Friday, April 5, 2024

TtD supplement #258 : seven questions for Laynie Browne

Laynie Browne’s recent books include: Practice Has No Sequel, Intaglio Daughters, and Letters Inscribed in Snow. She edited the anthology A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on The Poet’s Novel. Honors include a Pew Fellowship and the National Poetry Series Award. She teaches and coordinates the MOOC Modern Poetry at University of Pennsylvania.

A handful of her “Antediluvian Sonnets” appear in the fortieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Antediluvian Sonnets.”

A: I started writing sonnets for Bernadette Mayer almost immediately after her passing. This wasn’t really a conscious decision. It just happened. I was writing by hand in a notebook in the mornings, and at some point realized that I had been writing sonnets. The title arrived spontaneously as if it were just received and I liked the play of the possible meanings, as in ridiculously old-fashioned but also something ancient, as if the sonnets already existed and all I had to do was listen and trace. This is something that Bernadette has also expressed, the idea of tracing language already present, so it felt in keeping with my having her constantly in mind.

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

A: Sonnets are always different than everything else, mostly because of their brevity, they way they talk to each other, and ultimately accumulate. Writing sonnets is addictive. Other work lately has been based more in prose, longer lines, and conversations with persons loved and recently lost. Though there are also elegies in this book, and many poems for Bernadette.

Q: I’m fascinated with how you appear to approach book-length works not only as self-contained, singular projects, but as works in conversation with other writers and writing. How did this emerge in your work?

A: I think this began with the good fortune of friendship and living in rich poetic community. My intent is to write through and make visible the sources from which I have received so much. This is not a new idea, or my idea—that everything is a collaboration.

Q: Robert Kroetsch used to speak of literature being a conversation, which seems a variation on that particular idea, although your collaborative suggestion leans more into that Phyllis Webb mantra: “The proper response to a poem is another poem.” Would you suggest your writing, then, engages as part of a lifelong sequence of call-and-response?

A: I do like the idea of a conversation since this is what’s happening—across time and through reading and writing. I wouldn’t call my homage texts call and response, more just response. Everything is collaboration whether or not there is any audible or legible call. The call might be interior. I’m thinking about the invisible and those sources we all relay and also contain. Nothing is completed in isolation or only by one person since whatever we might be hearing or remembering or drawing from is continuous.

Q: With a stack of published books under your belt, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I am always focused on what’s ahead, and I never know what’s next. In fact, every time I write, which is almost every day, I feel as if I’ve never written anything, looking at the blank page. This is mysterious to me, process and composition. I try to listen. To what am I listening? I don’t know. Everything is received and it isn’t until I’ve generated a body of material that I can look at it and understand a direction. In recent years I’ve been focused on writing books for individual poets. Most recently is a book for Hannah Weiner, and now another book of sonnets for Bernadette. I’ve also been turned to prose, and for the first time, have composed a novella, during covid, which incorporates collage.

Q: When you say collage, are you referring to visual or text?

A: Visual

Q: What do you feel the visual element adds to the text? Do the visual and text work in tandem or counterpoint? How does one form interact with the other?

A: It is difficult to talk about the interaction of text and image in language, since the experience is really not in language, if that makes sense. I find it helpful to work in more than one medium and I’ve generally kept these practices of writing and collage as parallel. Now that they are placed together, at least in a couple of books now (as in my book Translation of the Lilies Back in to Lists, in black and white reproductions, and now in the collage novel, not yet published, Lolly Basswood) I can say that the relationship is always oblique or slant, never illustrative. I’ve been inspired by collage by Keith Waldrop, Helen Adam, and Jess, among others.

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

A: The works of Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Rosmarie Waldrop, Lyn Hejinian Cecilia Vicuña and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge immediately come to mind. I’m incredibly grateful for their work.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Touch the Donkey : tenth anniversary sale,

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the quarterly Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal]: anyone who subscribes (or resubscribes) anytime between now and the end of April 2024 has the bonus option of three (3) items: three Touch the Donkey back issues of your choice, OR three above/ground press (2023 or 2024) titles of your choice (while supplies last) OR any combination thereof.

OR: copies of ten (10) different back issues for $50 / copies of five (5) different back issues for $25 / copies of twenty different back issues for $100 / while supplies last on individual issues, naturally / add $5 for US orders ; add $10 for international orders,

Issue #41 of Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] (a slightly larger issue than usual) lands on April 15, 2024: with new work by Julie Carr, rob mclennan, Pattie McCarthy, ryan fitzpatrick, Conyer Clayton, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Amanda Earl, Gil McElroy and John Barlow.

2023-2024 above/ground press titles include chapbooks by: Sacha Archer, Dale Tracy, Melissa Eleftherion, Kyle Flemmer, Saba Pakdel, Katie Ebbitt, Amanda Deutch, Phil Hall + Steven Ross Smith, Peter Myers, Terri Witek, Pete Smith, russell carisse, Micah Ballard, Clint Burnham, Angela Caporaso, Cary Fagan, Blunt Research Group, Gary Barwin, Lydia Unsworth, Kyla Houbolt, Zane Koss, Ben Robinson, Colin Dardis, Aaron Tucker, Adriana Oniță, Julie Carr + rob mclennan, Stephen Collis, Rae Armantrout, Jason Christie, Nikki Reimer, Noah Berlatsky, Miranda Mellis, MLA Chernoff, Marita Dachsel, Report from the fitzpatrick Society, Kevin Stebner, Meghan Kemp-Gee, Gil McElroy, Robert van Vliet, Stephen Cain, Geoffrey Olsen, Heather Cadsby, Evan Williams, Grant Wilkins, nina jane drystek, Sophia Magliocca, Jennifer Baker, Karen Massey, rob mclennan, Jérôme Melançon, Monty Reid, Jamie Hilder, George Bowering + Artie Gold, Ryan Stearne, Brad Vogler, Andrew Gorin, Report from the Pirie Society, Julia Drescher, Ken Norris, Joseph Donato, Samuel Ace, Stuart Ross, Leesa Dean, Report from the Reimer Society, Jessi MacEachern, G U E S T [a journal of guest editors] #26, Jordan Davis, The Peter F Yacht Club #32 : 2023 VERSeFest Special, Report from the Smith Society, Nick Chhoeun, Ben Jahn, William Vallières, Report from the Iijima Society, Derek Beaulieu, Isabel Sobral Campos, Mark Scroggins, Laura Walker, Report from the Trivedi Society, Nathanael O'Reilly, Lindsey Webb, Jason Heroux and Barbara Henning.

Touch the Donkey: 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?

Touch the Donkey. Everywhere you want to be.

Monday, February 26, 2024

TtD supplement #257 : seven questions for Terri Witek

Terri Witek is the author of 8 previous full-length books of poems and many chapbooks: the most recent, Something’s Missing in This Museum, was published by Anhinga Press in 2023, with another, DOWN WATER STREET, imminent from above/ground press. Exit Island was a Florida Book Award medalist; The Rape Kit was the Slope Editions Prize 2018 winner, judged by Dawn Lundy Martin. Martin calls The Rape Kit “a grand success, the best we’ll get. Fresh, relevant, and heartbreaking” and “a fire in the throat of a culture that has no appropriate language for rape and its aftermath…”

Witek’s visual poetics work is featured in JUDITH: Women Making Visual Poetry (2021), and in the WAAVe Global Gallery of Women’s Asemic Writing and Visual Poetry (2021) as well as in arts venues. The poet’s collaborations with Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes (cyriacolopes.com) have, since 2005, been shown nationally and internationally: in New York, Seoul, Miami, Lisbon, Valencia (Spain) and Rio de Janeiro. The duo have been represented by The Liminal gallery in Valencia: their most recent collaboration was featured at ARCO, Madrid (2023) where the Liminal won special jury mention. Since 2011, collaborations with new media artist Matt Roberts (mattroberts.com) often use augmented reality technology and have been featured in Matanza (Colombia), Lisbon, Glasgow, Vancouver, and Miami. Recent collaborative work with poet Amaranth Borsuk loops the pandemic and the eco-crisis as a crisis of rain and smoke between worlds; that with weaver Paula Damm combines text/textile. Individual and collaborative work has been featured in a wide variety of text venues, including Fence, The Colorado Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, American Poetry Review, Poetry, Slate, Hudson Review, Lana Turner, The New Republic, and many other journals and anthologies.  

With Cyriaco Lopes, Witek team-teaches Poetry in the Expanded Field in Stetson University’s low-residency MFA of the Americas; they also run The Fernando Pessoa Game as faculty in the summer Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon. Witek holds the university’s Sullivan Chair in Creative Writing and is the recipient of both the McInery Award and the John Hague Award for teaching. terriwitek.com

Her poems “Foot Sons,” “Cash Sons,” “Package Sons,” “Insider Suns” and “Wreck Sons” appear in the fortieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Foot Sons,” “Cash Sons,” “Package Sons,” “Insider Suns” and “Wreck Sons.”

A: First of all, thanks for bringing these “double son” poems into space and air, rob!  You are really a nexus of interesting people and poems, and I’m happy to have somehow found my way into your company.   

Anyone from a big Catholic family like mine knows about multiples—the clothes handed through years of siblings, the matched sets, the confusion with names.  As a parent of two very cute small girls (and older kids too), I’m sure you too marvel at how by pairing —as with any ‘rhyme’—you are seduced by similarity into the pleasure of proliferating differences: how could these two things have sprung from the same dna—of language or people?

In my case, putting dead son and live son into the same poems lets a pair remix in perhaps the way my own children’s DNA stays in my body. In my book BODY SWITCH one dead boy (the suicide) is stiff and hieratic: I needed a more fun dead sib to liven things up. That one critiques various wars on boys. But here by bringing the live son and dead son into parity—at the beach, in a taxi, etc. they both can be on the move—they get to talk, to disagree, to slant their eyes at me in similar fashion. It was a relief and a great pleasure to write these poems. I am happy to be the one in the back seat digging in a purse for the right change.

And technically, of course, multiples offer a way to make motion when you have as little narrative skill as I have. That we all stay on the move (even if dead, even in disaster) offers a brief equity, too.

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

A: Thanks for asking this. I have been sorting the double sons into a larger universe and while I started off thinking the kids would stay together, now I’m weaving three different kinds of poems into the mix. One group steps down into tombs as I did last summer with visual artist Cyriaco Lopes in Etruscan Italy (especially Tarquinia): those poems are tiny. Little skinny steps. The third group are 14-liners about the future, spurred by a student’s anguished question. Weirdly these different modes seem to tolerate glancing against/touching noses with each other so far—now I call them all tomb pombs.

But really that's just one thing. Cyriaco and I are longterm collaborators and we are currently making little text-image combos to drop into the ad section of my local weekly newspaper—we’re sending each other 5 images then adding /altering each other’s images with text. Amaranth Borsuk and I are just starting to try a video collab that stands next to our dystopian ms W / \ SH, which you were kind to include part of in your chap series. And Cyriaco and I have 2 new little vids, one made with Urayoán Noel at our winter MFA residency—we hardly slept!

I’d have to have a bigger cloud for an eye to say exactly what all these have to do with the double sons, but my sense is that like these dear friends, the double sons somehow work as collaborators too.  

Q: What first brought you to working these collaborations? And what do you find possible with collaborative work that might not have been possible otherwise? How do you see your collaborative efforts, as well, affecting your solo work?

A: When I was 4 and my family had just moved into a new house, a boy (also 4!) showed up at the door and asked my mom if the little girl inside could come out and play. His dad was a roofer, and we walked down an alley to a huge pile of sand.  Eventually a garage door opened to rolls of tarpaper/stacks of shingles. All much taller than we were.  I was like “what IS this stuff?” That’s one of the joys of collaboration—weird materialities beckon. Plus the combo of intimacy and practicality that’s often the best part of any relationship. Plus miracles, as when I met Cyriaco in Central Florida for the first time and confessed (very hesistantly) to writing about Ariadne and he said—I’VE JUST BEEN TO HER HOUSE. He was still tan from Knossos!  

I’m from a small school in a small town and hanging out with the arts people is definitely my mo. When Katie Baczeski said ‘interact with an animal/not a domestic one’ I ended up thinking about eggs and Clarice Lispector. Not at all on my daily planner. Videoing chickens eating a line from Clarice in seed corn (egg, you are perfect) was such a joy, and the solo book that followed, THE RATTLE EGG, let me turn my lone hometown strolls into something else. I’m forever grateful.

Because Cyriaco and I team-teach in the MFA of the Americas, which we helped found, make gallery shows and interactive work that lives in floating locales, we’ve had some wonderful times. When our gallerist Pablo Vindel, featured our work with another duplo at ARCO in Madrid last year it was surreal (did the king and queen really stop by?) But smaller moments really show how collabs weave into/make lives and are just as terrific: here’s a shot from a new thing we call WOVEN. We were considering doing something else in this black box theater at Atlantic Center for the Arts but then one hand in my studio/closet hit ribbon...

Q: I’m fascinated by the way you utilize writing as but one element of larger projects, incorporating textiles, movement, collaboration. You make it all sound natural and easy, but have there been directions you’ve wished to go with materials that haven’t quite worked yet? What are those material boundaries that have, as yet, you’ve been hitting against?

A: hahaha. Well, I haven’t been able to work the margins for DOWN WATER STREET, my next project with you: literally the end words I need are threatening to fall off the side of the known world!  But this is the sort of thing I never work out alone, thank goodness. Mark Strand once said in a workshop that style is a matter of our limitations: that’s been a comfort as well as an actual accurate description. Materially, my skillset is very limited—don’t draw, not good at sewing, don’t cook etc. So if it's bad I just quit—like the time for some reason I brought turmeric in a bowl to what turned out to be a computer-based project (Breathe the Machine). Usually I wander around looking at things until something occurs to me from what the world is handing out that day. I inherited all the slides from the art dept, for example—just didn’t feel right to consign them to a dumpster. Had no idea what to do with them until I was walking around outside and began lifting one overhead. Those slidesky social media drops were lockdown gifts. Do things resist my getting close? Probably, if I thought that way—but I am not interested in mastery of stuff—more like I like noting their different beings. Meantime, it seems pertinent I run up against actually being lost quite often: last month, on my own street, which was something. So I guess I really don’t know the direction I want to go!  

Q: So perhaps this question is moot, then: with more than a dozen books and chapbooks to your credit, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work heading?

A: Oh not moot! I feel the wind at my back and so much ambition! I do think I’m getting closer to what seemed the next move when I started writing “about” art ekphrastically: that I need to get into the paint somehow. Currently that means I’m trying to make powerpoint poetics that seem their own thing, for instance (not explanatory/not decorative). Usually I’m figuring out something as an art form because it’s so there—like seeing marks for water lines on my street. I’ve really been wondering about different forms of mark-making, too; the false doors painted into Etruscan tombs that look like TT. Not sure if these thoughts have an afterlife. But I do feel as if some new work is ahead, like a shadow the sun will shift soon (I hope!) and make.
Community-wise, I’d like to keep growing into poetry’s expanded field with people who know different things and are happy to throw in together and not worry too much about definitions. My students definitely are great tosser-outers and includers—very bracing! And I’ve had great examples from different spaces—shout out to the visual poetics people who picked me up somehow—Dona Mayoora, Amanda Earl, Kristine Snodgrass, Andrew Brenza, Joakim Norling, Francisco Aprile, Nicola Winborn and all who presented irresistible opportunities even though I’m never quite in the same room. My expanded field MFA poetry faculty colleagues like Jena Osman, Ronaldo Wilson, La Tasha N Nevada Diggs, Laura Mullen, Urayoán Noel and Vidhu Aggarwal (and guests like Amaranth Borsuk, Erica Baum, Tracie Morris, Johnny Damm, Brenda Hillman, Edgar Heap of Birds) all commit firmly to the messy future. I hope to be smart and kind like them and stay face forward.   

Personally, I’d love to be included in more installations—installing is so fascinating—and exhibitions, especially international ones. I loved writing in pencil on a gallery wall. I’d love a publication homebase too.  I know where I’m penciled in to be as a person this year but where my work is actually headed “we shall see,” as mom used to say with half-threat, half-relish. I got married at 19 and had 3 kids by 25, so from that point on my life has pretty much been a matter of necessity+chance and walking through painted doors. I had fun making titles for my new future poems, though:

The Future Won't Calm Us
The Future Makes a Little Money
The Future Will Not Be a Known Language
Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I’m going to take reading as seeing too, as I tangle them. I always open Lispector and Perec and Pessoa and Dickinson (also Howe’s GORGEOUS NOTHINGS showing how what Dickinson wrote on changes everything). Yoko Ono and NH Pritchard. I loved Auden early and that remains. A wooden postcard by Jenny Holzer and paper ones by Ian Hamilton Finlay—these are propped or pinned around. Things people in my family wrote out as children: I CAN BAKE PANCAKES or a crooked list of paint sample hues (Golden Plumeria, Bee Yellow, Icy Lemonade). The sampler my many times great-grandmother sewed without a Q in 1839.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

TtD supplement #256 : seven questions for Michael Harman

Michael Harman lives in Toronto, where he works as a plumbing apprentice and dedicated writer. Beginning with the discovery of modern poets like Stein, Williams, Zukofsky, Harman’s poetry developed alongside a small group of writers, under the tutelage of Michael Boughn & Victor Coleman. His writing in its present state seeks to marry the alliterative flamboyance of Middle English poetry with the innovations of Oulipian, Found, and other constrained methods of composition. His work has been published in Echolocation, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, COUGH, and Touch the Donkey. His first chapbook, Brittlestars (2016), was published by Shuffaloff/Eternal Network, and subsequent full-length projects arrived as FIRE (2018, Press Press Press), and Pearl (2020, Spuyten Duyvil). His most recent book is Plumbing Techniques, which will be published in 2024 by Spuyten Duyvil Press.

An excerpt of his “Plumbing Techniques” appears in the fortieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Plumbing Techniques.”

A: Plumbing Techniques is my most recent book of poetry. It documents in dramatic fashion my time in trade school, and uses a form of found text writing where each poem is limited to the vocabulary of 1-4 pages from a source text: most often Thoreau’s Walden. I was reading it when I began school, and its sermons resonated with my own reasoning for trying a trade – (he often proposes something like, if you’re a ‘book’ person, you should probably set down the Iliad and go hoe some beans, ... and vice versa).

I chose Plumbing because it is by far the best word of the different trades. And “plumbing techniques”, the name of the program I entered, was a natural name for the book I wanted to write.

The first poem was an emphatic response to my Nana asking why I wanted (would want) to be a plumber. From there I wrote out the excitement and fear of my first semester in this new world. I tried in my adventures to play the parts of both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, at times unabashedly grandiose, and at others deeply humbled, subdued. I praised things that I thought deserved immense praise, and playfully teased what I felt needed teasing.

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

A: The Serial poems (larger projects) I’ve written have a special feeling to them, and the writing that happens there is markedly different. Usually for me it starts with finding a new method or interaction with the line that becomes in itself the kind of “subject” of the poems. Gestating between these special periods, I try to read more, and write as a means of keeping the muscle warm, often toying around with Oulipian and other constrained forms. Lately I’ve made some playful poems out of novel instances at my job; (I had fun detailing the carnage of my first sewage ejector pit). But overall I’ve never really connected with occasional poems, and only seem to do my best when I have the momentum of a serial propelling me. I think this is reflective of the poets I admire, and have learned from.

As far as comparing Plumbing Techniques to the other books I’ve completed – they relate in the general way that they’ve all used a specific method unique to each, and they’ve all been projects of transformation.

Q: The binary of the serial/occasional poem sits very much in the Jack Spicer vein; what first brought you to the serial poem, and what do you feel is possible through the form that wouldn’t be otherwise?

A: As far as where I got the serial from: when I was 19 I met Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman, at a time when the bpNichol writers group was humming and producing a lot of really interesting poetry. The older writers there shaped my poetics.

Part of the induction was, of course, giving me the writers I love; Spicer was big for me early on, bpNichol, Ginsberg and Williams – and most of what pulsed around the Black Mountain and Berkley circles. Later it was Duncan, Stein, Jack Clarke, HD, Zukofsky, Marianne Moore, Whitman ... I don’t want to get too off track – but most of these poets wrote in a serial way; or, at least, each poem was part of a greater opus. The poets I was around drew from all these writers, and combined their sounds with emergent formal innovations. So “serial poetry” is what I grew up around as a writer.

The second part of the question ... I can try to give a provisional answer, but I sense lingering the very difficult question of “what is poetry”, which only poetry can properly answer.

Something that jumps to my mind is the idea of a poet as someone who sort of waits around for a bolt of inspiration (a special occasion) to hit them; the poet as someone who takes comprehensible feelings and ideas (that could be relayed in conventional speech) and spins them into unnecessarily complicated, fanciful abstractions. It's the erroneousness of the simile that Williams addresses in Spring and All; or Spicer hits with his enigmatic “Not for their Significance. For their Significant”; or Clarke, “I have created the creative.” In short, poetry is not second hand, secondary, or representational. And that, I guess, is, at its worst, what I take the occasional poem to be: aftermath and lifeless.

I guess then the serial is, for me, poetry’s proper form. It takes poetry as a Life’s work. – that’s a spiritual answer. Maybe historically speaking it’s the evolution of the narrative poem.

Q: I’ve long been fascinated by that group that Coleman and Boughn led. How did you get involved, and who else was around for those sessions?

A: I was in Mike’s class at UfT and showed an interest in poetry, though I didn’t really read much, and only wrote teenager-y poems. He was kind enough to bring me in one evening. At first what I heard read there was alien and mesmerizing. I wanted to be a part of it more than anything, so I started reading and writing poetry fervently. I dropped out of school the next year to delve into my new vocation.

There were lots of great people and artists there, some of whom I’m still in touch with – but in terms of the poetry – it was Brad Shubat, Emily Izsak, Oliver Cusimano, David Peter Clarke (and Mike and Vic, of course) whose poems I was in the most immediate contact with, and who I tried most to emulate.

Q: With a couple of chapbook and book-length publications under your belt, as well as your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: It’s taken a long time, but at this point I feel like I have my own tuning and sound; and being able, in my projects, to sink into that sound feels about as good and truthful as anything. One noteworthy change since my early twenties is that I don’t feel I try any longer to be philosophical as a poet (though many of my idols are). I notice also, especially in Plumbing Techniques, that drama and silliness are a big part of my natural voice. I could go into things that have changed aesthetically, but in short I’ve just gotten better.

My reading of poetry keeps going backwards in time, so while I always return to my 20th Century roots, I’ve been really fascinated with ME poetry, and would like to write something longer than what I’ve done before. But generally, going forward, I just want to write the most beautiful thing that I can, and keep growing as a person.

Q: You mention a handful of contemporaries from the bpNichol writers group: are there any other contemporaries that have influenced the ways in which you think about writing, or approach your own work?

A: As far as contemporary poets go, I really haven’t encountered anything locally or popularly that compares to the writers I mentioned. And, as naive as it may sound, I'm not sure I will.

As far as influences, my favourite books always feel contemporary in a romantic way, and close friends who bring out your best voice are invaluable. Then there are people whose poetry comes in another form: comedians, musicians, athletes. I’m happy to take what they do analogically. Most recently, I watched my plumbing mentor dismantle an old radiator valve. That influenced how I think about writing.

Q: Perhaps, then, this question is moot, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Off the top of my head: H.D.’s Trilogy, Moby Dick, Shakespeare, Jack Clarke’s In the Analogy, Duncan’s After the War, (recently) Marianne Moore’s The Fish, Mina Loy’s Song for Joannes, lots of Ivan Illich, and anyone and everyone I mentioned above. And Ralph Waldo Emerson, always.
It’s not a particularly surprising list, but it’s who I love.

I do really want to mention Zukofsky’s Catullus translation. It’s immaculate, and so much fun to read.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Touch the Donkey : fortieth issue,

The fortieth issue is now available, with new poems by Ryan Eckes, Dennis Cooley, Michael Harman, Terri Witek and Laynie Browne.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). If a cow ever got the chance, he’d eat you and everyone you care about.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

TtD supplement #255 : seven questions for Alana Solin

Alana Solin is a writer and collage artist from New Jersey. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Afternoon Visitor, TAGVVERK, Dusie, Annulet, Second Factory, Tyger Quarterly, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at alanasol.in.

Her poems “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE,” “RED,” “SUM” and “CELADON” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE,” “RED,” “SUM” and “CELADON.”

A: I wrote “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE” following sound mainly, but it cohered into a poem about feeling isolated from the past and unable to decipher the future. “CELADON” feels similar, a speaker glassed in and immobilized, watching other objects transform. “RED” I think is about shame. “SUM” is drawn from a number of different unfinished poems, and I think the edges show in it. “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE” and “CELADON” are more or less the same as they were when I first wrote them, while I’ve tried to write “RED” and “SUM” a number of ways.

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

A: Removing line breaks allowed me freedom from the emphases that short lines impose. I could rely on rhythm to create structure and not worry about structures outside of rhythm that would require its rearrangement. I think these poems are similar to my other poems in that they are all quite short. I admire long poems and hope to get there one day, but I haven’t figured out how to sustain anything for longer than a page. When I edit, I tend to add little and remove lots.

These poems are from a period of time last year when I felt unable to write anything but prose poems, something I hadn’t tried previously. Now, once again, I can’t get away from line breaks. Prose poems are harder to escape from because they are coiled and serpentine, but the escape feels more crucial; in my prose poems I always feel like I’m probing for a way out, while my more recent poems don’t feel so concerned with that process. Maybe line breaks are gimmicks because they lead the reader so specifically, but maybe I need gimmicks or at least want them. Maybe line breaks help a poem imitate speech, and maybe I like to give that guidance. Or prose poems started to feel shuttered, and fumbling for exits started to get tiring.

Q: Do you really see such a stark difference between the prose poem and utilizing the line break? What first brought you to the prose poem?

A: I think Elizabeth Willis’s collection Meteoric Flowers led me to prose poems. I’ve seen and written them before, but that book was a turning point for me. I was inspired by the jumps in her poems, the logic she engineers, and the stateliness of the form. By stateliness I guess I mean they felt so put-together and whole. I’ve only been writing poems with enjambment lately; that’s just how they’ve come.

Q: How do poems usually begin for you? Are your poems self-contained pieces that might eventually cluster into groups, or are you deliberately attempting something more interconnected?

A: Pretty often, I construct my poems from bits cut from my other poems. If I like a line but it doesn’t work where it is, I’ll remove it and try to write a poem around it. I take a lot of notes in a lot of TextEdit documents, so I’ll go back through years of those, trying to find bits I can repurpose.

I usually don’t set out with the intention of writing a group of poems. I was writing the prose poems for a little while before it became clear to me that something about the form led to something in the voice that linked them into a series. They feel like landscapes compared to other poems of mine that feel more like gesture drawings; maybe it’s just the form tricking my eye, but they feel like they have more of a backdrop.

Q: With a handful of poems published in journals over the past while, how do you feel your work has evolved? What do you see your work heading towards?

A: My output has flagged in the past year. Sometimes I’ll go two or three months without writing a poem. That habit, which I fight with varying levels of success, makes it difficult to track my writing’s evolution because I feel like I’m always starting from scratch. I’ve just come out of a long quiet phase, and my writing recently has mirrored my older work in some ways; I’m still cutting any word that I suspect of weakness. I think my poems are still recognizably mine. But I’ve noticed that my rhythm has become almost robotic and my tone almost sullen, thanks to an emphasis on weaker syllables/sounds. At first I was put off because I felt like I’d lost dexterity, but now I’m trying to stick with this impulse and see where it brings me. I don’t know where I’m going with my writing, but I’d like to have the stamina to write longer pieces or even a book-length poem. Doing so still feels out of reach, though. I often return to old notes and diary entries when I write, trying to recycle material that hasn’t worked for me before. So while I’m sure my writing is evolving, the path I’m taking feels circular.

Q: You mention Elizabeth Willis’ Meteoric Flowers. Are there any other poets or collections you’ve read recently that have sparked your attention?

A: I’ve recently been returning this book that a student loaned me in the spring called We Lack in Equipment & Control by Jennifer H. Fortin. It’s fixed on the month of February and meets this cold temporal gridlock with steely vulnerability and dark humor. I’ve been very slowly reading Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson. I think a lot of it goes right through me in terms of meaning, so I’m reading it more for the experience.

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

A: Cedar Sigo is a writer I’ll always return to; I think particularly Stranger in Town and Selected Writings. I like reading Bunny Rogers’ tumblr. Susan Howe’s Debths and now That This. And reading my friends always makes me want to write.

Monday, December 18, 2023

TtD supplement #254 : seven questions for Anselm Berrigan

Anselm Berrigan’s books of poems include Pregrets, Primitive State, Come In Alone, and others. He is the poetry editor for the Brooklyn Rail, and also hosts the Rail’s online Wednesday afternoon reading series.

His poems “*****,” “Binge Better,” “Theories of Influence,” “Poem written during a zoom meeting” and “Still Here” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems ““*****,” “Binge Better,” “Theories of Influence,” “Poem written during a zoom meeting” and “Still Here.”

A: They're a strange brew to me. "Binge Better" was written on a nyc subway not too long after some time I got to spend in Kenya at a kind of roving student-based but somehow international open mic bussing from situation to situation -- and then I'm on the train heading to one of my jobs thinking about pigeons and zebras as my affinities. The other poems are a little harder to talk about, or type about -- I think because the writing of Binge Better and the present in Binge Better are overlapped in a state of active remembering as writing. The other poems aren't so conducive to me to locating as writing so exactly.

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

A: “Still Here” is maybe close to some of what I’ve been able to write lately. I was in a lot of arthritis-based pain the last few years, and was able to have a surgery done in May that helped alleviate a lot of that pain. Then I had a burst of writing – none of which I’ve typed up – that I think “Still Here” maybe made room for – treating an impulse as a lead and following it and letting things get said then leaving it alone.

Q: When you say “leave it alone,” are you suggesting not typing up those particular pieces, but allowing them to inform some of what followed?

A: Yeah. Not never typing them up, but waiting a good long while, and reading them frequently, including at readings if one arises. I’ll do some shaping around the edges when I type things up, if needed, but I seem to wait longer and longer to get to the typing. “Binge Better” is not an example of that. I wrote that one in 2017. “Still Here” was written this past February.

Q: Do your pieces usually emerge from handwritten first drafts? And what kind of distance exists between those handwritten first drafts and the eventual finished poem?

A: I write almost everything by hand. And then I wait a long time to type things up. Waiting makes me change things less. And now I believe I get it in the writing. But that’s after millions of years of fucking around with every micro-bit of space and sound.

Q: With a small mound of published titles over the years, including your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A. On some level I’m just glad to get to write at all – I wrote a ton in 2020 during the first half-year of the pandemic, and then went blank for 2021 and most of 2022. Getting back around to very up on the surface experience and reconnection with friendship as a core has been what’s happening on one level. On another, maybe, I think I did a lot of work in the last ten years to really stretch my relationship to language – it’s resulted in books like Pregrets and Come In Alone, the former a set of slabs, very dense, and written in relation to painting and sculpture compositionally (not ekphrastically), and the latter a run of rectangles written out at the end of the page, clause by clause and totally on the outskirts of sense. That anyone reads these things amazes me sometimes, though I do aim for pleasure for readers on the sonic beat, which sometimes means people have to hear the work out loud to feel like they can get into it. I don’t mind living with that, but I am finding myself in this other kind of autobiographical space lately that feels like a dance between memory and temperament, with the present pressing the issue of being present, if that makes sense.

I've been thinking lately about this good-hearted teacher I had in 5th and 6th grades who also very cruelly abused me emotionally after my father died in the summer between those two grades. I think I really stopped trusting teachers after that, and it’s almost bizarre to me right now to know I became a teacher after all of that. I’m saying this because I think maybe I’m working up to write either out of or back into that experience or both. I had this other really disturbing experience a couple years ago, where a student ended a thesis performance by pulling out a big toy gun, finding me in the audience, and unloading it. Everyone seemed to assume I was in on this, and so mostly didn’t react other than with applause. It was the culmination of a lot failure – institutional first and foremost, but also a kind of collapse of trust in the face of the pandemic that just seemed to infect all of us in that particular program. I just this summer wrote a poem called “Fake Assasinated” that tries to get into it a little bit, though it’s a just a drop in the ocean.

Also, I had to have my right hip replaced this past May after discovering I was severely arthritic – I thought maybe I had a muscle injury that never healed properly, but once I had the diagnosis things seemed to get worse pretty fast. I feel like I had a six-month crash course on living with a disability, and doing that in a big city – walking hurt every step, and I had to rely on a cane and make it to work and so forth. Now the arthritis pain is gone, and I’m in better shape and figuring out what this ceramic hip I have has to say to me. So I’m saying all of this because I think my writing has changed in tenor since the surgery, and I’m still trying to figure that out. I can’t see that far into the future, writing-wise, and this is not meant to be a mournful preface (I am borrowing “mournful preface” from Fred Moten’s interview in his book B. Jenkins). The ongoing experience of renewal and decay is one of the lines I seem to be walking.

Q: It does sound as though you’ve experienced an enormous amount of shifts over the past few years, which can’t help but affect the tone of the writing. Do you consider yourself a different kind of writer now, or are you working similarly with a variation on approach? Or does it all come down to tone?

A: I feel freer. That may not make the work read as very different, but the whole experience of writing and making work does feel different in me. I don't have the measure of what I’m doing.

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

A: That’s a harder question to answer, for me, than maybe it should be, because I don’t ever feel like I can stay on top of reading everything I might like to be reading. That’s probably because reading is a big part of my jobs as part-time teacher and part-time editor. And then I always feel behind on those things. Plus when I don’t or do feel pressure I read real dorky things like comic book message boards, fantasy baseball chats, and plot summaries of shows I think I’d like but don’t want to take the time to watch.

I’ve read Harryette Mullen’s book-length poem “Muse & Drudge” aloud in writing classes – group readings, where everyone reads a page at a time as we go around – maybe thirty or forty times over the past twenty years, so that has to be imprinted on me. Actually just read it again yesterday with a class of poets. And Kevin Davies’ long poem “Karnal Bunt” I’ve probably read a couple dozen times, and read aloud with groups too.

In order to work through this internal agonistic space that had to do with approaching my father’s age when he died, back in 2019, I used Frank O’Hara’s poem “Joe’s Jacket” as a model for a poem I was asked to write for a performance series – we were asked to consider the word “proof” but with no particular constraints. So I decided I’d try to start by listing some things I knew to be true but couldn’t prove, and was able to get to some places and say some things. I love “Joe’s Jacket”.

But I love a lot of poems, and I think I get energy from those poems whether I’m thinking about them or not, because they’re permanently with me. There’s a poem by Hoa Nguyen that she's never put in a book that has become, like, my best secret friend. I think about individual poems that way much more often than books, which makes me wonder if we don’t have the role of books all wrong somehow. I just got to hear Dana Ward sing, with his band The Actual Fuck, live in Cincinnati, and that was completely amazing and inspiring. I am, in fact, quite capable of being inspired. And I’m sort of saving Dana’s long poem “Typing Wild Speech” to reread a little later this fall.

And all that said, I have been tremendously energized by a bunch of new books  that I’ve gotten to read in the last few years – books by Claire Hong, Charles Theonia, Courtney Bush, Chime Lama, Claire de Voogd, Kendra Sullivan, Jed Munson, Tse Hao Guang, LaTasha Diggs, Cliff Fyman, Ari Lisner, and George Albon, in particular. I’m leaving some stuff out. My old friend John Coletti has a new publication out – it’s called Attachment Simply – and it’s unbelievably great. I have a new book in the works, that will come out next year – it’s called Don’t Forget to Love Me – and it has sections, and one of those sections is called “John Coletti Imitation Racket”. So that should tell you something.