Tuesday, September 22, 2020

TtD supplement #169 : seven questions for katie o’brien

katie o’brien is a poet, community worker, and Netflix enthusiast originally from St. John’s, Ktaqamkuk, on unceded Beothuk land. They currently live and work in Mohkínstsis, on Treaty 7 territory. a peal of thunder, a moment of (The Blasted Tree, 2019) is their third chapbook, and they recently founded blood orange, an experimental poetry tarot. katie dislikes lying, sings a lot, and doesn’t kill bugs. 

o’brien’s poems “longing,” “ad agio,” “superlatively” and “comedia finita est” appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “longing,” “ad agio,” “superlatively” and “comedia finita est.”

A: these four pieces are part of a series I’ve been working on for the past year or so, taking the musical score for Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor, chopping it up, and reconstructing it. the series is very personal to me – when I was fifteen, my grandmother died, and she and I were very close. I remember listening to this piece the moment she passed away. for a long time after that, I wasn't able to listen to Beethoven at all. working on this series has been a really meaningful journey through that grief.

as a musician and a poet, I'm really intrigued by the importance of punctuation and phrase building. the fascinating thing about building these concrete pieces from a musical score is the way that the sentiment that one might hear when listening to the music can be portrayed visually. as someone who reads music, the compounding, growing forte markings at the end of 'comedia finita est' over the rest in the original score is quite a profound irony, but I think that the visual is impactful even if music isn't a language you're familiar with. I love that concrete poetry can transcend language like that.

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

A: to be honest, I haven’t been writing very much lately. when I have the time and energy, I tinker with work in this series and I try to keep up with the tarot project I started last year, but the current state of the world generally has me in a state of exhaustion that isn’t very conducive to writing these days.

Q: I can understand that, although I do appreciate that you’re still tinkering on the poems in this series. How many pieces exist in this series? Have you any models for this kind of work?

A: I published a chapbook with ten pieces from this series through The Blasted Tree (Kyle is an absolute gem!), and I’ve finished about 15 more pieces since then. my hope and plan is to process the entire score this way, which I think will end up being about 100 pieces. I became interested in layering text this way in high school, when I would write journal entries over top of one another to keep them from being legible – a way of writing out emotions while still keeping them secret, I suppose.

Q: How has the series been progressing, and what have you discovered through the process?

A: when I first started this project I held myself to a really strict form. for the first few pieces, I took a line from the musical score and layered it in its original form, if that makes sense – no cropping, no rotating, no shrinking or enlarging. I learned that allowing myself some more flexibility was much more exciting and allowed me to explore some different themes in the score. it’s also been a really interesting journey through and reflection on my grief, which has been so cathartic.

Q: How do you feel your process of grieving helped shaped these poems? Do you feel them the result of working through that process, or evidence of the process itself?

A: I think that I wouldn’t have been able to create these poems earlier on in my grief process. for a long time, I wasn’t able to listen to Beethoven at all, so working so closely with the score would have been impossible. I do think that there is evidence of growth through these poems, too, though – a loosening of my original rigidity, some blossoming and exploration in ways that I didn’t foresee when I started the project.

Q: With a couple of chapbooks under your belt, as well as this current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think I’m better at editing my own work now than I was when I started – better at looking critically at my work and getting to the point. I have worked with some really fantastic editors who have encouraged me to be more intentional and less cryptic in my poetry, which is something that has really impacted the way I write and create. I also tend to have more of a focus on longer-form projects now, like suites and chapbooks – the flexibility of collections is enticing to me, especially given that my poems are usually short-form.

some directions that I’m interested in pursuing: I've been talking with some friends about creating sonic representations of my concrete Beethoven works, which is an exciting concept that I have never experimented with before. my sibling does visual glitch art, which is so beautiful, and we’re talking about collaborating on a remix of my Blasted Tree chapbook. I’m also itching to get back into text work, and have some ideas about ekphrasis and biographical poetry that I’m starting to put to paper. so many exciting possibilities!

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

A: derek beaulieu really introduced me to what concrete poetry can be, so I love returning to his work, and more recently I’ve been reconnecting with Joshua Whitehead and Vivek Shraya’s anti-racist, decolonial, heart-rending practices. as an editor, I find reading submissions for blood orange to be incredibly energizing, and I also love returning to work by dear friends like Leslie Ahenda, jaye simpson, and Amy LeBlanc. some discoveries that have recently brought me joy include work by Mercedes Eng, Jordan Abel, and Terese Mason Pierre.

Monday, September 7, 2020

TtD supplement #168 : seven questions for Lily Brown

Lily Brown is the author of Rust or Go Missing (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011). Recent poems have appeared in Lana Turner, Oversound, Typo, and Mississippi Review.

Her poems “FROM A DOWNEAST PORCH,” “WHAT ARE MAPS,” “GONE SONNETS,” “WATER’S WILD NEST” and “ESSENTIAL VAGARY” appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: When I read your question, I immediately thought of geography—where these poems were written and how those locations inform the poems. “Essential Vagary” was written in Assisi, Italy. My partner and I were doing a summer residency there, and the first half of the residency we were in a beautiful but incredibly loud little apartment. Everything in the apartment was made of stone or marble (at least that’s my memory of the space—I wonder now if this memory is partially imagined), which meant that the sounds of every car that drove by, every group of tourists that walked past, every hammer of the construction workers in the apartment above us were intensely amplified by the materials of the apartment. The idea of writing in this space—despite the fact that it was a lovely apartment—was laughable. My partner somehow managed, but he used white noise, earplugs, closed doors, etc. I wound up finding the public library, where I was usually the only patron, and I wrote there. In any case, this poem is some kind of compendium of the noises, dreams, and water fountains that characterized that time in Assisi.

“What are Maps” was written at the magical UCross Foundation and emerged from the walks I took on the ranch land surrounding UCross—land full of cow gates and gorgeous, dramatic views of storm clouds. Re-reading the poem now I think it’s also somehow about the hard work of writing, of finding the sort of productively hazy consciousness that poems need.

And “From a Downeast Porch” and “Gone Sonnets” were written, as the first title reveals, in Maine. That poem was literally written on a porch in Maine, where I was watching boats and birds on the water below me. “Gone Sonnets” was written in the public library in Camden, Maine (I guess libraries are a theme here). As I remember it, that library has quite a formal, old-fashioned, and silent top floor, while the basement is much more 80s-style and full of people chatting, texting on their phones, and checking out books. I was struck by this contrast, and I think the poem primarily dwells on dichotomies between old and new in terms of technology (phones versus bells, for example), poetry (sonnets being an old form), and something about nature—the old trees in the park bordering the library versus the young people hanging out there.

And “Water's Wild Nest” doesn’t fit any of these location-based musings, except in its content. I can’t remember where I wrote it (it’s the oldest poem in this bunch), but the poem is about a dream in which I was back in my childhood home with my long-divorced parents. The poem explores the trick of how a dream can return you to a reality so far removed from your current one as to feel like another life.

I’ll also say, briefly, that my view of the poems is limited by the fact that I wrote them—I hope readers find other meanings in them.

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

A: In all honesty, I haven’t written a poem in months, maybe even a year, mostly because I had a baby last December and since then I’ve been consumed with caring for a newborn and everything that comes along with that (sleep deprivation being foremost in my mind!). I also didn’t write much when I was pregnant, so all I can really say in answer to your question is that I hope to do more writing soon. My family recently moved cross-country from San Francisco to Portland, Maine, so I can feel the desire to write bubbling up in me as I take in my new environment. Given the situation with the pandemic, there are currently no libraries in which to write, but everything I see and hear and smell on long walks with a stroller is certainly going to provide some material for me soon!

Q: I get that, entirely, given I’ve two small children. The spaces of those first few months, for me, but predominantly my spouse, obviously, were filled with foggy exhaustion, joyous distraction and, for her, near-constant nursing. Are you attempting to note-take at all through this process, or are you simply enjoying the moment and biding your time?

A: Mostly I’m enjoying the moment and biding my time, although I suspect I’m taking mental notes almost without even knowing it. I just found myself writing a hyper-detailed email to a friend about the fat groundhog I saw on my family’s afternoon walk yesterday and how my elderly Boston Terrier neglected to even notice it, and I thought, these reflections might be notes towards a future poem. So I think things are percolating for sure; I’m just not certain of when the poems will start coming, but I suspect it will be when I’ve had more than three hours straight of sleep and can put some coherent thoughts together (or at least poetically coherent thoughts). No one tells you that even when your baby starts sleeping for long stretches, your own sleep can still be extremely fragmented. So I’m trying to catch up on sleep and then—hopefully—the writing will come!

Q: What will be interesting will be to see what shifts might emerge in your work once writing becomes possible again, especially given this new wealth of experience. Given this, it might be too early to know, but after a handful of chapbooks, as well as a full-length collection in print, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s a good question! I have another full-length manuscript written over a period of several years, probably 2012-2018, and I’ve thought about what distinguishes those newer poems from the ones in my first collection. I think many of the differences simply involve getting older and growing into myself in a different way. In my twenties, I tended to more consciously cloak emotional content in metaphoric structures. Some of those poems feel overdone to me now. In more recent poems, I think the voice tends to be more straightforward or forthright, less interested in ambiguity. I’m still deeply interested in how language can be used to create semantic multiplicity through line breaks and syntax, but I’m less interested in what I see in some of my past work as cutesy evasiveness.

My poems continue to be interested in the relationship between humans and nature, and I think now my poems are less concerned with thematic unity and more concerned with tonal unity. I’m thinking in particular of a long poem I wrote that was recently published in the Mississippi Review; that poem ranges from observations about nature and animals to human dreams to a truck barreling down a highway to the 2016 presidential election to a romantic relationship and so on. In recent years, when I’ve felt like I'm writing well, the writing seems to move between subjects and types of content freely but feels (to me, anyway) like it hangs together because of an evenness of tone.

As far as the future, I’m not sure, but I can imagine poems filled with baby drool (kidding, but who knows) and references to fractured sleep, or perhaps poems more characterized by a dream-like tone or rhythm. That’s pure speculation, though!

Q: Have you had any models for the kinds of work you’ve been doing? Were there any particular authors or texts that shifted your thinking on writing as you were working on that first collection, or that second unpublished manuscript, or even what you’ve been attempting since?

A: Up until December of last year, I was working at a very intense teaching job that didn’t leave me a lot of time to read for myself, so in a sense the courses I designed and taught for that job were my source of reading material. During that time, I designed (and re-designed several times) a tenth grade English course that focused on colonial and postcolonial literature, along with texts that look at our current environmental crisis through a colonial and postcolonial lens, thinking through humans’ destruction of the natural world. So for that part of the course, students read The God of Small Things followed by units on environmentally-themed creative nonfiction, eco-poetry, and Costa Rican short stories focused largely on the role of multinational corporations in Costa Rica. The reason for the Costa Rican literature was a grade-level trip to Costa Rica to study issues like turtle conservation, farming practices, etc. In any case, I’m sure that working on and iterating that curriculum influenced my creative work and my poetry-related thinking about the environment.

And I also taught a 20th century American poetry course to high school seniors for which we read modernist and postmodernist poets. Texts we studied deeply included collections by Muriel Rukeyser, Frank O’Hara, Lyn Hejinian, Harryette Mullen, John Berryman, and Jack Spicer, among others, so those are some of the writers who have been in my brain these last five or so years.

Q: Are there moments you’ve seen in your recent work where you recognize some of these authors’ influences? Have the ways in which you see your work shifted due to these deep studies, or might you think such a thing too subtle or too soon to track?

A: I don’t think writers are always the best readers of their own work (at least I don’t think I’m necessarily the best reader of my own work), but I’m sure the environmental literature I’ve been teaching and studying for the past five or six years has seeped into my poems. I've always been—and remain—fascinated by thinking about the intricacies of interactions and relationships between humans and the environment. I felt particularly engaged by Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead and my students, many of whom were very involved with social justice work, *loved* that text and helped me to study and understand it more deeply. That poem led me to think through not only issues related to environmental destruction and how it is linked to exploitation of people, but also about the role of American expansionism in this destruction and exploitation. I see some kind of through-line between these issues and certain poems in my manuscript that allude to American violence—mass shootings, for example—and American apathy. (Recent events and protests in this country seem much less apathetic, which is encouraging.)

Q: Violence and apathy are interconnected, certainly. Desperation often leads to a particular kind of violence, whereas violence can also be a passionate response to direct engagement (the tearing down of Confederate statues, for example). How do you see your engagement with these ideas coming through in your work? How are you attempting to articulate these complicated issues through lyric?

A: I agree with you about violence having the ability to be a passionate response. I was thinking of a different kind of violence, but of course you’re right that it comes in multiple forms. In my recent work, I think these ideas have come through in language that fuses violence—or the instruments of violence—to the most basic elements of our environment that we take the most for granted. I’m thinking specifically of the phrase “semi-automatic sun” in one poem, the “point” (if we allow a poem to have a point) being that instruments of war have become so ingrained in our culture that we can’t even separate them from something as ever-present as the sun. The sun is a loaded image there, as well, given what we’ve done to it with regard to climate change. It’s like we’ve super-powered these natural processes and made them into a kind of violence.

Q: Finally, and perhaps you have already answered a fraction of this, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I return again and again to certain Stevens poems. They always make me want to write. One Stevens poem I’ve spent tons of time with in recent years is “Someone Puts a Pineapple Together.” I’ve taught this poem—and had students write pastiches of it—probably a dozen times to students ranging in age from 10 to 18, and I swear they all get it and find its metaphoric structures compelling and fun to imitate. I also return to (and again, teach) Dickinson; Elizabeth Bishop, Barbara Guest (her poems always remain beautifully strange to me no matter how many times I read them), Michael Palmer, D.A. Powell, Robin Schiff. When I see new poems by Rae Armantrout in journals I’m always blown away. I don’t read a ton of contemporary poetry, but as I’m writing this answer Molly Brodak’s work comes to mind. Her poems are arresting and gorgeous, and I was so sad to hear of her passing earlier this year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

TtD supplement #167 : seven questions for Orchid Tierney

Orchid Tierney is an Aotearoa-New Zealand poet and scholar, currently living in Gambier, Ohio, where she teaches at Kenyon College. She is the author of a year of misreading the wildcats (Operating System, 2019) and Earsay (TrollThread 2016), and chapbooks my beatrice (above/ground press, 2020), ocean plastic (BlazeVOX 2019), blue doors (Belladonna* Press, 2018), Gallipoli Diaries (GaussPDF 2017), the world in small parts (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), and Brachiaction (Gumtree, 2012). Other poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Jacket2, Journal of Modern Literature, and Western Humanities Review, among others. She is a consulting editor for the Kenyon Review.

Her work-in-progress from “blue doors” appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “blue doors.”

A: Blue Doors is a working title for a long prose poem-in-progress that unpacks the sentimental novel, the cattle industry, and food colonization. My research into the historical meatpacking industry and its contemporary manifestations works in tandem with the ideology of the sentimental genre and the use of prosopopoeia to speak for animal life. (In other words, I’m interested in what ethics are invoked when one speaks for those without human-animal forms of language, among many other concerns.) This poet’s novel focuses on three main characters: Limpet and Rabbit (who love-love, hate-hate, and love-hate each other), and Cow who is, well, a cow. Their respective narratives aren’t linear, and the novel occasionally breaks down with my frustrated interruptions because prosopopoeia is, in my opinion, a failed literary device.

Blue Doors was initially conceived during my Masters of Creative Writing stint at the University of Auckland, where I worked on a cyberpunk novel, but I was ultimately unsatisfied with the final draft I turned in. Over the past few years, a number of poets, who have produced poet’s novels, have inspired me to pick up this project again: Amy Catanzano, Alice Notley, and Bhani Kapil for example.

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

A: These poems demonstrate a slightly different focus from my previous environmental work. As the title implies, I attended to ocean plastic in Ocean Plastic (BlazeVOX 2019). In my collection, a year of misreading the wildcats (The Operating System, 2019), I again focused on plastic pollution alongside climate change and fossil fuels. But stylistically, there are a lot of similarities between my various projects. While not representative in these particular poems, blue doors is a research-driven, archival based project. I’m especially interested in how rhetoric and metaphor migrate across media and through time. Other poems from this work, including my chapbook blue doors (Belladonna* Press, 2018) reflect my love of digging through old records and finding pollination in other poets’ works. Additionally much like the chapbook blue doors and a year of misreading the wildcats, photography—photographs of cows and historical slaughterhouses— will be an important accompaniment to this new project. The pandemic, unfortunately, has meant that I had to forgo out-of-town sightseeing for the time being.

Q: Given so much of your work focuses on environmental concerns, how is it that poetry emerged as your primary form for working through this kind of material? What do you feel that poetry, over fiction, visual art or even non-fiction, allow that might not be possible otherwise?

A: This is a tough question because I don’t think I work exclusively in poetry (and poetry is a spongey form anyway). A year of misreading the wildcats, for example, is a mix of poetry, photography, and prose. It’s probably more correct to say that poetic elements bind the collection together, but it does mean that the work is hard to sell under the poetry umbrella. To answer your question, however, I’d have to point to the underlying energy of my work: the document and archive as manfestations of pedagogical and artistic practice. By the document and archive I mean: poetry allows us to read the past and present and to interpret (and curate) historical and contemporary conversations in order to speculate future conditions of empathy. In other words, poetry for me isn’t only a mode of scholarship but a space for collective wilds: imagining kindness and possibility despite the terror of the past. Celina Su’s Notes on Inquiry and Care comes to mind too, where she proposes that “documentation and poetics as feminist practices urge us to listen, to recognize each other, but also to listen to the silences, bear in mind those who aren’t with us…” (emphasis in original). This quote is a lovely summation that underscores how poetry enacts a space for listening in a way that fiction and nonfiction perhaps do not. 

Q: I like that very much. What models (beyond Su, obviously) have you had for this kind of work? How did you get to this point?

A: Great question! ELÆ [Lynne DeSilva-Johnson] has been wildly inspirational to me as a cultural scholar and educator in addition to being a creator. They have a ton of free downloadable resources for organisations and teachers on the Operating Systems webpage: http://www.theoperatingsystem.org/open-resource-library/, and I find myself perusing their materials frequently for ideas and inspiration to incorporate into my own practice and classroom.

As for other writers, Jennifer Scappettone and Divya Victor illustrate how art, poetry, and scholarship can be pulpy and elastic, and their…blobby approaches have reshaped my sense of being a body in the classroom. Speaking of blobs are you familiar with Laura Hyunjhee Kim’s Entering the Blobosphere: A Musing on Blobs (The Accomplices, 2019)? I can’t stop thinking about this text and its oozy possibilities for reframing our imaginations toward scholarship and practice!

Q: I don’t know that book. What is it about Kim’s work that specifically re-works your thinking in terms of writing practice?

A: I don’t know whether it reworks my thinking about writing practice per se, but it certainly makes me think about how we frame our perceptions of the world in the context of straight lines and hard matter. My own reading of the blobosphere has pushed me to reengage my scholarship and poetry through a different lens. As a point of reference, my scholarship to date has focused on landfills and waste management in contemporary poetry, but I find myself increasingly interested in the liquid and gaseous manifestations of waste both in poetry and in the environment. Laura Hyunjhee Kim’s Entering the Blobosphere has given me a glimpse into how an alternative vocabulary can describe and name what cannot be physically grasped.  

Q: With a handful of books and chapbooks produced over the past near-decade, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I don’t think I have a progress narrative in my practice as implies an artistic determinism when I’m pulled into and against various trajectories for better or for worse. I’ve done different things because a moment of difficult uncertainty called for it. And the future is full of these moments (again for better or for worse).

Q: You might have answered an element of this already, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: My answer is in danger of being never-ending, so I’ll touch on a few. My go-to book is Jennifer Scappettone’s The Republic of Exit 43. I also love reading Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Alison Cobb, Craig Santos Perez,  Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, Trisha Low, Don Mee Choi, Bernadette Mayer, Caroline Bergvall, Mark Nowak, David Eggleton, Robert Glück, Julia Bloch, Rachel Zolf, ELÆ [Lynne DeSilva-Johnson] and Divya Victor (whom I’ve already mentioned). But I’m always open to new suggestions, and folx should feel free to email me their recommendations!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

TtD supplement #166 : seven questions for Amelia Does

Amelia Does is a writer and artist whose work has appeared in Cineforum Italia, Incite Journal of Experimental Media and Synoptique. Her poetry chapbook, Amsterdam, the Abba Version was published by Proper Tales Press. She is also author of a biography, Do Not Look Away: The Life of Arthur Lipsett, an absurd Novella, The Coming of Jarbina, and a children’s book, The Walking Tree and Other Stories. ameliadoes.weebly.com

Her poems “The Day The Maid Was Fired,” “Day Off” and “The Lay of the Land” appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “The Day The Maid Was Fired,” “Day Off” and “The Lay of the Land.”

A: “The Day The Maid Was Fired”
I love humour in poetry, although it is a tricky business. When is violence funny? I suppose when it's absurd. Or happening to someone else.

“Day Off”
As in the above poem (maid) I take as subject the crisis of work and hierarchy. Day off is about living a numb, small existence and trying to be satisfied with that. But the cost or aspect of "normalcy" is an unfulfilled and unsettled mind.

“The Lay of the Land”
I was living across from a church and was considering the ham and pancake dinner advertised on the sign. That time of year, shrove tuesday, marks the anniversary of a tragedy in my family, which for some reason came out as a synagogue which had “burned to the ground.” Also when I wrote this poem I was preparing to move across Canada, with my partner who I'd only known a few months, so there was a lot of uncertainty in the air.

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

A: I’m not sure as my poems tend to often look like a finite idea or scene. I’d like to try to write some poems that perhaps explore a subject or experience. When I start to write a poem I don’t know what I am doing and a minute later its done. So there is not much to the process, it is always a surprise to see what the subconscious wants to express.

Q: Who or what have been your models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? Have you any or many? You touched on this briefly, but how does a poem begin?

A: I guess my writing process is very simple, when I write a poem it just comes out as-is, as a complete form or idea. A lot easier than an interview! Writing is the one easy thing in my life!

If there were poets who I kind of strive to be like one would be Stuart Ross. I immediately felt something familiar when I read his work. My partner Tom Prime who is also a published poet, has been introducing me to the Canadian Poetry “scene,” I am also a fan of Mark Laba, Shane Book and Tom’s collaborator, Gary Barwin. I love to hear other poets read their work, it enhances the experience so much more!

Q: I’m curious: what is it about Ross’ work you found familiar? What did discovering his work allow in your own?

A: Great question, I have an answer this time! When I started to read Stuart's poems I felt a silent “permission” to write my own, like if this person can express these aspect of himself, or in this way, then poetry is friendly. It is a space I can enter. Watching Stuart and others read was the second hit of inspiration, that poetry can be fun, in fact it can be anything. An art form to be used, destroyed, enhanced, pushed, built upon, shared, meditated upon and more. bill bissett, bpNichol and Gary Barwin also had this effect on me and many others.

Q: With a couple of titles under your belt, including your poetry chapbook with Proper Tales Press, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work heading?

A: I’d like to create a more interactive poetry “experience” either in a book or performance. Recently my partner Tom Prime and I did a collaboration of his poetry and a video I made, which we debuted for LOMP, a reading series in London Ontario. I’d like to also be able to write poems that unearth old baggage and feelings I can do without! I am focused on healing presently, but I like to put fun and chance into art projects. I also started hosting a monthly creative writing group at Brown & Dickson Bookstore this year, which has since moved to Skype. It’s free and can be accessed by friending me on facebook.

Q: How was it collaborating with Tom, and what did you learn from the process? What was your take-away? Have either of you considered writing collaboratively as well?

A: Tom is his own powerhouse – we tried to collaborate with each other and Stuart Ross one night, but Tom was totally disengaged with what we were doing! (He works well with Gary Barwin.) The video in the background at our performance worked better. I learned that it is a rare day that I feel comfortable standing in front of an audience! Tom and I make terrible music videos, which seems to work well as a collaboration. They can be accessed through my website. We hope to do more this summer.

Q: You might have answered an element of this already, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I am fairly new to the Poetic World, I am open to suggestions! I do like the short stories of Rebecca Fishow and am just getting into the poetry of Harryette Mullen and Sabrina Orah Mark.

Friday, July 31, 2020

TtD supplement #165 : seven questions for Jill Magi

Jill Magi works in text, image, and textile. Her sixth book, SPEECH, was published by Nightboat Books in September 2019. Jill teaches in the visual arts and literature/creative writing programs at NYU Abu Dhabi where she is currently working on a curatorial project called “The Textile Imaginary” for the NYUAD Gallery. With Shamma Al Bastaki and Sarah Al Mehairi, she is a founding member JARA Collective, a UAE-based publishing effort. Her current writing project, tentatively titled “Some Sports,” is both a celebration and a critique of sports as well as an extended comparison of art making and athletic training.

Ten poems from “Some Sports” appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Some Sports.”

A: “Some Sports” is probably the name of my next book or writing project that will likely spawn some visual work as well. I grew up doing gymnastics and I was very athletic. I love watching sports on TV and I know a lot of Olympic trivia. I love being a kind of trickster—a woman artist and poet who surprises people by engaging them in full-on sports talk. I love the way sports gives people a way to talk to each other—phatic communication, I guess. I love how there is very little originality in sports talk and interviews with athletes. How strange that we keep asking the same questions and keep giving the same answers. What a ritual. I think there is something very irrational about sport and this reminds me of poetry and art. Why do it? What is it for? Luckily, no one can really answer that but we keep doing it. So, sport=art=worship. “Some Sports” will be some poems and writing about this with a special focus on odd sports--like mountaineering, curling, maybe falconry. I also think sports is quite critique worthy—there’s lots of oppressive stuff about gender, a capitalist individualist mentality, self-help and “fitness” rhetoric that accompanies sport. So it’s a ripe subject. And the visual part is probably involves taking a whole lot of trophies, making moulds of parts of them, and either casting these fragments in bronze or making clay replicas that are fragmented and displayed in this “deconstructed” way.

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

A: I don’t think they relate at all! Hmm . . . everything relates, so let me see. I have been doing intense visual research lately and I’m continuing making weavings, quilts, and also making a lot of painting and even some sculpture. I am studying abstraction—of course beyond the mid-century US abstract expressionists and that movement—I’m looking for something more elemental, some sense of shape and color and design that has meant something by its shear force and not just in relation to an art historical lineage that has come “before.” In other words, I am not interested in rebelling against the image because I paint objects as well. So I’ve been looking closely at the paintings of Suzan Frecon. Or the tantric drawings of North India. Or motifs on mosque exteriors. Or Amy Sillman’s work. SPEECH, my last book, wants to exit the verbal field. It is about that even as it is very much about heteroglossia. In it, I write “I have said some things/now take a break from the mouthpiece” and I briefly mention “painting as bibliography” and “writing without words.” So that is where I am, for the most part these days. Yet, themes and the anthropological and even humor pulls me back toward words. Toward sports, naturally! So when I return to writing, it will probably be to expand out this very specific body of work. At least that’s the plan and you know how poets’ plans go: they change!

Q: I’ve long been fascinated by writers who also do other kinds of creative work. Do you see your artistic practice as a whole as a singular practice or even singular project, or does each form—poetry, paintings, sculpture, weaving etcetera—exist as separate threads that occasionally influence each other?

A: Sometimes I want it to all be one whole thing—and there’s an urge for that. I don’t know why. But I was fascinated by the write-up in Phaidon’s Vitamin P2, their painting anthology, on Etel Adnan, who you know is a poet, writer, and painter. The biographer suggested “what if they are just two different things” and described Adnan’s writing desk on one side of the room, and her painting desk on the other. Something about that felt liberatory to me—like I don’t have to have a theory of a unified whole. I will say that I started off making visual work and considered going to get an MFA in studio art but then I found out that writing was cheaper and more portable. So I went in that direction. And for SPEECH, learning to weave taught me the kind of attention and repetitive action that I needed to write the book. To continually shuttle back and forth and to not have to decide or settle on a “thesis.” Finally, about visual work, I just love to work with color and I love to render an object. It’s magical. And yet when it comes to “the art world” I get easily annoyed and find poets to be much more community-minded. So I toggle back and forth between both worlds wondering if I’m really expert at any one thing but just trying to pay attention to desire and following my desire.

Q: With six full-length poetry titles under your belt, as well as this current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: It seems with each new project I’m learning something new about language, about image, about paint, fiber, abstraction, storytelling. I often say “I know how to write a book” yet visual work still feels new to me. I’m still learning the qualities of paint and all of those choices, honestly. And I’m a beginning weaver. I’ve made four quilts and I’m in the process of making two more, but I do not feel like an expert quilter. I've embroidered lots of words, but I know there is more to learn there. So it is as if I am always trying to return to a beginner’s gesture somehow.

About writing, and poetry specifically, I feel that SPEECH is my most complex work to date. It is very dedicated to being open and inconclusive, yet I tried to be specific and sharp with the language, with the ethical problem which is really how to formulate a modern subject without being tied to western notions of freedom and human rights. But it’s strange because it almost feels like a good-bye to poetry. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but that book seems to have few readers, few reviewers. Maybe it has a big flaw, fault line, too much difficulty or obfuscation—or it’s too international for my poetry community who is North American, for sure. And I am not criticizing anyone here—I’m just thinking that maybe that book really has no audience. I don’t think I’d like to write another book like that again—where so much effort goes into its preparation and publication and then it seems to fall into the world with a silence “whoosh.” It has materiality for a moment and then it evaporates. Maybe a pdf that circulates widely is where it’s at? Maybe serializing Some Sports so that it gets into some kind of rotation—via the web and social media? Or making a podcast where I read the work out loud?

I am not sure that books are getting read. Yes, poetry books are being written. It’s as if we are in a generative phase—but I don’t know who is buying and sitting and reading and reviewing and teaching all of these books. Maybe we are swimming in a sea of writing and there are no fish there who are reading. Again, no criticism, just a possibility that I am trying to negotiate when thinking about new writing projects. It could be a generational thing as well—when I was in my 30s I really thought about sitting at the feet of elders and peers and learning from them: Alice Notley, Cecilia Vicuna, Susan Howe, Sonia Sanchez, Alan Davies, Deborah Meadows, Rodrigo Toscano, Alicia Askenase, Juliana Spahr, Jena Osman, Paolo Javier, Jennifer Firestone, Bhanu Kapil, Joanna Sondheim, Tisa Bryant, Claudia Rankine, Kamau Brathwaite. I thought it was my responsibility to read and review and teach their books. Now, in my 50s, I think that the younger generation is interested in writing—but maybe they are writing out of classrooms and maybe in various kinds of learning communities or activist or performance communities. I don’t know if they are writing in response to other books and authors. I may be really wrong about this—and again, it’s not a critique. It’s just what I have noticed and I want to acknowledge if there has been a shift and how I could shift in response. Maybe someone will read this and write to me at jillmagi@gmail.com and fill me in, correct me, dialogue with me about this!

What do you think about this? You are doing something to actively engage writers and their books—do you do what you do because you also see a gap in readership?

Q: That is a fairly large question, I’d say. The simplest answer is yes, but the complexities and nuances abound. In the larger sense, everything I do as editor, publisher and reviewer works to connect between myriad writing bubbles constructed around geography, form/style and personality. There is so much interesting work out there, most of which deserves far more attention than it receives, so I wish to simply provide opportunities for new readers to engage as they can.

To your point, though, I think poetry books as units are still engaged. Just watch for a new book to emerge and the excited flurry on Twitter on a particular author, a particular title. At least north of the border between us there are far fewer venues for conversation around books over the past twenty-odd years, and a significant loss of sales through that time, so one works to figure out how to assist against those erosions and silences. I live in a country, after all, that hasn’t the same heft of creative writing programs shaping writing as you do in the United States, so a variety of communities up here are then forced to shape in different ways that have little or nothing to do with those classroom systems. Do you feel the classroom system is part of the issue?

A: I appreciate your perspective here. Thanks for sharing it. About the classroom and creative writing: I think that if there is a problem, it may have started with “English” and “literature” departments, where the analysis of literature is such a disembodied or economy-driven pursuit, and sometimes by necessity it needs to keep reinforcing canons (as in, “you’ll never land a tenure-track job if you keep writing about such an obscure author or poet”) that it has had the impact of pulling students toward classrooms where literature is a living thing: creative writing. From what I’ve seen, that’s where “alt canons” and literature comes alive. But then the emphasis, in the end, is on making one’s own writing portfolio, so that’s where the energy goes. And it’s then sort of natural, with those classrooms proliferating, that poetry is something to generate and not necessarily something to study. As I write this, I can hear the flaws in my thinking. But I’ll stop there!

Q: So then, to move perhaps in a different direction from this thread: how do and have you created your own sense of community? Where do you situate yourself and your writing within the context of other contemporary friends/writers and their works?

A: Another great question! When we lived in New York, this was very clear to me. I ran a small chapbook press called Sona Books. When we moved to Chicago for two years I continued it there. I went to readings around town—experimental venues like Poetry Project, Segue Reading series, and Belladonna. In Chicago I went to things curated by Jennifer Karmin and Laura Goldstein. In the Emirates, there is a very small poetry scene and it’s mostly “performative” and that’s cool but it doesn’t mesh with my leanings. Poetry is of course a big part of Arab cultures—and Indian cultures—so that’s all around me in who lives in the city of Abu Dhabi. But it isn’t necessarily accessible to me—either because of my language limitations, or because poetry is something activated in daily living and in philosophical questions that get asked and answered in families and among friends. So, not necessarily public. Does that make sense? To some degree, SPEECH was about this. How to navigate my own mutism around “being a poet” yet certainly feeling the poetry of that city, of its people. The art community is lively and public there—there is a small gallery scene mostly in Dubai and there are museums and more venues for visual art. There seems to be more that you can “say” through abstraction, conceptual work, and so on. So for my solo show at Grey Noise, I activated the space toward poetry. I exhibited an archive of paintings that accompany the making of SPEECH, and then I held “poetry school” sessions in the space—we got together and talked about “difficult” poetry and I held a reading. Probably the last public event before the quarantine! And I fashioned a “mobile micro-press”—a plexi box holding all the implements of writing and chapbook making, including a very small printer, and I invited friends, authors, artists, anyone who walked in the gallery to make a poem with me and publish it on the spot. And I’m working with two young artists and writers in Abu Dhabi, Shamma Al Bastaki and Sarah Al Mehairi, on a project we’re calling “JARA Collective” (“jara” is female neighbor in Arabic)—we’ll publish about four chapbooks a year, locally, and celebrate them in informal spaces like living rooms and possibly larger public spaces like galleries.

Q: What kind of effect, if any, have these interactions had on the ways in which you write or approach writing? Has anything of your own work shifted due to these projects and conversations?

A: Looping back to Some Sports, and my current studio work: I’m reconsidering the book as form. Thinking more of how smaller booklets or pdfs can circulate more informally and maybe more easily. And how I can bring writing projects into gallery space. I was talking to Brenda Iijima the other day about this—and she was articulating that a chapbook project of hers in the last handful of years yielded the most dialogue, the most interaction, and was almost more inspiring than books she had published. So a return to the small-scale project, perhaps. And in the UAE context, imagining how gallery space can also function as poetry space.

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

A: Hoorah for the chapbook! I appreciate all your work in publishing and editing. As for who inspires me or energizes my work—I return, often to Etel Adnan. Her two-volume set from Nightboat is a treasure and I teach her nearly every year to my introduction to creative writing students. She writes across genre and there is a deep politics in her work and it’s also extremely philosophical. There’s no need to say “the personal is political” in this work because the mind of her work has not made that split to begin with. I need this. I also keep returning to Moten and Harney’s The Undercommons. It’s a poetics in that it questions “policy,” a site of activity that is antithetical to the poem. It reminds me to “arrive wild” as I say to myself. In other words, if arrival is some kind of “success” or resting point, I don’t arrive all groomed, disciplined, and necessarily acceptable. I need, as Bhanu Kapil suggested to me once, the curriculum that is off campus and deep in the woods. I also return to Paul Celan for this lesson. And the philosophical/theoretical threesome of Povinelli/Delueze/Glissant. Finally, among the “younger” poets who are inspiring, lately, I am really drawn to Asiya Wadud’s work: for its lyricism and angularity. And there’s never the question, in her work, of whether we’ve left the political field. It permeates her poetry as a vibrancy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Touch the Donkey : twenty-sixth issue,

The twenty-sixth issue is now available, with new poems by Tessa Bolsover, Jill Magi, Orchid Tierney, Amelia Does, Stan Rogal, katie o’brien, Chus Pato (trans. Erín Moure), Erín Moure and Lily Brown.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about.

Friday, July 3, 2020

TtD supplement #164 : seven questions for Guy Birchard

Guy Birchard, septuagenarian loafer at the sedentary trade—a lay poet. VALEDICTIONS (Ottawa: above/ground press, 2019); MONTCORBIER (above/ground press, 2020).

His poems “Jesus, His Jerusalem,” “Dowsing for Water or Divining a Grave / or Vein or Trove            or None” and “Feet & Hands Eyes Voice / Creatures and Angels” appear in the twenty-fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Jesus, His Jerusalem,” “Dowsing for Water or Divining a Grave / or Vein or Trove            or None” and “Feet & Hands Eyes Voice / Creatures and Angels.”

A: Looks like Jesus, His Jerusalem is from the point of view of the Publican, one hero of mine. Not that I’m any Biblical scholar. It’s too much to suppose it’s from the POV of the donkey herself—but you never know...

Dowsing demonstrates Burton’s thesis that disappointment is the salt of life.

Let’s bear in mind it’s hard enough to write the damn poems without having to explicate ‘em as well—“The only possible explanation of a poem is another poem.” I think Guy Davenport said that. Or was it Billie Holiday? “Hush, now.”

Feet & Hands was written after flâneuring around the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

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

A: Poetry streams, though poems be discrete. Line is a wonderful characteristic not to be wasted, increment of nerve, integer of grace... But these days, actually, paragraphs (though they might not act quite paragraphical) are offering themselves as preferred receptacle for the, um, ectoplasm.

Q: Your response suggests that that your poems are generated through an engagement with shape and sound; is that a fair assessment? How do your poems begin, and what drives them?

A: Art and Craft. Where poetry comes from has always been a mystery to me. Like catching a scent—or becoming smitten; having been taken by surprise, stay alert. I’ve never been prolific. Once your tuning fork hums, that’ll be the supply of art that can’t be faked; then it’s high time to apply the craft—and certainly an earful and a visual treat are two tastes of mine it’s the greatest kick to practice. I never had a teacher—so it’s taking me all my life to figure a modicum. There are complexities. The first and last stroke of luck from which to build was and is a deep sense of poetry, a Sixth, or the heightened sense, or some weird concentration of sense. Then the goal is from that to mold or hew a good read, good to suss, good to look at, good to hear.

Q: You might not, as you say, have had a teacher per se, but I would suspect you’ve had influences. What writers or works have helped you to shape the ways in which you think about writing?

A: To read is everything! Everything happens in writing. And in silence. The first poet: Ernest Dowson. A short hop from fin-de-siècle English Decadents to lazy-ass Beats. A right turn to Anti-Beat Jack Spicer, flaws & all. A mighty corrective via David Jones. High Modernism (upon which I don't really feel there's been any advance). Throwback to Edward Dahlberg. A thing I wish I'd written: Anabase, St.-John Perse, T.S. Eliot lived to translate—Anabasis. Could I write anything half so compelling! Never had a teacher, no, but I salute three Elders: George Johnston, Gael Turnbull, Howard McCord. To name-check particularly influential friends-in-poetry: inaccurate by omission, any such list—necessarily unbalanced. Curtail it. Only caveat: Don't take no wooden nickels.

Q: Despite living and writing, as you’ve claimed, “under the radar,” you’ve published numerous books over the years in multiple countries, from the debut collection Baby Grand (Ilderton ON: Brick Books / Nairn, 1979) to Neckeverse (Newcastle upon Tyne: Galloping Dog Press,1989), Birchard’s Garage (Durham UK: Pig Press, 1991), Twenty Grand (Boston MA: Pressed Wafer, 2003) and Further than the Blood (Pressed Wafer, 2010), to more recent titles such as Hecatomb (Brooklyn NY: Pressed Wafer, 2017) and Aggregate: retrospective (Bristol UK: Shearsman Books, 2018) and Only Seemly (St. John’s NL: Pedlar Press, 2018). How do you feel, over the past forty-odd years, your work has developed, and where do you see your work headed?

A: That phrase, “under the radar,” really only applied to seasons Anne & I stayed in the Shack down near the Montana border in southern Saskatchewan; it had a literal meaning there. Otherwise, I’ve been as much in the world as anyone. I was advised by a wise senior in my teens not to try to publish too soon. Didn’t listen. Nuff said. I was no Boy Wonder. No prizes. (George Johnston said Don’t be a chump. ((Not his words.)) Avoid prize givers. But I could’ve used me some.) In publishers, I just got very, very lucky. Only, our books stubbornly stayed “under the radar.” I don’t care to make it easy to collect my data, no, but we all know full well it’s a-gathering, megabytes at a time where we’d rather it wasn’t. My books, on the other hand, where the true poop actually is, you can trust me on that, would be easy and cheap to collect. There have been so many unsold author’s royalty copies that I’ve actually burned a shitload. Can’t hump boxes of ‘em around everywhere all your days. I hope the contents are a tetch better lately than they were 40 and more years ago. If nothing to crow about. I pledge a slight improvement ahead—but I’m seventy—“under the radar”—like, what are the odds.

Q: How do book-length manuscripts emerge? Is this something that emerges naturally, or have you some kind of loose plan in mind?

A: Shownman was supposed to be much longer. Cold Mine, much longer—though I was happy enough with that. Leo Mirau, much longer. Just serials, I suppose. Grandmother’s Middle Name fell out about right. But Travelling Mercies was supposed to be much more detailed. So wotthehell, they done mostly shrunk. The gods—or convention—dictated that Hecatomb and Only Seemly consist of a hundred bits (or oxen) each. And I thought I had them all okay. But I guess not. Cuz there’s oodles of undistributed copies feeding silverfish and firebrats down the basement. Montcorbier: we’ll see... Right, rob?

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your work? What writers or writing can’t you help but return to?

A: Blake, Borges, Dickinson, Donne, George Evans, Mark Ford, Merrill Gilfillan, Drummond Hadley, Jack Hannan, Susan Howe, Duncan McNaughton, Christopher Middleton, Pound, David Rattray, James Welch, Whitman. More. Other. Away we go...........