all hail kathe koja!

Kathe Koja has contributed the chapter on ‘Maquettes’ for the forthcoming Lund Humphries book about my work. I was cock-a-hoop when she agreed to participate in the project.

Kathe has an innate understanding of the arcane mysteries of puppetry, honed and polished throughout the creation of her just-published novel, Under the Poppy (Small Beer Press) the setting for which is a Victorian brothel where puppets (called ‘les mecs’) are a significant presence. For over two years Kathe and I have been e-mail correspondents united by a shared enthusiasm for the wilder shores of the puppeteer’s art and anything to do with simulacra and automata. It’s been a blast to witness her creative process. She has an extraordinary narrative gift, is skilled in description and has an unerring capacity to create utterly believable voices for her characters. I enjoy reading her books aloud (as I also do with the dialogue-rich novels of Jane Austen) getting to play all the characters in the process. But only whenever I’m alone! For what seems like far too long I’ve been aching to read  Under the Poppy, and yesterday my copy finally arrived.

I’m already deep into the book, and I’m probably going to have to ration my daily fix because I don’t want it to end. I shan’t write any more about it here until I’ve finished reading, but I have to say that after such a long time waiting for it, this book is emphatically not the disappointment it might have been given how eagerly I’ve anticipated it.

Once the manuscript had been dispatched to the publisher, though with the puppets of ‘The Poppy’ still charging her batteries, Kathe was already in the zone and on top of her game in puppet-related matters when we asked her to write the maquette essay. The moment was right, as with her novel out of the way she had a little time to focus on the project for us. She agreed to write the piece within our deadline, and it thrills me to my core to know it rode the coat-tails of  the creative energy that had fuelled Under the Poppy. Those we’ve entrusted with a preview of Kathe’s chapter have been blown away by it.

Today I set up the book to photograph it, adding the skeleton marionette at the last moment as a stage-prop. I wish Amazon had delivered the novel to me a week ago. The photograph would have made the perfect Artlog post for Halloween!

“This book made me drunk. Koja’s language is at its poetic best, and the epic drama had me digging my nails into my palms. It’s like a Tom Waits hurdy-gurdy loser’s lament come to life, as sinister as a dark circus.”
Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

11 thoughts on “all hail kathe koja!

  1. Pingback: Under the Poppy » Blog Archive » Sex and darkness

  2. Clive, such a lovely mention from my comrade on those wilder shores … Thrilled that the book is in your hands at last.

    And very much looking forward to the Lund Humphries book – I understand a certain Ms. Youmans has contributed something pretty spectacular as well. 🙂

    • I’ve been wandering around Ty Isaf doing many things, and all with the book tucked under one arm in the futile hope of being able to claw a few minutes to myself to read another few pages. But ongoing house restoration, a lively little Jack Russell terrier, painting deadlines and an avalanche of work for the monograph and the retrospective keep me running too fast to read. Yesterday I only made about three pages of headway. Today I plan to do better!

      Yes indeed. Ms Youmans, Ms Mills and Ms Koja make up the American contingent of contributors to the monograph, and a damned impressive body of work the group has turned in. Reading the three essays left me feeling rather overwrought and emotional (and they still do on re-reading them) not least because each one, in its own unique way, has got so much deeper under the skin of what I do than anything I think I’ve ever read in the monographs of other contemporary artists. I think we have one hot team on this project.

      I feel that Anita, a friend and correspondent for many years and a practising artist and teacher, not only understands the imperative I have to draw on a daily basis, but has the sound practical knowledge and the clarity of thought necessary to convey to any layperson exactly how it feels for an artist to express the world through the medium of the drawn line. How it is to make a translation… rather than a record… from the reality of looking, to the invented world of the drawing.

      Kathe, you and Marly have produced essays that could stand as brilliantly inventive works of literature in their own rights, and yet in common with the fairy tale or folk story, they quarry out the poetic truths that elude more conventional accounts of the practice of art. The essays, coming as they do from the minds of novelists, convey what goes on in my head in ways that seems much more like chaotic, though creative thought, than any accounts of mundane ‘process’. In each of the three essays I kept thinking ‘Oh my gosh, how could Marly/Kathe/Anita possibly have known that?’ Almost as though the three of you had unscrewed the top of my head and and had a good old rummage inside.

      Mmmm! Well maybe you did, while I was sleeping!

      • It was an “alien” abduction, Clive… and we have your whole subconscious on disk! 😉
        Seriously, it was a joy to write about your JOY of drawing. Can’t wait to see the retrospective where much is pulled together in one place for a closer look… especially the early work, little of which I’ve had the pleasure to see firsthand.

        • I’ve had alchemy (and other things) on the brain, so I did a bit of a double-take when you sent a note to “the three alchemists.” Channeling again! But I am quite sure that you were already golden and needed no cooking of base matter from three American women…

        • Kathe, isn’t that a quote from Howard Carter on glimpsing the tomb of the Boy King through a hole in a wall? If not it should have been!

          Hey, it’s getting busy in my head! Wait a moment… oh that’s OK… it’s just Kathe, Marly and Anita having a contributors’ reunion. Don’t mind me girls, I just live here! (-;

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