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Saturday, January 15, 2022

Touch the Donkey : thirty-second issue,

The thirty-second issue is now available, with new poems by Carrie Hunter, Emily Brandt, Lillian Necakov, David Buuck, Hugh Thomas and Nate Logan.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). Oh, hello, and welcome to Rancho Relaxo.

Monday, January 3, 2022

TtD supplement #206 : seven questions for Stephen Brockwell

Stephen Brockwell grew up in Montreal and will likely shrink down in Ottawa. He helps run one of Canada’s oldest poetry reading series, Tree, with Brandon Wint and Avonlea Fotheringham. Immune to the Sacred is scheduled for publication in 2022.

His poems “Southern Desert Wind,” “Psalm of the Enemy,” “Theology of Rivers,” “I Become a Migratory Animal,” and “Light Table Psalm” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

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

A: I guess, you know, each poem is its own answer to that question. They’re from a thing tentatively titled Immune to the Sacred, and you can see a little of what I mean by that title in them. They have their own energy, events that put them forward, transitions from notebook to draft. Titles, ideas about a book tend to evolve, for me, from reading the work as it gets written.

Maybe one more thing. I find it dispiriting (I am overusing that word these days) that we—many of the members of our species—are immune to certain sacred, essential things (the bodies and spirits of others, this delicate planet) and simultaneously too easily infected by ideas and beliefs our culture makes sacred: evangelical faith and the faith in human instrumental reason. That's the orbit the book has gravitated into.

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

A: Well, the four shorter pieces are paired: two half-hearted psalms of a certain kind, and two short reflections on isolation and distance. The middle poem is a little bit of blasphemy I am reasonably certain I will not be damned for.  These are aspects of the experience of the sacred: the beyond-reach nature of the it, the inability to conceive it, and, worse, the inability to unabashedly feel it.

I was wandering in the Fletcher Wildlife Garden off Prince of Wales today: when I gave the place the full attention of all my senses, when I stopped thinking, I could almost grasp the sacred there. I use the word sacred a little carelessly. I mean something worthy of reverence and deep respect—momentary heart-stopping admiration for its mere existence.

I’ll share a few photos I took there. I worry that many of us have lost the ability to experience the overwhelming awe that might halt our trajectory as a doom-bringing species. Mr. Smith is right: we are a—the—virus. Awe is the vaccine for our lack of care; reason is the vaccine for the prevailing western theology that reveres eternal abstractions rather than living presences. Most of us are vaccine refuseniks of one sort or another. 

Q: Is this notion of pairing poems something that is common across your work, or did this develop more recently? How do these paired pieces emerge?

A: A lot of poems take shape in clusters. It’s always been that way, as far as I recall. It’s just obsession playing out naturally. I’ve had the psalm idea or variations of it for years.

Q: I’ve always been curious at your suggestions that some of your poems take years to complete. Are these poems emerging out of ideas kicking around the back of your head that you finally write down, or notebook sketches you return to years after originally catching on paper? Or are these poems you are returning to repeatedly throughout a lengthy period?

A: I plod and plod. Plus work. Running my own business for—jeez, it was twelve years, I think. I’m hoping that my new employment will be somewhat less stressful. So far, it is. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t have to meet payroll during the pandemic. I might not have survived it.

So ... poetry. I’m a plodder. A poem or two may happen and just fall in place like an agreeably-shaped snowflake. Short ones happen that way. But I revisit too often. Little tweaks: add a breath here, take one away, record it, listen, strike-out, reshape. Then there’s the dialog between a poem and its neighbours. I notice threads that should be trimmed here, knotted there, woven.

Tools: notebook (preferred), decent pen, cell phone text to self, voice recorder.

Q: You say that a poem or two “may happen and just fall into shape,” but how are your other poems constructed? Are you assembling a collage of lines out of notebooks, or do those notebook-elements provide the foundation for a poem you will work to craft to completion?

A: Each poem requests its own rules for composition, I think. I’m purposeful after-the-fact, not in the act.

The Psalms are sonnet-like things. Their companion, more intimate duals or anti-poems are similar in structure but very different in tone.

The notebook is the repo for the draft. Sometimes, it’s prêt-à-manger, other times, the notebook has just a recipe on a scrap of paper with a rough list of ingredients.

Let me give you an example. I’m working on a long piece about GOERT, the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team and their project to preserve and revitalize these endangered sacred places on Vancouver Island. In my notebook, I have a few scribbles for what a line might look like. But the source is a spreadsheet on the https://goert.ca site. I had some scripts and things that I used to extract certain information. And I’m still in the process (about three years later) of shaping that into a poem that consists of micro poems for the species and their interactions. It’s a long-haul kind of thing. But when I have time to put energy into it, I love that kind of work.

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

A: As strange as it sounds, my first published poems appeared four decades ago, my first book thirty-three. Crazy. Makes me nostalgic. My first book launch was at Gallery 101, I think, the night of one of Ottawa’s most intense earthquakes. I remember riding it out and thinking how interesting the sensation of that kind of jostling was and how it had a pleasing light rumble.

I don’t know if my work has developed. I’m not sure I understand what that means. It’s changed. I’ve become more concerned with the details of sound, the way a sentence grows over lines, the idea of a poem as overhearing. I respond; I don’t seek. I keep finding drafts of things that seem salvageable.

The work is wandering around happily undirected. A few ideas have occurred to me. The most promising one this week concerns naming. Names have enormous power, of course. In the poem “Mouth” that you published a while ago on periodicities, I mentioned the formal chemical name for the protein titin, a little thing you can’t move without. But it's not such a little thing—it’s the longest protein. It’s chemical name (a formula, really) is hundreds of thousands of letters long! Now, someone is going to have another name for it when they patent it—muscolene, or spandene—some commercial moniker to transfer to corporate ownership something your body produces.

This process is being reexamined in beautiful ways. But I think naïve ways. I have to be extremely careful here, because I’m no authority on the politics or linguistics of naming. But! The west has been erasing names for sacred things for so long we've forgotten how violent that is. If an Ojibway teacher were to cross out my names—Stephen Christopher Brockwell, names that shout privilege—with a name for what I am (Ojibway for old fart), how would I know myself? We have done this with purpose as a culture and continue to do it. We insist that others do it by creating a culture of conformity, to make people fit our existing categories. In my old neighbourhood, Langevin Street was renamed to Commanda Way after William Commanda, the leader from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. How thrilling! But notice that the type of road is still English! His first name was William. We can’t think outside naming. I’ve been imagining very tender poems to objects, places, and people that have had, at times, no names, first names, translated names, appropriated names, imaginary past and future names. There are superb poets in our community who modified their names to be pronounceable or carry family names their parents homophonically translated into English.

So, yeah. Names. Fun. You won’t see a thread of the mumbo jumbo I just wrote in the poems, I hope.

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

A: Great questions! Local, global, newest, oldest. Brandon Wint’s book, Divine Animal, was wonderful. I don’t know quite how he manages to imprint reading instructions in his lineation. You read his poems the way he very carefully performs them. Ren Iwamoto seems to be doing wild, energetic things. She read a poem about body-building, ancestry, gender, sex—it was a singular piece that energized me. Nate Marshall’s latest book Finna is an interesting shift from Wild Hundreds that I found at the Chicago O’Hare airport. Such intelligent, thoughtful, musically diverse, and often deeply sensitive, insightful work. It’s a thrill to read. Working with Avonlea Fotheringham and Brandon Wint on the Tree Reading Series has been an education. The New York poet John Foy’s most recent book, No One Leaves the World Unhurt, is one of the most insightful, haunting, honest books of poetry I’ve read.

The return-tos! Fiction: Mary Ann Evans, Wayne Johnston, Katherena Vermette, David Mitchell, and Haruki Murakami. I find fiction restorative.

An ancient Greek phrase that was on mass-produced jewelry in ancient times has turned out to be from a poem. A lot of early poetry was irreverent, social, and sophisticated. We’ve talked about Catullus, Horace. Wonderful, witty, transgressive stuff. I revisit translations of Horace, struggle to read Francisco de Quevedo, struggle with Villon, Chaucer. I maintain the significance of Monty Python, Benny Hill, The Goonies cannot be understood without Chaucer.

I return to Coleridge. Such a decent, tortured human being. I return to Emily and Walt. I’ve been returning to Dionne Brand, Louise Glück, Erin Mouré, the recently departed Peter van Toorn. This sounds like a terrible name-dropping exercise. It is. But these are the writers I am learning most from.

For some reason—I think it was because Stuart Ross wrote something with 1687 in the title—I tried to return to John Dryden. Couldn’t do it. The music, the authority, the mastery of the lines does nothing for me. But I revisit Stuart Ross for many reasons. Insightful fellow. A meaning-schmeaning kind of guy I respect. I think I get to meaning from schmeaning; it’s important to embrace the schmeaning in a poem.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

TtD supplement #205 : seven questions for Yoyo Comay

Yoyo Comay is a poet & musician from Toronto, Canada. He is currently working on a trilogy of long poems, the first of which is forthcoming from Vehicule Press in 2022, and is a founding member of the Toronto Experimental Translation Collective (TETC). He is also working on his debut album of original music.

His poems “habit is an atmosphere,” “this is ghost fishing” and “the world provides new metaphors for the body” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “habit is an atmosphere,” “this is ghost fishing” and “the world provides new metaphors for the body.”

A: These poems are all excerpted from a book-length poem called States of Emergency which will be coming out with Vehicule Press in 2022. This poem marked a new way of writing for me. Instead of sitting down to write a poem, which I had done in the past, but which often resulted in me just describing what I saw out of my window — tree, bird, cloud, bleh— I would write down lines, phrases, scraps of language as they came to me throughout the day. These would collect in a notebook and after a couple weeks I would stitch the fragments together into a chapter of this book. The result felt much truer to life, much closer to the texture of my experience. I stopped searching for “poetic” things to write about, and started collecting from everywhere — something I heard in a youtube video, or read in a biology textbook, a sensation I felt in my own body.

The content and language of these poems is representative of the book as a whole. I write from a pretty unconscious place. A phrase or word will pop into my head, and I’ll follow the language, the sounds of the words, and see how they unfold. It feels quite digestive, excretive, vomitous. I’m very frustrated by language, and I want to bring it as close as I can to the body, to moaning, to screaming, to the gut’s churning. I did have a pretty unsettled stomach when I was writing this poem, so I tried to see what words I could find in that roiling. I find the body and its breakdowns to be a very rich source of intuitive language.

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

A: I was writing a lot of these long poems, using the process I described. And then I took a break from writing for a while. Now I’m trying to figure out how to write short poems again, and I’ve been experimenting with rhyme, which I’ve always loved. I started writing songs long before I wrote poems, so I’ve been thinking about how to integrate the two practices, to make the poems more song-like, and the songs more like my poems. I’ve thought about writing more long poems, but it feels like I’d be repeating myself or like I’d know what I was doing. I don’t like knowing what I’m doing when I write a poem. It’s usually a good sign if I don’t know if a poem’s any good. What connects these new sing-song poems and the ones I’ve sent you is an attention to sound. Sound, the musicality of language, is always my first consideration when I’m writing a poem. Maybe consideration is the wrong word. I follow sound, write the sounds that feel like they want to be written, even if I don’t know what they mean. This gives me a sense of the poem’s rightness. It’s often not very considered at all, or at least not thought out before hand. I have a hard time writing a poem if I know what I want to talk about.

It has to be an act of discovery.

Q: Do you have any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? What writers or works sit at the back of your head as you write?

A: I don’t really consciously model my work after anyone in particular, although I’m sure the people I read come through in my poems. Yeats is always an influence, especially in some of the more metrical and rhyming stuff that I’ve been working on lately. For the long poems, Octavio Paz’s poem “Sunstone” has been quite influential to me, and is something I return to once in a while. And then the language of the Old Testament comes through as well. Some Shakespeare. Boring, obvious stuff. I guess the through line might be pieces of writing that take on a kind of mythic, incantatory tone. I recently started reading a lot of Walt Whitman. He had no direct influence on the book, but now that I’m reading him I feel a kinship.

But if anyone sits in my head, then they must be in a different room, or at least I have my back turned to them. I prefer to write in private.

Q: How has the process been of putting together a debut collection? Have you been attempting to hone the best of what you’ve done up to this point, or had you a specific project in mind?

A: I had a specific project in mind, although what that project was came together as I was writing. Again, I don’t really like to write towards something, I don’t like to have any idea of what I’m going to say before I say it. So the project was more based on the method of writing than it was on any specific content that I wanted the book to have. The method involved writing down lines throughout the day and then stitching these lines into chapters after a couple weeks. Interesting juxtapositions and patterns emerged in this way, and there was an element of chance and randomness involved. Things were said that I didn’t intend to say. Its a kind of semiautomatic writing I guess, where the unconscious reveals itself very slowly. I found myself repeating things, leaning on the same images and metaphors again and again, which was very interesting.

Q: How have you seen your work shift, if at all, through the process of putting together your debut? Are you yet at the point where you can see something else your writing might attempt beyond this collection, over that horizon?

A: My process shifted a lot when writing this book. I was writing more formalist poems before, and the book is a turn away from that, an attempt to bring more of my life, and more of ugly parts, into my poetry.

I think I need to try something else now that I’ve experimented extensively with this long-poem form. I think I’d know too much what I’m doing. I want to feel like uneasy when I’m writing, unsure whether what I’m doing is any good at all. Doing the same thing feels a bit safe. I need to be on the verge of embarrassment. There’s a lot I want to attempt. Narrative. Returning to formalistic writing. Experimenting with handwriting, drawing. Different surfaces.

Q: Tell me about your experiments with the long-poem form. What brought you to the form, and what did you feel you needed to accomplish through the process that the short lyric, for example, wouldn’t have been able to provide?

A: I was brought to the form by accident. I started collected lines for poems throughout the day, with the idea that I would then use these lines as seeds to write complete, short lyric poems. Then as a typed these disparate, discontinuous lines together I liked how they read as a single poem. So then I just kept composing like this, writing down scraps on the fly and it turned into a book. The one thing I knew, though, was how the poem would end.

I think the long poem, as I’m writing it, gives a better picture of the flow of life, going under then suddenly coming up for air, blinking the world into fragments. It felt closer to the way I was experiencing things. That being said, this long poem isn’t narrative or epic really. I’ve thought of it like this: a poetry collection is usually like a series of ponds. But this one is more like a river. That doesn’t mean you have to get in at the beginning and ride it to the end. You can jump in wherever and take a dip, feel the rush of the water going by. I think you could read it like a normal collection of poems. Or its like a social media newsfeed. Come have a snack, or glut yourself insensate. Your choice. Here I’ve given you some extracts from States of Emergency, and I think they work as stand alone poems as well.

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

A: I return to Paul Celan all the time, but I can’t read too much of him or else I’ll start to copy him. The gravity of that style can be too strong sometimes. I like to reread Octavio Paz’s long poem “Sunstone” once in a while, and I’m often surprised by how much of it has seeped into my poetry over the years. At the moment I’m thinking quite a bit about Emily Dickinson, Stevie Smith, WB Yeats. Poets who use rhyme and seemingly light-verse forms but have a dark and powerful undercurrent running through them. I’d like to write poems that get stuck in your head. I love the way that song lyrics can suddenly pop up in your mind and have almost epiphanic significance in the context of a new experience. I think rhyme and meter can give the reader a way to live with a poem over time, to keep it with them. And then what may at first appear opaque can slowly unfold, over the course of many years, or even a lifetime.

“Reenergize” is an interesting word to use. I sometimes feel more energized not by poetry but by pieces of writing that have totally different vocabularies than the ones I’m used to. I was taking an evolutionary biology course while I wrote my first book States of Emergency, and a lot of the unusual language that I found in the textbook for the course made its way into the poem. That experience was exciting to me, and I plan on mining other disciplines for new phrases and words in the future.

Monday, December 13, 2021

TtD supplement #204 : seven questions for Brandon Brown

Brandon Brown’s most recent books are Work (Atelos) and The Four Seasons (Wonder). He is an editor at Krupskaya Books and edits the zine Panda’s Friend. He lives in the Bay Area of California on unceded Ohlone land.

His poems “HOW I’M FEELING NOW,” “MY MENTAL HEALTH DAY” and “A SONG OF RAIMBAUT D’AURENGA” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “HOW I’M FEELING NOW,” “MY MENTAL HEALTH DAY” and “A SONG OF RAIMBAUT D’AURENGA.”

A: These poems feel in so many ways quite distinct, both in how they move and what they try to do, and the occasions for their coming to be. “How I’m Feeling Now” was written in response to a call by the pop composer and singer Charli XCX on the occasion of her 2020 album, How I’m Feeling Now. She was soliciting fan responses to the record, and I decided to take the challenge. Incidentally, it seems as if I didn’t make the cut, as I haven’t heard from Charli or her squad. “My Mental Health Day” was a poem that wrote itself in about five minutes late one night, and by contrast “A Song of Raimbaut D’Aurenga” was part of a translation I worked on at a very slow pace for most of 2020 and early 2021. Raimbaut left us 39 poems, and I translated his poems a stanza or two a day. D’Aurenga died in a pandemic in 1173, one of the first medical events called influenza.

For all of these distinctions, and to risk stating something very obvious, they all feel like poems of 2020 and Covid-19. From the delicious sweat of a packed club, to the sudden appearance of boss-endorsed “mental health days” at work, to the daily translation project enabled by spending a lot more time at home with my Occitan reference materials, I think of these poems as residue from that year and time, which of course doesn't feel concluded or over in any way.

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

A: For the past several years most of my work has been in prose, and when the pandemic began, I had just finished writing a novel called The Tragicall History. But from the very beginning of Covid, I’ve struggled enormously to write in sentences. I don’t have a theory for why that has been the case, but to the great relief of my sanity I have been able to write poems and do translations. I’ve always been a writer with routines, and I’ve settled into new ones. As I said, Raimbaut D’Aurenga’s poems gave me a little bit of work to do every day, and I honestly feel grateful I had spent the year before the pandemic studying enough Occitan to be able to sort of read his writing. As for the poems, I’ve been obsessed with Joanne Kyger’s poetry in the past year, and I’ve tried to introduce elements of her approach into my own routines as a writer, savoring the time I make to work on writing and revising poems. But it’s still a quite different, for me, way of writing, to write poems without a project or overarching sense of the structure of the book in advance.

Q: What is it about Kyger’s work, specifically, that appeals? What of her approach or structures are you attempting to engage with in your own work, and how has that engagement been revealing itself?

A: Thanks for the opportunity to say more about Joanne!

First of all I want to recognize that I’m late to her work, for no good reason. I moved to the Bay Area in 1998, and Joanne was around, so close up in Bolinas, and I had a few chances to be in the same room with her and experience her magnificent big Scorpio energy. And plenty of people around me were advocates for her work, none perhaps more than my friend Cedar Sigo, who has been an amazing steward of her work, person and legacy. I just couldn’t find my way into her poetry, until I did.

I think what’s been most profound in reading her over the last couple of years is the quality and range of permission in her writing. Kyger’s poems are so often about what’s happening right now, whatever that is. Steam coming off a teacup, a negligible looking plant in the garden, a memory of something sweet or sour, a reflection on the essence of the fucking universe. She accommodates so much in her poems: her emotional and spiritual intelligence, her vast study, her friends and community in Bolinas, wit and savagery, grouchiness and pleasure.

I’m also deeply interested in her way of publishing, especially the many iterations of “Selected Poems.” These volumes are all distinct, aspire to select poems from differing periods of her writing career, and always include new work, but they often stretch back to her earliest writing. The number of these volumes relieve so much of the precious pressure on the tired, heroic “Selected Poems” form and feel so natural to how she approached individual poems, a steady alchemical blend of history and immediacy.

Q: With a handful of published poetry books and chapbooks under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: There’s a song I really love by the country musician Jake Owen called “Down To The Honkytonk.” The basic conceit of the tune is, I may not be rich, famous, well-respected, sophisticated, or important....but one thing is for certain: I’ll go down to the honkytonk. “I may not go down in history...but I’ll go down to the honkytonk.” I think one of the things that draws me to the song is this sense I have that poetry is an exercise in permission, play, study, collaboration with the living and the dead, and all of those things are also what you find when you go down to the honkytonk. It can also be risky (the nightlife ain’t no good life) and I hope that I continue to experience a little whiff of something like danger when I’m writing. Or at least uncertainty.

Q: What do you see as the value to uncertainty? How does uncertainty present itself in your ongoing work?

A: I think what I mean is I feel on guard against settling into one way of writing, especially a way of writing I learn how to do well, that becomes familiar and easy to do. I don’t want to write the same poem five hundred times, even if it’s technically a “good poem.” I’m most satisfied when I write something that initially makes me feel queasy about sharing it with someone else.

Q: I’m curious about your work as an editor at Krupskaya. Has being an editor shifted the ways in which you approach your own writing?

A: Well, I should say first that long before I was an editor at Krupskaya, the press was legendary to me. As a really young poet in San Francisco at the end of the last century, Krupskaya offered me a universe. When Jocelyn (Saidenberg) and Kevin (Killian) published my second book, The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus, I was constantly pinching myself to make sure it wasn't a dream. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I really had “grown up” reading those books and intuited that the press and authors offered me a new and powerful direction for life.

I don’t know how to trace how my editorial work with the press has caused shifts in my own writing, but I guess I can offer a couple of thoughts. Especially when we had open reading periods, working with the press gave me the chance to read so many writers who were new to me, several of whom have become real friends since encountering their work. And then I’ve been given the chance to become obsessed with the titles we’ve published, living with them for weeks and months and years, absorbing them into my RNA or whatever it is. That’s certainly had an impact on my internal cadence and attention, and I’m really grateful for that.

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

A: Ah of course there are too many to list. When I return time and time again to something it’s often to try and study something very particular to the artistry of the work, usually because I’m trying to figure out how to do something in my own. I return to books to borrow their mood, to put myself in a mood. And in general I try to be as catlike as possible in my life as a reader: I know there’s food somewhere on this floor and I will fucking find it if it takes all night. And sometimes of course the thing I can’t help returning to is something I haven’t even read yet. But in the spirit of wanting to answer your generous question, if I’m stuck, and I am often stuck, but if I am really stuck, I think of Bernadette Mayer as a source of immense permission, study, prompt, and play, and her work has been a buoy for me countless times.

Monday, November 29, 2021

TtD supplement #203 : seven questions for Valerie Witte

Valerie Witte is the author of a game of correspondence (Black Radish) and The Grass Is Greener When the Sun Is Yellow (Operating System), co-written with Sarah Rosenthal. Her latest chapbook, Listening Through the Body: An Exercise in Sustained Coordination, recently appeared from above/ground press. Her writing has also appeared in literary journals such as VOLT, Diagram, Dusie, Alice Blue, and Interim. More at valeriewitte.com

Her poems “\\ten weeks after\\,” “\\four months later\\,” “\\seven months after, ongoing\\” and “\\ten months later\\” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “\\ten weeks after\\,” “\\four months later\\,” “\\seven months after, ongoing\\” and “\\ten months later\\.”

A: This sequence of poems is from a manuscript called “hold short bravo,” which was inspired, in part, by the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 in March 2014. I became fascinated by this impossible mystery and somewhat obsessively read every news piece I could find about it. How could a plane with 227 passengers and 12 crew members simply vanish—in a time of seemingly constant surveillance? There were countless theories about what had happened. Was the plane hijacked? Shot down? Did someone reprogram the autopilot route? (Not to mention: Was the plane consumed by a black hole? Struck by a meteor? Abducted by aliens?) And of course, relatedly, WHERE WAS THE PLANE?

Over time more information has come to light (periodically, what appear to be pieces of the plane have surfaced in the Indian Ocean). But many of the mysteries underlying the flight’s disappearance endure. The manuscript addresses these mysteries, with the understanding that we are unlikely ever to get the answers. Composed of fragments suggestive of a crash, each carrying the same burden of meaning/meaninglessness, the manuscript is broken up by time stamps (moving the reader forward and backward in time) to create a sense of being lost in time—and space—reflecting the very real possibility of never knowing what happened or why.

Amid the backdrop of this singular event are interspersed more fragments—of personal memories and dreams, which mirror the sense of dislocation and uncertainty of this particular event—as well as life in general. The pages included here touch on issues of relationships, parenthood, the environment, and spirituality.

Specifically, the lines following “\\ten weeks after\\” relate to the challenges and doubts inherent in a relationship, fear of aloneness and potential rejection. They probe into these fears and ask how to live in acceptance of them and how to keep going.

In addition to exploring the mystery of the disappeared plane, the section that follows “\\four months later\\” examines another mystery (to me)—the natural human desire and choice to bear children—a desire that has always been foreign to me. In particular, amid the undeniable climate crisis facing humanity and our planet, I find it fascinating that so many people choose to have children given what their descendants will face, yet I also envy their desire and willingness to do so. And in these pages, I actively question my decision to avoid “crossing over” to motherhood, fearing I have made a huge mistake—though it is admittedly selfish reasons that lead me to this quandary: who will take care of me if/when I grow old, will my legacy be lost? And in pondering this choice, I think of one friend’s approach, to teach her child sustainability by living on a farm. This seems wise—but as it turns out, this plan did not come to pass.

In the text that follows “\\seven months after, ongoing\\” and “\\ten months later\\,” the idea of “crossing over” or “crossing a line” continues, as I discuss the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in WWII, after the death of the last of the pilots who did so. These pieces explore the plane’s disappearance along with questions of mortality—and ways to cope through faith and escapism (eg., the idea of finishing—either writing or reading—something like Game of Thrones seems impossibly daunting to me).

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

A: Over the last few years, I’ve primarily been working on a collection of essays called One Thing Follows Another: Engaging the Art of Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer, a collaboration with Sarah Rosenthal. In this project, we explore the work of dancer-choreographers Yvonne Rainer and Simone Forti—both at various inflection points throughout their careers and in this particular moment. Through a combination of chance operations and intentional artistic choices that push us to unexpected places, and via innovative forms and techniques—including collage, erasure, and our own inventions—we deconstruct the essay form to examine what we as poets, each with our own highly charged relationships to dance, can contribute to the conversation about these pivotal figures in postmodern art. One of the essays in this collection, “Listening Through the Body,” has just been released as a chapbook from above/ground press.

Otherwise, I’ve been working periodically on a project that explores the idea of coping with trauma through escapism. Although not closely related to the content of the “hold short bravo” text, this work also plays with time and space, which perhaps makes that a recurring theme in my work! I am using H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine as a source text (what better mode of escape than time and space) and building a collection of 60 or so prose-ish blocks; each begins with a line from the book that leads into the subsequent lines. The book touches on myriad topics including callout culture, dealing with the loss of someone gone too soon, erasure (in writing and in life), the nature of monstrosity, the tragedy of both natural and human-caused disaster, finding comfort in the idea of outer space, and questions of authorship, specifically, the ethics of repurposing someone’s words to use against them under the guise of art.

Q: Do you approach your solo work differently than the ways in which you might approach collaboration? What has collaboration allowed that might not have been possible otherwise, and how has the experience affected, if at all, your solo writing?

A: For solo projects, I often select a source text or texts and adapt language, combined with my own, creating a series of pieces eventually building to a cohesive whole. I am always collage-ing, fracturing, manipulating words—folding in notes I have written over the course of several months, or years—and looking for overarching themes around which to construct a manuscript. I play with language a lot, and nearly all of my poetic work employs some kind of innovative or unusual form. The work tends to be somewhat autobiographical but expressed in an elliptical way, and often involves fantastical or sci-fi elements.

While I enjoy the inherent freedom of working on my own projects, I deeply value collaboration as well. My approach with each collaborative project differs depending on the participants, the particular contours and dynamics of the project, the medium of the project, and so forth. No matter the specifics, there’s just no replacement for engaging with the ideas of another individual, which inevitably prevents us from falling back on old habits or themes that recur in our work. Through collaboration, we are inevitably forced to avoid the familiar and embrace what is completely new to us, i.e., someone else’s experience and ideas. In general, I find that an effective collaboration involves the following:

Being forced out of my comfort zone: Most recently, as noted above, I have been working with Sarah Rosenthal on a multiyear project related to the work of Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer. With this project, I’ve taken on a subject I never would have addressed on my own. My (minimal) experience with dance has tended to be fairly negative, often resulting in feelings of despair, insecurity, or humiliation. But Sarah’s idea for us to focus on postmodern dance intrigued me—I appreciated the tension inherent in addressing a topic that would conjure unpleasant memories for me, along with the possibilities in exploring aspects of myself that would otherwise remain untapped. By tackling this atypical (for me) subject matter, I’ve come to learn so much about dance, postmodern art, the letter and essay forms, and myself.

The element of surprise:
Part 1 of our project was the book The Grass Is Greener When the Sun Is Yellow (Operating System). For this book, we co-wrote a series of sonnets, emailing each other alternating lines until we had 14 for each poem. Of course, we never knew what the other person would send back, and sometimes the delivered line left us perplexed or uncertain of how to proceed. Yet at the end of the process, we found that we often could not remember whose lines were whose, so in-tune we had become with each other’s language, rhythm, and style. While I always strive to create surprising, unpredictable moments in my work, collaboration forces this like nothing else. It’s also a fascinating way to discover how another person’s mind—with its own associations, memories, and perspectives—works.

Support + accountability: Writing is generally a solitary activity, and you can often feel as if you are writing into an abyss, that your work isn’t good, or that it will never see the light of day. Having someone to offer feedback and encouragement; discuss ideas with; and be a partner in all aspects including editing, publishing, and marketing is incredibly beneficial. Additionally, having scheduled meetings, shared goals, and joint events to plan for is motivating; it’s much easier to ignore my own vague deadline than it is to blow off an appointment or deadline that affects another person.

So far I have tended to compartmentalize these two ways of working (solo and collaborative)—I strive for a balance of different types of projects, and I find that each mode fuels the other. I am always learning from my collaborators different ways of thinking and making—and from them I have developed a greater appreciation of the importance of feedback and trying to see things from a different perspective. While I have collaborated with a visual artist as well as other writers, I hope to do more cross-disciplinary collaborations down the road—with sound artists, visual artists, filmmakers, etc.—that would open up more opportunities for creating and delivering unique experiences for an audience.

Q: Have you any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? What possible works or writers have you in the back of your head as you write?

A: Lyn Hejinian’s My Life has been very influential for a long time. The book feels immediately innovative yet also thoroughly logical due to its structure—a section dedicated to each year of her life, each with that many sentences (the number has changed over time; in a revised edition, more sections and lines have been added, in accordance with Hejinian’s age at the time of her writing). I am always thinking about structure from the time I begin any new project and striving to devise a meaningful and fitting form for each one—and this book’s structure is one that I can’t help but admire. Beyond this, I find the elliptical, stream-of-consciousness-style unfurling of autobiographical details and insights appealing; this too is something I emulate in my work. I especially appreciate how one phrase or thought leads to the next but often in a tangential-seeming or non-obvious way.

Fairly recently, I discovered Maggie Nelson, in particular, her poetic memoir Bluets. I was immediately struck by the deceptively simple concept—compiling and reflecting on a series of items, notes, memories—all associated with the color blue. Again, I love the form of these numbered prose blocks, each containing its own discrete narrative—an interweaving of personal experiences and philosophical observations that ultimately tell a story in a way that seems accessible yet is also truly singular. This too is a book that calls attention to the process of writing, a strategy I sometimes employ in my own work. Further, the content in her work often strikes me as wild, audacious—it makes me wonder: Are you allowed to say that? What might her loved ones think upon reading this??? She pushes the envelope and compels me to do so also, in my own way.

Though not an autobiography—scratch that, in a way it is!—one of the books I return to again and again is Laura Walker’s beautiful poetry collection Rimertown: An Atlas. I love both the construction and the language in this book so much. It operates on several frequencies at once, composed of a series of numbered (not in order!) maps, stories, prose poems, and a loose fragmentary narrative, whose lines trace the bottom of the page. I can’t help but imagine Walker creating these various components, spilling them out and mixing them up, deciding where and how they fit together best. (I have no idea if she wrote it this way—this is purely my own imagining of her process.) Emerging as a rich tapestry as it unfolds, the collection is an elegant and quietly observant work that movingly depicts the experience of a culture and place. I return to it again and again as a source of comfort, inspiration, and intrigue.

Q: With two full-length collections and a couple of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: As mentioned, I generally begin most of my projects with source texts that I carve away at or erase or extract language from, and fold in bits of my own language, until something new—hopefully unexpected—emerges. It’s a lot of playing with phrases or snippets of text, and shaping them into different forms, which I use to build a cohesive whole.

Despite this fragmentary approach, I am deeply interested in narrative—or things that resemble narrative—but I often feel that I struggle with the sentence. This issue has definitely been put to the test throughout my recent collaboration. In The Grass Is Greener..., we began by co-writing sonnets. To help ground the work, we ultimately decided to fold in letters to each other that examine the process of writing the letters and discuss topics as wide-ranging as the environment, poetics, feminism, and music.

Initially, my letters were both tentative and, yes, fragmented, as I was uncomfortable writing in such a vulnerable and straightforward way, something I rarely do for public consumption. But recognizing that this was not what was needed for the project, I tried switching things up and writing in a more standard letter form. As we continued with our correspondence, my letters became more substantial, informed by research and critique. My confidence grew and by the end of the project, I felt as though it was at least possible for me to write compelling sentences.

Similarly, with the essay collection, I at first struggled with the form, which again seemed to require writing in coherent sentences; I felt my essays were falling flat. After each writing three of our five essays, Sarah delivered a fourth essay that was bold and surprising in format and language. I was blown away. It was (at least somewhat) composed of sentences but structured in an unusual way that served the piece perfectly and was truly exciting. It showed me that I was missing an opportunity and gave me permission to bring my poetics into the essay form. My next two essays were the easiest to write because I allowed myself to play with structure and syntax in ways that served the topics while also conveying what I wanted to express about them. I ended up rewriting my first three essays—each now has an experimental form, which suits the subject matter and offers an enhanced reading experience, in my view. In the process, I discovered there was a more effective form and approach to telling these stories. Yes, there were still a lot of sentences in these hybridized essays—but combining those with my experimental tendencies, I was able to push the essay form into interesting places without sacrificing meaning, clarity, or depth.

Going forward I’d like to channel this experience and keep practicing these techniques—retaining my experimental poet mindset and vision while continuing to push the sentence form, or narrative writing in general.

Q: How did you get to a point where you are constructing narrative via fragmentary collage? What is it about this approach that appeals? What do you feel such structures allow that might not be possible otherwise?

A: Like many (most humans?), I am naturally drawn to story. From the time I learned how to write, I was writing stories—and this continued to be my focus for several years. But after college, I came to recognize that fiction writing was not my strength and no longer my core interest, and I started to read more poetry—and writing it, almost exclusively. In terms of written text, I’ve become more compelled by the real/things that actually happen, particularly when expressed in innovative or unusual ways, as through experimental poetry or hybrid forms.

Despite my shift away from fiction, I still feel the very human pull of story and narrative. So my writing—which I generally characterize as poetry—typically contains a thread of story woven through it. Sometimes I begin with a work of fiction, such as a novel (Gothic and sci-fi, to date) or a sci-fi film, as a source text, and try to inhabit those worlds, to draw out the emotion those sources evoke in the reader/viewer, while bringing to the work my own personal experiences and imaginings. By mixing my real experiences, thoughts, dreams, etc. with fictional elements, I aim to elicit a sense of mystery and intrigue, to heighten the experience of reading, perhaps prompt the reader to wonder things like: What is happening here? What is this work—through its structure, language, syntax, and so on—doing? And I utilize different forms to help achieve this. For example, in a game of correspondence, I crafted “emails”—built through a collage of memories and ruminations, language from a novel, and tropes of the Gothic fiction genre—as a nod to formal epistolary works of the past; and in hold short bravo, I combined fragments of my own dreams and observations, with language from a flight’s audio transcript and subsequent articles and news reports, creating a fractured portrait of what happened in that particular incident while presenting it as a lens through which to view the modern human experience.

My projects almost always have an autobiographical component, which while nonfictional, still connects to story, as we all have stories that we tell about ourselves, in our own minds and to others. I no longer invent fully developed characters or devise plots for people to enact. The people and action in my work are either some version of myself or people in my life and my own experiences or more gestural, offering a suggestion or notion of figures and events, often designed to evoke a certain mood or emotion. As many postmodern artists have noted, techniques like collage, erasure, and the like can be a way to avoid being overly sentimental and placing oneself in the center of a work, and this approach has become intrinsic to the way I work.

Additionally, such techniques are a way to eschew predictability, force us out of our habits, and ensure a level of surprise in language that is difficult to achieve in more straightforward prose. For me, it’s a more exciting way to write than telling a story in a linear way. I admire writers who can write traditional fiction and keep things interesting. But I’ve learned over the years that is not my project. I prefer my work to ask more questions than provide answers—and that is something that fragmented storytelling helps me do.

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

A: In Forces of Imagination, Barbara Guest opened my eyes to the possibilities of art criticism, illustrating how literary and art theory could be accessible, exciting, and beautiful. As the Editor’s Note states, the book comprises parts of talks, essays, poems, and short pieces with recurring observations, phrases, and ideas; it should come as no surprise that such a compilation has been of significant influence and continues to inform my poetics. In this groundbreaking work, I discovered how a discussion of art can itself be art.

When I first picked up Lisa Jarnot’s Some Other Kind of Mission, I was immediately drawn to the visual nature of the book. Not only does she use space on the page in compelling ways throughout the text, but she also incorporates various experimental visual elements—erasure and collage to create surprising juxtapositions and omissions—creating a tableau of sorts, which intrigued me from the beginning and has never lessened its grip.

Lisa Robertson’s book The Men, while small in size, is such a substantial, powerful work. I appreciate the inherent feminism in the deceptively simple little book, its provocative yet playful examination of our culture’s attitudes about gender. Hers is the kind of writing I emulate—deeply moving yet humorous, intellectual, and emotionally true.

And, as mentioned earlier, I’ve long admired Laura Walker’s Rimertown: An Atlas, which I return to again and again as a source of inspiration.


Monday, November 22, 2021

TtD supplement #202 : seven questions for Melissa Eleftherion

Melissa Eleftherion is a cis queer human, a writer, a librarian, and a visual artist. She is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), & ten chapbooks, including trauma suture (above/ground press, 2020), & abalone (poems-for-all, 2021). Her poems & prose have been widely published in various journals including the Berkeley Poetry Review, Entropy, & La Vague. Born & raised in Brooklyn, Melissa created, developed, and co-curates The SF State Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange with Elise Ficarra. She now lives in Northern California where she manages the Ukiah Library, curates the LOBA Reading Series, and serves as the Poet Laureate of Ukiah 2021-2023. Recent work is available at www.apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.

Her two poems “from Invasive Species,” and “marriage on the patio” and “suture 66” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the two poems “from Invasive Species,” and “marriage on the patio” and “suture 66.”

A: These poems were written during a 30/30 project called The Poeming where myself and 30 other poets wrote 31 erasures based on the works of various authors including Anne Rice, Christopher Pike, & Seanan McGuire to name a few. Found poems can have the uncanny ability to strike at the core of the unconscious tenor of what’s happening, whether in the world, the mind, or the body. I like experimenting with the treasures resonant in someone else’s language.

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

A: In Dec. 2020, I started an online writing group for women as a means of carving out time & space to write & hold each other accountable in kind ways. As a means of furthering my study of tarot & jumpstarting our writing, I draw a card at each meeting that serves as a writing prompt. This new series I’ve been working on pairs tarot & science to excavate whatever relationships or hidden meanings might exist beneath the surface. Ultimately, many of my poems tend to play with the idea of the found form, whether through erasure, or through exploring ecological relationships in an attempt to elucidate elemental mysteries.  

Q: One of my favourite poets, George Bowering, composed a serial poem based on a shuffle of the major arcana and court cards of the Swiss Tarot deck, published as Genève (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1971). What is it about the tarot that appeals as a writing prompt, and what were you discovering through your own process of composition?

A: I’ve been learning that tarot has been an aid to writing for generations. For instance, did you know that Plath worked with the tarot to write “Daddy”? It’s fascinating, really once you start delving to see how tarot has catalyzed many great works. One thing that appeals to me personally is the myriad uses with which one can incorporate the tarot in writing practice – the images alone can be quite generative, as well as the larger mystical meanings of the cards & their representations. Again, I think it’s a way of calling up the invisible. Of conjuring energetics & relationships that are present but possibly unseen or willingly ignored by the human eye. The act of divination can be a means of seeing, of casting a tiny light on what may or may not be unconscious, but is nonetheless alive.

Q: After ten chapbooks and a trade collection, as well as your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My 2nd full-length collection, gaslight gutter rainbows, works with the language of minerals and rocks to tell a story of the relationship between human & geological trauma, along with the sediment of betrayal that lingers in our foundation. Some language used in the field of mineralogy is oddly foreboding of various ways the Earth & humanity have been ravaged by capitalist greed (and grief). This book explores ways to catalyze this understanding, and move forward. It’s about trusting yourself enough to claw your way out. It’s also currently making the rounds on the rejection circuit. The tarot series I began last year has started to shape itself into a new full-length collection tentatively titled WITCH BIOTA. The poems in this book play with the interrelationship of various elements & branches of science with the tarot. Ultimately, I think the poems are getting more granular – from birds to plants to minerals to mycelia, lichen & bacteria. Microorganisms are whole universes of fascination.

Q: Are you noticing a shift in structure along with the evolution into further “granular” subject matter? Are your poems becoming more expansive, or densely-packed? Has the evolution purely been one of subject?

A: Yes, while each poem demands its own breath & structure – I’m noticing a shift with the new poems. Both the poems & the line itself have become more expansive. Having dedicated writing time has also impacted the length – whereas I have often written in accreted fragments due to necessity, these poems are more capacious because they’re no longer being marginalized.  

Q: Have you any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? What poets or works sit at the back of your head as you work?

A: No, I wouldn’t say I have any models for this new work. This might explain why they feel so experimental. Apart from the stacks of field guides and various decks & books on the tarot I am surrounded by at my writing desk, one poet that tends to reappear for me is Lorine Niedecker. I remember finding a copy of New Goose at the San Francisco Public Library back in 2002 or so when I first moved out to California, and my daily repertoire consisted of hanging out at the Main & figuring out my life. Niedecker’s poems really struck me for their brevity & candor, along with the nuanced way she encapsulated so many resonant meanings in a single line. Later, I found myself writing some of the early poems in Witch Biota while studying Niedecker with Hoa Nguyen.

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

A: To reenergize my work, I tend to read a mixture of both nonfiction and poetry. Some recent reads that I found particularly generative include The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, & frank: sonnets by Diane Seuss. Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star is a book I return to, along with anything by Bhanu Kapil.

Monday, November 8, 2021

TtD supplement #201 : seven questions for Sue Bracken

Sue Bracken’s work has appeared in G U E S T [a journal of guest editors], Hart House Review, WEIMAG, The New Quarterly, Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (Mansfield Press), The Totally Unknown Writer’s Festival 2015: Stories (Life Rattle Press) and other publications. Her first collection of poems When Centipedes Dream was published by Tightrope Books in 2018. She lives in Toronto in a house ruled by artists and animals.

Her poems “Du Fond des Mers,” “At Swim,” “S. B.,” “The Goodwill Store Disrobes” and “A Roomful of Teeth” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Du Fond des Mers,” “At Swim,” “S. B.,” “The Goodwill Store Disrobes” and “A Roomful of Teeth.”

A:
Du Fond des Mers
A huge skeleton of a blue whale hung suspended from the ceiling at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum). It was reflected below on some material that looked like water. It was beautiful but the whale wasn’t in water. It was dead, completely dissected, disassembled and on display. Its huge heart sat apart, beside a smart car for comparison.
Sure, I learned some facts about whales, especially their unbelievable communication abilities. But all I could think about was that it didn’t have a say in being displayed in such a primitive, objective way. I just wanted it back in the sea.    

At Swim
I’m a water baby, love the freedom that water gives, want to swim as an old broad and beyond.
I was probably daydreaming about retiring from my job then. I’ve since taken that swan dive!    

S.B.
I heard a woman read a poem about her name. It included an umlaut over one of the letters and the poem was pretty unique. I thought I’d give my initials a shot. It was great playing with the hissing S and the bombastic B, and attempting to present their shapes literally. Summum Bonum was a cool discovery.

The Goodwill Store Disrobes       
The Goodwill stores in Toronto closed suddenly.  I passed our local Goodwill daily enroute to and from work. The mannequins displayed in the windows had regular outfit changes, displaying new items for sale. As the store was being cleared out, rather than the window items being removed as a unit it seemed the mannequins were being gradually undressed. It felt like a subtle strip tease show, one you didn’t want to admit to watching.

Roomful of Teeth
A COVID poem from one of the many waves of tension last year. (Also the name of an American vocal ensemble.)

It was also part of a project during COVID called Xcess & Ohhs in collaboration with my visual artist partner. His 12 works of art were called Bandaids for Worrisome Times. My 12 poems responding to (NOT describing) his imagery were called Wondering When to Worry.

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

A: I’m the last born of five and therefore an observer. I have to crawl to the starlight before I can fall back barking. I’m also an Aquarian and by my definition that’s a water baby. Water often leaks into my poetry. Dust to dust never seems to apply. I love water’s float, its fit. I just seem to belong in the silk of it. Many of my poems, including three of the ones you’ve accepted and about a dozen in a recent manuscript (One Goose Honking) are water related.  

In addition to water related images/experiences, my writing is also influenced by train graffiti, news items and artwork. I retired from my job in early 2020. I walked out of the corporate world directly into COVID, with all its appendages. I felt brilliant in the timing, but also an urgent need to continue to be creative. The project noted above- Xcess & Ohhs - was a collaboration with visual artist extraordinaire David McClyment (also my partner, also extraordinaire). Neither the images nor the poems are directly about COVID though there is some of the tension of the pandemic, its isolation, and the question around the extra time on our hands. Water themes and responses to images persist.

Self-reliance was also on my mind pre-COVID and pre-retirement (hence the title of the manuscript noted above).  I recently saw Franz Kline’s painting Cupola 1956-57 at the AGO. It floored me. Huge, fearless, singular. That need in me to be creative was in that painting.  Somehow my reaction to Cupola seems connected to my most recent work. It’s a suite of related prose and poetry (somewhat unusual for me) around my sister who died in 1976, way too young. She was 27 (also the working title). Writing this homage to her felt sensitive yet visceral.  Some of the pieces continue to be responses to images/family photos, others were inevitably physical reactions to memories. It was a difficult bit of writing, pooled with feelings of privilege and survivor’s guilt. Reflecting on my other work, facing these photos of my sister, and seeing Kline’s painting helped me recognize the need, the adventure, the surprise of why I write.

Q: Given so many of what sparks your work is visual, what brought you to responding via writing? What does writing provide that working with visuals, for example, might not?

A: Living with a visual artist does present the opportunity for a daily and deeper involvement with visuals, so I do take advantage of that. I have also danced semi professionally (=I got paid a few times) and I have taken some not bad amateur photos. But it’s the adventure of seeing what might happen when I write and trying to make the idea my own, that pulls me.

I guess the short answer is that writing can satisfy me. Plus I can't draw. At all!

Q: With a published debut and your work-in-progress since, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: To your first question, I feel my work is and I am more confident. Over the last few years I have been exposed to more poets, more writing styles and more ideas through reading, live and zoom events, and the increased time to ponder. Some of my recent work has also tackled bigger subjects.

To your second question, I would like to be involved in more collaborations; some meaty, richly themed writing topics while maintaining astonishment in the overall adventure. At this point I really don’t feel the need to know where my work is going, just that it is going.

Q: Have there been any writers in particular, over these past few years, that have sparked differences in your work?

A: Here’s a few.

Anne Carson: (Short Talks, Float) for her blunt, unique, exquisite descriptions

Natalia Diaz: “Dome Riddle” (New Poets of Native Nations, ed H. Erdrich) for her very clever humour

Albert Goldbarth: “Coin” (Heaven and Earth, a Cosmology) for being one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read. It reminds me to reach. (Michael Redhill wrote about it years ago in a fabulous weekly column “How Poems Work” in The Globe newspaper, I think. Sadly the column was cancelled.)

Don McKay: Many of his works feel like we're sitting together, having an amazing conversation.

Laura Lush: “Women Who Run With Buffalo” (Going to the Zoo) for her wildness (also her other prose and poems)

Susan Holbrook: “Your First Timpani?” (Joy is so Exhausting) for her crazy play with the English language

Michael Ondaatje: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid for the description of a bullet’s path, slow motion, almost lovely if a bullet could ever be so, in the midst of all that blood

Sue Goyette: Ocean. I was mesmerized by the writing and the couplet-like style when I first read the book. It’s in my to read (again) stack.

I couldn’t say specifically how these works changed my writing, but they have helped me generally to experiment more with style, humour and adventure. To let loose with the language and break a few more rules.

Q: Have you found that this period of pandemic-isolation has had any effect upon your work, whether the way you approach writing or the shift in opportunities for observation?

A: There have been a few effects.

The poetry group I belonged to fell apart, so that interaction and feedback unfortunately dissolved. I physically have been able to get out daily as we have a few walking/running paths and a park nearby, and a dog who has to move. Dog walkers are varied types so some of the conversations have been thoughtful and provoking, but lately they are always about the virus and vaccines. Not stimulating.

Regarding the park noted above, it’s right across the street so we are treated to international swearing/soccer matches, stories from the men of the local shelter, new COVID kids learning to stand and walk, a fabulous wandering blues harmonica player, and a big sky currently featuring Jupiter and Saturn. We can see all this from our front porch, if not during dog walks.  Some writing prompts have come out of these observations.

I miss giving and attending live readings. However I have been to more readings/launches/festivals and exposed to so many new (to me) writers, thanks to zoom. A poet friend from England invited me to read with the online version of the Norway Square Arts Festival, from St Ives. They include musicians and a wide range of writers and actors. Writer Bill Arnott from B.C. is part of this group, so many of us also participated in his events from B.C. These online events have kept me involved in some form of a writing community, but I miss the personal discussions.

I’m fortunate to have a place to write, so I try to make a point of writing or doing something poetry related everyday. I have also used the extra time to submit more of my work.

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

A: This is going to be a mixed answer, but here goes.

In addition to many of those authors I mentioned in question #5:

I listen to Tom Waits, played very loudly, to charge up. His lyrics are energizing, especially sung at that volume.

For humour I sometimes look to product instruction translations, written or drawn. For example, the written ones for a Three Man Chess game were hilarious and a good prompt for a poem.

This circles back to Anne Carson again, who wrote a poem based on her VCR instructions. She seems to be able to write beautifully about anything, from floating cows (Autobiography of Red), to pronouns (Float), to an elegy for her brother (Nox). I’ll read anything she writes.

I live near a CP shunting station, so train tags are good for prompts (e.g. “Uncle Susan is a Wolf”).

Also, snippets of out of context conversations have the same effect. (“I’d rather have a washing machine than an orgasm.”)

Online and previously live readings have introduced me to many great poets. I try to buy some of their books or the anthology when available (The Griffin Poetry Prize, Watch Your Head) to see if their other work resonates.  The more I read the better I write, or at least the more ideas I have.

The Journals of Dan Eldon, and The Curiosities by Janice Lowry. Yes they’re both visual artists which leads me back to your previous question re what about visuals inspires me to respond via writing? It’s the process that intrigues me. Why that colour/form/shape, clay versus spray paint, why that layout etc? I find the process totally, often directly, related to writing. When I’m stuck I look at other art forms, not to emulate them but to get back to my own. It's a total refresh.