Thursday, May 9, 2019

TtD supplement #133 : seven questions for Hailey Higdon

Hailey Higdon is the author of the poetry collection, Hard Some, available from Spuyten Duyvil Press. Her recent chapbooks include A Wild Permanence (Dancing Girl, 2018) and Rural (Drop Leaf, 2017). She currently lives in Seattle. Find her online at haileyhaileyhailey.com.

Her poems “Upstream,” “Wake Up We Send Trouble to Each Other” and “I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster” appear in the twenty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Upstream,” “Wake Up We Send Trouble to Each Other” and “I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster.”

A: Both “Upstream” and “I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster” were exercises in automatic writing. “Upstream” was the offshoot of a journal entry written on a trip to Hawaii. It sort of pairs with another poem I wrote at the same time while sitting at a café in Pāhoa a few months before the volcano erupted. I watched a man take up an entire table, not order anything and loudly talk to the busy waitress about another waitress who was wasn’t working that day.

“I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster” was written before bed one night. It’s basically my way of processing samsara. There is this dog that yaps all night in our neighbors yard. I started thinking about how long life is, how much we repeat the same things that make us unsatisfied, and how it erodes the parts of us that are abundant and confident and hopeful and good. I think this is related to consumerism—compulsive consumerism that pushes people away from dreaming big or feeling big outside of the goal of stuff. I know I carry this narrow fatalism around. I count on the people I love to remind me it is there and to remind me of the glimmering margins outside of that space.

“Wake Up We Send Trouble To Each Other” is a poem I have difficulty describing in language outside of itself. I can tell you what I am thinking about now, if that helps. I’m considering the narrowness that grips and bottlenecks our relationship to our interior life, our loves and our community. Someone flushes up next to us and tries to make a connection, and how many times do we miss it? We are so uncomfortable as integrated beings, and it’s not exactly our fault. It’s terribly hard to see both the hard parts about the world (and ourselves) and also see the good parts and the so-so parts. More often than not everyone agrees to be looking at the deficit instead of the dream life. I mean that in several ways—the emotional deficit we carry, the community deficits brought on by systems—systemic racism, our broken healthcare system, legal system, work—we end up paralyzed and staring at these gaps (the trouble) instead of dreaming beyond them. And it’s self-perpetuating because that dream doesn’t even appear to exist when we are inside those broken systems—we don’t even believe we can develop the capacity to visualize it. We think the capacity to dream becomes available only when the gaps are closed. Like an agreement to dream about things later, once the system is fixed, but we can’t fix the system without the dream. And all this—this way of being in the word—it has an impact on our bodies that we carry with us and internalize in a larger multi-generational way.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Most of my newer work is the product of a very slow, seeped-in process. These poems are much more immediate.

Q: What prompted you to explore automatic writing? In your view, do the resulting poems differ from the poems composed through your “very slow, seeped-in” processes? Is there a difference?

A: Yes, they are quite different. My “very slow, seeped-in” process has led me to write longer, more personal poems. I think this difference can be felt also, when reading these pieces compared to reading some of my other work (e.g., Hard Some or Rural). Honestly, I use automatic writing to remind myself that a poem is usually always there, so long as I take the time to sit down and find it.

Q: With a half dozen or so chapbooks over the past decade, alongside a full-length collection, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I have always struggled with the problem of having too many ideas and not enough persistence. This may be why I have a lot of chapbook length things, but just one book. And why the one book is made up of lots of tiny books. As I get older, I am learning how this operates in me. How I can spin my frenetic energy inward toward one large hovering thing, instead of a million little things. Hard Some was one of those large “things.” Lately, I have been working on a series of essays—my next big hovering thing. They work for me because I can have a sort of loose thread between them, and still feel able to explore separate ideas. They hover around pregnancy, motherhood and the fertility process that accompanies assisted reproduction for queer folx. Oh yeah, and they are also all about trees.

Q: What was the process of putting together your full-length collection? I would argue that it was remarkably coherent, despite being constructed out of chapbook-length sections. What did you learn from the process of putting that collection together?

A: One thing led to another. I wrote the section “Yes & What Happens” first. After that, I couldn’t let go of the form. So I wrote another long poem in the same form (“A Wild Permanence”), then came “Breaker,” then “Children.” Though they were separate chapbook length poems, they were always a part of the same continuous thought process and they remained connected loosely in form—all written in small prose blocks.

The work followed me through a couple of years in my life where I was going through dramatic personal changes. When “Children” was done, I no longer felt tied to that form, so the book felt done too. The most important thing I learned was to wait. It took me much longer than I expected to find the right words for each poem. There was no rushing. Every bit of the book was considered slowly.

Q: What writers or works have influenced the way you write? How did you get to a point where you are writing in sequence, aka chapbook-length units?

A: Here’s what I know: I was and am heavily influenced by my partner, the writer Tanya Holtland. Mostly, it’s the way we manage to build writing into our lives that determines the forms that are available. She also writes very slowly and carefully, and after we met I started to see that way of writing as more valuable than I had in the past.

While writing Hard Some I was reading Will Alexander’s Compression and Purity. I can see his imprint strongly there. I love getting lost in his cosmos. I was also reading Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Ngugi’s Globalectics, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and Eckhart Tolle. I was spending a lot of time with my friend, the former-Seattle poet Maged Zaher, and I know his language trickled into the book. Other influences that come to mind in my writing life—Juliana Spahr, Maggie Nelson, Frank O’Hara, Joanne Kyger, and Hannah Weiner.

Mostly the chapbook length forms come from my inner sense of time, and how much material I decide one poem can hold within a certain time frame. I’m not sure there was a journey to get to that place. It’s just what happened.

Q: Finally, and perhaps you’ve already answered this, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: This list hasn’t changed much over the years—Lorenzo Thomas’ Dracula, Joanne Kyger’s Collected Poems, Aime Cesaire’s Collected Poems, John Cage’s Silence, Juliana Spahr’s The Transformation and This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, anything by Vonnegut. And my friends. I read my friends when I’m stuck.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

TtD supplement #132 : seven questions for Emilia Nielsen

Emilia Nielsen’s debut book, Surge Narrows (Leaf Press, 2013), was a finalist for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Body Work, her second book of poetry, was published by Signature Editions in spring 2018. She is also the author of the scholarly text, Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair published by University of Toronto Press in 2019. She recently joined York University’s Health & Society Program in the Department of Social Science as a tenure track Assistant Professor in Arts, Medicine and Healing.

Her suite of poems “NOXIOUS SPECIES” appears in the twenty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “NOXIOUS SPECIES.”

A: I’d like to say the primary inspiration for these poems came from a weed manual published by the Government of Alberta, the Alberta Invasive Plant Identification Guide: Prohibited Noxious and Noxious. And this is true, in part.

But these poems also came about because of finding myself newly in Edmonton, Alberta. I had spent three long summers as a fire lookout in northern Alberta years previous but for three years I actually lived year-round in the province and more importantly as part of a neighbourhood. I was spending a lot of time out walking with my very energetic puppy in Mill Creek Ravine. There, neighbours not only get together to clean up garbage each spring, they also participate in weed pulls because plant species like garlic mustard and Himalayan balsam are transforming—and some would say irrevocably changing—the natural ecosystem.

So not only was I curious about the names of these plants and how to identify them, I was implicated in their histories of migration from Europe and settlement into areas just like the one I was walking in. This history maps onto colonial settler migration and with my own ancestor’s obsession with bringing all manner of species from Europe. The best response to invasive plants seemed to be pull them out, as I did with a bunch of creeping bellflowers happily growing in my front yard. (Truth be told I missed them the next spring when only a few remaining plants bloomed, exactly as planned.)

So, I’m also beginning to understand that my own thinking is rather limited—no surprise!—and that we would all be best served by turning to the work of Indigenous scholars like Nicholas Reo who are rethinking how best to understand the problem so-called “invasive species” present. (I recommend listening to Reo’s interview with Rosanna Deerchild on Unreserved and reading a bit more about his work here.)  

I also happened to reread Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris and was captivated all over again by the speakers of those poems. And the acerbic voice of “Witchgrass” especially.

Then there was hateful anti-immigration rhetoric—and actions—coming from the President of the United States, which was in the news and on the radio in constant rotation and was as vile then, a year and a half ago, as it is now.

Somehow all of this bubbled up and into the voices of these plants, these noxious species. (Or at least I think it did!)

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: These poems seem pretty different from the other types of work I’ve been doing lately.

I’m just surfacing after going deep into a bunch of university-situated grant writing, and in the biggest proposal directed to SSHRC, I’ve proposed a “research-creation” project that aims to explore illness memoir—through reading, writing and talking—but to do so through more experimental or genre-bending means. I had to really think through what it might mean to employ autofiction (or even autotheory) in trying to get at something that is personal but so quickly can become a bit boring to me unless I’m engaged with some play on the page or play in the mind or play in conversation. I’m not that interested in recounting “the facts.” (And I’m pretty sure only some people are interested in reading work like that.)

In terms of other poetry projects, if I think in terms of book-length works and the kind of poetics that motivated my previous books, Surge Narrows and Body Work, it’s beginning to feel like I start fresh each time I approach a new writing project. This is not something I planned to do. But I’m beginning to understand that it does keep things interesting. It’s like I’ve given myself permission to become a different poet each time I start a new book. I’m not sure that others would agree but that’s what it feels like to me!

Q: You reference thinking in terms of book-length works: how did you get to the point of thinking as the book as your unit of composition? What do you think influenced your evolution to the book over, say, the individual poem?

A: I’m curious about that too because it seems undeniable that I do now think in terms of a much longer unit of composition. On the one hand, I think struggling to put together my first manuscript of poems forever changed my thinking in terms of both the deliberate organization and the culling required. But I also think that reading key books at impressionable times like Lisa Robertson’s The Weather or Maggie Nelson’s Bluets encouraged me to think of how a book can be a sustained exploration of a concept or atmosphere. This probably speaks more to the fact that I enjoy books where all the parts intrinsically belong, even if the inner logic might not be immediately apparent.

Q: When you speak of sustained exploration, do you think in terms of a thesis or argument that your book-length works explore, or more of a pulling apart of an idea, to see from multiple perspectives? What do you see your poems attempting to do?

A: That is such an important distinction! I’d like to think I’m doing more pulling apart than argument-making. In my thinking a “sustained exploration” is actually an open ended and exploratory process. For all my bluster about loving books that have a delicious sort of inner logic that does not mean they must be tidy. Too much tidying up seems to produce writing that can feel a bit restrictive (even didactic.) Generally, I’m disinterested in being told what to think or feel. So, I guess my poems do attempt to present multiple takes on a given situation or reality and to follow that line of thinking until I run out of steam.

Q: With two full-length collections under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Maybe it is a bit more nuanced? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I’m just less committed to certainty.

I do know that throughout the process of writing Body Work I was very interested in playing with form and content. And if an idea took hold, I was keen to pursue it for as long as I could sustain the writing.

So, I’m not sure exactly where my work is headed. I guess I hope not to repeat myself, even though I’m fully aware that each of us has a few preoccupations that we will likely return to time and again. And I take some comfort in that.

Q: You’ve already mentioned Louise Glück, but have there been any other authors or specific works in your head as you’ve been working this particular manuscript?

A: Anne Carson’s Short Talks. First published in 1992—I probably read it ten years after that—it was recently re-released by Brick Books and now includes a gorgeous introduction “Glass, Slag: Short Talk on Anne Carson’s Hewn Flows” by Margaret Christakos which helped me better situate so much of what I first found so arresting. As Christakos says, “Short Talks does not frontally expose the aroused scruff of any one self; it is a book of indirect addresses from a chorus of individual voices gesturing personae” (p. 16). The brevity, and originality, of those prose poems. Those speakers, those voices.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: To re-energize—and to challenge—my own work I read Dionne Brand, Sylvia Legris, Sina Queyras, Lisa Robertson, Rita Wong, and others. (Currently, I’m looking forward to Janet Roger’s Totem Poles and Railroads and Cecily Nicholson’s Wayside Sang.) In addition to those already mentioned, I can’t help but return to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. And H.D.’s Sea Garden. Also, Brand’s No Language Is Neutral.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Touch the Donkey : twenty-first [fifth anniversary!] issue,

The twenty-first issue, celebrating five glorious years, is now available, with new poems by Michael Cavuto, Michael Sikkema, Bronwen Tate, rob mclennan, Amanda Earl, Emilia Nielsen, Hailey Higdon and Trish Salah.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). But today you'll see me in my greatest role.


And don't forget the fifth anniversary subscription sale, which continues until the end of April, 2019! featuring the entire Touch the Donkey catalogue and the above/ground press backlist.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

TtD supplement #131 : seven questions for Lauren Haldeman

Lauren Haldeman is the author of Instead of Dying (winner of the 2017 Colorado Prize for Poetry, Center for Literary Publishing, 2017), Calenday (Rescue Press, 2014) and the artist book The Eccentricity is Zero (Digraph Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in Tin House, Colorado Review, Fence, The Iowa Review and The Rumpus. A comic book artist and poet, she has been a recipient of the Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, the Colorado Prize for Poetry and fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find her online at http://laurenhaldeman.com

Her poems “THE LITTLE CENTURY” and “Progress Diary” appear in the twentieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “THE LITTLE CENTURY” and “Progress Diary.”

A: These two poems come from an ongoing project called Team Photograph, which is a mashup of poetry and graphic memoir (comics) that I am working on right now. Much of it revolves around soccer – I played a lot of competitive league soccer in the Washington D.C. area when I was growing up, and we often played in parks near Civil War battlefields. I am investigating the overlap of professional sport and warfare in those strange places, as well as touching on ghosts, forgotten history and hallucinations. These two poems come from a section of the book that examines the ideas of tribalism, brainwashing and group mentalities.

Q: How does this compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing?

A: The work in Team Photograph is a bit darker than my first two books. It is more structured too: it exists in a multi-layered narrative, so it’s much more story-driven than work in my previous books. There are challenges to this, but it also means that I can really streamline and focus the poems from start to finish. And these poems are all paired with the graphic memoir sections – comic book style – so it has been really satisfying to watch it all come together.

Q: What brought about these shifts in structure and narrative, as well as this increase in darker content?

A: I actually think that my first two books, Calenday and Instead of Dying, were a departure from my preferred way of working – I really like to have an obsessively-built structure and scaffolding behind projects. Those first two books came out of a time of disarray, a time of chaos unfurling from new motherhood and the sudden loss of my brother. I love those two books, and they do what they needed to do: they navigated bedlam and turmoil in real time. This new project allows me more space to really orchestrate the framework. This is also the first time I am consciously integrating comic-book-style graphic memoir into the architecture of a book of poetry, instead of just as extramural pieces. Exciting stuff!

Q: How, exactly, are you integrating the “comic-book-style graphic memoir” elements, and what do you feel this allows that might not have been possible otherwise?

A: The manuscript of poetry is divided into seven sections, and there is an underlying “story” – a researched history – for how all the poems fit together. But many of my first draft readers were having trouble finding the connections because, well, it's poetry, and poetry isn’t often outwardly explanatory. So I needed another way to invite the reader in and explain the connections. I had been drawing individual “poetry comics” for my first two books and I just love that medium: sequential-art works incredibly well with poetry. So I decided to take that idea further and create seven illustrated section breaks for the manuscript – little essays in comic form that explain the next movement through the narrative, and through the extensive research that I have done for the book. And so far it has been really exciting! The visual components I am creating really compliment and add to the poetry in a way I never expected. I love it.

Q: Have you any models for this kind of work? I know Sommer Browning has been playing with such for years. And then, of course, there was the late Toronto poet bpNichol, who played with just about everything, including poetry comics, producing the first underground comics published in Canada, back in the 1960s.

A: I do. My absolute all-time favorite cartoonist is Chris Ware. I read his masterpiece Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth when I was 19, and I was stunned, intoxicated, completely awed by the book. It still awes me to this day. I consider him a poet as well because of the way he uses the cadence and syntax of language to control the reader’s pace. And the way he pairs the panels and the words, with such considerate coordination, is nothing short of magical to me. I also love Alison Bechdel’s work, Bianca Stone’s poetry-comics, and almost every single thing I find in CAROUSEL Magazine. CAROUSEL is a Canadian mag and I adore it!

Q: I’m curious at your exploration of poetry-comics, over, say, any exploration into the text itself as visual, ie: concrete/visual poetry. Is it the narrative of poetry-comics that compels?

A: It’s strange because I am also using visual text-based poetry in the collection, like erasures. The comic sections act as a counter to those abstractions – they provide a more straight-forward expository function in the book, yes.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Kiki Petrosino, Shane McCrae, Heather Christle and Sabrina Orah Mark are among my favorite writers right now – and when I want to remember why I write, I read them. I am currently reading Sappho again too, because I have been feeling this almost animal need for ancient thought (a very wintery desire) and, oddly enough, the Twitter Sappho Bot reminded me to return to her!

Monday, March 25, 2019

TtD supplement #130 : seven questions for Marie Larson

Marie Larson’s writing has appeared in GAM, DIAGRAM, Shampoo, Bombay Gin, Fact-Simile, Jacket and Pallaksch. Pallaksch. She is the author of Dendroctonus Ponderosae (Shadow Mountain Press, 2009) and Dromeda (Goodmorning Menagerie, 2013). She lives in Milwaukee, WI.

Her poem “PART TWO: THE STARS” appears in the twentieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “PART TWO: THE STARS.”

A: The project began as a meditation on evolution and heredity, the repeating and mutating patterns (tessellation, honeycombs, etc.), and how those patterns intersect myth, human relationship, family, language and my own ridiculous existence.

In past projects, I wrote through various characters (a whale, a parasite/host, a whole slew of perforated bodies) as a way to approach messy intersections, messy bodies. It felt good to write from behind a curtain. But now, I’m awkwardly figuring out how to write as myself, in my own life.

Three years ago, I lost my mom and became pregnant with my daughter. All at once. The news came that my mom was dying. The next day I found out I was pregnant. Two days later I took a redeye Greyhound to St. Paul to help my mother (and father) through the last three weeks of her life while this tiny, sticky fractal of new life burrowed in. The intensity of that experience (it’s reverberation, syllabus, whatever you want to call it) transfigured this project – became the horse it rode. Losing a mother / becoming a mother.

The first section of this project is titled The Forest. Minnesota and the north woods, where my mom grew up, where I spent much of my childhood, emerge here. I carry those woods around with me. They make me feel like myself and embody my personal mythos, family and language.

God emerged in Part Two: The Stars, which still surprises me. I’m not religious but I do value ritual, the ecstatic, the magic of language. I began writing about stars and constellations. We are the makers of narrative. We connect dots. We look up into a black vacuum and translate pin pricks of light into bulls, crabs and lions. My mother was born under the sign of cancer, which is also the illness that took her (nasty tessellation, another kind of fractal.) All narratives are parallax. I think of “god” as parallax, as a constellation. In that, I’m also interrogating (and exalting in) the value of art and all creative, iterative acts. Life itself, I suppose.

Q: How does this piece compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: This is the only work I’ve been doing lately. I’m not the sort of writer who has multiple projects going at once. My progress has been embarrassingly slow—initial scribblings for this series started about 5 years ago. There are large swaths of time inside those years where I haven’t written at all. The project prior to this (Dromeda) was a metaphorical narrative told by two voices sharing one body with central themes of mirage and reflection, mirrors and glass, light and dark, self-love and self-hatred. It was more inward-looking than this new writing but a few threads carry over to this newer work—the phrase “god is a...” I nearly forgot that appears in the last project. Its emergence surprised me then, too. Also, addressing the creative act—the last project used glass-blowing as a metaphor for writing poetry, weaving comes up in this new work as a similar placeholder.

Q: You mention your prior work being more inward-looking than your current project. What do you feel brought about this shift, and how is the difference presenting itself in the work?

A: I already noted how central the birth of my daughter and death of my mother are to this work, and as cliché as it is, I think that really is the pivot point. Where past work has been, mostly, an internal dialogue, I feel like I’m writing to my daughter in this newer work. A bedtime story, maybe – one you tell your child after they’re already asleep. And then there are also passages that act like a sermon or eulogy. A fairy tale and a eulogy. Binary stars. The outward look most clearly presents itself where the work addresses readers directly (“friends, you know that the hours worked here are holy”). There’s more of an invitation into this work.

Q: Were there any other writers whose work might have provided you direction? What poets are sitting at the back of your head as you begin to work on a poem?

A: The opening line is a clear nod to Inger Christensen’s alphabet. That work certainly has impacted this project and how it goes about collecting the world, the power in naming things. Aase Berg’s work, in general, is always clawing around in the back of my head. Lorine Niedecker and Clarice Lispector as well. Those are the big ones. I’m not sure how to draw clear lines between my writing and these other writers (whom I admire so much) other than to say I think my poems share with each of them a similar sense of what’s at stake.

Q: What is it about their works, specifically, that have prompted your own? Is that something you’re even conscious of, or is it more intuitive?

A: It’s intuitive in how anyone’s affinity for another writer is intuitive. I certainly didn’t intend to alphabet and it wasn’t until quite a bit later that I realized (in rereading that opening line) that work was in the background of my thinking. The ways Lispector and Berg write messy bodies was formative for me, how their writing offers a kind of maximalist path to the ecstatic. And, on the other side of that is Niedecker’s vivid restraint in language, both her and Christensen’s attention to the natural world, the zeroing in, the naming of things, transforming the mundane, or maybe wiping the mundane film off the sublimity of the natural world. Rhythm is part of all this as well. alphabet is hypnotic, like a conjuring spell. All of these writers are conjurers in my opinion.

Q: With two trade collections and a work-in-progress over the past decade or so, how do you feel your writing has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Hmm. My initiation was in visual arts and that is still the seed of how I understand myself as a writer. I largely think of my development through the lucky circumstances of community I’ve been afforded, chiefly revolving around Woodland Pattern Book Center and Naropa University. That’s where I began to complicate my understanding of what’s possible. More recently, I’ve become really good at dissolving into the immediate lives of those around me. I’ll go through periods where I write almost every day for a few weeks and then only sporadically for months. I’ve nestled myself into a comfortable warren of family life and, somewhat ironically, back into a community of visual artists and designers as an administrator. I’m relearning some important lessons through watching them work and I get to remain somewhat invisible creatively. That’s how has my writing developed over the last decade or so … Slowly, mostly in secret, often not on the page and, as of late, in near total writerly isolation.

Am I answering the right question? Is this what you are asking me?

Where is my work headed? I plan to keep working on this current series and find out where it takes me. Right now, I’m working on Part Three: The Lake. Someday I’d like to come out from hiding and reinvest in the writing community here in Milwaukee. Woodland Pattern remains a beacon.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: In terms of poets – Aase Berg, as already mentioned, is central. In particular, Transfer Fat, but all of her work translated by Johannes Göransson. As well as Clarice Lispector, Elizabeth Robinson, Stacy Szymaszek, Alice Notley, Roberto Harrison, Selah Saterstrom, Aimé Césaire. This is what comes to mind, but to be honest, I don’t often return to a book once I’ve read it. When I want to gather energy for my own work it’s more about gathering language or ideas that touch where I’m writing from. Right now, I’m reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari which discusses the evolutional leap to fictive language. (conjuration!)

Monday, March 18, 2019

TtD supplement #129 : seven questions for David Dowker

David Dowker was born in Kingston, Ontario but has lived most of his life in Toronto. He was editor of The Alterran Poetry Assemblage from 1996 to 2004 (which can be accessed at Library and Archives Canada). He published Machine Language in 2010, Virtualis: Topologies of the Unreal (with Christine Stewart) in 2013 (shortlisted for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry), and Ma nt i s in 2018.

His poems “CRASH FLOW,” “THUDDITE,” “SENTIMENTAL NECESSITY,” “PROTECTIVE INTIMACY” and “PASTORAL LOGIC” appear in the twentieth issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: The “method” used, if method it be, in these poems (except for “Crash Flow”) is to make use of, or riff on, (some of) the language from the “source” poem(s) to create something new. The result is a derivative, in the mathematical (and poetic) sense, of the original. I suppose one might say that an accidental dialogue of sorts occurs, but I’m not sure that would be entirely accurate (or particularly useful). Then again . . .

So . . . “Thuddite” was derived from “Let My Voice Thud Throughout the Land” (and “Vulgar Marxism”) by Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, and “Sentimental Necessity” from a mash-up of “Sentimental Intervention” and “Historical Necessity,” also by Dorothy Trujillo Lusk. Early versions of these poems were written for a “Pestschrift” (organized by Aaron Vidaver).

“Protective Intimacy” is derived from “the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings” from “Protective Immediacy” by Rod Smith. As I recall, the title came from a misprint somewhere.

Finally, “Pastoral Logic” is derived from “I drove through this old world this afternoon” by Clark Coolidge, and has, I think, a slightly different relation to its “source.”

Q: How does this compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Not at all really. Another somewhat related example of this method is “n-chant(s)” (which was published on-line in The Alterran Poetry Assemblage, but revised since then), based upon Lissa Wolsak’s Pen-chants. It is essentially a work of erasure, though (similar to Ma nt i s). Time-Sensitive Material (which I’ve been working on since Virtualis) is something quite different.

Q: With your erasures, as well as your works in “accidental dialogue,” you appear to favour composing pieces that respond to other works. What is it about working these kinds of responses that appeals? What is it about the conversation between poems that attracts you, and what do you feel is possible through such explorations?

A: I wouldn’t say that I “favour composing pieces that respond to other works.” It’s just another approach among many. It all began with the Alterran Poetry Assemblage, I suppose, and probably reflected a desire on my part to interact with the authors that I published. The most successful example, I think, is the transformation of David Hoefer’s “Riot Trousers” into “Griot Trousers” in the second issue, but that is also quite different from the previous examples. Also, the germination of Virtualis dates from then, with Christine Stewart’s “Patience details its follies” becoming “Patience arrays its strategies” and various other examples, mostly from Taxonomy (with a bit from “The Trees of Periphery”). Ma nt i s  arose, in a sense, from the idea of  “root notes of a transient present” in Clark Coolidge’s The Maintains (and, of course, the example of Ronald Johnson’s RADI OS).

Perhaps a couple of quotations might be illuminating:

“The poet and the reader, who if he is intent in reading becomes a new poet of the poem, come to write or to read in order to participate through the work in a consciousness that moves freely in time and space and can entertain reality upon reality.” (Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book)

“The knowledge of the poem is a—psychoanalytically probably not fathomable—shared knowledge with an other; there are invisibly communicating vessels.” (Paul Celan, trans. Pierre Joris, The Meridian)

Q: You mention The Alterran Poetry Assemblage, the online journal you ran from 1996-2004. How did that journal originally begin?

A: It began as an e-mail sent out to a number of people. I can’t remember if it was sent out in installments or as one long e-mail. I soon decided that a “website” was the way to go, so I wrote the HTML (it was very much “early days”) and put it up on the World Wide Web.

All of the work was solicited (at least to begin with). The authors selected came from readings in journals such as Raddle Moon and Talisman, and a special West Coast Line issue featuring new British and Irish writing (edited by Peter Quartermain) was quite useful.

Will Alexander, Caroline Bergvall, Kevin Davies, Stephen Ellis, Allen Fisher, William Fuller, Alan Halsey, Andrew Joron, Karen Kelley, Karen Mac Cormack, Drew Milne, Geraldine Monk, Erin Moure, Bob Perelman, George Quasha, Lisa Robertson, Lisa Samuels, Leslie Scalapino, Christine Stewart, and Lissa Wolsak are some of the over 80 poets published.

Q: What do you think your time spent working on the journal allowed for your own writing? Did you see any shifts in your work during this period that Alterran Poetry Assemblage might have influenced?

A: I suppose that there was an expansion of the possibilities of collaboration, and the idea of the internet as a collective, interactive text. I had contributed to RIF/T at the Electronic Poetry Center, Inter\face, and Juxta/Electronic, as well as (pseudonymously, as required) to DIU (Descriptions of an Imaginary Universe). The Assemblage was a continuation of this activity which, overall, represented a more spontaneous approach to the work.

Q: You’ve furthered that idea of collaboration, working directly with poet Christine Stewart for some time now, such as Virtualis: Topologies of the Unreal, that appeared with BookThug in 2013. What has that experience been like? Has working with Stewart shifted, at all, the ways in which you see your solo work?

A: Working with Christine has been a joy. It has basically been a perpetual back and forth, altering texts, with almost no discussion – just winging it. There was a large gap of inactivity, and then it staggered to life again. Christine’s introduction of the Agamben quotation (from Stanzas) on “Topologies of the Unreal” seemed to crystallize the virtuality. 

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Rimbaud’s Illuminations remains central. Charles Olson is always there somewhere, which means Pound as well, of course. T.S. Eliot and Rilke obstinately continue to influence, and Robert Duncan has been there (with H.D.) for a long time. John Ashbery and Robert Creeley lurk with the furniture.

Among contemporaries, the primary sources of energy would be Lissa Wolsak, Christine Stewart, Lisa Robertson, Christopher Dewdney, Nathaniel Mackey, Susan Howe, and Clark Coolidge.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Touch the Donkey : fifth anniversary sale,

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the quarterly Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] this April: anyone who subscribes (or resubscribes) anytime between now and the end of April 2019 has the bonus option of three (3) items: three Touch the Donkey back issues of your choice, OR three above/ground press (2018 or 2019) titles of your choice (while supplies last) OR any combination thereof.

Issue #21 of Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] lands on April 15, 2019.

2018-19 above/ground press titles include chapbooks by: Chris Johnson, Conyer Clayton, Simina Banu, Frances Boyle, Hawad (trans. Jake Syersak), Susanne Dyckman, Jane Virginia Rohrer, Dennis Cooley, Ben Meyerson, Isabel Sobral Campos, Mary Kasimor, Andrew K Peterson, Natalie Lyalin, Kemeny Babineau, Michael Sikkema, Kimberly Campanello, Stephen Cain, kyle kinaschuk, Paul Perry, Gregory Betts, Billy Mavreas, Claudia Coutu Radmore, Stephanie Grey, Alice Burdick, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Heather Sweeney, Ralph Kolewe, Franco Cortese, Evan Gray, Dale Smith, Virginia Konchan, Joshua James Collis, Laura Farina, Jennifer Stella, Monty Reid, Anthony Etherin, Sarah Mangold, Cole Swensen, MC Hyland, Jamie Townsend, Sacha Archer, Megan Kaminski, Gil McElroy, Emily Izsak, rob mclennan, Sara Renee Marshall, Mark Laliberte, Lisa Rawn, Sean Braune, Michael Martin Shea, Melissa Eleftherion, Ian Dreiblatt, Kyle Flemmer, Uxío Novoneyra (trans. Erín Moure), Stephen Brockwell, Phil Hall / Stuart Kinmond, Billy Mavreas, Stuart Ross, natalie hanna, Miguel E. Ortiz Rodríguez, Natalee Caple, Julia Polyck-O'Neill, Jason Christie, Travis Sharp, Beth Ayer, Jon Boisvert, Jenna Jarvis, Lise Downe, Allison Cardon, Lea Graham, Tim Atkins, Gregory Betts + Arnold McBay, Amanda Earl, Derek Beaulieu, Aaron Tucker, Dani Spinosa, Andrew Wessels, Marthe Reed, Kate Siklosi, Edward Smallfield, Amish Trivedi, Steve McCaffery, Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, Alice Notley, Stan Rogal, Rachel Mindell, Eleni Zisimatos, Adrienne Gruber, Andrew Cantrell, kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff and Anna Gurton-Wachter. 

Canadian subscriptions $35 for five issues / American subscriptions $40 / International subscriptions $50 / All prices in Canadian dollars /

To order, e-transfer or PayPal at at rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com or the PayPal button at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com or www.touchthedonkey.blogspot.com 

Issues are also available as part of the above/ground press annual subscription. 

Because everybody loves a birthday. Who doesn’t love a birthday?

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