About Nerve Lantern

Nerve Lantern: Axon of Performance Literature is a journal of experimental performance texts and texts about performance, featuring a broad range of forms from Poets’ Theater to page-as-stage. It was founded by Ellen Redbird in 2001 and is published by Pyriform Press.


Introduction••••••To Put it in Context••••••Axon••••••Special Acknowledgments••••••Greenish Lantern


To speak by light of the nerve lantern is to project word-light, electric messages pulsed outward from the cell body through its axon. Heat in speaking. Signs crackle, spark. Communion as transference of energy. Perform altered, through form to consummate, accomplish in the act. Trigger it lit up and let it live itself out in sound, in hand, in networks of neurons, receptors, sensors, response signals, connection. Sing like morning shower pipes or sharp-knifed in open air. Say many things conflicting cacophony conceptual confusion. Words are not metaphor until they move. Move off page, out of axon, breath to breath—breathe it.

How is performance vital to the word? Is it the way a wire is vital to rotary phone calls? an arm to lifting the hand? human contact to realizing love? hammers to sounding piano strings? Is language more fully realized when spoken to others? What calamities to the audience? What brings them to witness? How do they participate? What restless consciousness charges chaotically through the commune? What is invoked, incited, uncovered?

Nerve Lantern aspires to serve as an axon for experimental, multidimensional, consciousness-shaking, vividly engaging performance texts—to bring the performative to performers. We also hope it becomes a live synapse at which both newer and more established writers meet to exchange creative and critical impulses, thereby forming collaborative networks. Essays, reviews, debates, manifestoes, interviews, letters, etc., addressing performance literature are welcome as well as creative texts that perform on and off the page.

Synaptic contact potential is as great as potential for nervous firings to depart the links they necessitate.

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To Put it in Context

(from Issue 1 of Nerve Lantern)

During spring semester, 2001, at Naropa University, I attended Anne Waldman‘s Liberation Now! Text to Performance class with eight other graduate students: Bob Doto, Kim Essex, David Gardner, Monica Gontovnik, Mara Leigh, Simone Sandy, Patrick Scanlon, and Deb Sica (occasionally faculty Mary Angeline would join us). Several of us had little experience performing or writing for performance. With Anne’s energy and guidance, however, we plunged into experiments, attempting to merge poetic language with physical gesture, interactive movement, music, costume, video, props, scenery, chance operation, and improvisation. We made our way through monologue, dialogue, trilogue, choruses, chanting, and elaborate polyphonic arrangements. We read Antonin Artaud, Japanese Noh plays in translation, ancient Greek tragedies, Gertrude Stein, John Cage, Carla Harryman, and Thalia Field for inspiration.

The classroom was too small for our wide-ranging needs, and, though we made do, our energies and on-the-spot collaborations caused an exciting, sometimes frustrating, kind of chaos. Students would bring in their work each week and then take turns quickly setting up and gathering together players for run-through performances. We would also spend a little time for critique and discussion. Though each session was three hours, we were always pressed for time, packing it in. The performances became more and more ambitious and colorful through the weeks.

Imagine stereos, a TV, costumes made of giant bubble wrap, incense, candles, bells, strange masks, a grass skirt, feather boas, wild wigs, a shaving kit, a red lamp, mirrors, shaving cream, red ribbon bondage, paint, parody, gender and race issues, a single-membered chorus speaking down to a four-membered character, and a chanting human haiku.

Imagine pulling desk-chairs out of the room on cue, telling the audience “Don’t look at me!”, speaking with electronic distortion, silently avoiding or following secretly chosen partners as we paced the room, chanting from the cardinal directions, freezing into tense facial expressions, meditating, drawing faces on oranges and then scalping them, hiding under tables, writing random sequences of figures on the chalkboard, ironing the carpet to the sounds of the ocean, shouting intervention pieces in a parking lot, portraying political hypocrisy and historical atrocities, and rolling up long strips of yellow velvety fabric—all this infused with language. We fed off of each other’s ideas, learned new ways to collaborate, and witnessed our writing come tangibly alive.

Our final and public performance, Vernacular Transfusion of Text, on May 3, 2001, consisted of a string of excerpts from our work (several of which are presented in this issue of Nerve Lantern). Sorting through, selecting from, and ordering the mass of works we’d accumulated was a bewildering collaboration in itself. But, even so, and after a little rehearsal, our performance came together rather well. At least we felt ourselves breathing again when it was over, warranting hugs and a little wine. Anne Waldman received a bouquet with our thanks.

I describe my experience with this Text to Performance class because it, along with Andrew Schelling’s workshop on small press publishing, inspired me to start Nerve Lantern. I hope this issue and subsequent ones will help build community beyond the classroom while carrying some of the spirit and creative energy that came out of it.

—Ellen Redbird

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An axon (also known as a nerve fiber) is a long, slender projection of a nerve cell, or neuron, that typically conducts electrical impulses away from the neuron’s cell body. […] Axons make contact with other cells—usually other neurons but sometimes muscle or gland cells—at junctions called synapses. At a synapse, the membrane of the axon closely adjoins the membrane of the target cell, and special molecular structures serve to transmit electrical or electrochemical signals across the gap.


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Special Nerve Lantern Acknowledgments 2001-2004

David Gardner. He is Nerve Lantern’s best friend and contributing editor, having helped the journal come into being and keep going. Many thanks for his support.

Anne Waldman. She inspired Ellen Redbird to write for performance and contribute to a performance writing community. Many thanks for her support of Nerve Lantern.

Andrew Schelling. He inspired Ellen Redbird to start a press and literary journal. Many thanks for his help.

Brandi Mathis. She helped organize a performance and release party for issue 2 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002. Many thanks for her support of Nerve Lantern.

Heartfelt thanks also to the contributors, volunteers, and readership.

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Greenish Lantern


Here are some ways Ellen Redbird tries to make Pyriform Press and Nerve Lantern greener:

(1) Ellen’s computer and printer are powered by solar panels on the house she lives in.

(2) The host for the Pyriform Press website, Dreamhost, does its best to be green. Its energy use is offset by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits.

(3) Whenever affordable, Nerve Lantern is made with recycled paper.

  • For instance, Nerve Lantern issues 6-9 are made with 100% recycled paper. The inside sheets are Environment PC100 white 80 lb. text weight paper. And the covers are Environment PC100 natural 80 lb. cover weight paper. These papers are Green Seal Certified and made carbon neutral plus, with 100% green electricity, and from 100% FSC certified post-consumer fiber. No new trees are used. They have a neutral pH and are processed chlorine free. Manufactured by Neenah.

(4) Pyriform Press offers the option to purchase digital (pdf) copies of Nerve Lantern.

(5) Copies of Nerve Lantern are often mailed in padded mailers made of recycled paper.

  • For example, CareMail recycled padded mailers are favored, which are plastic free and have 95% total recycled content, 55% post-consumer.

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