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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TtD supplement #91 : seven questions for Cindy Savett

Cindy Savett’s first book of poetry, Child in the Road, was published by Parlor Press. She is also the author of three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in journals including LIT, Word For/Word, and Dusie. She lives on the outskirts of Philadelphia with her family and teaches poetry workshops to psychiatric inpatients at several area hospitals.

Her poems “on the prowl,” “they follow themselves” and “you and her” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “on the prowl,” “they follow themselves” and “you and her.”

A: It’s always challenging for me to speak about my work – here’s a stab at it, though. The first two poems share the same struggle, coping with the death of my daughter, Rachel. The last is part of a group studying man/woman relationships – tension, power, hierarchy…

on the prowl” – My child’s anger is stealing my future…I am responsible for her pain, become vulnerable. There’s no safe place for me.

you and her” – To protect myself, I push away from Rachel by creating another identity (“you”), causing her fear and uncertainty. She tries to trap you, claim your sadness, take away your power. Your work is the navigation through the puzzle of your life and her death…made harder by cryptic clues.

they follow themselves” – The man wants to mold the woman with his hands using her own life force against her. She counters by envisioning her strength, and assumes his momentum as hers. He becomes the scent of failure…she, the creator.

Q: What was the process of beginning to write about such a loss? Had you any models for this kind of writing?

A: Describing a process is difficult for me…Rachel died on a Friday night and I started writing about her and her death on Saturday sometime in the morning. It was pretty rudimentary, more just a full body scream, but over the following months it began to form itself into moments and pieces of art. Writing was saving my life, literally.

I began a search for other poets who’d had children die…I needed to see how they had found solace, how they integrated that into their writing. At times I found offerings about how to survive, how to want to survive. Yet I felt very alone and frightened with where my thoughts - and poems - were taking me. Ultimately, resonance and guidance came from poets more aligned with my aesthetic yet not necessarily working through a notable grief.

Q: Are you noticing any structural differences between these pieces and the poems you’d written prior? Obviously, the process of grieving a child shapes the content, but has it affected the cadence or the line or even the shapes of your stanzas?

A: Early on I worked with sparse lines, often single words to the line, with staggered indentations that created a strong visual expression of falling with no handholds as one went down. At the same time the words screamed for anyone to hear and yet held meaning and intent extremely close – my contradictory existence at that time. Hear me but don’t understand because that is not possible. As Rachel’s death grew further away I came to understand that ultimately I would be able to break through my loneliness by expanding my lines and listening to a different rhythm within. I shaped my lines around the white spaces differently, wanting to create more color (richness beginning to return to my life) within a wider band of unspoken space (an understanding of my relationship to living).

Q: With a published full-length collection and a handful of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My early work, those poems in Child in the Road, were raw and emerged from listening to a painful and confused world. They were largely formed using a language that could only speak in abbreviated words, lines, stanzas. Stuttering out the overwhelming emotions and despairing thoughts, I was incapable of expanding the poem for fear it would become an open pit. As my life took on more stability I was able to flesh out what ended up on the page without feeling as if I was abandoning my tragedy, which had become a defining moment. My poems are now heading further away from what I consider to be a closed internal conversation into one that is inclusive and seeking the reader’s response as part of the poems’ purpose.

Q: What do you mean by “seeking the reader’s response as part of the poems’ purpose”?

A: As the years passed since Rachel’s death, I began to understand how great the split was between my oral and written words in the way I connected with others. I had successfully walled off where I considered my integrity to be housed: what I heard when I wrote. The reader was pushed away because I was frightened. Over time I realized my work could not continue to live in the vacuum I had created…my need to escape from my loneliness demanded I experience the poems as both my creations as well as a partnership with the reader who would offer me a way out of my isolation. My poems were then engaged in two very different yet critical missions.

Q: Can you speak further to those two missions, and how well you feel you’ve accomplished them?

A: It’s slippery…I am regularly tripping over my own feet as I sway between each intent. My ear and eye are inwardly pointed. My body is aware of its own workings and although I don’t breathe separately from the world, nonetheless I seem to remain what I consider too distinct. Yet it is in this space that I believe what my poems have to say. The difficulty is enormous when I connect those truths with my surfacing desire to break from conversations with myself. How am I able to move out and welcome in a reader who does not live inside me? Am I capable of hearing two realities at the same time thereby forming ties with others who want to read my words?

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

A: I tend to jump from poet/poem, one to another depending on what flies through my mind either while I’m writing, just wandering or aware of being very thirsty – Rukeyser, Transtromer, Hopkins, Aygi, Popa, Celan, Paz... many non-English writers. I seem to hear them more easily. It’s made me wonder often whether there’s another language beneath my words that’s supporting the poems.

Individual poems draw me in with an urgency that I experience in different parts of my body - right now, it’s “What Do I Give You” by Muriel Rukeyser. A little bit ago it was “The Mountains in the Desert” by Robert Creeley and two by Tomas Transtromer – “ Memories Watch Me” and “Midwinter.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

TtD supplement #90 : seven questions for Harold Abramowitz

Harold Abramowitz is from Los Angeles. His books include Blind Spot, Not Blessed, Dear Dearly Departed, and the forthcoming Man’s Wars And Wickedness: A Book of Proposed Remedies & Extreme Formulations for Curing Hostility, Rivalry, & Ill-Will (with Amanda Ackerman). Harold co-edits the short-form literary press eohippus labs, and writes and edits as part of the collaborative projects, SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO. He teaches in the Department of General Studies at Charles R. Drew University.

An excerpt from his work-in-progress “Dark Rides (Version 2)” appears in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the work-in-progress “Dark Rides (Version 2).”

A: Dark Rides came out of research I have been doing around poetics and narrative in relationship to state violence and both collective and individual memory, and how these concepts can be understood in relation to the built environment, or what Norman Klein calls “theme space.”

Q: How does this piece fit with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: For several years I have been developing a body of work that deals with these themes from various angles. My 2010 book Not Blessed dealt with, among other things, the relationship of constructed narratives and constructed memory from the perspective of power; my recent book Blind Spot deals with similar topics from the perspective of culpability and interiority. In these projects, as well as in Dark Rides, I find the terms narrative corruption and memory corruption useful.

Q: What is it about the corruption of narrative and memory that you find so generative?

A: Good question. For me, the possibility of narrative and memory corruption opens up really intriguing questions about permeability and language, the articulation of borders, beginnings and endings, the integrity of content, and so forth. It’s well-trodden territory, but fascinating!

Q: With a small mound of books and chapbooks over the past decade or so, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: This is not something I ever think about, or it is something I try not to think about. I feel the progress of the writing while it’s happening. For me, the process of thinking and writing is very simultaneous. The trick is to keep working even with a busy life: parenting, day job, etc, to make the time to write. I think the energy created from the work allows everything else to take care of itself, including the ways in which the work ends up being disseminated.

Q: What drives you to explore some of these questions through poetry, as opposed to prose? What do you feel you can accomplish or explore through the poem that you couldn’t through other forms?

A: I think it’s a question of scale, in some cases. The poem offers a much wider range in terms of scale as compared to prose. But my process is very much about letting the work dictate the form it is going to take. It is very much about listening. In reference to your question before about progress, I hope that I am always growing to be a better and better listener to the work as I am writing it, better at reading it while I am writing it. In my view, I am always writing poetry, though it sometimes ends up more or less prosaic. I very rarely sit down to write and say now I am going to write prose, now I am going to write a poem.

Q: How does your prose differ from your poetry? Is it simply a matter of scale?

A: I was speaking of scale generally. I don’t think my prose and poetry differ.

Q: What writers, through example, have helped you construct your books? Are your books constructed organically or have you a set plan?

A: As far as construction of books, I have started with a set of themes, ideas, devices, language, e.g., phrases, sentences, words, deployed in some initial manner and then organically developed from there.  If I had to pick a dozen writers off the top of my head right this minute whose work I am often thinking about… Harryette Mullen , Alain Robbe-Grillet, Amina Cain, Dolores Dorantes, Georges Perec, Harmony Holiday, Janice Lee, Natalie Sarraute, Rosmarie Waldrop, Will Alexander, Wanda Coleman, Kathy Acker.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

TtD supplement #89 : seven questions for Michael e. Casteels

Michael e. Casteels is the author of The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses (Invisible Publishing). In 2012 he was nominated for the emerging artist award in The Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. He lives in Kingston, Ontario, where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.

His poems “Chapter 59 Preparedness, a Virtue,” “Chapter 60 The Giant Sloth,” “Chapter 61 A Quick Swig and A Small Bit” and “Chapter 62: The Long Ride” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Chapter 59 Preparedness, a Virtue,” “Chapter 60 The Giant Sloth,” “Chapter 61 A Quick Swig and A Small Bit” and “Chapter 62: The Long Ride.”

A: This series is taken from a larger project, a novel in which each chapter is a prose poem. The project began when a wrote a short series of 3 poems titled 3 Chapters Toward an Epic which was published by Pearl Pirie’s Phaphors Press. They are three very separate poems numbered Chapter 43, Chapter 109 and Chapter 159. I liked the idea that the reader would have to imagine what was happening between each of these poems, and how there was actually much more ‘white space’ to the piece than actual writing. But I then I too began wondering what was happening to my character in the in-between. When I started filling in the spaces I did it very unconsciously. I’d write a random chapter number and then write a poem beneath it. When the poem was finished I’d print it off and tuck it into a binder in order of chapter numbers. As the spaces between chapters began to get tighter I acquired a vague idea of what was going on. As you’ll notice with the four pieces included in Touch the Donkey, the chapters are often more connected by imagery rather than a linear narrative. Different themes (western, mystery, adventure, romance) weave throughout the book, with the main themes being uncertainty and discovery.

Q: How do these pieces fit in to the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I’ve actually found that this project has hijacked one of my writing voices. Anyone who’s read some of my previous work knows that I’m a big fan of the prose poem, and that most of my prose poems are surreal, first-person narratives. While this project has the themes I listed above running through it, there is also an element of randomness—a few pieces scattered throughout the book with very little tying them to the overall concept. Now when I’m writing a prose poem in a first-person voice I often find myself halfway through the piece wondering if it’ll work with my novel instead of allowing it to come together more unconsciously.

On the flip-side, this project has also pushed me to exercise my other voices, and my other styles of poetry. I’m working on a long poem in third person, lots of concrete/visual poems, some minimalist pieces, and the occasional verse piece. I find that if I keep working at all of my poetic outlets they help to inform one another and keep me from getting bored with any one style or voice.

Q: What first brought you to the prose poem?

A: I came to the prose poem very naturally. Most of my writing occurs in my journal in the form of stream-of-unconsciousness writing. When I'm writing like this I like to let my mind go blank, and write without thinking about what will come next. For me, line breaks often stall my lack-of-thought process, so most of my writing appears in the form of a long paragraph.

Many of my other poems lean to the other extreme, being highly coherent and narrative. The prose poem seems to house these types of pieces nicely, offering a framework for these micro-fictions to fit in.

Q: How easy was it for you to shift from constructing chapbooks to constructing a full-length book? And which do you see as your main unit of composition? Or does it matter?

A: For my first full-length collection, The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses the shift between chapbook and trade book came quite easily, thanks to my editor, Leigh Nash. I didn’t have a complete manuscript ready when Leigh approached me about publishing a book through Invisible. We made a plan. I put together all of the poems that I felt were strong pieces and sent them to her, and she made the initial selection. From there I re-worked some of my older pieces, and started writing new pieces that fit with the themes and ideas that were already present in the manuscript. We worked really well together.

My main unit of composition is still the chapbook. I think chapbooks are an ideal form for publishing poetry. Due to length restrictions, they limit you in one way, but they’re also something you could put together overnight if you wanted, so you’re free to publish anything you want. I work in so many different veins of poetry: lyrical, prose, visual, concrete, minimal etc. and chapbooks seem to house each style nicely.

However, after working on The Last White House... I’ve also started thinking in longer forms. My prose-poem-novel would be an example of this. I’m writing it with a book-length project in mind.

Q: Whom have your models been when putting together new work? What authors or works have shifted the ways in which you think about approaching your work?

A: While piecing the project together as a whole hasn’t necessarily been modeled after anyone else, there are poets whose work I keep returning to for inspiration/guidance/education.

One of the biggest influences on this current project is Ted Berrigan’s Clear the Range, a surreal meta-western that began as an erasure project from a pocket western by Max Brand. I’ve read both the source material and the resultant material and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from comparing the two. Many of the pieces in my current project started out as erasures, and I feel like I’ve learned some interesting techniques and moves that I’m able to utilize in my own poems.

My current project continues my explorations through prose poetry, and I’ve returned to some of my favorite prose poets for guidance: James Tate and Russell Edson primarily, but also Lisa Jarnot, Mark Strand, and some of the French surrealist poets.

Q: What is it about the erasure that appeals? What do you feel you’re able to do or articulate through the erasure that you couldn’t otherwise?

A: My favorite experience while writing is surprise. I love when I’m working on a piece and I have no idea where it’s headed or, better yet, when my idea is totally off-mark, and the poem takes me some place entirely unexpected. Erasure almost always lends itself to this kind of writing. It’s a bit like collaborative writing, in that, the resultant poem is something neither of us could have come up with on our own, but in this case Louis L’Amour or Max Brand are, unknowingly, my collaborators.

The utilitarian in me also likes working with erasure because it’s a form of research. As much as I love writing in this surreal-western genre, I still haven’t banked enough of its vocabulary to write many of my own pieces yet. There are terms I’m still coming across and storing for later use, idioms that I’ve never heard before, types of dialogue that I’m filing away... lots of specifics, like names of guns, or kinds of horses, or rules for gambling games, or the many different ways to refer to the endless desert.

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

A: One of my all-time favorite books of poetry is The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. I’ve probably read it, in its entirety, a dozen or so times by now, and have read a few pieces upwards of twenty times.

 Whenever I tire of writing I inevitably gravitate back to David McFadden. There’s something so personal, and seemingly simple about his work. It brings me back to when I was first discovering poetry, and it awakens a certain excitement in me.

But what I often find to be the most re-energizing is to find a writer I’ve never read before, or to find something new by someone I love. When I read great work for the first time it almost always pushes me to try something new and different with my own writing, setting me on a whole new trail through a mountain range I never even knew existed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Touch the Donkey : fifteenth issue,

The fifteenth issue is now available, with new poems by Colin Smith, Michael e. Casteels, Harold Abramowitz, Christine Stewart, Cindy Savett, Jean Valentine, rob mclennan, Marilyn Irwin and Tessy Ward.



Seven dollars (includes shipping). You’re gonna be a four-star brother-in-law.


Monday, October 2, 2017

TtD supplement #88 : seven questions for Brynne Rebele-Henry

Brynne Rebele-Henry’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, Fiction International, Rookie, and So to Speak, among other places. Her writing has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose, and a 2017 Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner. Her first book Fleshgraphs appeared from Nightboat Books in 2016. Her second book, Autobiography of a Wound, won the AWP Donald Hall Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2019. She was born in 1999.

Her poems “Red,” “Autobiography” and “North Dakota & Turpentine” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Red,” “Autobiography” and “North Dakota & Turpentine.”

A: I actually wrote all three poems about four years ago, when I was thirteen. Red is a new retelling of the Red Riding Hood story. Autobiography is about the moments before and after a loss. I wrote North Dakota & Turpentine when I was thirteen as well. It’s about bodies and failure and strange religions, and inventing new gods. A lot of my work is about inventing gods actually, or about lesbian bodies as a form of worship or religion, which is a concept that I was just beginning to introduce into my poetry when I wrote that piece.

Q: I’m curious about anyone who is producing work at thirteen, let alone work that one might consider publishable a few years later. How were you producing work so early? What kind of activity were you reading, or otherwise engaged in, that prompted such writing?

A: I had incredible writing teachers! They taught me everything I know and really started my love for writing and literature.

Q: Who were those first poets you were reading that prompted your attention?

A: Definitely Sylvia Plath. Adrienne Rich, Anne Carson, and Audre Lorde.

Q: What was it about their work that struck? What was it about their work that you think you absorbed, to incorporate into your own?

A: I think the way that each poet addressed womanhood—or didn’t—really spoke to me.

Q: What do you mean?

A: I’m really intrigued by the various portrayals of womanhood and girlhood or queerness and how different authors represent and address both in their work. I think Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red perfectly captures the young queer experience. It actually inspired me to start writing my first novel, The Glass House, which has two young gay protagonists.

Q: What do you feel you can accomplish with fiction that you aren’t able to in poetry? Or does your sense of the two genres bleed into each other?

A: The objective behind my work, which is to further lesbian voices, remains the same with both genres. With fiction I think that I approach that objective differently, as my focus is on capturing the lives (and by extension the issues), of lesbian individuals. My poetry is more directly about queer issues and sexuality. I think each genre accomplishes my goal, though.

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

A: Currently I love A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghira, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Difficult Women by Roxane Gay, Makeshift Cathedral by Peter LaBerge, and Ruin by Cynthia Cruz.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TtD supplement #87 : seven questions for Andrew McEwan

Andrew McEwan is the author of If Pressed (BookThug, fall 2017), Tours, Variously (forthcoming from TalonBooks in 2018), and repeater, a finalist for the 2013 Gerald Lampert award, along with numerous chapbooks including Conditional (Jack Pine) and Can’t tell if this book is depressing or if I’m just sad (No Press). He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

His four poems “from Depression Inventory” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the four poems “from Depression Inventory.”

A: “Depression Inventory” is a series of poems from my forthcoming collection If pressed (BookThug, fall 2017), which attends to the atmospheric, economic, and emotional anxieties of language, and maintains an ambivalence about whether the word “depression” describes an emotional or economic state of being.  Formally, the “Depression Inventory” poems are based on Beck’s Depression Inventory, a questionnaire for self-diagnosing clinical depression. Each poem takes on a question category, teases it apart, and blends in language of economic speculation derived from reports of the financial crisis, and speculation about the depression-like economy of the post-2008 era. They’re anxious and speculative poems that aim for, but never achieve, diagnosis.

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

A: As the first poem in If pressed “Depression Inventory” strongly relates thematically to the rest of the collection. Formally, the use of systems of categorization, diagnosis, and taxonomy have been interesting to me going back to my first collection, repeater, and continues into my current project, a project titled Nature Building collaboratively written with Elee Kraljii Gardiner. I think these systems of understanding and organizing meaning, phenomena, and experience may be used to great effect as a poetic form in ways that complicate their supposed function.

Q: How did the collaborative project come about, and how are you finding the differences between solo and collaborative projects? Do they play off each other, or are they entirely separate?

A: The collaborative project with Elee came about through an inside joke that developed the first time we met. We joked about nature tropes of Anglo-Canadian anthology verse and how these formed much of the landscape in which we developed our understanding of poetry as youth and students. We decided to pull natural imagery from early Canadian anthology poetry (pre-1950) and send them to each other to write around, through, and into. Since that beginning, we’ve departed from this original premise as the conversation developed. As for your second two questions, I’m still figuring these out. Right now I’d say the difference is that the composition and idea development happen in conversation, and over a prolonged period. There are far more delays in development of new directions and ideas as we wait for the next skype call to discuss them. This has been a really great thing, though, and it’s allowed the project to develop in a very natural way. It’s changed the way I think about my solo writing insofar as it’s helping me to see writing as a conversation with my own ideas over days, weeks, years, and to slow down when ideas need time to develop.

Q: I’m always curious to hear how poets build books, especially those first few collections. What or who were your models for putting poetry collections together, and has the process of putting together your second collection been much different than your first?

A: In putting repeater together I thought of it as one integrated project from the start. Even though there are different poems comprising the appendices to the main poem they function as integral parts of the whole. I looked to models like Robert Kroetsch’s Field Work and Seed Catalogue, Kate Eichorn’s Fond, Jonathan Ball’s Ex Machina, and just about all the work of Erín Moure and Lisa Robertson. I liked the way those writers used the book as a unit of composition for delving into different areas of a central, or central group of, concepts.

Now, If pressed is similar in its book form, but felt very different to write. The poem “Of Matter Diverse and Confused” weaves throughout the collection, but the poems between stray and were written without the book as a unit in mind, just related ideas. I’ve been influenced by Spicer’s use of the serial poem in his later books since I started writing, and I’d say If pressed is slightly closer to that model than repeater was. Through the editing process the poems of If pressed became more and more entangled, so the resulting book might seem similar to repeater’s composition style from outside.

Q: With a small handful of chapbooks and a trade collection, with another on the way, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’m still thinking on that one. My work has been connected by what I’d describe as a research-based poetics in which I mine an archive for language and turn it in on itself or mix it with another register of language. For me this is also an interest in language environments and the types of thoughts, possibilities, and foreclosures they enact. I was interested in the supposedly non-human language of binary and ways of self-reflecting through language in repeater. If pressed takes on the word and concept of “depression” and writes through early medical nosologies and taxonomies, as well as contemporary financial speculation. If pressed is definitely the most pointed and politically charged work I’ve done. My third book, Tours, variously (TalonBooks, release date TBD), goes back to a similar interest as repeater, insofar as it uses language to look at itself and its possibilities. In the case of Tours, variously, the language of guidance and touring and how the spaces it opens up are demarcated by description. My ongoing work with Elee is opening up the biggest change in my writing, as I discussed earlier, but I wouldn’t think of it as a progression, and it bears many similarities to my previous projects.

Q: How did you end up working such a “research-based poetics,” and what does it allow that you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish otherwise?

A: I’ve always gravitated toward writing that digs into a concept and its archives. I’m interested in the resonances of archives and their languages. It allows me inhabit and combine different types language that are not my own in ways that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

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

A: I return to writers like Jack Spicer, Lisa Robertson, Clark Coolidge, Noah Eli Gordon, Caroline Bergvall, Louis Zukofsky, and Erín Moure to immerse myself in a sensuousness of language it's easy to lose an awareness of, especially in the editing stages of a project. I often keep Moure’s O Cididan and Coolidge’s Mine: The One That Enters the Stories out and return to those frequently.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

TtD supplement #86 : seven questions for mwpm

mwpm lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario. The musings of mwpm have appeared (or forthcoming) in filling Station, (parenthetical), Sewer Lid, Otoliths, Sonic Boom, untethered, and MUSH/MUM.

His poems “16/106,” “16/115,” “after socrates” and “cats hate the rain” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “16/106,” “16/115,” “after socrates” and “cats hate the rain.”

A: I’m fascinated by the idea of redundancy. One must be authoritative in order to deem something redundant, because one must know the big picture before attributing the label – what is required, where does it fit, and (most relevantly) how much is too much.

If I had two stomachs, I would have one stomach too many for a human. But if I had four stomachs, I would be a cow.

I began thinking in redundancy-related riddles. Some of which I adapted into poems. But more often than adapting the riddles themselves, I found I was writing in a sort of riddle structure. Gradually I moved away from sentences that complimented each other in terms of clever content, and towards sentences that were complimentary in terms of length, implementing common words or common letter patterns.

The arrangement of these words/letters may be influenced by aesthetic gratification, or they may be arranged to highlight redundancies in sentences like “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” “I’m not laughing at you I’m laughing with you,” or “we don’t know how much we don’t know” in the poem “after socrates.”

“cats hate the rain,” on the other hand, was written explicitly to eliminate redundancies. The poem should be read: “cats hate the rain but they love you.” I have arranged the letters in such a way that repeating letters can be applied to both words, and can thereby be condensed. (“Two birds with one stone” is a horrible cliché, both for being a cliché and for promoting inhumane treatment of animals, but it is undeniably applicable.) Thus a 29 letter sentence is translated into a 23 letter poem. Not much progress, but I am endeavouring to improve upon this economy of letters.

“16/106” and “16/115” belong to a series of poems. My initial goal was to number the poems as a method of tracing the progression of an aesthetic. But ultimately I became too attached to the aesthetic as it appears in “16/106” and “16/115” - in which I break down two sentences and utilize certain redundancies to influence the arrangement of the individual letters, with the hope of extracting new words that do not exist in either of the two original sentences. What began as an exercise in aesthetic inquiry has devolved into yet another redundancy – although I’m not altogether unhappy with the results, reading the poems individually rather than the series as a whole.

Q: How do these pieces fit in with the rest of the work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Aesthetically, I find I’m drawn to fragmentation. There’s something very appealing about breaking down words and finding new ways to arrange letters on a page. Perhaps my true calling is writing crossword and wordsearch puzzles.

The “16/” poems are occasional pieces, drawing from my daily life and whatever I happen to be reading. Whereas “after socrates” and “cats hate the rain” are more deliberate aesthetic efforts. Both feel like prototypes, like blueprints, like cave drawings... My goal would therefore be no less than re-inventing the wheel. If I am disappointed with said wheel, perhaps it is because I am impatient for the advent of the automobile.

Q: Where did your attraction to fragmentation begin? Did it evolve naturally, or are there specific authors that have influenced that direction?

A: For reasons I’m not consciously aware of, I’ve always been drawn to poetry that explores the fragmentation of words; poetry that utilizes inventive techniques that dictate the arrangement of letters on a page. There are a number of anthologies dedicated to this form of poetry, but otherwise I have had to seek out the poets who were so inclined.

I remember scouring libraries for the publishers I knew had an experimental leaning, or for authors who deliberately neglected proper capitalization and punctuation. If the author refused to capitalize their name or their book’s title, then there was a good chance that their poetry wouldn’t be capitalized – which I recognized as a possible gateway to more depraved forms of poetry.

Not surprisingly, my first poems were shameless emulations of the various forms utilized by poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire, E.E. Cummings, and bpNichol. But these emulations were superficial and sloppy.

It wasn’t until I was introduced to Jackson Mac Low that I began to consider the process behind these poems – perhaps owing to the elaborate nature of Mac Low’s chance-based, deterministic methods. So outlandish were Mac Low’s methods that I had to consider the background, the motivation, and whether or not the end is justified by the means.

Q: You say that you’re currently working on a series of poems; how do your poems usually get constructed? As individual pieces or via groupings? How do you see your work evolving?

A: With my series, the “16/” poems, I constructed the poems individually. There was little or no continuity in the content, aside from its resemblance to the aphorisms of someone like... Antonio Porchia. (If my “aphorisms” seem more contrived, it’s because I wanted to stress the importance of formal innovation.) The continuity in this series is derived entirely from the form, and the subtle ways I attempted to adjust the form in order to emphasize a progression.

As I said before, I believe the series to be a failure. The poems may be appealing on an individual basis, but the progression isn’t enough to bind them and form a whole.

Q: I’m curious as to your assertion that you wish “to stress the importance of formal innovation.” Can you speak further on this?

A: The postmodernists asserted that everything has been said. While I don’t entirely agree, it is with this in mind that I strive to embolden new forms of “poetry.” I’m reminded, too, of Marjorie Perloff who, in her afterword to Derek Beaulieu’s Flatland, states: ‘what goes by the name of “poetry” is more accurately defined as a form of short prose.’ By that standard, Beaulieu’s Flatland is not “poetry” but a “conceptual text,” which I find very freeing. Post-postmodern poets are free to pursue new forms of poetry without feeling restricted by the standards imposed by an era of poetry (including the postmodernists). Someone like Beaulieu can publish his scribbles under the pretense that the means justify the ends.

Again, I don’t entirely agree that the means justify the ends. Strictly speaking, I believe the end result should be as compelling as the concept. Beaulieu’s concept is far more interesting than his scribbles, and I don’t think a work should be so uneven. Broadly speaking, what Beaulieu has truly accomplished with Flatland is taking “poetry” so far from “poetry” that he has created a wider range for like-minded poets to work within.

That is the importance of formal innovation. Whether or not we succeed, we are widening the range and expanding the possibilities of “poetry.”

Q: You speak of individual pieces and fragmentation, but I’m curious if you’re consciously working towards some kind of larger grouping or groupings of your poems, whether as chapbook or full-length book.

A: When I started the “16/” poems I had hoped to create a larger grouping that would recognizable as a series or sequence based on a form that would become progressively more fragmented – the words would become more fragmented and the arrangement would become more scattered. My perceived failure may be derived from comparing the later poems to the earlier poems and realizing that someone, unaware of the process, would interpret the early poems as “lazy” or “lackluster” version of the later poems.

I have since reworked the poems, conformed them to a common style. For posterity, I decided to retain the titles – which refer to the year of their composition (2016) and the order of their composition. It may appear cryptic, but the poems themselves are cryptic and deserve cryptic titles.

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

A: Too many to name, but I’ll try.

First and foremost is E.E. Cummings. Cummings is the reason I started reading poetry, and later the reason I started writing poetry. I often return to the selection edited by Richard Kostelanetz, which elevates Cummings to his rightful place as a pioneer “not only in linguistic and typographic inventions, but also in sound and concrete poetry.”

There are a number of poets I read and re-read for the standard they set – Jack Spicer for his poetry sequences from After Lorca to Book of Magazine Verse; Paul Celan and Faye Kicknosway for their tone (disquieting); Barbara Guest for the poems of her impressionistic phase with its generous use of space; Anne Carson and Lisa Robertson for their intelligence and for their ability to not only illuminate any subject but animate any subject in the most unexpected ways.

Last but certainly not least is Souvankham Thammavongsa. There’s something absolutely breathtaking about Thammavongsa’s poetry. In order to describe what I find breathtaking I would have to follow Margaret Atwood’s advice... (Was it Atwood who said that a poem is the best response to a poem? or something to that affect...) Perhaps I’ll do that.