Monday, March 20, 2023

TtD supplement #235 : six questions for Hilary Clark

Originally from Vancouver, Hilary Clark now lives in Victoria, BC. Before retirement, she taught English for 25 years at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. She has published three books of poetry, her first, More Light (1998), winning the Pat Lowther Award for 1999. The most recent is The Dwelling of Weather (Brick, 2003). Besides writing new poetry, she is singing in a choir and working on translations of poetry, mostly French Surrealist and Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle).

Selections of her work-in-progress “My Muted Year” appear in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

This is now a completed manuscript she is readying for submission.

Q: Tell me about “My Muted Year.”

A: “My Muted Year” is a sequence of around 124 untitled prose poems composed at intervals over the year 2020, the year of the most stringent Covid lockdowns and restrictions. I started it in November 2019 and ended in November 2020. It began when, after a period of rejections and anxiety, I decided to restart in a non-threatening way, by handwriting nine prose lines in a notebook per session. There was no intended topic: the sentences were prompted by rhythm, by whatever came into my mind, by forays into the dictionary, and by repetition of earlier fragments in the sequence. As I usually do, I used chance procedures and associations to interrupt intention. The individual poems may contain traces of narrative, but they are connected not by narrative but by repetition and variation of seasonal and other motifs, some inspired by location (West Coast), some by the Covid context. Motifs from a life overturned.

Over the whole, there is an “I” voice that mostly monologues. There is also a second voice that addresses the “I” in a snarky but sometimes off-base way. The effect is a compromised dialogue in which each side talks past the other.

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

A: This sequence has been my only poetic project for the last few years. It has grown out of an earlier unpublished manuscript: both originate in constraint procedures and develop by surrealist disjunctions and imagery that is often dream-like. (The new sequence has further required that, in revision, I work out forms of repetition, in particular identifying themes and creating variations.) Another continuity with the earlier manuscript is that both include playful and conflicting voices. I think the voices have been a solution to my ongoing struggle with/against lyric beauty: they make a unified ‘I’ impossible. And as a bipolar person, I find they both reflect and give me some control over the endless noise in my head.

My other projects at present are translations of French surrealist and Oulipo poems by Marianne Van Hirtum (Belgium) and Jacques Roubaud (France). I have also translated a sequence by Normand de Bellefeuille (Québec) from La Marche de l'aveugle sans son chien (2000). I am still a newbie along with many other emerging literary translators. In its constraint procedures, imagery, and often-illogical transitions from one sentence to the next, “My Muted Year” has been influenced by the poetry that I translate (just as my translations are shaped by my poetic practice).

Q: What originally prompted you to work with constraint and repetition in such a way, and what do you feel those structures provide that might not be possible otherwise?

A: There was more than one prompt: In my graduate work especially, and in university teaching and research, I worked with Modernist and Surrealist authors. In a context of wars and revolutions, avant-garde writing undermined unified subjectivity and narrative logic, often composing paratactically, by association or dream logic. These are the main emphases that have shaped my approach to writing poetry. I am presently immersed in Surrealist works, translating them from the French.

As well, over time I have become interested in the French Oulipo group, whose authors work/play from constraints: sets of rules, as in games. (Think of older forms, like the sonnet. Think of Eunoia by Christian Bök.) Here content is not intended beforehand but emerges as the game is played. As Jacques Roubaud, eminent Oulipean, puts it: “I will say / That a constraint opens up a possible / World of language. With this, I / Hold a passkey.”*

So these influences, plus that of the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver—where I took workshops in the 1980s—have shaped my writing. Lyn Hejinian’s writing has been an inspiration, in particular her prose-poetic memoir My Life (1980) and her more recent book The Unfollowing (2016), in which, she claims, the non-sequitur is the main principle of development. In composing from sentence to sentence in 14-line units, “[n]othing was to follow—or nothing follow logically” (Preface).*

It’s in my nature to “mute” myself and avoid starting with a bald intention such as “I will write about my experience of the COVID lockdown in 2020.” And I like writing chained poems rather than writing a self-sufficient lyric or narrative poem. I don’t know how to write one of those. They are complete units, whereas my individual poems are not so much complete in themselves as taking on meaning from those that precede and follow, extending with indefinite or potentially no closure. (Of course, the sequence has been practiced by many Canadian poets.) Here, repetition serves as a kind of memory for the reader, a way of holding things lightly in mind.
1st * Jacques Roubaud, “Les contraintes,” Churchill 40 et autres sonnets de voyage 2000-2003 (Gallimard, 2004), p. 45. My translation.
2nd * Lyn Hejinian, Preface, The Unfollowing (Omnidawn, 2016), p. 9.
Q: With three poetry titles, as well as your current work-in-progress, since the late 1990s, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: When my last book of poetry was published, as a prof I had to focus for a while on publishing academic articles. These qualified me for a SSHRC grant to do research that interested me and satisfied the powers-that-be. By 2015, when I retired, I had poems and manuscripts but no luck at all in placing work until last year, 2022. In the meantime, something must have been happening: the writing I started doing around the time of retirement and since then has been a little different than my earlier, more lyrical books. When I am composing now, I am directed by voices in my head that go back and forth: my lyric I-voice arouses satirical retorts and abuse from another voice or voices. I still turn to admire-this-beauty! phrases about flowers, light, and weather, but my writing shows some humor now in the gap between lyric and satirical voices.

Thus for some years, while my poetry was backgrounded, it shifted somewhat in . . . style? preoccupations? This shift may be associated with the increasing pressure/fear of extreme weather, especially wildfires here in BC. It is also associated with aging: I’m 67 and some of my friends have died already. Working at a job is a distraction from one’s mortality; retirement and an aging body brings it clearly into view. These morbid concerns flick through the prose poems in “My Muted Year.”

As for where my writing is headed, who knows? I hope it gets closer to the quick of my experience. Every new project might be the last. Every new project is a new beginning.

Q: I’m always interested in multiple generations of writers within any family, and over the years, I’ve asked numerous writers about their experiences with being the offspring of writers, but rarely I’ve been able to ask from the other direction: your son, Winnipeg poet Julian Day, recently published his chapbook debut, and has been publishing poems in a whole slew of journals over the past few years. What is it like to have a child who has followed your example? Are the two of you able to discuss writing? And how different from or similar to your work do you see his?

A: My husband teases me (repeatedly) that my son Julian publishes more than I do. No, I tell him, it doesn’t bother me: it’s a special source of happiness. Julian is in his early 40s, which was my age when I published my first book More Light (1998). He has worked on his poetry and submitted it over many years now, and his patience is bearing fruit. He also edits + doc: a journal of longer poems; the 4th issue appeared this month. As for me, I’m at the other end of the journey—older, no wiser.

It is gratifying to have a child who is as mad about poetry as I am. He knows his Canadian poets, and I give him books by British poets, plus classics like Dickinson and Blake. We discover our reading favorites together: we both admire Robin Robertson, John Burnside, and Alice Oswald. We don’t discuss technique or poetics, or share poems, that much. My poetry and his are somewhat different, mine being more constraint-based and influenced by North American experimental poetry and poetics. I won’t try to characterize his!

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

A: These works and authors reenergize, inspire imagery and/or techniques in my work:
Buddhist texts, Tibetan Book of the Dead. Classical Chinese poetry. Japanese haiku and renga. Surrealists, Oulipians. Contemporary Canadian and Québecois poetry: Normand de Bellefeuille, Susan Andrews Grace, Louise Halfe, Sylvia Legris, Tim Lilburn, Daphne Marlatt, Don McKay, Mary-Lou Rowley, Steven Ross Smith, Anne Szumigalski, Fred Wah, Phyllis Webb, and more. Contemporary American poetry: Will Alexander, Forrest Gander, Peter Gizzi, Lyn Hejinian, Brenda Hillman, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Cedar Sigo, and more.

These works and authors must be deep in the folds of my brain: they have a permanent place in my imagination, from years of listening, reading and teaching:
The Odyssey; Greek tragedies; Sappho; Ovid; the Bible; Dante’s Inferno; Marlowe, Dr. Faustus; Shakespeare’s tragedies and The Tempest; Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Grimms’ fairy tales; Carroll, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass; Keats, Dickinson, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Pound, Joyce, Woolf, H.D. The Wizard of Oz (film).

Friday, March 3, 2023

TtD supplement #234 : seven questions for Kathy Lou Schultz

Kathy Lou Schultz is a literary historian, scholar, and poet. She is the author of The Afro-Modernist Epic and Literary History: Tolson, Hughes, Baraka (Palgrave), as well as four collections of poems, recently Biting Midge: Works in Prose (Belladonna) and Some Vague Wife (Atelos). Her first poetry collection, Re dress (San Francisco State University), was selected by Forrest Gander as the winner of the Michael Rubin Poetry Award. Her poems are published in Bombay Gin, Cleaver Magazine, Fence Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Hambone, Marsh Hawk Review, Miracle Monocle, Mirage #4/Period(ical), P Queue Literary Journal, New American Writing, and other journals. Her poetry manuscript in progress in tentatively titled Mother(g)ood: A Report from America.

Schultz’s articles have appeared in numerous scholarly journals including Contemporary Literature, Jacket2, Journal of Modern Literature, Plume Poetry and anthologies: Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka, The Companion to Modernist Poetry, and From Our Hearts to Yours: New Narrative as Contemporary Practice. New work on Askia Touré’s Songhai!” is forthcoming in Paideuma: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics and a solicited article on Claudia Rankine and Muriel Rukeyser will appear in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth Century American Poetry and Politics. A book on Claudia Rankine is scheduled for release in August 2023 from Lake Forest College/Northwestern University Press.

Her poems “To: ‘To Elsie’:,” “A rouse is a ruse is a rose” and “Class (A Manifesto) Again” appear in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “To: ‘To Elsie’:,” “A rouse is a ruse is a rose” and “Class (A Manifesto) Again.”

A: “To: ‘To Elsie’:”
The poem is an epistle that talks back to WCW’s “To Elsie,” tossing images back at it, by only using words from within the poem itself. First, let me say that Spring and All is a gift, but this particular poem has always bothered me. My reaction is visceral and fiery. For me, this arises from the use of working-class caricatures in the poem: “mountain folk from Kentucky,” lusty railroading men, and finally “Elsie.” The poem isn’t really to her; rather, it is tossed somewhere in her direction. She’s not even a person, she’s “some Elsie” (emphasis added). Sure, William Carlos Williams, too, is “some doctor,” but he’s constructing a field of knowledge about “the pure products of America” through the prism of the “broken brain,” “ungainly hips” and “flopping breasts” of a mixed-race woman who works as a servant in his house. The poem can be read as a critique of class, race, and capitalism; after all, Elsie reveals “the truth about us” but Elsie is dehumanized in this process. Elsie isn’t “us.” She’s “them.” The poem also invokes the “I, Too” of Langston Hughes. (I have an ongoing catalog in my head of poems either addressed to “America,” or that use “America” in the title.) I also attempt to emulate Williams’ carefully sculpted link breaks. Spring and All and Paterson are genius, but that’s also why I’ve obsessed over “To Elsie” for 15+ years. (Or, I could say something smartish but vague about rewriting female figures used in great male modernists’ writing—and I may actually continue to try to do that—but the first part of my response is more honest.)

“A rouse is a ruse is a rose”
This is another poem in conversation with a poem: using Gertrude Stein’s language to engage and re-read Stein. There is so much energy and so many diverse language concepts in “Sacred Emily” to rediscover when you go back to the text, though the line “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” floats about in one’s head in perhaps a vague way. This re-immersion in Stein allowed me to recapture some of the sassy sensuality and humor in my earlier work. It’s a mode that reconnects me to my body and makes me feel alive (in contrast to the dissociative deadness brought about by big life changes and the daily horror show of current events).

“Class (A Manifesto) Again”
This poem exposes the undercurrent of thought of a working-class person who has made it into spaces where they don’t belong. Or, should I say “I”? I was born in a place so remote that there is no hospital and it would take you days to get there--if you could find it at all. Find Burke, South Dakota on the map. Go. The majority of people don’t realize that there are locations like this in the U.S., have no idea what life is like there, or if they do, they don’t associate them with me. I often am in places where I don’t belong. And class rage is real. And class privilege, or lack of it, persists. Most professors (and many poets and artists) are from middle or upper-middle class, educated backgrounds. They have generations of college and graduate degrees behind them, access to resources, and choices I never had. One goes along through daily life thinking that they’ve “made it,” or that they’re “equal” now, but that gets thrown back at you in unexpected moments. So one is many things at the same time: a person with racial privilege, from a working-class background, now “educated,” unexpectedly a mom, now living in a violently misogynistic place that makes no sense, reviled by some for being in an interracial relationship or for experiencing sexual and gender identity along a continuum when people would be much more comfortable if you would just “pick a side.” People mainly want you to shut up about anything that doesn’t support their narratives and expectations—but these narratives and expectations are propped up by assumptions, rather than actually getting to know a person. This poem is also a clapback to those who thought they could intimidate me or who tried to make me feel small or ashamed. Also re: “dynamite in their skulls,” all credit to Calvin C. Hernton.

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

A: “To: ‘To Elsie’:”
I place this piece with, “Below these bluffs,” a poem I wrote for my son, and for/after Elizabeth Treadwell, who I think is one of the best poets of my generation. I place these two poems together, because in each I think I got something right in the form. https://www.aspasiology.com/kathy-lou-schultz-in-response-to-elizabeth-treadwell.html

“A rouse is a ruse is a rose”
Stein, Stein, Stein. My poems in Some Vague Wife (Atelos) are divided into three sections, each with an epigraph from a woman modernist: Mina Loy, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf. I’m still trying to listen to what these writers have to say to me. Sometimes transmissions are garbled, but the spirits want you to play.

“Class (A Manifesto) Again”
My poem, “Core Curriculum,” published in Marsh Hawk Review, Fall 2020, addresses some of that same material—but “Core Curriculum” is much more poem-y, built out of neat quatrains employing some fierce enjambment. https://marshhawkpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MHR-Fall-2020.pdf

Writing about embodied experiences of class is difficult, unless it’s content-driven by recognizable working class professions, like mining, often about male experience.

Does anyone understand what I’m writing about? Do they care, or are they resentful, and want me to be quiet about it? Am I messing things up for them? Who is my audience?

“Core Curriculum,” by the way, refers to the first two years of study at Columbia University in NYC. The “Western Tradition,” etc. It’s about my experience of encountering all of that as a working class, rural, first-generation college student, and as a young woman beginning to articulate a feminist critique and vision. And why were the authors we studied all very particular kinds of white people? I began working in Black Studies at the same time I discovered feminist studies, when I was 18, 19 years old. I was very purposeful about it.

So, these poems consider, in part, what it meant for me to encounter that “Western” tradition, as an experience of being “educated.” I still have those books, and as a scholar, I study the epic, so it added up to something. But I was always one working off campus “in the community.” People found this so amazing. How do you reach “the community”? I am the community! My dad is the guy trimming the lawn with amazing precision, but you don’t see him.

Q: With a handful of poetry titles over the past twenty years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My first book, Re dress, was an accident. San Francisco State University ran a book contest every year and my friend, Catalina Cariaga (we were both in the MFA program) convinced me to enter. I wasn’t ready for all of that, so I thought, I’ll do this as an exercise in how to put together a manuscript, laying out all the pages on a big table and seeing what might cohere or surprise. I really took pleasure in that process of making, meditation and silence. But then I won—poet Forrest Gander selected my manuscript for the Michael Rubin Award—and I panicked! There’s no going back and “fixing” it at that point. Ha. But I look back it now and I’m amazed at how bold it is, how it thinks about sexuality, everyday life, form, white space, and found material. I also participated in the book design: I chose the photos and the ink color and worked with photographers (Lori Eanes, Deborah Allan) and designers (Jim Brashear, Glen Helfand) on the palimpsestic overlay on the cover, the trim size, the book flaps (I love the book flaps!) where the blurb, author photos & bio are printed.

In addition to Gander, Kevin Killian, Robert Glück, and Myung Mi Kim wrote blurbs for me. Bob and Myung were two of my primary teachers. How lucky I was! I prize that time in my life and the writing community: even when it was fraught, it was wonderfully alive. Gander compares my work to Stein and Rosmarie Waldrop. If only. I want to build on that potential and what lives in the book, reclaim the audacity to go full speed ahead into that charged material, busting and remaking form. You see in there the combination of prose, fragment, collage, and highly sculpted lyrics. I want to figure out how to do that again.

Jill Stengel made the chapbook Genealogy for her wonderful a+bend project. Genealogy is a long poem that actually is my most autobiographical collection in terms of recounting events. I want to include it in a full-length book. I’ve had a couple nearly-successful manuscripts that presses were interested in, but I need to revisit that project. I’ve spoken a bit about Some Vague Wife above. All thanks to Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz for including me in their fantastic series. I was still funny in that book, while thinking deeply about literary history, and the other obsessions of my work: gender, sexuality, class. It has all that weird prose in there too, which is maybe my true form, but then the experimental sonnets are pretty good. I’m still figuring out form!

Belladonna in NYC published my last chapbook. I love Belladonna! Biting Midge: Works in Prose arrived in my mailbox after I left Philly for a job, and I never made it to the reading in NYC (I’m still sad about that) because by then my life had blown up and I was too sick to travel. Being so far away from my writing communities in the Bay Area and the Northeast: Philly, NYC has really thrown me off my axis. Not only am I separated from poets and publishing projects and attending fantastic readings nearly every week, unrelenting trauma and toxicity alienated me from my own work. I didn’t think that was possible. It’s miserable. But there is a new project, tentatively titled Mother(g)ood from which some work has been published. There’s a long piece in the “Hybrid” section of an issue of Miracle Monocle, published by the Univ. of Louisville, and a shorter one in Bombay Gin, both based in prose blocks. And I want to start publishing a journal again. Those issues of Lipstick Eleven that my friends and I edited and published together are pretty great.

Q: You almost make your work sound like an ongoing sequence of random occurrences, ranging from deliberately-prompted projects to certain accidents. How do your poems or poem-projects usually begin? How do poems find themselves grouped into chapbook or larger manuscripts, if at all?

A: Poetry and life are random and accidental, but my answers probably reveal more about how I felt about writing the poems, rather than the work that I actually did. Feeling vs. doing.

In Genealogy and Mother(g)ood, I write with the purpose of constructing long poems that I intend to be a set of serial poems. Genealogy came together rather quickly (or so it seems to me now). I kept making additions until it felt “finished.” I wrote it in San Francisco, the only place I’ve ever really felt at home, but between my past and then-current selves lay a large gulf of understanding  and experience: the picture on the cover of myself and two siblings with my dad on the farm. Reconstructing that experience is challenging because I don’t really remember it—though I deeply feel it, a gaping loss my father never really got over. Mother(g)ood goes to the heart of one of the deep sicknesses in the U.S.: the hatred of women and the obsession to control our sexuality. The patriarchy fell on my head harder than ever before when I had a baby in the South. The deep disregard for women is illustrated that by the fact that the U.S., a wealthy nation, has the highest maternal mortality rate among “developed” countries. I don’t especially want to write about this, but I have to.

Tremendous crisis can affect one’s ability to remember and the memories you do have are strangely fragmented. When I was younger, I could stick with a project from beginning to end, writing on the bus on the way to work, during lunch (my version of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems), or thinking about lines and sounds while at poetry readings, at the doctor’s office, etc. I always had a notebook, recording everything. Now, I find poems on my computer that I have no memory of writing. None. So it becomes a process, then, of gathering the individual poems and seeing how they speak to each other, like I did with my first manuscript. These types of collections are less popular now; however, many books have themes and audiences seem to want that.

Q: What brought you to constructing long poems/serial poems? Do you work through accumulation, or have you a specific direction in mind before you begin?

A: As a reader, I’m interested in long form works that can’t be contained on a single page. (That was one of the primary aims of Lipstick Eleven: providing space for long poems.) I’ve been in love with Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead for decades, even as her work went in and out of print. Contemporary icons include Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Nate Mackey.

I’m less interested in those short poems whose aim is a “gotcha” or “Ah…” at the end. Though of course many shorter poem are brilliant; Amiri Baraka’s poems have taken you somewhere by the end, but certainly not where you expected. I work by accumulation, followed by often painful revision. I don’t know where I’m headed in advanced. The poem reveals itself to you as you work. The same goes for scholarly writing.

Q: I’m always fascinated by American/Canadian conversations around the long poem, given the lineages of these particular threads might share common markers, but have otherwise wildly different trajectories. What do you feel is possible through the form of the long poem, as opposed to a collection, suite or otherwise-bound assemblage of shorter pieces, that might not otherwise be possible?

A: The long poem allows an extended explorative space for world making, the creation of unique extended forms, and the use of multi-media. Important eras and writers include: American Modernism (William Carlos Williams), 30s Modernism and the lineage of documentary modernism (Rukeyser, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Claudia Rankine), Midcentury Modernism (Langston Hughes in the 50s), women who published and published in HOW(ever) and HOW2 (Kathleen Fraser, Beverly Dahlen), Language Writers (Lyn Hejinian), Black Arts-era epics (Askia Touré). Hughes’s multi-column ASK YOUR MAMA: 12 MOODS FOR JAZZ with it musical instructions, Mackey’s epistles, or Hejinian’s versions of My Life require a long poem format. I also love Canadian writers Gail Scott, Lisa Robertson, and Nicole Brossard. The long poem continues to delight and obsess: I was invited to speak at an international conference on the long poem at the Univ. of Basel in Switzerland. Rachel Blau Duplessis gave a keynote.

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

A: In addition to the writers named above: Emily Dickinson, Harryette Mullen, C.D. Wright, Claudia Rankine (especially some of her earlier work), George Oppen, Myung Mi Kim, Erica Hunt, Juan Felipe Herrera, Paul Celan, Tyehimba Jess, etc.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

TtD supplement #233 : seven questions for Shane Kowalski

Shane Kowalski lives in Pennsylvania. He teaches creative writing at Ursinus College. He is the author of Small Moods (Future Tense Books).  

His poems “Brassiere” and “Valuable Observations” appear in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Brassiere” and “Valuable Observations.”

A: Both “Brassiere” and “Valuable Observations” were written spontaneously. I didn’t want to think too much about them, nor did I know too much about what they’d be. I just wanted to feel them out, basically. “Brassiere” begins with an image, while “Valuable Observations” begins with an absurd setup. It was kind of easy to follow those initial impressions to their logical conclusions. (At least “logical” to the pieces themselves).  

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

A: These are part of an ongoing project of writing I’ve been doing for over ten years now. I post them to my tumblr, sometimes with minimal revision. There’s over 2500 of them now. They are all short, prose-poem-ish, weird short tales, whatever the mood is that day. They are separate from the longer pieces I take my time with.

Q: How many of these shorter pieces might see further publication, whether in chapbook or book form? How are pieces such as these shaped, if at all, into manuscripts? And are your longer pieces posted to your tumblr as well, or are they seen as something different, requiring alternate spaces?

A: It’s tough to say. I regularly send shorter pieces out for the fun of it. I had an idea of just grouping them into mini-chapbooks over the years and trying to get them published that way. So that they may never be fully together in a big collection. I kind of liked that idea of fragmenting all of them. Or denying them togetherness in some way.

My longer pieces aren’t posted to tumblr, no. They definitely require a more private space, where I can tinker with them and figure out their moods.

Q: Are there further differences between these structural threads apart from length? Do you approach the longer poems differently than your shorter works? And what brought you to the point of working these two separate structures simultaneously?

A: I think the differences lie in the voice. If it feels like the voice needs more space, more scenery, then I’ll most likely indulge that. The shorter pieces always seem to have a more hyper-focused, crystalline voice, while the longer pieces have that novelistic, baggy voice. Otherwise, the distinction between long or short is merely incidental or superficial, and it feels good to toggle back and forth between those calibrations.  

Q: With this stretch of poems posted to tumblr and a book under your belt, as well as your various works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: This is a hard question to answer. I can’t even say for sure if my work has indeed developed? I presume it has? That seems better than staying stagnant? I can imagine the trajectory of the work has been greatly influenced by things in or of the moment: books I’m reading, music I’m listening to, people I know, my job, all the stuff that happens in life, etc. To that end, I have no clue where my work is headed. I hope new and interesting spaces. I just like to keep writing and not think too much about it.

Q: I am interested in the suggestion you have of denying your work a potential “togetherness,” offering instead through pieces posted individually, and possibly grouped, but only in chapbook-sized collections. Is this lack of interest in “togetherness” prompted by wishing to remain open to moving in multiple directions, or something other?

A: Hmm. It’s honestly probably remaining open to moving in multiple directions. I love changing my mind! Who knows—it could also be a fear of commitment? I think there’s a suspiciousness in “togetherness.” Why are all these poems and/or stories together, really? It seems like there’s a foundation of randomness or of the arbitrary underneath it all.  

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

A: Lydia Davis, most likely. It’s tough because there’s so much work I go back to because I’ll weirdly remember it out of the blue. It won't be with me for a great while or I’ll let it drift from view, but then I’ll be going through my bookshelves or something online will remind me of a certain book and I’ll have to go and read it again. This happened recently with Night Moves by Stephanie Barber. It’s this book published by Publishing Genius that culls a bunch of Youtube comments about Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” into a really cool artifact of collective online melancholy and memory. It’s a cool little book.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

TtD supplement #232 : seven questions for Pam Brown

Pam Brown has published many chapbooks, pamphlets & full collections of poetry, most recently Stasis Shuffle (Hunter Publishers, 2021). Pam has been poetry editor of Overland magazine, co-editor of Jacket (2004-2011) & a guest editor for Vagabond Press (Rare Objects & deciBel Series), Ekleksographia, Jacket2, Cordite, Past Simple & Minarets. Her poetry has been the recipient of several awards. She lives in Australia in a Sydney suburb built on reclaimed swampland on Gadigal country.

Her sequence “W h a t   i s   t h i s” appears in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the sequence “W h a t   i s   t h i s.”

A: This is a poem expressing my interminable skepticism & ambiguity about what art or poetry can actually do, other than record, document or act as an inventory of the times, if they’re seeking to have any effect on, in this case, ecological disaster & its consequent displacements (Ai Wei Wei’s refugees life jackets). At best, some of the artists mentioned actually make art from recycled found materials. I’m not sure that the poem itself is of any use.

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

A: It’s very different in a way. Rather than describe artworks, or list artists I’d probably gesture towards them a bit more cryptically. I did want to ‘say something’ about the problem of a very defined wholesomeness in ethical yet often alluring artworks. There’s a kind of veil of righteousness that could be ripped through by rage or wild humour making work that’s impossible to hang in a corporate boardroom.

My other recent poems are less stable, more indefinite, as they traipse through the sidetracks of digital wilderness and everyday detritus.

Q: What prompted this particular shift to ‘say something’ in your work? You suggest that you aren’t sure that “the poem itself is of any use,” so the question becomes: what are you hoping to accomplish?

A: It wasn’t really a shift to ‘say something – the poems always do that. I meant that it was a more topical poem than I’d usually make.It was a reaction to a trend I’d noticed in visual art. Not a new trend but definitely an insistent one.

As for accomplishing anything, if your publication’s readers take something away from it then the poem might have found a function.

Q: You mention Ai Wei Wei: are there any other artists or writers you’ve looked at for the kinds of work you’ve been exploring lately?

A: Not specifically. Ai Wei Wei is a front page artist isn’t he? Visual art, performance, screen, poetry – all part of my outlook. In the past, I’ve taught in art schools (as a casual), worked in audio visual departments in art institutions as well as having different roles in ‘alternative’ (polite word for ‘oppositional to status quo mainstream’ art) or collective art venues like the Tin Sheds in Sydney and the Experimental art Foundation in Adelaide. Like many poets I know artists of varying kinds. That’s an enormous topic to talk about rob and I haven’t had breakfast yet.

Q: With numerous books and chapbooks over the years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: It’s difficult for me to sum up when or how my poetry writing has changed over the decades. Perhaps that’s up to somebody else to do. But there are points in time that I can look back at and see different turns, consolidations, change in style and even method. One instance could be that I used to think I aimed for ‘intelligibility’ in the poems. I had a lightbulb moment about that idea at some time in the 1990’s and decided not to worry about intelligibility. That was liberating. Poetry is thought of as a difficult art anyway so why chase after comprehension. I think the poem in Touch the Donkey, ‘W h a t   i s   t h i s', is pretty obvious. Other poems have become more fragmentary in the last decade. But I’ve also made things like sequences of twenty-eight line freely associated fake double sonnets.

I’m not sure where it’s all headed. Lines, images, bricolage accrue on A4 pages on the desktop file and need reassembling, compiling. There are also occasional notes I make in small notebooks to add to that. They work or they don’t and if the poem works it feels like a fortunate accident in spite of all the rearranging that’s occurred. I hope there’ll be some more chapbooks in my future.

Q: You seem to favour longer pieces, longer sequences; poems that accumulate to form a larger project or idea. What brought you to these particular forms?

A: Prompted by watching and reading news of the 2011 riots in England where disgruntled citizens rose up without a focused, central issue protest and smashed windows and looted shops and set fire to buildings, I wanted to write something situated in a place of ‘Worldlessness’. Somewhere where meaning is elusive or where it’s not easy to locate meaning in a life. But the situation in my poem is a place where it appears that nothing much happens. No consequent rioting.  The poem doesn’t foreground a rationale or agenda and ends without fanfare or conclusion. It was called ‘Worldlessness’ (which some people mistook for ‘wordlessness’ – it being a poem). So that’s how I came to write longer and more fragmentary poems. One of my recent books, Click here for what we do, is a loosely-connected group of four longer poems.

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

A: I have various favourites whose books I’ll re-read often – Etel Adnan, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Kim Hyesoon, Philip Terry, Chris Nealon, Anselm Berrigan and, from way back, James Schuyler. Locally, that is Australians, I am currently amazed by Emily Stewart, Tim Wright, Evelyn Araluen, Rebecca Jessen and Jake Goetz. I’ll always re-read poets like Ken Bolton, Gig Ryan, Ann Vickery, Greg McLaren, Kate Lilley, and I love  experimenters – Toby Fitch, Chris Edwards, Amelia Dale, Amanda Stewart, A.J. Carruthers, Dave Drayton, Louis Armand  etc. Of course, these kinds of lists are in flux and they’re worrying because I’m sure to leave a few friends out if I don’t make it an incredibly long list. I should say that I do get incentive for poetry from reading political aesthetics – Esther Leslie, Claudia Rankine, Franco Berardi and so on. Sometimes, in a small act of gratitude, I might borrow a line from all of the above.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Touch the Donkey : thirty-sixth issue,

The thirty-sixth issue is now available, with new poems by Pam Brown, Kathy Lou Schultz, Shane Kowalski, Hilary Clark and Ted Byrne.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). My god! It‘s like you've known me all your life!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

TtD supplement #231 : seven questions for Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, writing teacher, and small press guerrilla living in Cobourg, Ontario. The recipient of the 2019 Harbourfront Festival Prize and the 2010 Relit Prize for Short Fiction, among others, Stuart is the author of over twenty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, including The Book of Grief and Hamburgers (ECW Press, 2022) and 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems (with Michael Dennis; Proper Tales Press, 2020). I Am Claude François and You Are a Bathtub, his third fiction collection, dropped from Anvil Press this past fall. Stuart has taught workshops in schools across the country and was Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University and the University of Ottawa. His work has been translated into French, Norwegian, Slovene, Russian, Spanish, and Estonian. He occasionally blogs at bloggamooga.blogspot.ca.

His “10 TINY POEMS (26 January 2022)” appears in the thirty-fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “10 TINY POEMS (26 January 2022).”

A: “10 TINY POEMS (26 January 2022)” is part of a molasses-velocity project I began in November 2012. My intention is to write 100 sets of 10 poems, and so 1,000 poems altogether. I’m about a quarter of the way there. I keep promising myself I’ll start doing one every day or two, but life and having to pay the rent always get in the way of my good intentions. (Also my unhealthy obsession with reading the news.) My challenge to myself is that none of the poems in each set are connected to each other, though I have broken that rule twice now. The idea is that each of the 10 is a completely separate poem. As you can see, the number above each poem dictates the number of words in it. Each number has its own challenges. How can you make one word into a poem? (Ask Aram Saroyan.) How can you keep all the words interesting—and not just part of a single phrase—once you get to seven or so? I’m very proud of the 26 January 22 instalment, because I think each poem does something very different, and successfully.

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

A: Well, lately I’ve been working mostly on prose: personal essays and short stories, so there is little comparison. I have been writing the occasional poem, mostly during workshops I’m leading, but nothing as compressed as the pieces in any of the “10 TINY POEMS” installments. Though it is possible that my sensibility, or aspects of my sensibility, tone, personal quirks, appear in all of my writing. I’ll let others write their doomed theses on that.

Q: How easily are you able to move between genres? Do you see your fiction, non-fiction, and poetry as separate threads of your work or as different elements of a singular, ongoing project? How are you able to distinguish?

A: I see each of my projects as a discrete thing, though of course one’s life work is part of a broader project of artistic production. Moving between genres is effortless since each piece of writing naturally takes on the form it demands. Or else I go: I think I’ll write a poem. I think I’ll write a two-page story. But often it’s I think I’ll write something and see what emerges. Sometimes that something can’t easily be defined by genre. More and more, writers are feeling unconstrained by genre, though publishers have some catching up to do on that front.

Q: How does this particular project fit with your overall work? There’s an element to this project that feels akin to you wishing to work in a small, immediate way, comparable to the work of someone such as Nelson Ball, but in an ongoing way. What originally prompted this?

A: I’m a poet who likes to try a million different things. Which is why I will always be a very obscure poet. Well, that’s one of the reasons, anyway. As I said earlier, I was intrigued by the challenge of making viable poems that were one word, two words, three words long, etc. It’s a bit like problem-solving or doing word puzzles. I don’t think of these poems as being Nelson Ball-like in any way: mostly they are word-based rather than image-based in the way that Nelson’s poems are mostly image-based. I do like the fact that this is an ongoing, if irregularly so, project that I’ve been poking away at for a decade or so. And this ongoingness is in contrast to most of my other work, where I work pretty quickly.

Q: Well, it was said that folk paid attention to the work of London, Ontario, artist Greg Curnoe, in part, because they didn’t know what he was going to do next, so I would suggest there’s a great value to that element. Still: are there any unexpected elements you’re noticing through the ongoingness of this particular project?

A: It’s a project in which I have to resist falling into a schtick. To do that, I need to surprise myself. Do things with words that I haven’t done before. Maybe even do things with words that repel me. As I get further into the project, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep it vital, to create shifts and hairpin turns. I find it excruciating as I write, but often satisfying when I look back at the recent sets of 10 I’ve created. Of course, in the back of my mind: is anyone ever going to publish this entire book? Well, Book*hug recently published a 450+-page poetry book by R. Kolewe, so it’s not unprecedented. Either that or you’re going to have to do 10 more above/ground chapbooks of it!

Q: With countless books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction over the past 4-plus years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: As I suggested earlier, I might be a laboratory technician more than a writer. I always want to experiment. But two different paths have emerged, and it’s interesting to me that they are happening simultaneously: more extreme experiment and more personal/autobiographical content. Usually not in the same pieces, though my recent essay/memoir, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers, was at the same time experimental and personal in a literal sense. The American cartoonist and satirist Al Capp used to say of his invention the Shmoo (an armless white blob that resembles a rotund bowling pin with whiskers) that they procreate so quickly that if two Shmoon (the plural) begin a 50-yard dash, the winner won’t have been born when the race began. That’s where I’m hoping my work will be headed.

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

A: Charles North’s The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight and Ron Padgett’s Toujours l’Amour are very important to me. (Really, all of their works are ones I go back to a lot when I need to remind myself of a reason to live. I also make their work part of my training for my annual New Year poem, where I write a poem on January 1 and immediately send it out to my 500 or so email contacts.) Dave McFadden’s work revitalizes me, brings me back to the excitement of being a 15-year-old poet, which was when I first found a book of his in a library in North York. Then there’s Emily Pettit, Alice Burdick, Samuel Beckett (especially his later short fictions), César Aira, Renee Gladman, B. S. Johnson. The list, as they say, whoever they are, goes on.

Monday, December 12, 2022

TtD supplement #230 : seven questions for Chris Turnbull and Elee Kraljii Gardiner

Chris Turnbull is the author of Continua (Chaudiere Books) and [ untitled ] in own (Cue Books). Other work can be found in print, online, and within landscapes. She curates a footpress, rout/e, whereby poetry is planted on trails. www.etuor.wordpress.com

Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of two poetry books, Trauma Head and serpentine loop, and editor of the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She is a director of Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. eleekg.com

Their collaborative “left” appears in the thirty-fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “left.”

CT: Our idea to collaborate emerged during the spring of 2021. We had been meeting on Zoom to chat about different projects we were working on or things we were doing, in and amidst Covid restrictions and lockdowns. We were each working on outdoor projects and certain curiosities were similar. We decided to leave notes to each other (a slow correspondence that countered, too, the wide adoption of Zoom as a CV19 reality) for ‘a public’ to find, and as a way to address isolation and instigate surprise. There is quite a significant difference in the notion of ‘a public’ here: I live in a small rural town in Eastern Ontario, trails are less occupied than the trails Elee navigates and uses for her projects within the city of Vancouver. Mind you, during Covid, I saw a doubling, and on weekends, a tripling, of people using trails in North Grenville, where I live. One place where I walk regularly is a forest-centre that also supplies tree seedlings to companies, non-profits, and people across Eastern Ontario.

After mulling over how to start my part of our collaboration, I decided to handwrite notes on piled mesh bags (isolation bags), that contain discs used for planting seedlings. Where I walk, there are several large, and long, piles of discarded mesh bags and other mixed plant materials. Over time, they compost; someone with a tractor sometimes pushes new material up and over, rotating everything, and it all eventually breaks down into soil. Mesh bag scraps are pressed into dirt or on the trail. The piles host common ‘weeds’; species climb up/over or fly about, collecting and eating seeds, burying nuts, cooling down in the dirt, or observing from vantage points. The piles restore themselves. I started with a poem on a small pile that starts with “dear Elee”; the poem’s lines match the placement of the mesh bags. The shifts of these seed bags are reflected in the language of “left”. “Left” is suggestive of informal direction involving the body, is actual, is for the non-compassed, and also refers to what left is when one returns, or what remains when one leaves.

EKG: When the pandemic began, the disorientation I felt at being far away from friends, regular routines, even errands, increased as dates slid off the calendar and fell in a pile at my feet. Plans evaporated. Many things, besides goals, were left behind, including my writing focus: I had been in a period of extreme clarity and production, really on fire with something new coming out of my MFA and my engagement just stalled, as many other things did during lockdown. A double whammy solution occurred: to “hang out” with Chris in a writing project. We devised an extension of both our own projects, turning and twisting them towards each other. I basically counteracted the feeling of being left by my writing, left dangling, left alone, left out, by writing notes and lines to Chris that I left in a metaphysical mailbox: a tree stump, a hole in the ground, or a brambly bush. I visited and monitored the sites as weather, birds, coyotes, time, etc., ate through the notes, and then I wrote poems off what I observed or what it provoked. Checking on the notes I left outside gave me a place to think towards on my daily forest-river-ocean walks, and the conversation stimulated my fuggy brain. Chris is very, very smart and this project benefits from her carefulness and her design prowess. When she sent me images of her side of the project I was extraordinarily moved. It felt very “dear” to have my name written and left in an environment among other chosen words. Chris’ knowledge of nature is also something that urged this project along. She took my panic at being out of time and turned my head towards a way to be out of time in a slo-mo, unhurried sense, the way a berry ripens.  

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work either of you have been working on?

CT: When Elee and I started to talk about collaborating, I was reading a book of journal entries, and another of letters between a couple of writers, each of which had been published in book form many decades ago. I was reading a philosophical book on time. I was taking a free public archaeology course out of the University of Oslo that was structured through a series of lectures addressing the idea of “the” Anthropocene and archaeology’s role, among other things. I had been reflecting on the fact that I can pretty much step out of the door and access forest/field/riverine spaces that typically aren’t hugely populated by humans (and if they are, I know the back and desire trails that enable me to go around them). I was thinking of grace, conflict and discourse, and the word ‘virtual’ and its antecedents, and soil/land histories.

I would say that our collaboration—my side of it that is—doesn’t compare to other work I’m doing, though perhaps it might look like it does at surface, because some of my work uses elements of an outdoors as a page surface, or a note, or a text, or a mark that leads to a desire to interpret.

With rout/e, say, where work by other poets is left outside, and I monitor the work over time—that practice is similar to returning to a book, and includes the acts of observation over an extended period. It also creates an opening for ‘a public’ to access poetry without judgement of ‘correct’ reading because the words fall apart, as does the structure of the frame, depending on when a person might come upon it. In addition, it raises the question of the value of poetry—is it valued in the moment, is it really read—for example, this very strange phenomenon of publicly (online) ‘liking’ a piece of work as an expectation in addition to (or sometimes in lieu of) engagement. Placing the poems, however, is similar to an act of composition.

I would say that the method of engagement in this collaboration, for me, was that it was an exchange of letters, placed publicly. That there is correspondence without mailing, in a time of heightened public fear and isolation—correspondence that is happened-upon or overlooked—was interesting to me. That ‘we’ were directed into privacy/isolation as a mode of protection while exposing ourselves through various social medias as a way to articulate fear, worry, panic, knowledge, supposition—and ‘an end’ to this condition was an unknown—makes the act of correspondence not so simple. Yet extended correspondence has simplicities and generosity that requires time; it is an unmeasured exchange until it ends. Correspondence is also typically private (unless it’s archived and published). The composition of this collaboration is different than other work I’ve done, collaboratively or otherwise, or am currently engaged in.

We also moved our work from the outdoors to the page, reformatting it and further developing poems and pieces. We worked across the page/outdoors, transferring elements from one to the other—transpositions, very loosely, translations, in its ety meanings.

EKG: I notice how impossible it is for me to draw a definitive line between this work and other work, between this work and what I am reading, or what I am seeing in the world on my walks,  or saying in digital forums, or hearing in personal conversations. What Chris and I are making is porous. Amphibious, and absorbent. The gesture towards each other, towards this type of communion in thought, is a demonstration of trust in the message-making of nature. Everything else in the world feels so fraught, so fractured and mean!

Q: Have either of you worked collaboratively previously, whether with each other or anyone else? If so, what elements of this particular exchange were similar or different than previous processes? Were there any elements of this particular exchange that were unexpected?
EKG: Emphatic yes. I have done projects with singer-songwriters in bluegrass, pop/rock, folk, art song, and composers, an architect, several figure skaters, and many writers. Making things with Chris is one of four immersive collaborative projects I have happening right now: Gary Barwin and I just put out a chapbook of visual poems (Watcher, Timglaset Editions) which is part of a much larger, constant interaction; Alyson Provax and I are developing a visual art + text project; Martin Grünfeld at the Medical Museum in Copenhagen and I are exploring themes around preservation and decay. The exchange with Chris has been fluid, clear, simple, and entirely fascinating. We have a similar easy-goingness to the project that makes it comfortable—it’s as if we are doing a three-legged race and our gait is in full swing. I was surprised and relieved that Chris is into design and layout because I have Very Big Feelings about design but no skills for doing it myself: Once I see the work on the page I get a “taste” for it and become more sure of the core needs of the text. I love the stage when Chris sends me a page of designed text and I get to see what contact points between our words sing out to her. The structure on the page, the spacing and positioning she comes up with release new meanings and interactions that teach me more about the text. Also, Chris has sent me books and sources to think through that have been superb. Our collaboration is, I think, a practice of our conversations: More relational, more theoretically-involved than the kind of collaboration I find less interesting where I hand someone my contribution like a baton for them to carry forward on their own.

CT: Elee and I hadn’t worked together before, though I had read her books and some small press mag things; I also knew of her work from within writing communities. I didn’t know the extent of her practices—the slow evolutions of her site-specific projects, the inclusivities embedded in her writing/art, or the various deep curiosities and interests that inform her poetry. Her work emerges from observation and meticulous patience.

I have worked with other writers or artists ‘in’ collaboration quite frequently in one way or another—in a macro sense, I guess I’d say that most writing work has collaborative elements—if one is working toward a chap/book, for example, the process of publishing has a high degree of collaboration with the publishers of that work; installations that involve writing tend, also, to be collaborative in a different way. Because some of my previous work is multi-voice or polyphonic, or presented as a sort of hybrid poem-play, collaboration included others reading those pieces, which meant finding out how they interpreted or sounded what was on the page. Other collaborations have been more directly an exchange of writing—  but a constant element of all of them has been conversations that include process and frames—which has helped with the energy of the work on the page (and within the overall design, which is also important). No collaboration has been the ‘same’, and I’d say each of us have had ways of writing that are quite different. A consistency, for me, has been the fun of it—the enjoyment of coming to understand another writer’s poetic(s) through conversation, writing, design. There’s some pieced consensus: where are the agreements in approach or in/across languages, where do approaches and languages diverge, what are we getting to, are we there yet?, have you read…?; there’s also spontaneity.

I’ve been lucky to work with Elee—our project was interspersed with Zoom calls and emails at a time when CV precipitated a mass shuddering away from each other—or the adoption of small ‘bubbles’—and it’s been very relaxed and easy. Sometimes we shared photos on Zoom of what we’d been doing. We worked within our own routines, x-country, and touched base with compilations now and again. Somehow we found where our writing intersects without being too caught up in defining an end point to what we were doing. On the page, we took care with design. There’s room.

Q: Were there any particular models in mind when you began to work on this project? How did the process of determining form emerge? Had you an end-goal in mind, or did this project emerge from a series of back-and-forth openings?

CT: I can’t speak for Elee here, but no, there were no particular models in mind for me when we started this project. We were both already outside, doing things. Form was not pre/determined; it was more undetermined, indeterminate. The page, which can be a dynamic surface but requires a different kind of engagement than hiking/walking within spaces containing stumps or composting seed pod piles, became a transfer surface. Our correspondence was much like a letter sent ‘across’ distance; if anything, from my end of things, they were responses to immediate ideas, thoughts, considerations, with no expectation of direct reply. We documented what we wrote, and what changes occurred to our respective pieces, with photos; we transcribed the language into on-the-page notations. “Left” describes immediacy, rather than end-goal or openings; it describes bits of conversations and bits of writing/emergence/obsolescences, but it also (for me) describes the asynchronous patterns of walking, speaking, conversing and leaving; gestures toward the wondrous and really essential gaps after a conversation, the bits that aren’t returned to, the half-formed thoughts, the long pauses before starting again from some other angle or idea—those spaces that don’t get filled or answered, that shifting surround—

EKG: Chris says it beautifully. We decided to wander together. The collaboration happens the way two people who are walking together know when to pause and when to start walking again. While one person stops to pull off a sweater the other can look around, or think, or tie a shoe tighter.

Q: Have there been any elements of this particular collaboration that have prompted new or renewed considerations on each of your own individual works?

CT: No.

EKG: Nope.

Q: Both of you work with elements you refer to as ‘decay,’ allowing for time and natural decomposition of printed material, and noting the ways in which the printed text has altered through the process. How much do either of you see your projects as either a moment along a trajectory of decay, or as something that is allowed to evolve/devolve? Are poems, in this manner, ever actually finished, or are they meant to change, to fall apart?

EKG: I experienced such intense stasis beginning in March 2020 that I sort of had to chant “the only thing constant is change” under my breath while I stomped around the house and neighbourhood. I couldn’t be sure anything was changing! Every day felt the same, schedules meant nothing in lock down. I needed proof and took refuge in the law of thermodynamics. My project in this era is turning things that are not clocks into clocks. A book submerged in water, poems left outdoors, books propped on tree branches are all things with which I can observe time passing. These collaborations with nature never bore or disappoint. Something is changed from one day to the next, and the ruin becomes sublime. The book outlives its literary purpose and becomes a new form when the squirrel shreds the page or buries it. Coyote fur snagged on the fence where I left the poem suggests the participation of other readers beyond the ones who attend Zoom events. I believe Borges: All my poems, no matter how encased in digital code or ink and spine, change with every reading, with every moment passing. The text is always new. In fact, the poems are so in flux that both Chris and I have difficulty identifying not only whose line is whose but which poem is part of which project. That’s fine with me. Let things change, let them mix and recompose.

CT: I think Elee and I observe and monitor what happens with our outdoor pieces from slightly different perspectives, while also being able to acknowledge where those perspectives intersect and vary; we don’t worry much about the act of collaborating. Our collaboration on the page presents what is ‘left’ or leaving, as well as the energies involved in ‘mesh’—interweaving, interdependence, consensus, rotation. I don’t refer to the work I do as ‘decay’—I tend to think toward ‘emergence’. I’m not denying the specific processes of decay, which are inevitable and continuous everywhere (and perceptions of decay are tied to human grief), but decay is part of a multiplicity of necessary processes, many of which we don’t observe and those multiplicities constitute a stable reality of existence. Imagine if things didn’t, as an ongoing process, decay. In terms of language/poem-making, ‘emergences’, among other things, present variations of co-response.

While the page/surface transforms under conditions of atmosphere and/or foraging, ink or imprint also transforms during interactions between ink and surface or shoe and track. If I write a sequence of letters on many seed pods to create a poem/meaning/style on the seed pods in a pattern that varies, and leave that for several weeks and then come back, that pattern will likely have changed, as will the letters/poem/meanings/interpretations. There is an ephemerality to these projects; the ephemerality raises questions toward archive, remnant, and our being ‘in’ and ‘knowing’ in language—which, I think, has implications in relation to the possibilities of language to generate meanings, forms, and interpretations. Our explorations, encounters, perceptions from within language affects ‘us’ as individuals and species, and these elements have high degrees of inter-relation among us, as well as possibilities of shift and isolation between us.

I’m not really ‘allowing’ anything. I’ve leaving marks on a surface that might carry code/meaning (if someone comes upon it) through a common/shared method of interpretation (reading), and individualized frames of imagination. There needs to be a way, too, to find/access the pieces. The object (the seed pods) are of interest to other species, I imagine, as a food source or home. Any physical transformations will happen mostly without me; I do return to document—a form of archive which is always incomplete and loses context over duration.. The poem/letters/marks are part of an ecosystem where flux, remnant, emergence and a kind of obliqueness inform process, and less so, meaning. The outdoor work and collaboration with Elee is an exchange of letters and an exchange of time. We transfer what is made to the page and print it—as our surface and template vanishes. “We” don’t necessarily see all the patterns. The presences of poem, stump, seed pod pile, fall away. Poems last only as long as interpretation; they change all the time.

Q: Finally, who do you read to re-energize your own work, whether individually or towards the possibility of collaboration? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

EKG: I read about 100 print books a year, and I spend a lot of time reading online, too, so I come across lots of lines that are fresh or resonant—Kim Hyesoon and Joan Naviyuk Kane are always a bit of rocket fuel—but it’s probably being around other creators in different disciplines that gets me most excited. Lately it has been playing around with visual artists, sound artists, and musicians. I love talking in depth about their process. Even hearing a friend talk about a sudden breakthrough or problem in their poetry manuscript is very provocative. Every time I talk to Chris it supercharges my other projects as well as the one we are doing together. That’s why I love collaborating so much. The “what if” question is so contagious.

CT: I write out of walking, or with walking; “the outside” re-energizes me. I don’t really think in words, so much as bring things together in my mind while walking. I find that when I focus on other things—e.g. I’m not thinking of writing—that’s when I’m most productive in terms of gathering ideas, recognizing patterns (whatever a/symmetries) that will at some point be brought into words, or for which there words. I read a lot—less poetry, perhaps, than non-fiction or essays or odd little art books. I go through periods where I will read a lot of poetry of various types and subtypes, and from there usually read beyond the work itself toward interviews, and other things that the poet has written or has had written about the work. I am fascinated by translation—and  I’m mostly unilingual—some of the work that has opened thinking for me has been written through other languages.

When I read different books—4 or so at a time, so it’s slow—it’s often by accident that those books are being read in that cluster at that time. It may be that I am given a book to read, and I’ve picked one up at the library, and there’s one in my house unread since I found/bought it. But, there is usually some sort of trace, some elements or concepts, that ties them together in some ways. Not deliberately, really chance, a kind of tuning.

Collaboration has come with conversations—while maybe I read the person’s work or saw their work somewhere, collaboration is its own being and isn’t for everyone. Like any form of writing, it takes time. Nor should collaborations always ‘work out’ either—a collaboration is an attempt, and if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. There are no rules about how to collaborate as people, though there may be mutually considered ‘rules’ regarding any ‘meaning-making’ on the page itself—aesthetic or otherwise.