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Friday, November 9, 2018

TtD supplement #119 : six questions for robert majzels

robert majzels is the author of four novels, a book of poetry with Claire Huot, and numerous translations, including 5 novels by France Daigle and, with Erín Moure, several books of poetry by Nicole Brossard. He did time as an associate professor in the University of Calgary, and continues to write from time to time.

His “four verses from khArlaMoV’s aNkLe” appears in the nineteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “four verses from khArlaMoV’s aNkLe.”

A: These four verses are part of a longer work, which I can call poetry or prose or hybrid, or mixed whatever, depending on what a particular publisher is looking for. I think we’re beginning to realize that simply adding new categories to old labels whether in genre or gender is a form of more or less aggressive normalization. Reason why I prefer to think of it all as simply writing or, if I must describe the genre i’m working in, let’s call it "twisted ankle." The language and form shift as the work shifts between narrative streams, philosophical wonderment, poetic phrasing, political rant, with bits of translational exercises (e.g. the two versions of the Wang Wei poem in the four verses), and self-reflexive wrestling with writing itself and my responsibilities as someone who writes.

The Peony Pavilion, a Kunqu opera by the 16th century Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu provides a scaffolding for kHarLaMov’s aNkLe, which follows the 55 scenes of that Ming Dynasty classic. K’s ankle is also a kind of notebook following my study of several fundamental texts of Daoism attributed to Laozi and Zhuangzi. Because writing is really always first of all reading, I’m always simultaneously writing and studying one or more texts. In the writing of a previous novel, Apikoros Sleuth, I was following the Sanhedrin Tractate of the Talmud. In this case, the near perfect stillness of the dao provides a contrapuntal slowness to the otherwise frenzied pace of the aNklE. My interest in both The Peony Pavilion and the daoist texts is of course a product of time I spent in China and the critical role of that country and culture to the future of the world. The Dao is particularly attractive to me because it suggests a sacred practice of atheism, and a refusal to present an all encompassing theory or dogma. It’s mostly about undoing our assumptions. I’m also fascinated by the daoist withdrawal from the world and refusal to act. The pull between a desire to change the world and the suspicion that it might be best to simply withdraw from it are at the root of kHarMaLoV’s aNkLe.

Formally, I’ve tried to break free of a number of traditional literary techniques. I’m working towards a form that can open up to a more rigourous social, political and literary criticism. I’ve always felt that the long argued opposition between fiction or poetry as social commentary vs formal experimentation is false. It seems obvious that structure and form, including grammar and punctuation are not rules based on some natural order, or a reflection of the “real” world; on the contrary, the formal rules have evolved in the complex power struggles between various social forces. These rules and norms determine the way we think about our selves and our lives. So writing, for me, is about challenging, exploring the limits of literary and other modes of communication to make other ways of thinking and being possible.

I’ve been working on this particular project for several years, with no expectation of seeing it in print. In a way, abandoning the idea of publication was what made it possible for me to write k’s ankle. I had to break with the discursive formation of canlit. Especially after seven years in the creative writing academic mill. I had to find a place to write without an imagined audience looking over my shoulder.

The fact it's taken me several years to write khArlaMoV’s aNkLe is perhaps ironic because the underlying theme of the work is URGENCY. Urgency in the face of environmental destruction, the military industrial complex’s permanent state of war, police racist violence, empty gestures toward reconciliation with Indigenous nations, and the complacency of the rest of us who are deadened by disaster and wasting our lives trying to earn a living. One of the principal strands woven into k’s ankle is a kind of picaresque narrative of the adventures of a group of junky anarchists who call themselves khArlaMoV’s aNkLe. The group alternates between long bouts of doing nothing on junk, when they can get it, and repeated attempts to assassinate Stephen Harper and then Donald Trump. (That’s the utopian aspect of the work — who wouldn't love to light up those bastards.)

The title refers to the Canada-Russia Summit Hockey Series in 1972 when Bobby Clarke, on instructions from the Canadian bench, broke the Russian star player Valerie Kharlamov’s ankle. In a way, that event marks a shift in the Canadian psyche. Gone is the pretence of good sportsmanship, replaced by the will to win, to own the podium. Trudeau’s smiley face may seem to be a return to happier times, but really it’s a thin mask, wagging tongue attached, concealing our active participation in a completely indefensible war on the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, conducted through unmanned drones, high altitude bombing and proxies. What the multinational manufacturers of armaments and their political puppets have come up with is a way to wage permanent war without disrupting the daily lives of their own citizens: unlike Viet Nam and the WWars before it, there’s no conscription, no rationing, no continuous return of body bags. The only disruption comes from the occasional individual suicide bomber trying to bring our war back home to us.

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

A: It’s better.

Q: I’m fascinated by your experiments with form, from the structural resonances of Teeth to your current work-in-progress, what you’re referring to as a “hybrid.” What is it about bringing unutilized or under-considered structures into poetry or prose that you feel you wouldn’t be able to accomplish otherwise? And how successful do you feel you’ve been?

A: The big question, the chicken and egg of content/form. As I mentioned in my response to your initial question, I don’t believe that the structures and conventions of writing, including grammar, punctuation, spelling, and going all the way up to the formal rules of poetry and fiction, and especially the distinctions between genres are natural or immutable. They are constantly changing and the result of changing relations of power. We only prize symmetry over asymmetry or closure over open-endedness, clarity over ambiguity, or the phallocentric curve of so much narrative structure over the chaos in our lives because they have been drummed into us for so long. The problem with “Little Red Riding Hood” is not so much the sexist moral — young women should not wear red capes or stray from the narrow path through the woods — as the fichtean curve of the narrative structure. I remember years ago the first time I heard bebop, I told my friend who’d brought me there, “this is just noise.” He said “you’re just not ready for it.” If you listen to bubblegum music all day long, you’re going to have trouble following something more complex. Only a few years ago, the time shifts, tangled narratives, rapid cuts we see in mainstream cinema and television today would have been unthinkable.

When I was teaching, I developed an argument about experimental writing. I compared it to medicine: mainstream bestselling authors are like general practitioners; they see many patients but nothing too complicated; literary writers are like specialists; they see fewer patients but treat more complicated issues; and experimental writers are like research scientists working in the lab; they see no patients, but their work is essential to the specialists and generalists. That usually satisfied my students (though they were mostly all thinking, “please, god let me be a general practitioner”.) After dealing with writers and students for a few years, I don’t really believe in that argument anymore. It reminds me of the claim writers make in the face of the indifference of the general population to their work that canlit contributes to the economy. I certainly don't want to contribute to the economy. I think so-called “realist” writing is as accurate a reproduction of the “real" world as pornography is a true representation of sex. And the effect is similarly corrupting. It objectifies the world and shackles the collective imagination. We’ve known for a long time, for example, that iambic pentameter is not the natural rhythm of the English language, that Shakespeare’s plays were not conceived in five acts, that no one’s life actually follows the phallic curve to climax of conventional narrative structure. I agree with Nietzsche: “we are not rid of God because we still believe in grammar,” and Lynn Hejinian: “there is no need to distinguish poetry from prose.”

I think writing is as much about undoing our assumptions, disassembling the structures that limit what we can imagine about what is possible, juxtaposing what may seem to be unrelated images, phrases, words, as it is about creating anything new. When I write, I'm trying to do dreamwork. I understand the impulse to write clearly so that a progressive message can be communicated, to see writing as a kind of sugar coated pill delivering sometimes harsh medicine. But I don’t believe that’s what happens when an audience encounters the text. I support the struggle for inclusiveness and diversity, but I’m wary of the attempt to encourage tolerance and respect by simply substituting a different character in a familiar story. I don’t agree that we are fundamentally all the same. If we believe that, what happens when we encounter someone or something that is fundamentally different.

With the 85 project, I worked with Claire Huot to undo the poetic line, and the distinction between translation and original writing. With “kharlamov’s ankle” I’m trying to get rid of the literariness of writing. I want to write something that can’t be easily integrated into the pretensions and bourgeois values of the literary, with its allusive elegance, its prettiness, but at the same time not a simple flat prose. For example, the elimination of the sentence, the elimination of most punctuation (not telling the reader where to pause or striving to eliminate the deferral of meaning), the use of the period as a musical notation rather than a limit, all these open up the space of writing for me.

Q: What was it that prompted you to collaborate with Claire Huot? How did the 85 project come about?

A: Claire Huot is a sinologist by trade, fluent in reading and writing Chinese, and speaking Mandarin. She has taught Chinese studies at the Université de Montréal and the University of Calgary, published two books on contemporary Chinese culture, and served as the Canadian Embassy’s Cultural Counsellor in China. From 2000 to 2002, we lived in Beijing, where I learned some Chinese, and began to scratch the surface of Chinese culture. At the same time I was trying to find a way to write poetry out from under the boot of the line. In my research for my novel Apikoros Sleuth, I had come across a book by Marc-Alain Ouaknin entitled Le live brûlé (The Burnt Book), in which he cites a Talmudic debate over what constitutes a book. Long story short, the rabbis conclude that a book consists of a minimum of 85 letters in continuous movement (you can see the article on the website below for more how the rabbis got there). I started to write poems in 85 letters. Claire pointed out that one of the classic forms of Tang Dynasty poems, the jueju, consists of four lines (columns) of five characters each. Since a Chinese character is the equivalent of a word in English, these poems were composed of 20 words, which averages out to about 85 letters. We began a long complex, radically ethical process of translating Chinese poems into English. Our goal, in Lawrence Venuti’s terms, was to resist normalizing the poems, “to register the linguistic and cultural differences of the foreign text” in the translated works. In that sense, we were following Pound’s attempt to allow Chinese poetry to impact what poetry in English could become, rather than transforming Chinese into something we already recognize. In particular, by paying attention not only to the meaning of the Chinese characters, but to the radicals and phonemes contained within each individual character, we were able to explore the connotations within words as well as their literal meanings. The 85s ended up adopting various incarnations, as visual poems, stencils, video taped readings, three dimensional sculptures, and as a set of five books.

You can find a more detailed description of the 85 project online as well as examples of the poems and video recordings: http://www.85bawu.com/Assets/Articles/About%20the%2085%20Poetic%20Project.pdf

Q: What effect do you feel such an immersive project had on your subsequent work? Were you, as you suggest, able to get “out from under the boot of the line?”

A: The 85 poems combined formal rigour with a transgressive impulse. On the one hand, there was the 85 word limit, and the need to remain faithful to the source text in Chinese; and on the other hand, the resulting works moved across a variety of genres, transgressing the rules of each. My favourite incarnations of the 85s were the oral readings (which can be seen on the 85bawu website). The reading is made difficult by the layout of the poems (running down instead of across and right to left), so that it is virtually impossible to produce the usual flowing poetry reading to which we are so accustomed. The oral 85s are marked by stuttering, repetition and doubt. A sound and rhythm I enjoy very much because it enacts the relationship with another culture and language that is translation. At the same time the reader is humbled in a manner not unlike the feeling you get when you try to live in a language not your own.

The effect of the 85 project for me was twofold. On the one hand, it failed to make Claire and I rich and/or famous; at the same time, it opened up disruptive possibilities, freeing me from the constraints of commercial and academic poetics. That doesn't mean I'm against constraints or formal rigour; writing is inevitably an activity shaped by constraint. Even Bartleby the Scrivener's exquisity writing practice, standing in a corner in silence, was constrained. I just want to find new forms to reflect the world we live in and resist the tyranny of conventional thinking. "If it looks like art, it isn't art." The 85 project along with my stepping away from my brief life in academia, made it possible to write “kharlamov’s ankle,” to break with lyrical prettiness, and to include within the work its own critical component, so that it’s possible to respond to your question by citing the text:

"can we cut that insidious artful shit creeping back in after we swore we wouldn’t do that on account. of this ain’t yer litter-rah-rah-ry press sucking off the state’s tit acts just like a big press only smaller this ain’t reading in yer shithole town tonight this ain’t. yer artsyfartsy goody2shoes creeeeAtif writhing grad-you-it stewed.ent mean while. hackademics jerk off another critterical paper at one another for performance points in the annual review we were emilianO’s bandits on smack booger junior says you drop. the bombs we’ll locate targets refuel yer killing machines our dirty oil hELLo I’m bob and I’m a poet hello bob I haven’t written a poem in 24 hours some folks would say longer those marShall islanders shall we welcome them with open arms my idea any idea is a sponge only a sponge in a tsunami well… meAnwhile some boys lost their dirty jobs in the dirty oil patch concussed hockey heads broke kharlamov’s ankle joined up killed men women & children in rival oil fields overseas and all the while puffed up poets drank. cocktails with that grinning monkey of a governor-geNeral"

I wonder if there's a press out there who might be willing to publish a book like that? Probably not, but you never know. Even a publisher can occasionally be self-destructive...

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

A: I’ve drawn inspiration and pleasure from a range of texts over the years, but my process is less about returning to old favourites than finding and gathering together the texts that directly or indirectly inform the specific project I’m currently working on.

I mentioned above, some of the Chinese texts I was reading while working on “kharlamov’s ankle.” A starting point for the project was a concert I attended in Beijing in which an encounter between “East” and “West” was staged in the performances of a countertenor in the European Baroque tradition (Purcell, Dowland, Byrd, Handel, etc.), and a Chinese kunqu opera dan, a man playing a female role. I was immediately struck by the ambiguity and disruptive nature of the male high voice. I did some reading in those two areas, including Peter Giles’ comprehensive History and Technique of the Counter-tenor, from which I gleaned the name and story of a 16th century English countertenor who was also a spy Nikolas Morgan.

Also, at the same time, I returned to Valerie Solanas and Kathy Acker, to undercut the masculinist undercurrents in my own literary practice. I included Emily Dickinson and Emily Carr as characters in k’s ankle (all my characters since my second novel City of Forgetting have been borrowed), Dickinson because of her strange unclassifiable poetics, partly a product of her reclusive existence, and Carr because of her relationship to the world, to what, in a strange dissociation, we call “nature” and “animals”. Also, her grave happens to be across the street from where I lived during the writing of k’s ankle. I imagined both Emilys as assassins targeting Stephen Harper and Donald Trump.

Anyway, those are some of the authors and texts I read in the course of writing this project, a real hodge-podge of a bibliography. This method of research is also, of course, a form of self-education, though unlike any traditional academic curricula. I’ve not found academic approaches and structures useful, the isolation of disciplines, the divisions within disciplines, the isolation of English literature as a department separate from other national literatures, the classification of works within literature into categories invented and imposed on writing by literature’s clerks, their inflexible periodization of literature, and the inevitable exclusion of valuable marginalia that follows. I’ve seen first-hand the terrible normalizing, spirit-killing instruction of those clerks and watchdogs of literature. I won’t state categorically that it hasn’t and will never produce any literature that isn’t formulaic and boring, but it’s not for me.

Rereading the above, I think I’ve highjacked your question. I apologize.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TtD supplement #118 : ten questions for Kate Siklosi

Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. She is the author of three chapbooks of poetry: po po poems (above/ground press, 2018), may day (no press, 2018), and coup (The Blasted Tree, 2018) and is the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, a feminist experimental poetry small press.

Her poem “pentaptych” appears in the nineteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “pentaptych.”

A: Aside from being really really fun to pronounce, “pentaptych” is all about the contours of the co(e)ur, the heart, the place of tribunal and also romantic courting, in language. The “ptych” in pentaptych comes from the Greek ptychē (“fold” or “layer”). Using letraset, thread, and careful hands, this piece invites words to unfold and unfurl their hearts and limbs to reveal their in/sides—the barred, the sacred, the close, the far. As H.D. writes in her novel Bid Me to Live, “She brooded over each word, as if to hatch it.” For me, using letraset to create visual collages of words refracted within and without themselves is always connected with a feminine praxis, a fragile yet gilded nurturing of meaning, production as incubation, throwing words like pottery, but gently, as if listening, as if words are things we can hold up to the light or close to the ear and wait for the waves.

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

A: “pentaptych” relates to my other work in that lately I’m continuing to use letraset in my visual poetic practice as a means of investigating the raw materiality and inherent generosity of words in language. In this way, this work builds off my first chapbook with above/ground, po po poems, (2018), wherein I use letraset to create linguistic collages. I have also been working on some more lyric-based poetic works as of late, but going back to letraset and to visual collage always grounds me in the elemental and atomic foundations of language, as well as in the handicraft of poetry—the tactility of using my hands and handling words carefully because the medium demands it. So, while I am writing what some would say resembles more traditional poetry, I always come back to my letraset practice when I feel the need to reconnect with raw materials, get my hands dirty (my skin is literally littered with letters after a letraset making session!), and seek a playful escape from the aweful tyranny of the line.

Q: What first brought you to working with letraset? Who have your models been for this type of work?

A: I first began using letraset as a child. My dad owned a small electrical business and he used it a lot in his shop to make labels and organize inventory, so we always had it laying around the house. I used to play around with it and remember being so in awe of its transfer “magic.” After getting more into experimental visual poetry in grad school, I became inspired to use letraset again as a medium to create visual collage. I’m heavily influenced by the work of Mira Schendel, a Jewish wartime refugee, who used letraset on rice paper to create stunning visual installations that register the ghostly traces of language in a fleeting, spectral plane of possibility. I have also always admired derek beaulieu’s use of letraset in his poetics, especially in kern, which is a ridiculously beautiful collection.

Q: What do you feel working with letraset allows that might not be possible otherwise?

A: As I said, working with letraset allows for a very material and handmade poetic practice on the page that fancy computer programs can’t reproduce. The actual act of writing with dry transfer on paper or other objects (I also have pieces that use letraset on found objects such as leaves and shells) is difficult because letraset is a vintage medium that is fragile and prone to crack, break, or not transfer completely perfectly into what you might want it to be. So, there is always an element of spontaneity and having to do away with direct authorial intention because the letraset does have a mind of its own. That y you intend to place might decide, if you remove the letraset form too fast or disturb it ever so slightly, to lose its tail and be a v. And you have to accept that and move on, allowing the letters to unfold as they will. I love that it requires a unique focus and organic hand to object relationship while imperfection and chance guide the creative process.

Q: How does your letraset work compare to your more straightforward text work? Is there any overlap in consideration, or do you see them as two distinct and disconnected threads?

A: Mostly I see them as two distinct and yet interconnected threads. Both modes allow me to play and sprawl, but with a different poetic i/eye focus—one on the line(s), one on the letter(s). I’ve always seen value in going back to simplicity. bpNichol was and is huge for me in that when things get complicated, messy, unsure (I am existential AF on a good day, let’s be honest), I often go back to his work for its simplicity—not that it isn’t complex or deep, but working with elemental aspects of language has a way of bringing one back down to earth. I can get really carried away with a line in a straightforward text poem, so working with the small and simple always grounds me. And the way I get to use my hands with letraset, the way it challenges my motor skills and patience, is always a humbling and refreshing counterpart to the voluminous indulgence of the line. *in a very parental voice*: I love both equally.

Q: You’ve had a couple of chapbooks appear over the past year, all of which appear to be composed as individual projects. Do you see your work in terms of projects? And are these works self-contained, or part of some larger, as-yet-unseen pattern?

A: I’m a creature of projects. I love starting and finishing things. I also like to be doing different things in and through my work, mostly so I don’t get bored. This past year especially, I’ve been challenging myself with different materials and mediums, ways of doing and making. That’s why all three of my chaps are different and self-contained. But they all use language to fuck shit up in different ways—whether it be linear meaning, patriarchy, capitalism. I’m always working in language and finding ways to use it to disrupt, set fire, rebuild.

Q: Given your first slate of chapbooks are now in the world, where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s a good question. After completing my PhD I had a lot of pent up creative energy needing out, clearly, so it’s been a busy and fun year producing some great works with some great people. I don’t plan to slow down. I’m working on a couple bigger projects at the moment: one is a book-length experimental poetic study of the Hibernia oil field that I have been working on for some time now (the poems from may day (no press 2018) are from this collection), and one is a (re)written poetic history of my Hungarian grandparents, who fled with their children from Budapest under the iron curtain. I never got to meet them, and because of a bunch of messed up reasons, their Hungarian culture and language was lost with them and very little is known in my family about their lives. There are only gaps, a handful of facts and names, torn memories, and a lot of unspoken pain left in their wake. So I’m just now coming to know hereditary grief as a thing, and so writing through the absence of such stories with new ones of my own, as a means of re-membering, has been extremely powerful.

Q: I’m curious about your “poetic study of the Hibernia oil field.” How did this project emerge?

A: I thought you’d never ask! I’ve always been intrigued by our love/hate relationship with oil—the disputes and detest for oil companies, alongside our ever-growing desire for a life fueled by opportunity and mobility. These poems explore our complicated relationship with the oil industry in Canada through a series of experimental love poems to the Hibernia oil platform in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin off the coast of Nova Scotia. The work weaves together a global, national, and personal narrative of the oil industry in Canada. Working in an oil refinery was one of my first jobs before university, and my family has a deep history as oil and gas workers in the “Chemical Valley” of Southwestern Ontario, and they have worked aboard the Hibernia platform.

Hibernia is of particular interest to me because of its “offshore” physicality, its history of human tragedy and loss, and the complex rhetoric with which stakeholder oil companies characterize the rig, the submarine oilfields, and the risks of their business to the environment. I am interested in Hibernia as a particular place in time—the physical site of Hibernia lies in contested international waters, is privately held, bears scars of historical tragedy, land and resource rights violations, and the tempestuous sea that surrounds it is some of the roughest waters in the Northern Hemisphere.

Using cut up techniques and other experimental ways of poeming, these pieces use archival material taken from the Ocean Ranger disaster, from oil companies’ press releases, workers’ accounts, voices of resistance, legal documents surrounding offshore resource rights, and The Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act in order to salvage and bring to the surface a submerged humanity that gets lost within a rhetoric of corporate malfeasance and economic production and profit. All of these documents, reworked through and in poetry, reveal a complex cultural imaginary surrounding oil’s integral place in our national fabric, one that is deeply rooted in early pioneering mythologies of sustainability and innovation that continue to shape Canada’s identity in the present.

Q: Your Hungarian reclamation project sounds intriguing as well (I’ve been fascinated by seeing Calgary poet Helen Hajnoczky forays into exploring Hungarian language, culture and family histories over the past few years). How are you working to reclaim this lost history? How is the shape of this project revealing itself?

A: Yes, I love Helen’s work as well—especially her gorgeous Hungarian folk art pieces in Magyarazni. The shape of this project is revealing itself in a very difficult and yet very tender way. I grew up having to “understand” things about the way my dad grew up, the unspoken traumas of his and his family’s past, the way relationships were always somewhat difficult. I have always been envious of people who have close relationships with their grandparents and their family’s culture—my Hungarian background has always been so close and yet so far, so out of reach, cut off because I didn’t grow up with it and lost my grandparents before I was born. So, in the masterful words of M. NourbeSe Philip,
how does one
write
poetry from a place
a place structured
                          by absence

One doesn’t. One learns to read the silence/s.
I’ve only begun to learn to read these silence/s of my childhood—the quiet acknowledgements, looks, and gait of grief, the half-knowing attempts at making goulash, the meagre objects of a life, the protected heart centre where all things reside in an archive of memory. I don’t have much to work with in terms of facts or objects, proof. So much is lost. I’m reading a lot of history and folklore. I’m pouring over recipe books. I’m interrogating Hungary’s forgetting of its own past in the way it has mistreated refugees over the last couple years of the Syrian war. But mostly, I’m making it all up as I go. I’m living and writing in the broken edges of fragments. I’m experimenting with how fractured memory can create meaning in absence. I’m using poetry to forge a path not of knowing, but of imagining, of re-membering a present past.

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

A: So much is giving me LIFE these days! I just finished an advanced copy of Dionne Brand’s new work, The Blue Clerk, which is due out very soon, and it completely devastated me in the best way. I always know I am loving a work when I’m furiously writing through and alongside it. Her work has always energized my own work in terms of its mastery of language and the way she can spin an image of human emotion so pristinely.

I return to different poets depending on my mood, what I’m writing, and how I’m feeling about the world. When the fires of beautiful resistance need stoking, I go to NourbeSe’s work, especially She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. When I need to return to simplicity and play, and get out of my head, bpNichol and bill bissett are always close by. Lisa Robertson is eternal. Canisia Lubrin’s Voodoo Hypothesis continues to keep me up at night. Robert Duncan fuels my anarchic tendencies and desire for collective, imaginative revision.   

Also, being a part of the small press community, I’m always looking at what’s emerging, what’s disrupting. As of late I’ve been loving the experimental works coming out of The Blasted Tree and Puddles of Sky Press, in particular.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Touch the Donkey : nineteenth issue,

The nineteenth issue is now available, with new poems by Michael Robins, Ken Hunt, Rob Manery, Rae Armantrout, robert majzels, Stephanie Strickland and Kate Siklosi.



Seven dollars (includes shipping). It's the part I was born to play, baby!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

TtD supplement #117 : seven questions for Jon Boisvert

Jon Boisvert was born in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and now lives in Oregon. He studied poetry at Oregon State University and the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland. His first book, BORN, was published in 2017 by Airlie Press, and a chapbook, EGOCIDES, is new from above/ground press.

His poems “SNAKE,” “ECLIPSE,” “CABIN” and “BURIAL” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “SNAKE,” “ECLIPSE,” “CABIN” and “BURIAL.”

A: Snake: I grew up watching the creatures living along the small creeks of southeastern Wisconsin, and water moccasins in particular. When I began the project that became EGOCIDES, those lenses of rebirth, self-destruction and trading places opened me up to these snakes in a new way. That they are a live-birth snake rather than an egg-laying snake, and especially that they may reproduce asexually felt relevant. They aren’t just another viper: they embody questions about what it means to be a parent, child, and individual.

Eclipse: This poem expresses one of the major themes of the project, that of trading places. Through a bit of movement, a change of lighting, I become you. And don’t you expect things to be different after an eclipse? Aren’t you disappointed when the world returns just as it was? I am, and I think that disappointment reveals very old, very deep desire for magic in the sky.

Cabin: There’s a little Zen monastery in Oregon called Great Vow. I participated in a ceremony there once, where I and others whose children died very young walked into a little nearby woods and chanted and left small presents for those we’ve lost. It was fall; the sun set early, and as we all wept and left our gifts on the ground, owls began to hoot. Since then, I’ve associated the forest with letting things go. So in this project, with its cycles of creation and destruction, the forest was a pretty obvious place to visit.

Burial: Like all of these poems, “Burial” is curious about the violence in love, about two people continually undoing themselves to embrace and embody each other. This poem also borrows from some friends’ experiences of mock-burial ceremonies. Listening to their stories led me to question: if I were being pressed to death, what would come out of me? The answer was more questions.

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

A: It’s certainly a less-populated environment than the poems in my first book occupied. In BORN, there’s a community, a lot of characters and personas. In these poems there’s you and me, and occasionally our parents, and that’s pretty much it. And there’s a lot more open space. The result, for me, is a relatively quieter collection, with room to build a more-complex relationship between the I and the you. And while there’s still some magic and some violence, the characters have agency and investment in what happens; there’s more mental and emotional activity on their part, and a bit less action.

As always, I wrote these poems, in part, to digest what’s really going on in my life, which right now is a lot of self-reflection inspired by a strong, loving relationship. But these poems also make room for my criticism of the ideas and traditions of love and marriage. Which is good. I don’t think I’d be as interested in this topic without that tension.

Q: When you say “collection”: has this grouping of poems shaped themselves into a manuscript? Given you’ve a single full-length title published, are you noticing a difference in how your second manuscript came together, compared to that first?

A: I had a big mass of poems accumulate over the last two years or so, and inside that mass maybe a third of them had a similar sound and were driven by the same feelings or events. So I put them together and started looking for an axis to line them up on. What I found was part narrative, part geography. Both are incomplete or imperfect, which I how I prefer things.

This part of the process was pretty similar to the time I spent arranging the poems in my book, BORN. Recognizing this similarity helped a lot; I could move more quickly, because I was improving upon a process rather than creating one. And, of course, the fact it’s 20 poems and not 60 made it easier, too.

I don’t really see this specific group growing into a full-length collection, though. I’ve always wanted to do something intentionally chapbook-sized, and right now I feel pretty satisfied. To have allowed myself this set amount of space to explore one thing was very fun, and being able to think of this set of poems as “finished” or “whole” has been inspiring. I feel free to move on, like maybe I’ll find another 20 poems that all go toward something else someday. This sort-of boundary or containment aspect is probably the biggest difference between writing this collection and writing BORN, even more than the difference in length.

Q: You seem to favour a variation on the American prose poem. What influences brought you to utilizing such a form, and what do you feel the prose poem allows that you might not be able to achieve otherwise?

A: Two of my favorite poets are Marosa di Giorgio and Russell Edson. Both wrote in prose-poem forms, but what matters more to me is that they wrote narratives that are at once straightforward and bewildering. Their grammar and syntax and all that stuff is really functional—it stays out of the way. Their stories, though—and their people and places—are such rich puzzles, full of magic and feelings and social critiques.

Both of these poets use a form that goes all the way to the right margin; their poems look just like paragraphs. The form I’ve been using is different. I find that using really wide margins helps me pay some attention to the words and music, as well as the story. The form still looks like a paragraph, but almost always create a four- or five-beat line. This also puts some pressure on the narrative: something should happen on each line.  And using the full-justification, besides creating a visual order I like, alerts me to words that are too long. Long words create larger gaps in the line and make it harder for that line to contribute in a meaningful way. All these layout tools have really helped me develop leaner prose and quicker plots.

As for the prose poem form more generally, I think it offers writers freedom from what, to some of us, can be really distracting elements of poetry. I, for one, have a very hard time deciding where to break a line and why. There’s also something really childish and fun about taking something that’s so obviously not a poem and telling people to pretend it is. It reminds me how much of art is about perception.

Q: You mention constructing manuscripts out of groupings, sorting poems out of the pile. Is this your normal method for constructing full-length manuscripts? It suggests a curious combination of writing poems (as opposed to writing books) and constructing books. How did you arrive at this method?

A: Well, I won’t pretend I’ve got all these manuscripts sitting around. BORN is the only full-length collection I’ve successfully put together, and it took me two years to arrange that. And the early attempts look much different from the final version. I wasted a lot of time trying to isolate by topic: keeping separate spaces for poems about childhood, adulthood, Wisconsin, Oregon, my father, my son, etc. I finally saw that, if I just lay them out chronologically according to the life events that inspired them, they will make enough sense to be a book. Then I was able to finish the arrangement in a way that makes sense to me, and feels honest.

Of course, I did swap a few poems in and out—writing two new ones to bridge some gaps—with the help of editors at Airlie Press. But that part, compared to the years of struggling that came before, was very fluid. The Airlie team gave me a lot of confidence in the book, so making those small adjustments later seemed easier.

So yes, the long process I went through with BORN was a combination of chaos and intent. But the intent to write in a book-minded way didn’t come until very late in the process.

And that’s pretty much exactly what I went through with this chapbook. I had a bunch of individual poems, each written on whatever topic had my attention at the time. I looked through them all (so many times), then finally saw a thread or theme that matched up with real life, and went from there.

I’d say that this process is enjoyable, but not intentional. I’ve tried the intentionally-writing-a-book method and not succeeded. And I love those really focused, project-based books of poetry, but I just can’t do it yet.  I can’t really know what I am doing in the moment; I have to dig through it all afterward.

Q: If the individual poem is your preferred unit of composition (over the chapbook, or the full-length collection), how does a poem usually begin?

A: I have two common starting points.

In one, the first lines come first. I don’t know where they come from, but they arrive as sort-of just having potential, rather than having a clear point. For example, a very new poem I am working on begins, “I put a microphone on top of a cactus.” I don’t know where it came from, but I feel like it has potential: it’s giving me a landscape, a character, and some kind of desire. So from there, finishing the poem means unraveling the mystery in this first line.

In the other, I have a feeling I want to write about, but which is hard to describe. So I try to create a short scene or bit of action which I think captures it. In BORN, there’s a poem called “Elephant” that came about this way. Initially, I wanted to write about losing contact with an alcoholic parent. This is a complicated experience, and very surreal. So what fit, for me, was a story of a man crawling into an elephant’s belly and the elephant running away. One reason this fits for me is that it’s not that the father leaves; his intentions are something else. But a force much larger than him—one that also captures other men’s attention as well—takes him.

I use these two methods pretty much equally, and have been for maybe eight years now. I think I’m ready to try something else soon, though.

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

A: Again, Marosa di Giorgio and Russell Edson. I was very glad when Ugly Duckling Presse released a new translation of a bunch of di Georgio’s work, I Remember Nightfall, which is terrific. I love going back to her poems because they create and exist in a very complete, unique world. So do Edson’s. Other contemporary books I feel accomplish this are CAConrad’s The Book of Frank, Lisa Ciccarello’s At Night, and all of Aase Berg’s books in English. I’m sure there are many more I am not remembering or don’t know about, though (and maybe you have some recommendations?).

Thursday, September 20, 2018

TtD supplement #116 : seven questions for Allison Cardon

Allison Cardon is a Ph.D. candidate at SUNY Buffalo and edits P-Queue. She has published work in Gramma, Full-Stop, and Jacket2. Her chapbook What was the sign you gave (a selection) recently appeared through above/ground press.

Her poems “from What was the sign you gave” appears in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “from What was the sign you gave.”

A: This series is examining questions, “the question,” or, what it means to ask questions specifically in the pursuit of something like justice, remedy, or amelioration. Of course, language is never neutral, but this is thinking in particular about how and why questions, especially questions as performed in classically liberal spaces, have gotten this rap for being innocent, benign, harmless, or perhaps just smart, or insightful, etc, and pushing against that frame.

What was the sign you gave begins from the position that questions, no matter how “open,” organize and hierarchize speaker and addressee. Interrogations can be violent—invasions. There is what Barthes calls “the terror of the question.” Sometimes a question does nothing so much as aggrandize the speaker. At the same time, there are good questions and bad ones, and good ones can release speaker and addressee from the paradigm that has defined them up to the point of the question. I was interested in thinking about these ideas though a couple of different scenes of interrogation—the first, Joan of Arc’s trials, in which it really doesn't matter how she answers the questions the judges put to her because the judges will only understand her answers as evidence of the charges they hold against her. The other is Hannah Arendt's reporting on the Eichmann trial, where she’s concerned that questions are put to him in the service of a colonial project and, further, that these questions allow the spectators to obfuscate their complicity in the atrocities for which Eichmann was condemned. The questions they asked allowed the court to condemn him as a monster rather than as the very human product of the humanist projects that have underwritten the horrific expansion of global, colonial capitalism, the bureaucratic technologies of genocide, etc. In each of these trials, the questions miss everything that's important about the situation because the interrogators need to assert a certain reality. 

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

A: Well, my dissertation is looking at rights discourse in the eighteenth century, which is another intersection between the legal and the political. There I’m looking at grievance as a narrative project, thinking about how grievance marks political conflict and then also the ways that the legal relies on narrative in order to contain or suppress that conflict. I’d say both projects are also related by their interests in figures—people and characters—who are not supposed to be able to think and speak in a language that anyone can understand, the conditions of their intelligibility and the costs of that intelligibility.

The other more poetry-type projects that I’m working on are asking similar questions about intelligibility as a threshold. One that’s been stewing for a long time is a rewriting of Othello in which everyone knows what’s going on around them but carry on with the plot anyway. So the question there is about what happens when the discourses that in some senses determine characters actions are intelligible to the characters themselves. What is it that they know and how does that recode the action or plot of the play?

Q: Have you any models, contemporary or otherwise, for this kind of work? Who have you been reading?

A: Oof. Myung Mi Kim. Anne Boyer, Lisa Robertson, NourbeSe Philip. Renee Angle, whose book WoO am in love with. Roland Barthes. Jocelyn Saidenberg. Anne-Lise Francois, whose book Open Secrets really threw me.

Q: How did such a project first emerge? And what is it about working through some of these concerns through poetry that might not be possible through another form?

A: Originally, this piece was going to be about how conversation organizes the space in which it occurs. So, not just “you” and “me,” but also yours and mine, “us,” “not-us,” the way one person can set the terms of the conversation and thereby delimit the possible. That wasn’t really working but, because I really like working with dialogue, I started working with material from dialogic thinkers.

With this project, I always think of how Stein is like “why do you need a question mark? everyone already knows you’re asking a question.” I’m sort of playing with that idea, and I think that being able to break up and distend these questions, isolate them into their constituent parts, is necessary in order to really see just what we can know from the question being asked. If it is a question, what is it really asking? Demanding? I mean, the whole point with the Joan of Arc questions is that the priests who are interrogating her don’t really want an answer, they don’t care what she says and they just don’t get it. And they think she doesn’t get what they’re asking. Except that, really, everybody does, they all know that this interrogation is performative in the sense that they are ensuring that Joan is guilty, ensuring in both transitive and intransitive senses. Arendt is arguing that something similar is going on with the Eichmann trial as well. So really getting at how these questions are working, I think, it shouldn’t go the route of explanation, proliferating language around how these questions are doing so much. It has to go the route of distillation, concentration, to see what’s going on with them internally, between phrases, words, phonemes. So, poetry.

Q: You’re currently in the midst of SUNY Buffalo, one of the better known North American writing centres, as well as editor of the annual P-QUEUE. How has your time in Buffalo helped shaped your writing, and your poetics?

A: Honestly, I’m not sure I had “a poetics” before I arrived here. There were tendencies I had and ideas I was attracted to but I’m not sure I really had an idea of what there was to do, what I could do. What’s amazing about the poetics program is that it’s not really about “your poetry” (“you” in the generic sense) but more about what poetry does and is doing and figuring out how to contribute to it. Like any critical practice, it’s been an opportunity to identify the conversations I want to participate in. This was also huge relief for me as it took the pressure off of being a poet and made it more about doing things, figuring out stakes. Myung Mi Kim and Judith Goldman are both incredible poets, but through the program I’ve come to know them as thinkers. Poetry has become a mode of inquiry for me, a mode that demands political and intellectual rigor. Equally important has been the fact that a huge part of the program are the readings, so I’ve had the opportunity to meet tons of poets here who are making urgent, critical poetry, and talking with them is always challenging, productive, and humbling. I usually leave these readings with the sense of not having anything at all to add and also really feeling the need to revisit or respond at the same time. That’s a good place for me to think from.

Q: How does one move forward without being intimidated? And how do you see yourself attempting to move forward after you leave?

A: Oh, man. I guess maybe it’s less about not being intimidated than about recognizing the sense of intimidation as a form of engagement? Like, if I’m intimidated, that means I feel some relationship to what’s happening, which could lead to something worth thinking about. I dunno, I do think it’s a good idea to do the thing that scares you. You know? That means there’s something there.

As far as moving forward after this program, oof. It’s the whole job rigamarole. In any case, I’ll be looking for ways to sustain the kind of work that being here simultaneously makes possible (in terms of ideas and resources) and impossible (in terms of work load) at the same time. Also, this project on Othello that I think can handle a lot of work in different genres and which I’ll probably work into the ground.

Q: Has your work on P-QUEUE had any effect on your work? Does it exist as separate from your writing, or do you see it as part of your overall writing practice?

A: Definitely as a part of my overall practice insofar as it requires curation and explanation. Also, I like writing the editor’s note a lot because it really forces me to take stock of connections and departures—that’s always easier when you’re looking at others’ work. Even if my own poetry doesn’t necessarily read as conversational, I do think about it as dialogic; P-QUEUE is nothing if not a dialogue, putting the contributors’ work in conversation with each other.

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

A: Brandon Brown’s Catullus poems. Anne Boyer's Garments Against Women. Jennifer Tamayo. Ed Roberson, City Eclogues. Julian Brolaski’s Gowanus Atropolis. Lisa Robertson’s The Men and also Nilling. Mutlu Blasing’s work on lyric.

Friday, September 14, 2018

TtD supplement #115 : eight questions for Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison’s poems recently appeared in Colorado Review, Fence, and Iowa Review. Her five books include After Urgency (Tupelo; winner of the Dorset Prize) & the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta; winner of the Sawtooth Prize, Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, Northern California Book Award, & DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America), and her recent book, Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta; finalist for the NCIBA and also the NCBA Awards in Poetry). She has been co-publisher of Omnidawn (www.omnidawn.com) since 2001; her website www.rustymorrison.com.

Her poem “our aptitude for perishing” appears in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “our aptitude for perishing.”

A: a pleasure to talk with you about poems thru an email interview process: epistolary, in the sense that each question comes, and feels special in its arrival (i love getting postal letters!). as with all epistolary forms, the interval of time between ask and answer allows each to resonate more suggestively, and allows me to consider it as a singular and fragile missive passing across the ether between us. the poem “our aptitude for perishing” is in my mind as i say this, since it is the sense of each thing in my life disappearing so soon, which initiated the poem. the phrase comes from maurice blanchot, who suggests that it is, in part, “our aptitude for perishing” that we humans have to offer. it is a valuable gift...

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

A: this is a poem from a series with a form that i created (seven-syllable segments; but each poem ends with single syllable word; no punctuation in the poems). in all these poems, i’ve wanted to write about limits. but i haven’t wanted to just write 'about' limitation, i’ve wanted to ‘live inside limitation’ in the work and then see how i handle it. i want each poem, as i write it, to be an opportunity to experience limitation (as an event, as what’s happening to me as i write the poem). the poems do talk about experiences i’ve had in my life, or that i’m having in my life. but i want more than that. i want the poem to have for me the surprise and challenge of living in an event, not just a story, not just aftermath. ann lauterbach points out that the “convergence of subject matter with form releases content.” i’ve found that the form of these poems is a challenge! and i end up revising and revising to create seven syllable segments that don’t break up words at the syllable break. this often causes a contentiousness in my use of syntax that forces me to diverge from my more expected trajectories of thought, and so it exposes a content with more contextual resources than i’d thought i’d had access to. a poem might go through 15, 20, more revisions. at that point, if things are going well, the material surprises me as it changes, as i give up saying something i’d been trying to fit in the form, and i find the poem breaks wildly, and in the rupture i find a new dimension of understanding. if things aren’t going well, then i have to let the whole of it collapse. learning to face collapse, and work to not fear it, and then realize that i do fear it, and that i need to let that be ok, too. then, sometimes, even if i’m experiencing collapse, i keep awake to what might be possible, and some glimmer of realization slips in and changes everything, if i am lucky,  the poem comes alive for me in new ways(sometimes!). these are some of the challenges and thrills that this work has offered me...

Q: Is form your usual place from which to begin?

A: poems begin for me in ways that are difficult to explain. an energy... a flavor... a sudden experience that tempts and tantilizes, sometimes the sensation reaches all the way back decades. i begin to write, and if i am lucky, the energies of the poem open me to the form the work seeks. i work in series, so sometimes the form is mutating radically as poems come, but then something in the work says “yes” and the form begins to settle, but form-mutation can still occur as i work with the energies and more of the poems in the series come, and as i deep-revise what i have. any change of one poem impacts all of them.

Q: How did you get to this point in your writing? What writers or writing have influenced your current thinking on putting together a poem, or grouping of poems?

A: does a writer every actually know what is behind her/their/his thinking about the work? i can list names of some of the authors whom i revere—who shocked and sharpened my directions, as their works expanded my sense of the dimensions that writing/sensing in the world can mean. i remember the incision into my reality of the act of reading them, which changed me:
brenda hillman’s death tractates, reading jane hirshfield’s nine gates, reading hopkin’s journals and papers, reading agamben’s profanations … there are many other works that i keep close, and open at random, still.

 but this is not “thinking,” exactly, or at least it’s not a development of logic-inscribed strategy that has evolved in my work. these are the sharp sudden fingernails that scratch open a scar in me; often it’s a scar i hadn’t known had healed-over hard&thick to hide the origin of a suffering and that produced a numbness of my sentience as a result.

i read, and suddenly an old wound is struck by the language on the page, it is a wound thick with denial, which then bleeds back to sensitivity. i write to allow, to enact a new healing that is will allow my skin to become more supple with breath and flow—painful as that process often is. the pain is the thrill/shock of sensation returning, sometimes it is sensation that i lost decades past.

Q: After a half dozen chapbooks and full-length poetry titles over the past fifteen years or so, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: it’s interesting & challenging to attempt to assess over-arching developments in my trajectory as a writer. i think it would take too long to discuss the many subject matters (and each one’s intimate relationship to the formal strategies i used in each work). but whatever the subject matters and their concomitant forms, i wanted (and still want) to allow past learning that i accrued from the work of previous books to infuse each new work’s crises, curiosities, and demands. and i want to continue to risk what most fiercely and abundantly surprises me. i see a writer’s trajectory as a spiral, as a widening spherical shape; not linear. your question allows for that—and for my saying that i’m heading into the next turning curve of what’s unknown to me.

Q: Has your work as a publisher provided any shifts in the ways in which you think about writing generally, or, more specifically, your own work?

A: as an editor of writers who risk courageously, and who draw readers with them in their journeys, i am very lucky. it’s my role to bring another pair of eyes to their work, and if, and as i can, to offer my sense of the ways that i hear each writer’s writing speaking to me and to the writer. we work as a triad of sensitivity and sensate attention: the writing, the writer, and myself.

this kind of dynamic exchange gives me the opportunity to see the writer’s courage. each of us are different as writers, as people. still, there are qualities of energy (some part courage, and some part openness, and some part candor, and more), which i see, and then feel more able to bring to my own work.

there is always a risk – if one allows one’s self (selves) to engage in the willingness that makes one able to listen beyond the frame of one’s normal expectations of, and for, the work. as i see/sense writers risk this, i can find myself eager (still, with some healthy trepidation!) to do this for myself. oppen said something like: when you fear the word you’ve written, you’ve begun.

shifts come in increments and in bursts. they are the work’s ways of speaking to me. i am lucky to have allies in this unknowable seeking of new outlier paths, as i engage with the depths of new directions, the heights, the spiral-ings.

Q: What factors have influenced your most recent shifts? Was there a particular author or work that prompted some of the direction you’ve been headed lately?

A: when i wrote the poem you published, “our aptitude for perishing” (a title that i repeat in the series that this poem is a part of), i was reading so many excellent poets whose works continue to impact me in subtle but important ways. i know it's not useful to just list some names— but i don’t think that is what you’re after, in asking this smart question.

always a tough choice: to choose one writer’s work to speak to. but that will let me ‘think on paper”; and pursue a meaningful answer.

one book i’d like to share is cole swensen’s noise that stays noise. the essays in this collection of essays allow me to consider the form of this poem of mine as a kind of noise.

here’s a small sense of one of her engaging ideas; she notes
“the paradigm of self-organization from noise, borrowed from the biological and information sciences, ... suggests a way that language-arts practices that are initially impenetrable to a given reader can become recognized by that reader as powerful in their own right while also enlarging the field of the sayable, and thus of the thinkable, the imaginable...”
the form of this poem’s seven syllable segments (with no hyphenation-cheating, and no periods or caps or commas) force a kind of noise into my experience-- the noise of challenge, of frustration with limits. this kind of emotional noise infuses the content for me. maybe for a reader, too.

i expect the reader feels the noise of a challenging reading experience...since she/they/he will have to read without any help from the expected norm of punctuation, of syntactic pause. the seeming consistency of the form might feel to the reader like a wall of noise, a barrier. but, as one reads, i’m hoping a reader will slip inside that space (behind the wall of noise) with me, and the noise becomes a frame we are inside, together.

this is one way that i hope the poem offers, as cole suggests, something “initially impenetrable” that might “enlarg[e] the field of the....thinkable” maybe even of “the imaginable...”

that’s a lot for me to hope for!

it suddenly feels risky, embarrassing, for me to share my hopes for the poem. but i’ll leave this in my reply to you. i realize that what i want is to keep thinking, and sensing, and bringing insight into the ways i work, and in that i want to have the courage to hope for what the poem might manage. i can’t say whether my end result has managed any of this, or not. but maybe the ‘hoping’ can help me keep risking, in the task of writing, and in some way or other, maybe the hope can help me see where i’ve failed the work and thus keep me attuned to what more i might discover.

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

A: since there are so many writers whom i re-read, i’ll limit my answer by looking at the short stack on my desk this morning and pulling out the five books that i’ve been rereading for more than 10 years. and i’ll make a ‘medley’ of lines from these books. two lines/sentences from each, all mixed in together.

see if you can tell who’s who? (the five author’s names are list below, but not in order):
“Let’s see now. The idea of reverse seeing”

“Try to write the worst and you will see that the worst will turn against you and, treacherously, will try to veil the worst”

“NOISE// surrounds the painting     on the right side it is//
cracked   the hair color changed     dried paint    altered the hand”

“I wanted narrative to be / The proportion in her hair”

“Those who know that the approach to anything is done gradually and painfully –and includes as well passing through the opposite of what is being approached”

“I do not wish to judge or to dawdle”

“The long ribs or girders were as rollers / across the wind, not in it, but across them there lay fine grass-ends, sided off down the perspective, as if locks of vapour blown free from the main ribs down the wind”

“Not the private bucket, not the 7,000 griefs in the bucket of each cold clammy word”

“The Luminous // patches of it// on the lettuce a geography
on the trucks brilliant noise”

“that death did not subtract, it added something”

“the question is why. Perhaps in perfect stillness it would not but the air breathing it aside entangles it with itself”
the authors are:
gerard manley hopkins: journals
heléne cixous: three steps on the ladder of writing
brenda hillman: death tractates
lisa robertson: r’s boat
barbara guest: if so, tell me

this was a pleasure to do for me! thanks for asking a question that lit a wick inside me.