As poet Molly Peacock points out in her endorsement of Zachari Logan’s debut collection, A Natural History of Unnatural Things, (Radiant Press) “Poetry and visual art have an intimate relationship, and the brilliant artist Zachari Logan demonstrates just how magnificent the exchange of imagery can be.”
An experienced and much-lauded visual artist, Logan turns his deft hands at the printed word, where he stays true (at least in part) to his artist statement: “Zachari Logan evolves a visual language that explores the intersections between masculinity, identity, memory and place. In previous work related to his current practice, Logan investigated his own body as an exclusive site of exploration.”
Zachari Logan is a queer Canadian poet and artist whose art is exhibited widely in both group and solo exhibitions throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In 2014, Logan received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for emerging artists, and in 2016, Logan was long-listed for the Sobey Award. In 2010, his chapbook, A Eulogy for the Buoyant, was published by JackPine Press. Zachari Logan lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The poem ‘Bouquet’ is a cold feeling poem about the human body engaged with medical mechanics for the hope of achieving a return to health. The title is illusory and strange. Can you talk about your intention for this poem? Was it inspired by any particular event?
A bouquet, not that much unlike our bodies, is a gift that breaks down in varying degrees over a given span of time, the title eludes to this reality. We are often given, or gift flowers in times of grief, loss, stress, celebration and sickness, all of which are life-altering in some way. Visually, cut flowers are reminders of intense beauty in the world- but also the inevitability of change and endings, be that in regard to relationships, ways of thinking or bodies. I’m often drawing flowers as stand-ins for the body; the self, so this is not so much of a conceptual leap for me. I find flowers visually interesting in all stages of their decay, the colour shifts and textural changes are also wonderfully challenging to draw, to represent- they require an attention to perception that I’m always engaged with. Our bodies change in a similar way over a longer period of time; skin-folds, blemishes, frown lines and loss of teeth are external visual examples of this. The fact that these changes happen is a part of our decay, the process of all life, accepting them can be difficult, denial is a common reaction- but death is simply a part of life from the start. When ‘fresh’ flowers are cut they are dead, but continue, before our eyes to transform; like a dead body. Water in a vase can act as formaldehyde for a period of time, but breakdown is already well underway by the time an arrangement of flowers reaches one’s home. A few years back I was sent for an ultrasound and a small cyst was found- I was fascinated by the machine and its imaging. My sister-in-law is an MRI tech and was explaining the process of measuring the body in this way for cancer and tumour detection. Aside from the scans themselves being so visually compelling, (in fact beautiful), I was enamoured with the physical process itself; how particles are measured for change, and I just immediately linked this infinitesimal measuring of decay and mutation to my recording of the external changes that happen with a flower or bouquet. Unlike in flowering plants that are farmed for floristry, regeneration is limited in mammals, certain tissue and organ regrowth is possible, but really healing in a human sense, is a process of bodies coping with time and change; basically, life is terminal, which is what is meant in the last section, ‘A bouquet of cut limbs, planted across my back. Green fringe of thumbs incapable of amputation. There are no spaces between blood and healing’
How did you come into poetry?
I have always loved reading poetry and in my undergrad, I took a great class with Tim Lilburn. A few years later my father passed away and I began writing about the experience of his death. This process was diaristic and not intended for a broad audience, but in 2010 I was encouraged to apply to create a chapbook with Jack Pine Press that combined my visual work with writing from this period and thematic, the resulting book was titled A Eulogy For The Buoyant. I didn’t know if I’d ever approach a longer project, but at the onset of the pandemic, I was approached by Radiant press- and the timing felt right to delve into materials I’d been working at for several years.
How does your visual art practice influence your poetry?
As a visual thinker, I tend to anatomize with a micro-attention to detail in my writing, this is definitely a strategy that I’ve honed in my visual practice and have adapted and integrated into my writing. I tend to layer imagery as well in my visual practice; intersecting themes of body, recollection and landscape, this has influenced my writing greatly.
‘Boxes’ is a childhood memory stretched out in all directions: “imagine a child actor pulling [the toy] through the outskirts of astroturf” and later “harnessed by the suburban skin of childhood”. The language here is precise and effective. It was no surprise to see Sylvia Legris endorsing this book – quoting the poet “Logan has crafted a record of smaller worlds, of elegiac gardens of skin and loss, of impermanence and beauty.” The question is: what does this purging of the past (in some cases) feel like for you to share with readers?
I often feel my writing to be diaristic, I use these vignettes of personal experience to get at what I see as possible commonalities in understanding the world- and to describe, I suppose how I’ve come to be a person in the world. This does feel purgative, and a bit raw at times; especially so when I use precise language.
You designed the cover – can you talk about your process?
Sure, it was always my thinking to do the cover art and something visual inside as well. I wanted the visual elements to be an echo of the themes one encounters as they read. Primarily ideas of queer embodiment, memory and the natural world. I am often referring to flora, and wildflowers throughout the text, sometimes as stand-ins for self, other times just as quietude or as a cataloguing, and I just imagined a graphite drawing on black paper- where the pencil glows on top of the black surface. The cover is a silhouette of tall ditch-flowers and wildflowers, like a border swaying on either side of the book. The interior images are detail images taken from three of four new drawings titled ‘Canto 1-4’ which explore landscape two-dimensionally from multiple dimensional viewpoints.
‘The Two Most Beautiful Buildings’ would be the ultimate postcard message to receive from a friend. It’s a highly memorable piece in the collection. What is it about architecture, technically, an unnatural creation, that captivates us humans?
I don’t think anything humans do is unnatural- but I get what you are saying- it’s ‘man-made’… we are of the world and we inhabit spaces we build. Architecture is one of the key ways in which we have come to inhabit space- out of necessity, but also out of luxury. Architecture is itself a visual language that defines and redefines aesthetic cultural epochs and entire philosophies about the world and our place in it, this is why it captivates me. In the case of this poem, I knew about the two buildings (by the architect Otto Wagner) and had been looking for them on my first of many visits/residencies in Vienna back in 2012, and because of my vantage point, I had been walking down the same street over and over, and I was right in front of them, but one day I walked across the street and glanced back- and there they were, these radiant buildings with floral motifs in the Vienna Secession New Style, and I was gutted. I stood weeping for a few minutes to the horror of people passing, this truly began the love affair with Vienna, likely my favourite city in the world.
Are you working on any new writing?
Yes. I am continuing to write all the time – things come to me in waves, always have. The pandemic was/is furtive for me in terms of writing and visual work, and I feel stimulated to carry on in a similar energy these past few months since the book came out. It’s a very interesting place to be in cognitively.