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Thursday, October 4, 2018

TtD supplement #117 : seven questions for Jon Boisvert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: I have two common starting points.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

TtD supplement #116 : seven questions for Allison Cardon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

TtD supplement #115 : eight questions for Rusty Morrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that’s a lot for me to hope for!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do not wish to judge or to dawdle”

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

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

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

“that death did not subtract, it added something”

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

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



Tuesday, September 4, 2018

TtD supplement #114 : seven questions for Howie Good

Howie Good is the author of The Loser’s Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize for Poetry from Thoughtcrime Press. He co-edits White Knuckle Press with Dale Wisely

His poems “America Is Running Out of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs,” “Psychotropia,” “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Carrion” and “Etc.” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “America Is Running Out of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs,” “Psychotropia,” “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Carrion” and “Etc.”

A: The United States is in a bad place – politically, morally, internationally. These prose poems are sort of my snapshots of what it feels like to be living there. If the poems are dark in tone and disjointed in form, it’s because that is the aura of the contemporary American experience.

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

A: I have written a number of free verse poems, but my main efforts have continued to be directed toward prose poetry, a form I find congenial. The fact that a piece of writing can look like prose, but act like poetry probably suits my ironic sense of life.

Q: Have you any models for this type of work?

A: I first encountered prose poems as a teenager, in Rimbaud’s Illuminations and Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. Their prose poems were different than anything I’d ever read before, but being young and dumb, I didn’t understand what that implied. I must have been in college when I came across Robert Bly’s book of prose poems, The Morning Glory. Later I read Bly’s translations of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer’s prose poems. Reading Bly – who writes in vernacular but often indulges in surreal imagery – gave me the courage to experiment with prose poetry myself. Other poets who have served as guides through the esoteric landscape of prose poetry are Charles Simic and Russell Edson. I’m always on the lookout for poets who write prose poems, but there just aren’t that many of us. Among my recent discoveries is Elizabeth Willis, author of Turneresque.

Q: What do you feel you are able to accomplish via the prose poem that you might not be able to otherwise?

A: The prose poem to me is an example of the concept of detournement. It’s a hijacking of conventional prose for subversive poetic purposes. By “poetic purposes” I mean the carving out of a space for free thought and perception. The prose poem is a bastard form well suited to pushing back against the literary and other stultifying proprieties of the day. At a time when more and more aspects of human experience are subject to commodification, the prose poem remains apart and beyond. It’s a fractured fever dream that disrupts and defies the increasing pressure to conform, sell out, join the team, go along to get along.

Q: With a small handful of chapbooks and a trade collection under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I started out by writing conventional free verse. My patience for not only writing that, but also reading it, has pretty much evaporated. It doesn’t seem to me a helpful way to understand or describe the dislocations of contemporary reality. We need better maps if we are going to ever find our way. I’m trying to create those, which means being open to experimentation, improvisation, chance – poems that are as unpredictable in form or content as life in the 21st century.

Q: How do you feel you are able to maintain that unpredictability while working exclusively in the prose form?

A: A prose poem is unpredictable by its very nature – because it directs prose to behave as if it were poetry. Unpredictability is also a matter of content – which details are included, how I juxtapose the details, what words propel them through the poem and into the consciousness of readers.

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

A: Great question.

Charles Simic, Franz Wright, William Carlos Williams.

Friday, August 24, 2018

TtD supplement #113 : seven questions for Samuel Ace

Samuel Ace is a poet, sound and visual artist. Ace is the author of Normal Sex, Home in three days., Don’t wash., and, co-authored with Maureen Seaton, Stealth. He is the winner of the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund Award and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award in poetry as well as a two-time finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Lambda Literary Award. His work has appeared in Poetry, Fence, Troubling the Line: Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, Best American Experimental Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. Ace’s first two books will be republished by the Belladonna* Cooperative in 2018 and a new collection, Our Weather Our Sea, is forthcoming from Black Radish Books in early 2019.   

His poems “So here it is a crib,” “The cells” and “Where are you hiding” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “So here it is a crib,” “The cells” and “Where are you hiding.”

A: In “So here is a crib” and “Where are you hiding,” as in much of my recent work, I am interested in how language intersects with specific moments of daily life. The pieces are fugue-like, using repetition and other sonic/musical elements to create layers of meaning as the poems unfold. I believe that “The cells” does the same, in the context of the hidden and daily violence of incarceration, forced isolation and solitary confinement.

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

A: They are similar and dissimilar. Most recently, I’ve been working on longer-form poems (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/92393/standing-at-a-desk-of-cranberries), that are rangier and not as rhythmically compact. I’m also working on a series of complex sound pieces, with instrumentals, layered language and sampling, based on several of the newer poems.   

Q: I’m curious about these experiments with form: is this your usual approach for how a poem begins? And is shape something deliberately decided upon at the beginning, or does it emerge through the process of composition?

A: Poems begin in so many ways, rob. Sometimes in a phrase, a fragment from a notebook, a dream, someone else’s voice, something in the landscape, a memory, a sound. In the night or early morning. On a walk or in something that’s been lingering and worrying me – that needs to be said. Or sometimes simply showing up and waiting with the channels open. I do have forms I go back to. If they serve to lubricate the channels, I stick with them. If they become stale, or a barrier, they need to go.

Q: You mention multiple threads – from longer-form poems to complex sound pieces, alongside the poems included in this current issue – might these threads all end up in the same book-length manuscript, or are they part of entirely different projects? Or do you even think of book-making in such terms? Is the act of composing individual poems even part of the same process as putting together a manuscript?

A: Over time, of course there are multiple threads, voices calling out of the dark. I do have a book (coming out next year from Black Radish), that contains work from the last several years. With the help of a couple of grants, I’ve been creating sound pieces based on many of the poems in that manuscript, and I’m hoping to have an album’s worth by the time the book comes out. I do love the process of forming a book, thinking of it as a whole, how poems relate to and speak to each other. It’s another form in itself.

Q: What is your usual process for putting together a book-length manuscript, and how did it first develop?

A: Up until now, I have not preconceived the form of a book. Although I am aware of many project-based works in the world, my writing thus far has not been generated from an idea or constraint toward a greater whole (not to say that that might happen at some point in the future!). Mostly the writing process happens in the day-to-day, and themes emerge over time. The book itself comes together later as a form unto itself (separate from the writing) by seeing how pieces ultimately relate to each other. It’s not a science. There is chance, and there is a music and a visual rhythm to the process.

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

A: Having lived in the east (Cleveland, New York City, Columbia County in upstate NY), I had never lived anywhere west of Ohio until I moved to Tucson 1997. I thought it was going to be a short stay – maybe two years. But it ended up being a twenty year sojourn that is ongoing. I still consider Tucson my home, although at the moment I am teaching in western Massachusetts at Mount Holyoke College. I’ve coined the term bihomeal – which seems to describe me in more ways than just my physical location. Although I wrote a great deal during my early years in Tucson, I published rarely in the aughts. I should also mention that I began a medical gender transition in 2000. My work has always come from a profoundly physical place – and I attribute my relative silence to the long process of finding home in an extremely unfamiliar landscape, as well as in my body. Coinciding with a deeper sense of place, both in the landscape and in my body, the last ten years have been extremely productive. A few years ago, I was also able to leave a very demanding job – which has freed up a great deal of energy and time. I feel as if my work continues to surprise me. The sound work keeps evolving, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

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

A: I am constantly reading rob, and constantly inspired. This week I am reading and listening to Douglas Kearney, Ronaldo V. Wilson, Ariana Reines, Sherwin Bitsui, Tracie Morris, Paul Celan, Daniel Borzutsky. I am also reading novels. I recently finished Jesús Carrasco’s Out in the Open, all of Jesmyn Ward, and Jenny Zhang’s linked short stories, Sour Heart.

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!