hay naku” is a common Filipino expression covering a variety of contexts—like the word “Oh.” The “hay(na)ku” is a 21st century poetic form invented by Eileen R. Tabios. It is a six-word tercet with the first line being one word, the second line being two words, and the third line being three words. Poets around the world have used the form and have created text and visual variations of the form, including the “chained hay(na)ku” which strings together more than one tercet as well as the reverse hay(na)ku where the word count is reversed. Ernesto Priego started co-creating “strip hay(na)ku” poems in 2008, inspired by examples of Slovenian “strip haiku”.


About The Strip Hay(na)ku Project:

“Hay(na)ku, a 21st century fixed verse form, has inherited haiku-sensibility (with its caesuras or paradigm shifts) and added to it a new kind of game, with 1, 2, and 3 words, perfect for the special needs of alphabetical writings. The inventive collaborators of this book successfully transplanted hay(na)ku – not only its basic form but its spirit as well – into the field of visual writing, and what we get is new and exciting. The book contains real comic strips but almost as soon as I started reading/watching the panels I had the strong impression that instead of the usual multitude of voices, speakers, actors etc. we have only two “heroes”, so to speak, inside and outside, and even they are not so different, to say the least. There is no comic strip without a story, and this time we are told and shown (but the texts and images don’t explain each other, their connection is inspiringly dissociative), how those heroes or perspectives keep changing places. It happens gently, almost invisibly…”

-Márton Koppány



Ernesto Priego is a lecturer at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London. He is the founder and editor in chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. He co-curated, with Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman and Eileen R. Tabios, The Chained Hay(na)ku Project (Meritage Press and xPress(ed) 2010). He is also the author of Not Even Dogs. Hay(na)ku Poems (Meritage Press, 2006); the amazing adventures of Gravity & Grace (Otoliths 2008); The Present Day. The Mañana Poems (Leafe Press 2010); Ahí donde no estás. De nombres propios y otros fantasmas (Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura 2013); and, with Simon Grennan and Peter Wilkins, the non-fiction comic Parables of Care. Creative Responses to Dementia Care (City, University of London, University of Chester and Douglas College, 2017). He posts things online whenever he is able to on his blog, epriego.blog, and on Twitter @ernestopriego.

Eileen R. Tabios has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her books include a form-based “Selected Poems” series: The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019; THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2009); INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected Catalog Poems & new 1996-2015, and THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems and New 1998-2010. Recent poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago, MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator, TANKA: Vol. 1, and ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems which is a bilingual English-Spanish edition with translator Rebeka Lembo. Forthcoming is WITNESS IN A CONVEX MIRROR which will inaugurate Tinfish Press’s ”Pacific response to John Ashbery.” She also invented the poetry form “hay(na)ku” whose 15-year anniversary in 2018 is celebrated at the San Francisco and Saint Helena Public Libraries. More information about her works is available at http://eileenrtabios.com.


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Return to the Infinite Library (Notes)

Where I attempt to extend some Tweets into a longer piece.

From Jorge Luis Borges, "On the Cult of Books". Photo CC-BY Ernesto Priego, translation copyright Eliot Weinberger, 1984

“A book, any book, is for us a sacred object”

-Jorge Luis Borges, “On the Cult of Books”, 1951

I grew up in a house full of books. The more books we had access to the more books we knew we did not have. We were very privileged to have that kind of scarcity. My parents’ material wealth was their personal library, and their inheritance was a love for reading and a love for books (and other published, printed stuff).

One book leads to other books; other books to even more books. It never ends. Libraries and the Web are gateways, maps, templates, enablers. Growing up with scarcity of information (because reading a book was a means of realising how many other books you had to read) made me seek libraries like shelters.

I suppose nowadays it is possible to love reading without having to love the ‘physical’ artifacts that used to be equated with books. Print does not equal reading now. A book is more than the material device in which one reads. I do most of my reading on screens these days, and as a student I could not afford to buy many books. Libraries and the Web kept my hunger satiated. At the same time, libraries made me perpetually hungry for more information and more books.

I have started buying printed publications again, and I have been thinking again about what it means to be a reader, what the function of libraries and book shops and printed matter is in a time in which digital information is semi-ubiquitous.

I don’t like not knowing. Recently I have been thinking it must have something to do with growing up knowing there was always something you *had* to know and that you could miss out on. Life becomes an endless research exercise, an ongoing process of discovery, compilation, organisation and sharing of resources for later reading.

I wonder what it would be like to take access to a wealth of information resources for granted.

I think of Borges, blind, and his love for writing and reading, in the middle of an infinite library.

Would the “total” library exist if all of it could be read?

Or is the very “essence” (excuse the term) of book loving and collecting defined by the limitations to have it all?

What is curation if not, also, a way of reading a collection (a universe) and organising it in a way that it is accessible to the human mind?

Is curation a kind of reading and writing based on preexisting materials, a creative act humbled by the overwhelming amount of work that has already been done by other people?

I am aware these questions go in different directions. These are notes on scraps. I send them out before they disappear.

México en la Autobiografía de Morrissey

A Mexican on a mission cannot be stopped.”

-Morrissey, Autobiography (2013:449)

There’s a place in the sun/for anyone who has the will to chase one”

-Morrissey, Let me kiss you (2004)

Morrissey Autobiography (2013) cover

De las páginas 450, 453-455 de la autobiografía de Morrissey (Penguin Books 2013). Traducción de Ernesto Priego.

Mientras los inestables meses del 2011 llegan a sus suspiros finales estamos en México para dar seis conciertos.

Despierto en Monterrey en pánico absoluto, pero no tengo nada que temer, ya que la bienvenida que me espera en el concierto de esa noche hace desaparecer cualquier duda. Al parecer soy mejor conocido en México que incluso en Suecia, Perú o Chile. Nada en el mundo se puede comparar con el amor que me espera en la ciudad de México – dos conciertos agotados donde mi misma voz desaparece ante el canto del público en el auditorio.

Let me kiss you tiene un significado ondea-banderas en México, y en cada concierto todo el público la canta a todo volumen y yo me quedo como un pastor incapaz de controlar a su rebaño. Brazos y brazos y pechos y manos con mensajes de Morrissey en tinta permanente – tatuados sobre la desnudez, cada uno un ensayo, y todo lo que puedo hacer es respirar hondo. Un tatuaje significa que yo estoy siempre ahí – incluso cuando la gente se baña, mis palabras o pálida cara aparecerán desde los cuerpos enjabonados. Los boletos de Puebla se agotaron más rápido que en cualquier otro concierto en la historia de la ciudad. Los jóvenes de Puebla arrojan sus cuerpos hacia el escenario en un acto de amor. Me dan el derecho a la vida.

I know it’s over prueba ser demasiado para la sangre y el cuerpo – mi propia carne. Scandinavia es un jadeo con el que doy un paso atrás, la nueva vida salvando a la vieja. La ciudad de México me ha dejado sin poder respirar, pidiendo oxígeno. La contaminación atrapada en la ciudad no tiene a dónde ir más que a mis pulmones. Me quedo en la cama con dos agujas de esteroides inyectadas en el trasero para poder sobrevivir los días que siguen. Dos noches en Guadalajara donde todo mundo parece estar esperando, y todo mundo parece estar buscándome, y las multitudes cantan las canciones en una manera que me dice que es posible que estas canciones son lo único que tienen. Padres levantan a sus hijos pequeños hacia el escenario, como si esos niños hubieran nacido como resultado de algo que yo dije. Un hombre jamás había recibido un amor así. Me atrapan. Un terremoto nos ve huyendo del auditorio de Puebla. Mientras salgo corriendo miro hacia abajo y me doy cuenta que estoy descalzo. Nos reunimos en el estacionamiento, como refugiados polacos esperando a que alguien nos diga dónde vamos a morir. Puebla retumba una de sus advertencias: nunca le des la espalda a la madre tierra. Muchas de las víctimas del mundo viven en México, su pobreza creada por los gobiernos miserablemente ricos del mundo civilizado; una pobreza deliberadamente estructurada para mantener a los pobres pobres, y para mantener a México incapaz de alcanzar los vitales intereses de sus vecinos del norte. Fríamente, fríamente, la raza humana se desliza -incluso ahora, en una era en que los presidentes y primeros ministros son generalmente vistos como una amenaza para su propia gente -o, si se es de lo más tolerante, como sólo una pérdida de tiempo. Una burbuja se ha roto en todo el mundo. En México a la gente no se le permite vivir, y sin embargo sonríen todo el camino mientras hacen el peregrinaje de ocho días para Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe; la gente reducida a contar guijarros, atrapada en el miedo a no creer. Hay un cierto movimiento mexicano de la cabeza que nos dice a nosotros quienes somos de otro lado que ellos saben muy bien que se les piensa sin importancia. Por eso, los mexicanos tienen una fuerza y un amor anormales, con corazones anclados más allá de las imaginaciones de las dictaduras reales. Hay más tesoros robados en el palacio de Buckingham o el Museo Británico que los que todos los pobres de México podrán tocar alguna vez. Y aún así, la gente de México es en su mayoría incapaz de moverse o progresar, y aunque su trabajo y mano de obra han construído casi todos los Estados Unidos, los Estados Unidos de hoy hacen todo lo que pueden para no dejarlos entrar.

“The Best Books on Mexico?” (Start Here Instead)

This morning I was referred to this Guardian Global Development post (let’s call it what it is). I can’t describe the sense of despair I feel when I read the caption “The best books on Mexico: Down the Rabbit Hole, The Years With Laura Díaz, and Mexico: Democracy Interrupted.” It’s not a joke. They are telling you, reader, that those three books are “the best on Mexico”.

Really. Now, allow me to be categorically ranty here: a bit of common sense can make us realise that “best of” lists are always a joke and cannot possibly be objective in any way. Nevertheless, this being the Guardian (read worldwide, and not only in Britain, for this is not still 1910) the old spectre of the subaltern (or the “Global South” subject) being unable to represent his/her own culture within the dominant (economic, cultural) power reappears.

A short autobiographical note: in the schools I worked in Mexico Mexicans had to have qualifications to get a teaching job, but Americans and Brits in gap years seemed not to need them. The rest of us natives had to climb the steps (mined with dead bodies) of the steep academic meritocracy ladder. (To be fair those were dark times –some 15, 20 years ago– and who knows if that is still the case). When I lived there, if you needed someone in Mexico to talk about British literature you looked for a Brit– because being British meant you knew something about your own culture. In Britain today, if you need someone to talk about Mexican literature… well, why would you need a Mexican to do that? Having been born in a “developing” nation means you are perceived as a toddler forever, unable to speak for yourself, inarticulate, ignorant and inexperienced. The grown-ups always know what’s best for you and therefore speak for you.

But I digress. As a quick Friday morning post, below my own “where to start” list of books about Mexico. I am assuming, like the Grauniad did, that you’d need books more or less widely available in English, so this is not a “best of”, and the list of books would be different if I could include books that are currently (sadly) only available in Spanish, Mexico’s official national language. I don’t have time to write small synopses for each book, but I have provided links. You know how to find out more.

Anyway, here it is, for your Christmas shopping list…

Paperback, 398 pages
Grove Press
Original Title: El laberinto de la soledad / Posdata / Vuelta a El laberinto de la soledad
ISBN: 080215042X (ISBN13: 9780802150424)

La región más transparente

Where the Air is Clear, by Carlos Fuentes (1958)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Paperbacks
Original title: La región más transparente
ISBN: 9781466840164
ISBN10: 1466840161
384 pages

Massacre in Mexico- La noche de Tlatelolco
Massacre in Mexico, by Elena Poniatowska (1971)
Paperback, 333 pages
University of Missouri Press
Original title: La noche de Tlatelolco
ISBN 978-0-8262-0817-0
Mexican Postcards cover
Mexican Postcards, by Carlos Monsiváis (1997)
Paperback, 240 pages
Verso Books
ISBN-10: 0860916049
ISBN-13: 978-0860916048
News from the Empire, by Fernando del Paso (1987)
Paperback / softback 880 pages
Original title: Noticias del imperio
ISBN-13: 9781564785336
GTIN13: 9781564785336
The Book of Lamentations, by Rosario Castellanos (1962)
Paperback, 400 pages
Penguin Classics
Original title: Oficio de tinieblas
ISBN 9780141180038
No one will see me cry
No One Will See Me Cry, by Cristina Rivera Garza (2001)
Paperback, 207 pages
Curbstone Books
Original title: Nadie me verá llorar
ISBN-10: 1880684918
ISBN-13: 978-1880684917

Here is tijuana!

Here is Tijuana! by Fiamma Montezemolo, René Peralta,  Heriberto Yépez (2006)
Paperback, 192 pages
Black Dog Publishing Ltd
ISBN-10: 1904772455
ISBN-13: 978-1904772453

Slavery Inc
Trade Paperback, Royal PB, 320 pages
Portobello books
ISBN: 9781846274213
Hardback, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781781680735
ebook, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781781682487

Bedsit Disco Queen, by Tracey Thorn

Bedsit Disco Queen (cover)

ISBN: 9781844088669
Publication date: 07 Feb 2013
Page count: 384

“The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly -that is what each of us is here for.”

-Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

It’s Mexico City and it’s 1995. I am nineteen years old and I am working at the music department of the National University, writing press releases and copy for the hand programmes of the weekly chamber music concerts the university organised. When no-one was watching I spend my time trying to write my own stuff, edit my own fanzines and the comics reviews I contribute to various newspapers and magazines.

That year I had finished typing my first short story, which went on to win an honorary mention in a minor literary contest organised by a national newspaper that no longer exists (El Nacional). The story qualified as micro-fiction, really, and it was nothing but a rip-off of Raymond Carver’s stories, all intimacy and abrupt ending. Its title was “Tracey Thorn y el fuego”, and it was about a bored teenage couple sharing a bedsit in an unnamed big city, spending their days listening to mix tapes and smoking joints, considering the vast expanse of future before them while experiencing it as a dead-end. In retrospect that story is an embarrassment (in my view I was immaturely unable to write fiction because I wanted to turn everything into autobiography) and I am now glad that Mexico’s delay in embracing the Web meant that it has been lost forever in the dust of time.

In my imagination it could have been at the exact same time that I was submitting that story (under the pen-name of Javier Saltares, which I shamelessly stole from a comic book artist I admired) that Tracey Thorn was performing at her first Glastonbury, one day singing “Protection” with Massive Attack, the next day with Everything But The Girl (pages 303-308 in Bedsit Disco Queen). So it can be said that Tracey Thorn (her voice, her lyrics, the idea of her, the imagined, romantic story I had visualised of her and Ben Watt) made me want to really become a writer, even though I had already been publishing weekly columns since 1992.

Needless to say, by the time I was starting out my own vision of myself EBTG were at the height of their career (or so it seemed at the time). Before the Web (and the signing of NAFTA in 1994) Mexico felt more or less like a Communist country, at least in terms of youth culture and access to it, so EBTG had all the aura of a cool, artsy, literary underground band; their Blanco y Negro label having Jesus & Mary Chain connotations, and therefore interconnections with a post-punk aesthetics those of us who became teenagers in late 80s Mexico related to the Cure, the Smiths, Pixies and the whole 4AD stable, including the Cocteau Twins. (In 1985, a pair of Levi’s might have been as hard to get -legally- in Mexico City as it was for the average Muscovite, even though they were, as still mostly are, made in our own soil).

Had EBTG toured Mexico in 1985, when they visited Moscow (167-173), they would have experienced something very similar in terms of what appeared like a complete lack of live music culture and a society mostly controlled by mainstream media and the Sate. To put things in perspective, Mexico’s first official, major legal live concert by an international act was Rod Stewart’s, in Querétaro (not even Mexico City, to avoid crowd control issues, we imagine) back in 1989. EBTG had remade “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” a year earlier, in 1988 (203-208). This, for me, epitomises the infinite delay and distortion with which we in Mexico experienced everything: by the time someone finally toured Mexico, even their po-mo homages/appropriations were old news. In Mexico, in the 80s and 90s, the present of the future was always someone else’s past.

And so reading Tracey Thorn’s Bedsit Disco Queen felt like redemption. I read it while playing the albums on vinyl and googling some of the performances she mentions to watch them on YouTube. The book is a beautiful, accessible, moving, funny and ultimately profoundly melancholy portrait of an unpretentious-but-ambitious DIY artist with deep, strong roots in punk and feminism. It is as well a personal history of British indie pop music, from the late 70s to the early noughties, told in a conversational, passionate and endearing voice. She makes us part of the story, by talking to us directly, and for a moment it is almost easy to forget she is not in fact our friend or even acquaintance, even though it feels like we are sitting there with her, at her kitchen or something, remembering a life we did not have but that strangely and uncannily we shared, distorted, distanced, overinterpreted, through her records and now her book.

Bedist Disco Queen is the kind of book I wish all teenagers could read today. It is a feminist, empowering biographical essay on self-development. There are not many mentions of financial hardship, and those hoping to find a direct, simple unveiling of the bonds that have kept Ben Watt and her together for all these years will not find it in this book. Not directly. Though there are some precious details of what it was like to be into indie music in the late 70s and early 80s (having to wait for important phone calls in the phone booth down the road; replying to hand-written fan mail), the technological changes of the 90s (MySpace? Napster?) are not mentioned at all, and though in the book she wishes she had invented Twitter in 1987 (194-195) it’s as if the Web had not played any role in the ups-and-downs of the music culture/industry she saw and helped evolve.

One of the best features of the book is that it seems to have been written with the same technique displayed in her lyrics: divided into short chapters with intertextually-rich headings, the book reads like a conceptual album where a not-necessarily chronological story is told, and where what is not said counts as much as what is explicitly there. Complete episodes or processes that in most mere mortals’ lives would have been full of detail (finishing an undergraduate degree whilst becoming moderately famous as an artist, then completing a master’s degree at the height of pop stardom; having three kids and still recording solo albums living with a multifaceted musician, DJ, club promoter and label owner, etc.) are offered to the reader as humble elements in the context of a greater narrative of the self. Not a master narrative of rock and roll’s grandiose and epic dimensions, even though, as she acknowledges with the acute proprioception she displays throughout the book, the story has “a trajectory: the early upward curve, the terrible crash in the middle, the unexpected resurrection, the inevitable retirement, and the final return” (359-360).

This is why the book reads so quickly, because on the one hand we have a pretty clear idea of how it might end, and on the other hand because she keeps us guessing all the time, suggesting rather than exposing. This is Tracey Thorn’s subtlety in full effect, where the quality and nuance of the words, their rhythm, flows in a conscious aesthetic decision against the vulgarity of a celebrity culture obsessed with pornography and hyper-reality.

Bedsit Disco Queen is an inspiring feminist memoir for the 21st century. It is, indeed, surprising that in spite of some very dramatic, painful events, the story the book tells is one of success. It often feels like a love letter to herself, to who she was and is now (it also feels like a love letter to Ben). The book tells us there are forces that are more powerful than our mere will or expectations, but that with a strong, honest identification with an artistic and political (the artistic as political) ethos it all seems to work out very well in the end, at least for some.

Oscar Wilde wrote famously that “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, no the sitter”, and if in autobiography the artist and the sitter attempt to be the same, the reflective mirror-effect is not dissimilar to that of a performer listening to herself on a monitor. In a way Tracey Thorn’s story as an artist begins when she records her first songs with the Marine Girls (I loved the description of the drastic changes in volume levels in A Day By the Sea in page 53), and the book, this latest installment of her work, is another type of self-recording. Perhaps the best way to understand how her autobiography matches perfectly her career as a performer is found in her description of that Glastonbury performance with Massive Attack:

“As I walk onstage I realise that the volume in this space is ear-splitting, and the sound seems to swirl aimlessly around inside the tent, coming and going in waves, gathering momentum like a whirlpool. I open my mouth to sing the first note of ‘Protection’ and the vocal level in my monitors has simply vanished, or been swallowed up in the volume both on and off stage. There is simply nothing there – I am singing as if special earplugs have been designed to filter out the sound of my voice. Being an experienced veteran, I do what you must never do in these circumstances and fly into a complete panic, shooting desperate glances at the monitor man to the side of the stage. He is aware of the problem, and shoots desperate glances back at me while he tries to fix it, managing to blow me backwards with a howl of feedback from the monitor in front of me. It soon becomes clear that there is nothing much he can do, and I am left with no audible vocal to work with onstage. All I can hear is the sound bouncing back from the walls of the tent, with a two-second delay, and so I simply carry on, hoping and praying that I am not too far out of time or out of tune. As the song finishes I take my bow, leave the stage and burst into frustrated tears” (304-305).

It is perhaps a very good thing that we cannot find a video recording of that June 1995 Glastonbury performance on YouTube. Some of the aura of that memory remains protected. To sing to us, artists need to sing to themselves first. First quietly, in the privacy of their teenage bedrooms, then at maximum volume in front of thousands. Writing can be a little bit like that. With her book Tracey Thorn seems to be closing a chapter of her life, ready to start anew, without ever forgetting what she has been. In this book she is not too far out of time or out of tune: she is pitch-perfect, and we are left mesmerised.

“The deal was cancelled”

Two quotes dated 4 March 2009, handrwitten in one of my notebooks:

“The author recalls asking an American buyer of a Gould bird book for shipping instructions, and we were told to keep the covers and send the contents. The deal was cancelled and the book was eventually sold elsewhere.”

-John Maggs, “Conservation priorities: a bookseller’s view,” in Petherbridge (1987) Conservation of Library and Archive Materials and the Graphic Arts, p. 232.

“A codex book is an object constituted of multiple and separable components; gatherings, binding construction, metal furniture, fastenings, etc. Combined, these form numerous subtleties of historical interest and theoretical evidences, indicating period fashion and provenance; divided, they lose much of their meaning and power to conjure human thought. Bibliographical integrity is not something we can dismantle and recreate. Judged in this way, the integrity of the individual volume is only as strong as its most fragile part; as with a painting when only one colour may fade but the artists’s intention is altered forever, leaving its integrity fragmented.”

-Christopher Clarkson, “Conservation priorities: a library conservator’s view,” in Petherbridge (1987) Conservation of Library and Archive Materials and the Graphic Arts, p. 236.