Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TtD supplement #112 : seven questions for Dani Spinosa

Dani Spinosa is a poet of digital and print media, an on-again-off-again precarious professor, the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory, and a co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press. Her first chapbook, Glosas for Tired Eyes, was published in 2017 with No Press, and her second, Glosa for Tired Eyes 2, appeared in 2018 with above/ground press. Her first scholarly manuscript, Anarchists in the Academy: Machines and Free Readers in Experimental Poetry, appeared recently from University of Alberta Press (Spring 2018).

Her poems “Mirella Bentivoglio,” “Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt,” “Eric Schmaltz,” “Franz Mon” and “Nico Vassilakis” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Mirella Bentivoglio,” “Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt,” “Eric Schmaltz,” “Franz Mon” and “Nico Vassilakis.”

A: So, these poems are what I call vispo glosas, where I have altered the glosa form to suit visual, and particularly typewriter concrete poetry. I take four “lines” (loosely interpreted) from a visual poem, and I build a “forty line” poem around those four lines, usually in the four ten-line stanza format of the traditional glosa.

For the poem from Mirella Bentivoglio, the beautiful Italian artist, poet, and sculptor, I chose four lines from her “Untitled (Amore),” already in the beautiful red ink, and built a forty-line glosa around those lines playing with the grid and my very flimsy grasp on the Italian language. Similarly, the poem from Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt takes four lines from one of the German poet’s “typewritings” and constructs a digitally-altered typewriter poem. The poem from Franz Mon literally subtracts numbered elements from one of Mon’s typewriter art pieces, and the poem from Nico Vassilakis separates one of his visual poems into four “stanzas.” Neither of these poems was ever reproduced on my own typewriter.

Finally, the poem from Eric Schmaltz takes from Schmaltz’s series, “Technical Babble (after Steven Shearer)” that was presented at the =SUM THINGS group show from the University of Waterloo Critical Media Lab, where I also had a digital installation. Schmaltz’s series borrows terminology from Amazon reviews of writing and printing technology. I extracted four lines from the piece and reproduced them on my typewriter, filling the other nine lines of each glosa stanza with words that matched Schmaltz’s in the number of letters, all of which were taken from the original manual of the typewriter on which I was writing (which, incidentally, Schmaltz sent me when he shared a digital archive of typewriter manuals). The piece became one of my favourites from my series of vispo glosas, tracing the way that our language around writing technology has evolved as we moved from typewriter to word processor to printer and beyond. It is also deeply collaborative, and brings to the fore the ways that Schmaltz has supported my writing (and the writing of many other young-ish writers today). Schmaltz’s series will appear in his forthcoming collection, Surfaces, coming out with Invisible Press in 2018.

Q: Part of what appeals about these poems is the way in which you are using the form to explore your understandings of each poet’s work, and building upon it. How did these pieces first emerge, and how did you decide on the glosa as your form? What do you feel the form allows that other forms might not?

A: To be frank, I started writing vispo glosas because almost every time I showed another male poet one of my typewriter poems, they recommended that I read another (usually male) visual poet. I chose the glosa form to mitigate these responses, laying bare that I had indeed already read broadly in the field and also to trace the derivative and collaborative nature of visual poetics. The glosa makes this derivation obvious. It also helps me to bring female visual poets like Bentivoglio and Wolf-Rehfeldt into the conversation because they are so often left out of these discussions.

Q: Impressive. I know of Judith Copithorne’s work (jwcurry has long been one of her fiercest champions), but not the other two. How does this work compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: The glosas took over. I used to write the occasional lyric-style poem here and there, but I struggled to find a voice and I always felt a discomfort with the level of authority I had over a reader with that kind of authorship. Now, I pretty much only write these little glosas. The glosas have also made me a better book designer; I came into this form as I was setting up Gap Riot Press with Kate Siklosi, so the design elements of both the press and the poems are really feeding off each other.

Q: How did working your glosas make you a better book designer?

A: Well, I got a crash course in Photoshop. But I also started thinking about how the words looked on the page. I started imagining how extracting these “lines” from their contexts allowed me to alter the original images substantially. And I realized that I too often thought about meaning without thinking about the visual elements of form. Now when we receive a submission at Gap Riot, the first thing I think is: how will this page LOOK.

Q: How long have you been working this form, and how far do you see yourself working within it? Do you see anything beyond it yet, or are you still deep inside? Are you working on any other types of writing alongside?

A: I started about a year ago. I still have the post it note I left for myself that says: “why not a vispo glosa”? And I am still deep inside the glosa cave. I don’t write anything but glosas now, and feedback for student essays. I am sure that one day I will get bored of them, but as long as there are new visual poems for me to read, I suspect I will be making glosas out of them.

Q: How many have you completed so far? Are you aiming, also, for a single piece per subject/poet, or are you working multiple pieces from the same authorial source?

A: I have around 50 of them right now. So far, I am only doing one per author because the process encourages me to find poems and poets I have not encountered yet. But, when I have the time, I would love to do a series on some of my favourite poets. I am also toying with how to do a series on Judith Copithorne, because her work uses so much handwriting. One day.

Q: Okay, I am enormously excited about the thought of that. So, finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Right now I am reading and rereading Canisia Lubrin’s Voodoo Hypothesis. I love the way she uses line breaks both in terms of the aural and the visual effects. But, what I always return to, no matter what, is John Cage’s “62 Mesostics Re Merce Cunningham.” They have everything: ridiculous nonce words, fancy Letraset, secret love messages, anarchist queer politics, and they are pretty pictures! I suspect I have “read” these mesostics once a week since they were first introduced to me (in Andy Weaver’s course) and that was nearly a decade ago.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

TtD supplement #111 : seven questions for Stephen Cain

Stephen Cain is the author of six full-length collections of poetry and a dozen chapbooks, including False Friends (Bookthug), I Can Say Interpellation (Bookthug), Zoom (above/ground), Etc Phrases (Bookthug), American Standard/ Canada Dry (Coach House), Torontology (ECW) and dyslexicon (Coach House). His academic publications include The Encyclopedia of Fictional and Fantastic Languages (co-written with Tim Conley from Greenwood in 2006) and a critical edition of bpNichol’s early long poems: bp: beginnings (Bookthug, 2014). He lives in Toronto where he teaches avant-garde and Canadian literature at York University.

Three poems from his “Walking and Stealing” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the sequence “Walking and Stealing.”

A: Walking and Stealing is a long serial poem composed over the summer of 2017 which encompasses my interests, over the past decade, in constraint-based writing, psychogeography, and political resistance, and continues my exploration of the pun, popular culture, and alliteration. Each section was composed at a park in Toronto and the GTA between innings of games in which my youngest son, a Peewee AA ballplayer, was pitching and fielding. The composition time of each section is the length of a game, and the first draft of each section was recorded in a notebook in the shape and design of a baseball (see attached). While the impetus and origin of the poem is juvenile sports, baseball is not so much the subject of the poem, but the site and event which allows the poem to arise as I explore duration, association, and subjectivity. The game of baseball also functions as an analogue for poetic exploration; for example, the title of the poem refers to plays in baseball (interestingly, two ways which one can gain a base without hitting a ball), but also to psychogeographic perambulation and “stealing” as poetic intertextuality.

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

A: It’s hard to see where you’re going when you’re in it, but right now W&S feels libratory. It’s led to a one-off poem of discarded lines “Punch the Wall” and a longer serial poem “Tag & Run”. But it also fits with academic work I’ve been pursuing: an essay on the writing of Queen St. West as a hauntology, another on spatiality in Austin Clarke’s depiction of Moss Park, and even a newer enterprise analyzing the depiction of Kensington Market in Canadian sit-coms. There’s also a nascent uber-project tying together the early cinematography of David Cronenberg with the public sculptures of Sorel Etrog, Oscar Wilde’s visit to Canada, and spaces where Emma Goldman, Jane Jacobs, and Kathy Acker changed the trajectory of Toronto’s cultural representation. 

Q: With a half dozen trade titles and a dozen chapbooks published so far, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Like the previous question, I don’t know if I can say there’s been an evolutionary trajectory of my writing. I don’t hate my earlier books (which I understand most poets do at middle age/ mid-career), and other than believing that my ear is better now, my interests in poetry have remained fairly consistent: exploring how, through word-play and humour, language can “surprise”, reveal latent political and ideological constructions, and hopefully allow the reader to see material conditions in a new way. As to moving forward, I still feel these issues haven’t been exhausted; I’ll keep trying my hand at new formal structures and make modest efforts at inventing new ones. Right now I’m excited by working at the micro-level: short lines, intense alliteration, and highly condensed puns, striving for maximum compression as I hope W&S illustrates.

Q: You’ve long been engaged in the serial poem/sequence, and even spent a time working sequence of tens, in tens. What is your attraction to working such longer, sequential forms, and what do you feel you can accomplish through such that might not be possible otherwise?

A: Indeed, I’m still at it. W&S is a site specific and temporally-bounded serial poem (poems at a set baseball diamond and the game time = composition time). You’re right that I keep working in sequence and with constraints. I think I’m not as bound by the sequence of 10 as I used to be (relinquishing the “metric system”? Decimation, a lost manuscript of the 1990s…) but I still find the serial form useful. While earlier in my writing I was more of an OuLiPo/ constraint poet, I’m finding the Spicer/ Blaser serial form more intriguing these days. Could it possibly be a happy medium between the two schools? I like listening to Martian radio to guide how I move from line to line and stanza to stanza, but I also like having an end-point, or a point of closure (i.e. I stop listening to the broadcasts after 10 lines or 6 innings).

Q: Do you see a distinction between, as you describe them, “an end-point” and “a point of closure,” and how do you decide which to utilize? Or does it vary from piece-to-piece?

A: Interesting question. Yes, I feel there’s a difference, with “point of closure” being something more definitive, pre-planned, tied up nicely, whereas “end-point” is more like “I think that’s the end, that’ll do for now.” Years ago when I was researching the history of the long poem in English literature I recall that I came to accept the difference between the Modernist Long Poem ™ and the Postmodern Long Poem was about conclusions. That while some Modern Long Poems “fail” to come to conclusive endings, they at least envision an ending—cross that bridge, bring rain to the waste land, write your way out of hell—the Postmodern long poem doesn’t have an end goal in mind. They can both equally fail but I guess the PoMo version doesn’t even have that wager on the table. I find myself mostly in the latter camp these days with both W&S and the new sequence I’m working on (Tag & Run) in that I value the process itself over getting to absolute conclusions.

Q: Would you call this an evolution in your work, valuing the process over absolute conclusion, or more of a realization? Either way, what has the difference been?

A: I think it’s more an issue of resisting the “punch line” poem, or the poem that builds to a powerful final line. Not in itself a bad thing, but the danger is that the whole poem exists just to support that final phrase. Why not just present that “crowd-pleasing” line and give up the pretense of all the excess build-up? It was more a danger in my earlier short poems, or in my concrete poems (the pun-based ones, or ones involving permutations of initial words that reveal puns) rather than in the longer sequences, but it can occur in the longer pieces as well. I guess my coming to this point is not so much evolutionary as it is a reflection of my aesthetic sensibility over the last few years, perhaps paralleled by my interest in free jazz and improvised music: I like moment to moment surprises, or periods of confusion followed by flashes of recognition or illumination, rather than a steady move to a final climax.

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

A: Always bpNichol, always bp. But since you asked about revisiting, rather than new poetry that I find exciting, over the past year (and during the composition of W&S) I enjoyed re-reading (and found inspiring) the works of Gwendolyn MacEwen, Jack Spicer, Dionne Brand, David McFadden, Phyllis Webb, William Blake, Erin Moure, Gertrude Stein, Aimé Césaire, Nancy Shaw, and Iain Sinclair.

Monday, July 23, 2018

TtD supplement #110 : seven questions for Ryan Eckes

Ryan Eckes is a poet from Philadelphia. His latest book, General Motors (Split Lip Press, 2018), is about labor and the influence of public and private transportation on city life. Other books include Valu-Plus and Old News (Furniture Press 2014, 2011). His poetry can be found in Tripwire, Slow Poetry in America Newsletter, Entropy and elsewhere. He has worked as an adjunct professor at numerous colleges and in recent years as a labor organizer in education. He won a Pew Fellowship in 2016.

His poems “injury music,” “injury music,” “horses” and “for what we will” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “injury music,” “injury music,” “horses” and “for what we will.”

A: “horses” is from my latest book, General Motors, and is part of a series of prose poems called ‘chase scenes’ that deal with desires for speed and escape from labor and how the history of transit shapes personal or family history. I was writing poems that blur easy distinctions between “public” and “private” realms and trying to undermine the U.S. myth of rugged individualism. After finishing General Motors, I started writing poems called “injury music” and “for what we will,” not entirely sure where I’m going. I’m thinking about pain, trauma and more questions around work. “For what we will” comes from the old labor union slogan, “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will.” It’s sad that 8 hours of work/40 hours a week is still considered normal, considered actually natural by many people, a century after it was established as a *protection*. Why aren’t we at 4 hours by now? Why is the minimum wage still so low? Why do Americans worship the rich? I could go on. But these are the kinds of questions that I let propel my writing at the same time that I am trying to understand myself as a living thing made of relations.

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

A: I’ve also been experimenting with essays that address similar concerns, to dig deeper into history. I try to use the paragraph the same way I use a line in a poem, letting associational thinking lead to unexpected connections, new ideas. There are some essays called “spurs” in the new book.

Q: What do you feel you are able to explore through the blend of poetry and essay that you might not have been able to accomplish otherwise?

A: It’s easier to convey information in prose. Because I’ve gotten more interested in writing about history that’s been erased, I accumulate factual material that I want to share, and so the essay has become the vehicle. I think of the essay as a poetic form, keeping in mind the meaning of the verb to essay, to attempt. The exploratory nature of the essay is what makes it still feel like poetry. I’m just putting pressure on language in a different way. But to answer your question in one word: history.

Q: With three full-length collections over the past near-decade, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: The writing has become more overtly political over time as my sense of urgency has grown. By sense of urgency I mean an awareness of time fleeting—mortality and consequent desire. Desire for justice, desire for pleasure, desire for human connection. Poetry is about living, and as we live under capitalism, which is about killing everything, writing feels like cutting through the wind, and that feels right. It’s harder to answer your second question, about the future, because I’ve never had too much of a plan and have moved through life largely intuitively. Sometimes I feel that poetry is not enough, that I should do something else entirely. Then I think nothing else makes sense to do, and I keep going.

Q: Have you had any models for this kind of writing? What other poets have influenced the ways in which you approach your material?

A: So many. In terms of mixing prose and poetry, William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All and Jack Spicer’s After Lorca were early influences. I’ve always liked the idea of a book as a book—as all one piece—rather than a “collection” of standalone poems. I think of poems in relation to other poems, and in relation to non-poetic material. This is because of Philly, too. Advanced Elvis Course by CAConrad, for example, will change how you think. And becoming a poet in Philly in the 2000s, in the post-9/11 era, changed how I think. It radicalized me for sure. I learned far more about history and politics from hanging out with poets in bars than I ever did in school. That is not an exaggeration. And I think it’s because of knowing poets like CAConrad and Frank Sherlock that I so often go back to influences from the 60s-70s-80s—Amiri Baraka, Diane di Prima, Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lorde, Ammiel Alcalay, and so on.

Q: How does one “become” a poet, as opposed to, say, simply starting to write? What does it mean, in your definition, to be a poet?

A: I think a poet is a person who writes poetry. But people quit all the time, and I know would’ve quit a long time ago if I hadn’t gotten to know other poets. Poetry, any art, for the most part, can only exist in a community, but people suffer from this dominant conception of the artist as an isolated genius—that’s what museums usually present to the public, this idea that an artwork sprung up out of nowhere in the middle of a field, when in reality it came from a complex social dynamic. Influence is played down and originality is played up. Any time I teach an intro creative writing class, I have to explain this to my students. When I was 20, I fell in love with poetry because of a class I took, and it happened that two of my classmates also fell in love with poetry, we were very serious, and somehow we figured this out about each other and we started hanging out outside of class, having intense conversations, trading books, etc, and among the three of us a whole other little world started to seem possible. It felt like magic. That is how I think I started to “become” a poet. At a certain point, in my late 20s, I realized I would never stop. I was too far in.

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

A: Well, over the last year, here are a few: Abdellatif Laâbi, Frank Lima, Anne Boyer, Marion Bell, Diane di Prima, Alice Notley, Amiri Baraka, Raúl Zurita, Lewis Warsh, Maged Zaher.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Touch the Donkey : eighteenth issue,

The eighteenth issue is now available, with new poems by Ryan Eckes, Samuel Ace, Stephen Cain, Howie Good, Dani Spinosa, Rusty Morrison, Lupe Gómez (trans. Erín Moure), Allison Cardon and Jon Boisvert.

Seven dollars (includes shipping). It’s ultramodern, like living in the not-too-distant future!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

TtD supplement #109: seven questions for Victor Coleman

Victor Coleman was born and still lives in Toronto. Please take his books out from your local public libraries to help increase his PLR.

An excerpt from his poem “Suite Sixteen” appears in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Suite Sixteen.”

A: “Suite Sixteen” is an Oulipian exercise in, or examination of, the “truncated sonnet”

It started while I was participating in the bpNichol Writing Group that formed a few years ago at the Coach House Press and continues, although informally, today.

I simply missed a syllable when attempting to write a 17 syllable stanza and, as is my wont, continued apace, at least until someone told me to stop.

It is also a somewhat playful exercise in rhyme.

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

A: It doesn’t.

Q: You’ve worked on longer projects for some time now: suites, sequences or otherwise connected poems constructed through a series of what Bowering called ‘baffles.’ What is it about these exercises composing linked poems that appeals? What do you feel you can accomplish through such structures that might not be possible otherwise?

A: The Serial Poem, as defined and practiced by a group of poets from California’s Bay Area (San Francisco, Berkeley, etc.) including Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer, was a further investigation of the more traditional poem sequence practiced by poets in many languages over an unspecified period of writing. At its lowest manifestation it’s the typical minor poems repeated endlessly with large and/or small variations. Higher up the chain it’s a book-length poem with a common “theme” – or “the me” as I like to point out to potential student/practitioners of the art.

“I like to describe this in Ovidian terms, as a carmen perpetuum, a continuous song in which the fragmented subject matter is only apparently disconnected.” – Robin Blaser, “The Fire”.

Q: What is the bpNichol Lane Writing Group, and what effect, if any, has it had upon you work?

A: The bpNichol Lane Writers’ Group started a few years ago as a writing seminar organized by me and Mike Boughn to accommodate some of Mike’s University of Toronto students who were either actively writing or beginning to lean in that direction. We met, if I remember correctly, every two weeks at The Coach House Press, which is located on what is now called bpNichol Lane, after it was christened that by my sister Liz Amer, who was a Toronto City Councillor at the time.
The group has evolved over the years – even starting a periodical called COUGH (three issues published to date), and performing large group readings, etc. The group no longer meets regularly – but it still exists as an informal infrequent get together.

Q: Has your participation in the group altered your considerations of writing at all? And is there a difference between engaging with emerging writers now than, say, forty or fifty years ago?

A:  Forty of 50 years ago I was an emerging writer, so I’m not prepared to expound on that. My engagement with younger writers is extremely important in what I consider to be my continuing development.

Q: Who are the writers among these contemporaries are you most excited about, and think deserve more attention?

A:  To date I’d say the writers who have actually managed to put together publishable manuscripts, such as Emily Izsak, David Peter Clark, Michael Harman, Zach Buck & Andrew McEwan. The amount of attention they deserve is not something I seriously consider.

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

A:  Currently I like to dip into the collected works of William Carlos Williams, Wyndham Lewis, Douglas Woolf, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, Lorine Niedecker and Edward Dorn.

Friday, June 29, 2018

TtD supplement #108 : seven questions for Sarah MacDonell

Sarah MacDonell writes, bakes and scuttles around Ottawa. She is the social media manager for Tree Reading Series and a contributing editor for Canthius. She performs and publishes in vestibules around town.

Her poem “sifting” appears in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “sifting.”

A: I wanted to write about the magic of baking. I wrote sifting when I was working at a bakery. I had exaggerated my abilities and experience because I needed the job, and it surprised me how much I loved the work and loved the womxn I worked with. We chatted all day, and chatted to the cakes and ovens too. I told the batter and dough everything. There was something magical about seeing it turn decadent in a few hours, despite of— or in response to—what I told it. Dressing it up, fluffing it out. The routine of it too. I decorated the cakes and sometimes they looked sad. They were always pretty. But sometimes they looked sad or silly or joyous. I guess it’s like any art. You and your moods shine through it. And when you work so closely with people, they shine through it too. It’s magic to me.

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

A: I’ve been on a bit of a writing break lately, haha so it’s incomparable to anything I’ve been writing lately because I haven’t been writing. I’ve been promoting other poets’ work through Tree Reading Series and Canthius Literary Magazine and that seems to take up most of my writing time, which is lovely. I enjoy promoting other writers and attempting to forge the kind of community I want and respect. Hopefully, inspiration and personal time will strike soon. But if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. I’ve met so many amazing writers in the past few months. I’m learning that writing isn’t a solitary act at all. Nor should it be.

But I would say that “sifting” is much more contained and immediate than my past work. It felt important to remain within the space of the bakery. The oven, the movements of bakers, the sifting, whisking and kneading, all happen quickly. They demand presence. I usually write in longer, breathless lines, but this poem needed more staccato. It would have been dishonest to the baking and magic to drift into histories, thoughts or wordplay, as my other poems sometimes do. (And it was really, really difficult to resist the baggage of yeast: all the stories crafted around fermentation).

Q: Despite the recent break from writing, how have you seen your work developing? Has there been any shift in your consideration to writing through your work at Tree or Canthius?

A: Hm, my writing used to be interested in geologies and landscapes (physical landscapes, landscapes of the body, landscapes of the text). And I’m still interested in those, but I’m writing more contained pieces. Now, I’m more interested in my grandmothers and the lives they lived. How their memories and languages get passed through heritage, how their stories get repeated through my mother’s life and mine. (What closure did my mother experience for my grandmother? What experiences will I live unknowingly for my mother? And what has my grandmother already lived for me? …Among other questions) It’s more personal, and sometimes it feels very narcissistic. But maybe it’s just more upfront about its narcissism. It doesn’t have form to hide behind.

Before I got involved with Tree and Canthius—and to some extent before I got to join a writing group of my peers (hey &co)—I was writing and thinking in isolation. I used to write poetry as a means of exploration. It was good, but it no longer feels possible. Now writing feels social and I feel less certain in what I believe good writing is or should do. I have a lot more reading to do, and a lot more thinking through what space poetry has in a public (and which public).

I also get overwhelmed by the space poetry requires. Or at least how it’s imagined under CanLit. There’s the space of the performance, the page, the audience, the open mic, the sound, the body (that of reader and poet), the press, the publisher, the community, etc. And all of that has to be navigated in real time. Through all its complexities: its permissions and erasures, its joys and violence, its epiphanies and silences. Let alone the historical weight of each word. That’s something I’m thinking through.

Q: Have there been any specific writers that have helped prompt some of these shifts? What have you read recently that has struck a chord with what you’re attempting to do?

A: Sure! With ideas of family, heritage and archive, I’ve recently read Veronica Gonzalez, Chelene Knight, Hoa Nguyen, Kayla Czaga. More locally: Sarah Kabamba, Manahil Bandukwala, Jennifer Pederson, Mia Morgan, you, Stephen Brockwell.

Q: What do you mean when you speak about “the space poetry requires,” specifically “how its imagined under CanLit”?

A: Oh just that sometimes we write inside communities or alongside them or outside of them. So what does it mean that a poem was written in one space (physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, whatever) and then transported to be performed or published or read. How do we care for that poem outside it’s space, or help create new space for it? And what work goes into creating those spaces. How does the work need to be contextualized? What work do the reader, the audience member, the series facilitator, the MC (everyone who witnesses and participates in the reading/ performance of poetry) have to do to best represent, make space for, the poem? (And maybe that’s unfair to say under CanLit. I just think of the ways publishing has so obviously failed so many womxn and POC.)

But with space so I’m rereading Maggie Nelson’s the argonauts. And that’s a book I think that requires a lot of trust in her reader. She jumps brilliantly and elegantly from subject matters to weave these narrative and questions, but she trusts her reader to jump with her. Maybe it’s an ethics of readership, or a responsibility. Haha I’m not really sure.

Q: What do you feel CanLit should be doing differently? What do you feel should be the response to addressing such failures?

A: Haha believing womxn. Believing POC. I’m mostly thinking of the past year. I really appreciated Lauren Turner's essay On Covered Mouths, but also oppression beyond gender. A community response to bullshit so that gossip isn’t the only legitimate tool many people have. There are series and presses that do this well. That I know of, Desert Pets Press, Battleaxe, Canyon Copper, Tinhouse, and others. I think I’m also still rectifying Canadian politeness. And I’m thinking about Maya Binyam’s Watching the Woke Olympics so I’m not really sure how to help things change. But I’m thinking about it.

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

A: I really love CA Conrad’s Ecodeviance. I find myself returning to it often, sometimes in awe of language, of energy, of poetic ritual ideas. I also find myself returning to Lorine Neidecker for archive, Natalie Diaz and Brecken Hancock for family.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

TtD supplement #107 : seven questions for Janet Kaplan

Janet Kaplan’s full-length poetry books are Ecotones (forthcoming in 2019 from Eyewear Ltd.), Dreamlife of a Philanthropist: Prose Poems & Prose Sonnets (winner of the 2011 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry from University of Notre Dame Press), The Glazier’s Country (winner of the 2003 Poets Out Loud Prize from Fordham University Press) and The Groundnote (Alice James Books, 1998). Her honors include grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Bronx Council on the Arts, fellowships and residencies from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ucross Foundation and the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Cross Currents, Denver Quarterly, Interim, The Paris Review, Pool, The Prose Poem Project, Sentence, The Southampton Review, Tupelo Quarterly and many others, as well as in the anthologies An Introduction to the Prose Poem (Firewheel Editions, 2007), Lit from Inside: 40 Years of Poetry from Alice James (Alice James Books, 2012) and Like Light: 25 Years of Poetry & Prose by Bright Hill Poets & Writers (Bright Hill Press, 2017). She’s served as Poet-in-Residence at Fordham University and is currently a member of the creative writing faculty at Hofstra University, where she edits AMP magazine.

Her poem “A Yellow Dwarf’s Photonegative Capability” appears in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “A Yellow Dwarf’s Photonegative Capability.”

A: “Yellow Dwarf” is one of the poems in Ecotones, due out in 2019. The work deals with our responses to nature and how, as nature, we’ve somehow forgotten that we are nature. In “Yellow Dwarf,” I tell a fairy-tale-like story. Most fairy tales involve a relationship between human beings and animals with special powers. In my tale, the animals are zooplankton, the smallest animals in the food chain; they’re powerless, though, because the human being in the tale can no longer “hear” them—can no longer understand what they really are. In fact, the human being poisons them—and herself—by leading them to the sea to drink water contaminated with plastic particulates. Exposed to sunlight, plastic disintegrates in a process called photodecomposition, but it never fully breaks down. It remains in the water, where it’s consumed by zooplankton—and on up the food chain. I contrast this “tale” with an excerpt from an origin story, “Records of the Grand Historian,” by the Han Dynasty writer Sima Qian (ca. 91 BCE), in which powerful animals help the human-hero defeat an enemy sun god. “A Yellow Dwarf’s Photonegative Capability” (pun on Keats’ Negative Capability intended!) is my depiction of the broken connection between—the decomposition of—humans and the rest of the natural world.

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

A: I’m still at work on a number of poems in Ecotones. If and when I can see beyond this book, there’s a hybrid prose collection—part fiction, part memoir, part essay—staring at me from the box I placed it in about three years ago. The subject matter is different from Ecotones’ but the form—or, rather, the mixing of forms—is similar. I think I’ve caught the hybrid bug.

Q: When you say “mixing of forms,” what forms are you exploring?

A: In Ecotones, I mix fictional prose narrative, poetry and sampled text fragments. In my hybrid prose manuscript-in-progress, there’ll be fiction, memoir and very short essays.

Q: What do you feel you’re able to accomplish through the hybrid that you might not be able to otherwise?

A: I’m hoping for a more accurate—meaning, more complete—depiction of a life’s environment. One section Ecotones contains a fictional account of a substance abuser’s life. This account takes place, as all lives do, in an historical time and place—or, rather, in many times and places.  I use different literary shapes—paragraphs, stanzas—a variety of typefaces, irregular spacing and placement of text, and a bit of line art, to depict the voices—some complementing, some contrasting, like odd Greek choruses—that arise from these times and places. And, of course, there’s blank space to represent the silences.

Q: With a small handful of books over the past two decades, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Sometimes I feel like Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet who adopted not only pseudonyms but utterly distinct voices for each of his books. With each of my books, I’ve had a different question to answer, a different goal. If someone can find a single “voice” that could be recognized as the Janet Kaplan voice threading through each of my books, I’d love to know about it. But I’ve stopped worrying about it. There’s yet another voice—a fifth? a fiftieth?—in a new poetry manuscript-in-progress tentatively titled “Pitch Light.” This new voice cracks me up; I was howling with laughter as I wrote the first drafts.

In any case, I’m intensely grateful for my “small handful” of books! Each took time and patience in the interstices of a busy, broke (but not broken!) life. Teaching, getting the bills paid, teaching, getting the bills paid....

Q: “Voice” feels less a concern than simply understanding the ways in which your books interact with each other. bpNichol said something once about the work connecting only due to it all composed by the same hand. Do you worry your books each sound like a different writer, thus distancing any ongoing readership you might have?

A: Why should one’s books interact with one another? I absolutely agree with bpNichol here! As for the worrying, to be honest, I worry about having enough money, enough time.... And then, like the poet A.R. Ammons, I go for a walk.

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

A: Actually, in the last few years, I’ve been reading and re-reading the Christian, Sufi, Jewish and Hindu mystics, with Zen haiku masters joining in to intensify the blaze. Thanks for asking!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

TtD supplement #106 : five questions for Phil Hall

Phil Hall’s most recent books are Conjugation (BookThug, 2016), Notes on Assemblage (JackPine Press, 2017), and (with Erín Moure) The Interrupted (Beautiful Outlaw Press, 2017).

His poem “Steps” appears in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Steps.”

A: Not to make too much of so little…

But I am interested in each word as a creature in itself that has evolved & is evolving even as we show-offs use them.

I want to track social & historical movement using only a creature at a time to see what that minimal focus might reveal.

In the slightest adjustments can be seen enormous affinities & leaps of reference.

These poems are suspicious of the writerly flourish, wary of pop sympathies & prejudices that become tropes.

For instance, using bp’s joke of saints in words—such as St And built from the word “stand,”—one two-step here speaks of how easily we move from what is “unclear”  (Uncle Ar) to what is seen as “unclean” (Uncle An).

The avuncular in criticism still implies that if poems are unclear they are unclean.

These are political poems—I guess—almost political poem pills.

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

A: Whether Steps is a poem or a sequence of poems, we may consider the order of each part or poem & their proximity to each other, as well as their obvious list-isolation.

There is always a relation between the word under the microscope & the word in the field, in the sentence, at the televised debate.

The Other World under the slide—in our tiny poems—has the potential to cure verbiage & lies. I have to believe this, even if it isn’t true anymore, or never was…

I mostly work in sequence forms. These are Spicerian marathons, but the interest I have in proximity as a potential force in such poems is the same as in Steps.

This beside this is not only 1 plus 1—it is tone-change, furtherance (= 3), & a texture shift—or even an irrelevancy that illumes—all of which is not beholden to syntax.

Between sections in a long poem, between single words in one of these Steps poems, (and between the letters in a word if we turn the focus way up), there accumulates (the hope of) a force that is not logical but processional, not telling but assembly.

Q: You’ve been working with the extended suite for some time, working, it would seem, with the book-length poem as your unit of composition. How did you get from writing individual poems to working with such a larger form, and what do you feel you’re able to accomplish through book-length that you might not be able to otherwise?

A: I respect the lone cry of the lyric, but it is rarely pure, & almost always imitative. To be that desperate & alone a cry has to be half crazy.

The cacophony of sequence approaches carnival. The cooperation of chorus involves a displacement of ego. These are good things to invite, so I do.

The book, for me, is a life unit: during these 4 or 5 years, I have invited & welcomed & arranged the following.
All of the preoccupations, distractions, enthusiasms, & revelatory fears of these living years of mine are here…

The book is where the author joins the audience. Maybe I write books so that I can join the audience. The brief silence of being in my own book’s audience is reward enough. A respite.

But soon the next compulsive pull of design & trouble, that lyric desperation, nudges me out of my seat, & I have to find the exit, have to go off on my own again…

I have come to think that for me the only way out of or back from lyric isolation (craziness) is through a multi-valenced widening…

I feel again & again the compulsion to invoke, ISBN by ISBN, the fortifications of harmony & pattern.

Q: With over a dozen full-length collections over the past two decades, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: The first word that comes to mind when I read this question is: landfill.

But that is deflective, morbidly un-funny—& a little interesting: my name is in there…

Hey, I keep looking for that guy! And he keeps looking for legitimacy in polyvocal company.

But the only company I trust is A to Z.

So Steps is (or are) an effort to keep my eye to the microscope of the alphabet.

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

A: Thirty years ago I painted Greek blue a wall in my bachelor apartment & stuck to it 80 white file cards each holding one of Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers poems so I could study them as part of my daily routine.

No blanch witloof handbound dry / Heart to racks a comb

This winter I spent 6 months in Guyana—what I took & studied again daily there was Zuk’s “A”.
Classical anti-classicism crunched & unraveled into housebound song.

Will explain to us
How to do
The wrong things
The right way

Crunch or unravel, Z gets me every time.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

TtD supplement #105 : seven questions for Valerie Coulton

Valerie Coulton’s chapbook, small bed & field guide, was recently published by above/ground press. Previous books are open book, The Cellar Dreamer, passing world pictures (all from Apogee Press), and the lily book (San Francisco State University Press). Her work has appeared in New American Writing, Front Porch, kadar koli, Fourteen Hills, Parthenon West Review, and e-poema, among other periodicals. She lives in Barcelona with the poet Edward Smallfield and is one of the editors of parentheses, a multi-lingual journal of poetry and fiction.

She has eight untitled poems in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about these eight untitled poems.

A: These have a few things going on: mostly written in summer, experimenting with letting different kinds of language come in, and also meditating a bit on my dad.

Q: Is the suite of poems larger than the eight collected here?

A: Yes, there are more or less 30 pieces in the series.

Q: How is such a suite composed? Do you start at the beginning and move in a linear fashion, or do you begin in the middle and move outwards?

A: That’s a good question. Right now, the pieces are in the order they were written in, and that usually seems to hold for me, but when a series feels truly finished, there could be some movement.

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

A: This project continues, so it’s always there as a possibility for writing, or a home for a new piece. And knowing that means that completely other pieces or projects can emerge. I like the comfort of something ongoing.

Q: Well, as Ondaatje paraphrased Spicer, the poems “cannot live alone any more than we can […].” Is this something you find in your work? Are poems usually composed as part of a larger structure? Is there such a creature as a single, orphaned, unconnected poem?

A: That’s an interesting question. My impulse is to say yes, but at the same time I generally feel that my poems are connected to each other, either by an explicit project or an implicit set of concerns. Work of a time often seems, in retrospect, to share elements. Also, I tend to shy away from wanting my poems to feel absolutely resolved. I do write some that have this quality, but when revising I often try to disrupt the resolution. Poems of a project sometimes appear to me as pieces or fragments of tile from a mosaic: each one should be interesting on its own but contribute to a greater whole.

Q: Where did this impulse come from? Might this suggest that, through your multiple book-length and chapbook-length projects, you are writing a singular, loosely-interconnected, work?

A: There’s a part of my work that could definitely be considered instalments of one long project. There are other series, though, that are linguistically different and seem to me to come from another kind of source; it would be interesting to reconsider them and how they do interconnect.

Q: If your work might be considered all part of a singular, interconnected project, how would you see your collaborative work fitting into that? Are you extending your reach, or working entirely outside?

A: I usually collaborate with my husband and favorite poet, Edward Smallfield. As he is always inside everything I write, and my primary reader, working with him is a natural extension.

Q: What do you feel you are able to accomplish with collaborative work that you aren’t able to with your individual work, and vice versa?

A: In my own work, I’m able to enter a world that is “mine” but which I’m not fully conscious of. In collaboration, I appreciate the sense and respond element, a sense of improvisation together, and of coming up with something beyond what I could do alone.

Q: After four full-length collections and a handful of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think I’m more accepting now, in the sense that I can allow more things to happen, and to remain, than I might have in the past. I trust my intuition more. I used to be concerned with occluding, encoding and erasing. Now I’m interested in layers of time and how to give them their voices. I don’t know where my work is headed, but I feel enormously grateful to be writing and living with Edward, and to have support for my writing from you and others. Just being able to do it is everything.

Q: Have you any writers or works in mind when you begin to construct new work? How do chapbooks or books get formed? Are the processes different at all?

A: I’m generally inspired by other writers and works, they’re often a departure point or present in some way in a project. Book sections have come from reading Lorine Niedecker and Borges, for example. For me the book and chapbook processes are similar: keep adding pieces to a series until it feels done.

Q: Are chapbook-length works eventually absorbed into book-length manuscripts?

A: Sometimes yes, but usually as a section of a multi-section work.

Q: How early might the size and shape of a particular project make itself known?

A: Usually not until I’m getting pretty close to the end.

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

A: Fortunately, I live with my favorite writer, so I have a constant source of inspiration. I also get very energized by other writers I know; seeing their new work often sparks something for me. From the bookshelf, Archilochos and Niedecker are always there...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

TtD supplement #104 : seven questions for Dale Smith

Dale Smith is a poet and critic who lives in Toronto, Ontario, where he serves on the faculty of English at Ryerson University.

His poem “from April Ontario” appears in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “from April Ontario.”

A: It’s a follow up to a question-based group of poems I wrote in 2005 called Notes No Answer (Habenicht Press). I like the form of the short question as an organizing principle of the poetic line and stanza. Poetic questions give me room to expand into a range of concerns, particularly, in this instance, looking at time, the experience of temporal duration in both consciousness and the body, and to consider the origin of image-making and language in the deep past of human history. I also look forward from that past to the extinction of life forms we hear about so often. The Bramble Cay melomys, for example, is a kind of rat in Australia that disappeared completely in 2007.

Q: How does the title relate to the activity of the poem?

A: I only sent you a selection of April Ontario. I see it as a kind of poem-essay. Besides cave art and Werner Herzog’s film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the poem is framed around a walk to a park in Toronto with my sons, Keaton and Waylon. Keaton was anxious on our walk because it seemed so suddenly warm for the time of year. He worries about weather catastrophe. He’s sensitive and reasonably aware of his world. So the poem is a place for me to think through my response to him. But yes, literally, the title refers to time and place, the temporal and geographic coordinates of our conversation.

Q: You’ve been in Toronto for a few years now, after having spent more than a dozen years in Texas. With the geographic shift, have you noticed any corresponding structural shifts in your writing?

A: My writing has always acknowledged specific geographic settings. The morphology of the landscape has changed as I have moved from Texas to California to Ontario, and I’ve tried to remain alert to these various realities. I’ve had to learn to see new trees and birds, get to know new ecosystems and variations in those systems according to where I may be looking—whether in the city or the country. The main difference I notice is the verticality of Ontario—the way trees direct attention within smaller confines than, say, Texas, where the sky’s horizontal expanse produces a very different experience of perception.

Q: You’ve already mentioned Notes No Answer, but how does this current project relate to some of the other work you’ve been doing?

A: I’ve worked with the serial form for quite some time. I like the accumulating stanzas and the pathways they open for wandering around in. Thematically, I think for a long time my writing has been informed by the collision of the domestic within larger social, political, and historical frames of reference. And by “social” I only mean to imply a kind of connectivity to people and things. I think more recently I’ve become concerned with the function and feeling—the experience—of time. Or of my sense of inhabiting it both physically and imaginatively. So that’s different. That’s a new thing. And I’m also curious about how other non-human creatures and plants are absorbed into time and how it interacts with my own processes of awareness.

Q: How did you develop your interest in the serial poem, and what do you feel the form allows you to accomplish that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise? And is there even such a thing, in your mind, as the single, stand-alone poem?

A: The formal possibilities of seriality in poetry were advanced after the second world war. It’s a form I like because I’m interested in poems and essays, in poems as essays. Seriality for me allows the kind of open rambling of the essay to take place in the realm of poetry. I don’t think, actually, there’s much difference between the essay and the poem other than a kind of attitude toward language.

As to the second part of your question, I’m not sure anything stands alone—especially a poem. Thematic echoes, syllabic correspondences, intertextual coherences, and other attributes seem always to radiate between poems across time and geographies. Today is the first of May and I’ve been thinking of how Robert Herrick sounds the greeny month in his poem, “Corinna’s going a Maying.” A poem like that seems almost a kind of foliage interlaced into the landscape of English going back to Chaucer and forward to Ed Dorn’s tender, mournful Sousa, where he invokes “the only May Day / of my mind.”

Q: After a handful of poetry and critical titles over the past two decades or so, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A:  I’m not sure where my work is headed. I follow it; it doesn’t follow me. What’s interesting is to see how the work’s movements retain a kind of coherence over those decades. I like to use poetry to think about environments of history and family. I’m not a writer who seeks the highly-wrought, the formally perfect gesture. I use the process of writing to create spaces of arrival.

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

A: I frequently return to Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and the world of writing they helped shape—Robin Blaser, Fred Wah in Canada—Susan Howe and Alice Notley in the States. Joanne Kyger passed away last month, and I’ve been thinking daily of her work and everything it has meant to me for so long.

I never find myself looking again at Language Poetry or Conceptual Poetry—period styles with short shelf lives.

I think recently its Blues Modernism I find most sustaining—Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker. Their work is a mountain—a thicket. I hear in it an America of fragment and desire. It’s important for me to listen to that music and its inflections from both sides of the Second World War. How do we recognize the profound failure accompanying experiences rooted and soiled in North America? 

I also find immense joy in the mostly anonymous ballads and lyrics of the Middle Ages. A poem like “Sing, Cuckoo” is so perfect. A voice, a song, reaching through time. I’m interested in the body of feeling behind such a work—how that body of feeling found shape in Middle English. How my ears receive it now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

TtD supplement #103 : seven questions for Sean Braune

Sean Braune’s first book of philosophy, Language Parasites: Of Phorontology, was released in 2017 from Punctum Books. His theoretical work has been published in Postmodern Culture, Journal of Modern Literature, Canadian Literature, symploke, and elsewhere. His poetry has appeared in ditch, The Puritan, Rampike, Poetry is Dead, and elsewhere. His first chapbook, the vitamins of an alphabet (2016), appeared from above/ground press and his second chapbook—an excerpt from a novel manuscript called Erosappeared from AngelHousePress, with two more above/ground press titles appearing this year, including the recently-released The Cosmos (2018).

His poems “Minarets of Knowledge” and “Eyez” appear in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Minarets of Knowledge” and “Eyez.”

A: To answer this, I have to talk a little bit about how I think of my own poetic practice. First, like many of my friends, I am suspicious of a poetry that fully embraces meaning. I think that poetry should always push against the meaningful structures of language in order to add some “disquiet” or “disorientation” to traditional practices of writing and reading. For me, poetry is an activity that is produced by reading. I am working on a series of poetry projects right now (of which “Minarets of Knowledge” and “Eyez” are a part) that all engage with a kind of what I call fractural-reading practice—a reading practice that is fractured by the experience of living in the contemporary world—and I find myself (as a subject) constantly consumed and overwhelmed by the frenzy and bluster of the contemporary cityscape and its bevy of information and narrative. I walk around downtown Toronto (or other major cities) with a notebook and pen and I transcribe the pieces of language that I find and it is all a language in pure disarray. I scribble down fragments of conversations that I overhear. Even while reading traditional books or attending literary events, I write down the odd word or phrase here or there … so I am constantly compiling an ever-growing repository of “harvestable” language. “Minarets of Knowledge” and “Eyez” are two results of that harvesting and pruning process. I just read an article on how capitalism feeds on the body’s stress response and the poetry that I’m working on now is an attempt to capture some of that stress response, or what could be called “how it feels to live in modernity.” The language of this stress response—of this fragmented exposure to a constantly babbling language—is the record of an infinity of words that are trying to interpellate or infect us. Possibly I didn’t answer your question. (I also do not think that my approach with a notebook in the frenzy of modern life is entirely unique—a lot of my friends also scribble down fragments of their everyday language experiences).

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

A: I’m currently working on several projects at once that cover several different genres: there’s a weird SF novel that I feel like I should keep a secret because it’s still in its embryonic stages; also, I’m in the process of trying to get a film project off the ground. Six months ago I wrote a script about newlyweds who are trapped in their hotel room / bridal suite and they can’t escape and are forced to live through the rather nightmarish undercurrents of their relationship. To expand on your first question, “Minarets of Knowledge” and “Eyez” are part of a poetry manuscript called Dendrite Balconies, which is a collection that explores the frenzy of contemporary reading practices (as discussed earlier), as well as the inevitability of death alongside the ways that language can be understood as an infection. Incidentally, the notion of a language-infection is explored in detail in my recently published book of theory, Language Parasites: Of Phorontology (published by Punctum Books). It all fits together actually.

Q: Can you speak to the idea of language infection? How does one attempt to make one’s poems infect?

A: When I talk about a “language-infection” I don’t mean an infection that infects others with poetry; I mean an infection that is already present in language. Language often has the quality of acting like an invasive and viral process that infects us from our youngest age and begins to implicate us in a larger symbolic and social order. Christopher Dewdney’s essay “Parasite Maintenance” is a good example of a rigorous argument that speculates on how Poets and Authors are more closely aligned with their own, individual parasites of language. Through the rigour of his ’pataphysical speculations, Dewdney offers a mode of writing where the produced text is written alongside an interior parasitic process. My own poetry tries to negate the Author or Poet in such a way that the Parasite speaks its own unique idiolect. Hence, I try to capture the muttering that exists at the limits or boundaries of sense.

Q: You mention Christopher Dewdney; what other authors and/or works have influenced the ways in which you approach writing?

A: That list of writers is ever-growing and ever-changing. Recently, I’ve been loving the experience of engaging with Jordan Abel’s work. David Peter Clark’s recent book / codex Spell was haunting and wonderful. Currently, I am re-reading Robin Blaser, which has given me a lot of ideas. I should say though that nothing is possible without Cormac McCarthy and James Joyce.... Along a separate road, I have the joy of regularly sharing writing ideas or drafts of pieces with Mat Laporte and Fenn Stewart and if either of them nix something I’ve written, then I know it’s not going to work because I trust their aesthetic noses above all. I should add that my creative work has been fully influenced by Fenn and Mat: Mat’s RATS NEST is a wild romp that breaks new and adventurous ground in fiction and Fenn’s chapbooks An OK Organ Man, Vegetable Inventory, and her BookThug book Better Nature are all completely bazonkers good. She’s a master of poetic rhythm. Mat has a masterful ear for surprising textual and semantic collisions and I feel like Mat and I have similar demons: we’re both trying to write ourselves out of a kind of haunting or possession—hopefully, we both manage this “escape procedure.” One hopes. Fingers crossed. Beyond this list of influences, I repeatedly re-read Catriona Strang’s Low Fancy, Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, Lisa Robertson’s Debbie: An Epic (because they each have, I think, some of the best SOUNDS that I’ve ever heard), and Paul Celan’s collected works.

Q: You say you’re working your way towards a first full-length collection. What is the process of putting a first manuscript together, and have you any models in mind for the construction? Are you finding the process different than putting together your above/ground press chapbook? Will that material, also, be included?

A: Good question. Yes, much of the material from the vitamins of an alphabet will be included—with some exceptions: the middle section where I was experimenting with my “Poequations (after Smithson)” will not be in that work (they didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the extended manuscript). To re-answer your second question: I find that, regarding poetry, I tend to work on specific small projects all at once; for example, the poequations that build on Robert Smithson’s word heap are one project and I have a lot of other specific constraint-based projects that are ongoing (some traditionally conceptual, some Oulipian, some lyric conceptual, some visual, and some straightforwardly lyric). In this sense, I am inspired by the spirit of passion and genre-bending qualities of bpNichol. Dendrite Balconies (which will include parts of the chapbook) is primarily the result of my fractural-reading process (that I described earlier), and I think that it’s a more “digestible” project than my earlier full-length poetry manuscript called Labyrinthitis (that I’m still re-tooling and trying to find a home for). I find that presses (even so-called “avant-garde” presses) are heading in more conservative directions in these times of economic precarity, which means that a manuscript like Labyrinthitis was, I think, just too “out there” to be published in today’s age. In some ways, I think the new one—Dendrite Balconies—is more “of the now.” Or who knows? We’ll see…

Q: I agree with you on the overall shift in Canadian publishing away from more experimental works, although I’ve been seeing that shift going on for a decade or so now. Apart from simply writing and publishing (even self-publishing) our ways through it, I don’t see much way through or around it. What do you feel has been fueling this shift, and what do you think it means?

A: Yeah, it’s a sad trend. I think of the history of Can Lit as containing this extremely exciting experimental tradition that can be found in the Toronto Research Group, the Canadian ”Pataphysicians, and other places, presses like Coach House or BookThug, or magazines like Ganglia and grOnk. We also have Nicole Brossard and the exciting work being done in Quebec! Unfortunately, I feel like the trail-blazing trends and canons of Can Lit often go unrecognized due to some of the more boring and standard “pop” Can Lit that gets read and represents Can Lit to the rest of the world. I wonder if the market for the avant-garde has really changed—I mean did people ever really buy and read these texts in droves? Really?—or if now we live in an economic era where publishers just can’t take the same kinds of financial risks. Or don’t want to? I’m not sure. I mean most of my friends would buy experimental texts and they’re also hungry for a little bit more adventurousness, but I’m sure that their enthusiasm doesn’t translate to the rest of the market. I remember finding the first John Riddell book I’d ever seen in the stacks at Robarts (hidden away behind some other books!) and I was completely floored. I’d never seen something so gorgeous and nuts! I wonder if someone like Riddell could get published nowadays? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe somewhere. I don’t know. I do think however, to plug your own work and labour for a second, that above/ground press has always gleefully pushed against this trend towards conservatism so there’s still some hope!

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

A: There is a pile of these works on the table next to my bed and I repeatedly re-read them before sleep so that, as my “faith” wanes, it is rejuvenated before I dream. This “pile” currently consists of Fenn Stewart’s An OK Organ Man, Kevin Davies’s Lateral Argument, and Harryette Mullen’s Recyclopedia.... Yeah, these texts keep my hungry.

Monday, May 7, 2018

TtD supplement #102 : seven questions for Suzanne Wise

Suzanne Wise is the author of the poetry collection The Kingdom of the Subjunctive (Alice James Books) and the chapbooks The Blur Model (Belladonna Books) and Talking Cure (Red Glass Books).

Her poems “I’m Talking to You, Space,” “I’m Still Talking to You, Space,” “Leave Me Alone, Space,” “Space Inside” and “Space Ode” appear in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “I’m Talking to You, Space,” “I’m Still Talking to You, Space,” “Leave Me Alone, Space,” “Space Inside” and “Space Ode.”

A: These poems grew out of traveling to and from a writing studio in Brooklyn that I shared with fiction writer Matt Sharpe for a while. I’d work in it on the weekends and he would be there during the week. I was stalled out on a number of projects and isolated in my work. I consciously tried to move my attention outward from that insularity, and I began to take notes on my commute and my surroundings. Then I found a book in the closet of the studio about architectural theory, which I didn’t exactly read but became a browsed source for language and images, heightening my awareness of built environments.  I gathered these bits together in a series of poems that address Space—linguistic, urban, architectural, intergalactic. Space became a sort of god that I turned to—often indifferent or oblique, but a force that connected me to other human beings and beyond.

Q: How do these pieces differ from some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: The Space poems take on the form of emphatic direct address to an entity that is clearly outside the self (way outside), unlike my other recent poems in which the speaker is more or less talking to herself or eavesdropping on other people. The Space poems also range around, collaging different landscapes, busting up the idea of isolation from others. Meanwhile, other poems that inhabit the same manuscript (or what I believe is the same manuscript) are claustrophobically locked in. Sometimes literally. (For example, the speaker often crops up in an ominous No-Exit waiting room or a hideous social space like a convention hall.)

Q: What is your process of constructing a full-length manuscript? Is the process of putting this manuscript together much different than when you built your first?

A: My process is a wandering one. I seem to heave out a clump of work—a bunch of poems—that is clearly related.  Sometimes it is a series like these Space poems and eventually the series expires. Then I heave out other clumps that might seem unrelated at first glance but I try to stay alert to possible connections. If I see some, then I build bridges—writing new poems, torqueing certain poems to bend toward its compadres. Though sometimes those other clumps need to go in other manuscripts or into the ether. . .  it can take some time to discern. That has been my experience with my first book manuscript and with the others I am working on.

Q: With two chapbooks and a trade collection over the past decade or so, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: From the perspective of my publication output, I would say my work has developed slowly and sparsely. Meanwhile I have a great deal of work that has been published in magazines and has not been collected into book form. And I have a great deal of work that I have not submitted anywhere yet. I am not sure what all that means, however, as regards where my work is headed. Hopefully not deeper underground . . .

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

A: I didn’t consciously try to construct chapbooks. My two chapbooks were extracted from larger manuscripts and came about because I was asked for work by the editors of the respective presses—Rachel Levitsky at Belladonna and Janet Kaplan of Red Glass Books. Rachel had heard me read from a prose work in progress and wanted to publish some of it, and Janet knew my first book. I think I incline generally ultimately toward a full-length collection, with ideas that sprawl even as my thematically-related poems seem to arrive in clumps, and some work is required to build the bridges between the clumps. In answer to your question: Does it matter? In an egoic way, I confess I’d like to take up more room on the shelf, but I think my best self would just want to find the appropriate container (length) for the given set of ideas.

Q: Who have some of your models been for your work so far? What writers or works are you thinking of when you are constructing a work?

A: I love a wide range of poets and poetries but I think, as regards models for my work, it depends on the project. This question makes me think I should think more about what other people are doing when I am constructing a work! I am aware that these days I am drawn to books that are concept-based but are not strict within the confines of the concept—those that don’t mind a little mess, looseness, diverse forms, and even mixtures of genres. . . . Books by Kathy Ossip, Renee Gladman, Anne Carson, Kate Greenstreet, Shane McCrae, Claudia Rankine, Matthea Harvey, C.A. Conrad, Bhanu Kapil, Monica de la Torre, Sarah Messer.

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

A: The folks I return to for re-energizing tend to be women writers—although not exclusively—who have over many years taken liberties with form and have generally brought together formal daring-do with personal risk and political/social engagement. Who are, in the words of Alice Notley, “disobedient,” They would include many of the aforementioned writers plus such luminaries as Eileen Myles, Harreyette Mullen, Alice Notley, Fanny Howe, and Alice Fulton, among others.

I have also been recently re-energized by Lisa Sewell’s poems on reading/literature as a portal to personal and political upheaval; Josh Weiner’s darkly hilarious anti-Trump poems; Christine Hume’s lyric essays on  gender violence; Anne Boyer’s lyric essays that critique capitalism, meritocracy, and the pathologizing of illness; Hafizah Geter’s poetry of witness, examining racism and immigration experience; and Lauren Clark’s poems of grief, trauma, love, and queerness in 21st Century America. Re-energizing seems to come with new discoveries each week, so ask me again next week and I would have more to add to the list. A testiment to the richness of contemporary poetry now!