Space In Love With Space: An Interview with Ashley Obscura

Matthew Sherling


Since we have so many different mediums at our disposal, the internet fosters artistic versatility & multimedia experimentation. Many writers active online do not just write–they explore image, recorded sound, & video.

Ashley Opheim (AKA Ashley Obscura) is exactly this kind of juggler. Among other projects, she writes cosmic tweets, visually stimulating poetry, & makes ambient sound art (PEYOTIKI) that features her entrancing spoken word & singing. Her work bends toward something like sexy metaphysics, pop mysticism.

She has three e-novellas–How To Be a RainbowAura Halo and oh, inverted universe (in collaboration with John Rogers)–& has an active internet presence on FacebookTumblr and Twitter.

FANZINE: Hi, who are you?

ASHLEY OBSCURA: Hi, my birth name is Ashley Opheim, but I also go by the name Ashley Obscura on the Internet (which, believe it or not, is my mother’s maiden name!). I also go by @hologramrainbow and PEYOTIKI. I am a writer and performing artist, working mostly in poetry and creative non-fiction. My work has been published in places like Pop Serial, Illuminati Girl Gang, Thought Catalog and Shabby Doll House.

FZ: How would you describe your approach to writing?

AO: My writing is a way for me to come closer to and understand my self and the world around me better. It is a means for me to express myself, to reflect on life, observe my surroundings and analyze my place in time and space. At its best, my writing is an attempt to shape and/or affect the world around me.

I started writing poetry in grade 7, immersed myself in the creative writing courses offered at my high school and then went on to complete a university education in creative writing. Since my graduation in 2012, I have written a bunch of new stuff, read/performed at a bunch of things and organized a plethora of readings in Montreal with Guillaume Morissette called This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not. I am now working on developing a small literary press. I am very devoted to the act of writing. I believe that the world has, can and will be changed with words.

FZ: In the internet lit culture, often things like ‘bleakness’ & ‘apathy’ are prominent. However, you seem to value ‘positivity’ & ‘celebration’. What accounts for this?

AO: I value positivity and aspire to celebrate life. This isn’t to say that I never feel ‘bleak’ or ‘apathetic.’ I think that this is evident in some of my new poetry, which I feel is less positive than some of my older stuff.

I grew up with a depressed parent in my household and I think that being around someone that is really sad all the time made me question negativity: Like… ‘why can’t you just try to be happy? Why can’t you just try and see things on the bright side?’ But for anyone who suffers from or knows someone who suffers from depression knows that this is easier said than done. In this way, I feel like I adapted a positive attitude as a way to protect myself… as a sort of shield against negativity. As a sort of protest against it, or something.

My positive mantras that come forth in my poetry or my tweets are often inspired by a feeling of sadness…like, if I am feeling ‘down’ or ‘uninspired’ I am likely to tweet something like ‘imagine the entire universe is kissing you,’ or something like that. I really love thinking of silly things like that to share; things that will hopefully make people smile.

My writing fluctuates between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ depending on what I am feeling or what I’m trying to get through to the reader. I think that it’s important for writers to draw inspiration from both—to not get too settled in one specific way just because it becomes ‘characteristic’ of their writing, or something. It’s important to be diverse. However, I do try to focus on the good as often as I can because that’s just the kind of person I am.

FZ: What draws you to pairing your poems with images?

AO: On the first day of my first-year university poetry workshop, one of the first things my professor said was ‘You are never going to make a living by being a writer.’ In my third-year fiction workshop my professor told us that ‘Magazines about fishing are more popular than literary journals in Canada.’ I found both of these statements very depressing/funny, yet still have hope that myself and others who are dedicated to our writing will be able to make poetry achieve the level of culture it deserves. I think that if we want to do so, however, we will need to adapt new methods of presenting our poetry—to, quite literally, take poetry off the page.

My macro poems are an attempt to embrace the image-heavy, Tumblr culture that is currently very popular on the Internet. I want my poetry to infiltrate people’s lives like a catchy pop song, a beautiful model or an ad campaign does.

As a side note, I am really inspired by visual artists like Jenny HolzerEd Ruscha and Robert Montgomery. They all have their own unique way of bringing poetry to the public sphere in a really dynamic, interesting way. I am really interested in large-scale installation work of this sort and hope to one day have my go at it 😉

FZ: What current project are you working on?

AO: I am currently working on a creative-non fiction full-length book called Wanderlust. It includes some scenes from my first e-book Aura Halo, some creative non-fiction I wrote in university, and lots of newer stuff I’ve written in an attempt to document my life over the past year and a bit… I can’t lie, it’s about me. It’s about my relationships with lovers and my family and my particular culture, but most importantly it’s about my relationship with myself.

I am also acting as an editor/publisher for a Montreal-based publishing collective called METATRON. The group is composed of myself and five others. Other people in the group are responsible for other awesome publications like The Editorial Magazine and Weijia Quarterly.

Lastly, in terms of writing projects, I will be self-publishing a book of my poetry hopefully by February. It’s currently titled I Am Here…& Other Poems. Aside from writing projects, I am also very focused on becoming a better human being at the moment. I am working on becoming more patient and in tune with my senses.

FZ: Who’s had a significant impact on your life/work & how so?

AO: I think that the whole art/music/writing scene in Montreal has really impacted my life and work. I can’t imagine a better group of people to have spent my early 20’s amongst. I am very lucky to have been at, what feels like, the right place at the right time. Being part of this scene has shown me in a very real way that A PEACEFUL, CREATIVE WORLD IS POSSIBLE.

In terms of literary influences, I love writers like Anais Nin, Gertrude Stein, e e cummings, Frank O Hara and Allen Ginsberg (to name a few favorites).

Guillaume Morissette is the person who has impacted my writing the most. I consider him my best friend and I absolutely love his work and his no bullshit attitude towards things. We have collaborated together a lot and had lots of amazing conversations about literature that I am very grateful for. I don’t know if I’d still be doing this ‘trying to be a writer thing’ if he hadn’t introduced me to the Alt Lit scene where I discovered writers like Heiko Julien, Steve Roggenbuck, LK Shaw, Crispin Best, Stephen Tully Dierks, Sarah Jean Alexander, Ana Carette, Mike Bushnell…I am very inspired by the work of these writers and curators and their work makes me want to keep going.

Since I have been performing my poetry more and more lately, I find inspiration from people like Laurie Anderson in terms of performance and her recorded spoken word poetry. She’s just the coolest in my mind…She recently wrote a tribute to Lou Reed in Rolling Stone. In it she writes something that really resonated with me: “How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives.”

FZ: What’s the first & last album you remember getting?

AO: One of the first albums I bought was Spice Girls first album, the one with “Wannabe” on it. The last album I downloaded was by FKA Twigs. I don’t pay for music anymore. I only pay to go see live music now; everything else is torrented online.

FZ: Who’s your favorite rapper & why?

AO: I love Drake because his music gets me hyped to be alive. His voice is very smooth and enjoyable to listen to. I’ve listened to his album Take Care probably like 100 times. I also really love M.I.A…I am very inspired by her artistic vision and gusto.

FZ: How would you describe your relationship to the internet?

AO: It’s currently a complicated relationship. I have been trying to be more conscious of my Internet behaviour. What am I spending my time consuming? Can I find ways of finding value in my work aside from how many likes or hearts it gets? How much does my Internet presence affect who I am on a day-to-day basis?

Lots of my new writing deals with this idea of distancing one’s self from their Internet presence. I mean…I am part of the original Internet generation! I grew up with it. My dad literally helped install the wiring that the Internet now runs through in Canada, Hong Kong, Argentina and other places around the world. I am the daughter of someone who literally helped build the infrastructure for the Internet, so it feels very connected to me. But in some ways I long to disconnect myself from it all…Or at least to have a healthy balance between my IRL self and my URL self. I am currently seeking that healthy balance at the present moment.

FZ: What’s your worldview in one sentence?

AO: Live in the present, trust, love & remain patient.