Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Under Surveillance at The Word on The Street, Toronto

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Under Surveillance at The Word on The Street, Toronto

Yesterday I participated in a panel called Under Surveillance at the New Narratives Tent, alongside Emily Horne, co-author of The Inspection House: An Impertinent Field Guide to Modern Surveillance (with Tim Maly), and hosted by Nick Mount. We'd been asked to talk about our interpretations of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish—how his work related to our approaches to writing and research regarding our books, and to give to a short reading.

Here's my response:

Much of The Counting House was written in 2009. The book was framed initially, in part, by my reading of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish and Madness and Civilization. Five years later, talking about how these works influenced my own is like trying to speak a language I don’t remember, but that I may have had, at one point, some conversational fluency in.

Reading is a form of immersion, from a submersion in an atmosphere, gathering words and ideas—but now, any vocabulary I had around the material I once read is gone.

Foucault rearranges into a cut foul.

When I read Discipline and Punish and Madness and Civilization, I felt that I was a player in the game of Blind Man’s Bluff. Tagged. A dark room, a poet’s room, a poet wearing the blindfold—being seen, without ever seeing—Foucault’s texts calling out the tease.

Blindfolded. Where is the gaze? Whose gaze? Who sees everything without ever being seen?

In its form, The Counting House functions in a similar way to Blind Man's Bluff, which is a children’s game, kind of like tag. The lines call out from the dark.

There is the body, the physical body, and the ever-present eye—each eye blindfolded/un-blindfolded, riveted to the body, riveted to the home.

Assign a true place, a true name, a true body, a true line.

When writing the book, I would cut up each long serial poem up into very short snippets, sentence fragments, sometimes even whole lines, to see how and where they would call out to each other.

Foucault says: Knowledge is not for knowledge, knowledge is for cutting.

The children’s game used to be called Blind Man’s Buff—buff meaning “small push”. Foucault pushed me. I was blindfolded. The room was dark.

Stay at arms length.

Deadman, Deadgirl, come alive, come alive at the count of five. One, two, three, four, five.

Foucault says: Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are… but… to refuse what we are.

I’m guilty of many linguistic corruptions.

The gaze goes everywhere—visible, unverifiable. The watcher gains power over the watched.

The Counting House comes from a look into the systems of power within an inspection house, a house-hold, a home, the intimate systems through which thought and action is controlled. Those spectacles. Those duties, roles, and obligations to the home.

How does your identity get tied up?

Foucault says: Visibility is a trap.

Who says: Each in her place, confined—she is seen, but she does not see—she is the object of information, never a subject in communication—the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if discontinuous in its action—the perfection of this power should render its actual exercise unnecessary…

Our panopticon is a cruel, ingenious cage.

Are we always under each other’s gaze? And if we are, what does that say about the dynamics of our relationship? Docile body, do you behave as you’re expected?

You, true body.

You, true name.

Power and knowledge are dependent on each other—the extension of one serves to extend the other. And what is knowledge? What is truth? What are they within an interpersonal relationship? What evidence do we have that our relationship is as it seems?

I start with questions because to have any answers implies an assumption of power — certainty, control, a cut foul.

A cut.

What do we exclude from the stories we tell ourselves about our others? Telling a story or relaying history is not the simple linear unfolding of facts, but instead is layers upon layers of exclusions.

The lines call out from the dark.

The dark room, a poet’s room, a poet wearing the blindfold.

Deadman, Deadgirl, Darling, come alive, come alive at the count of five. One, two, three, four, five.

[Here I began reading from the book—p37.]

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Sandra Ridley

Sandra Ridley’s first full-length collection of poetry, Fallout, won the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for publishing, the Alfred G. Bailey prize, and was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award. Her second book, Post-Apothecary, was short-listed for the 2012 ReLit and Archibald Lampman Awards. Also in 2012, Ridley won the international festival Of Authors’ Battle of the Bards and was featured in The University of Toronto’s Influency Salon. Twice a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, Ridley is the author of two chapbooks: Rest Cure, and Lift, for which she was co-recipient of the bpNichol Chapbook Award. Her latest book is The Counting House (BookThug 2013). She lives in Ottawa.

You can contact Sandra throughout the month of September with questions and comments at

Go to Sandra Ridley’s Author Page