Monday, November 24, 2014

TtD supplement #14: six questions for Roland Prevost

Roland Prevost has been published by Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant, The Toronto Quarterly, Dusie, Ottawa Arts Review, among many others. He has four chapbooks: Metafizz (Bywords, 2007), Dragon Verses (Dusty Owl, 2009), Our/ Are Carried Invisibles (above/ground press, 2009), and Parapagus (above/ground press, 2012). He won the 2006 John Newlove Poetry Award. His first trade poetry collection, Singular Plurals (Chaudiere Books), appeared in September, 2014. He lives and writes in Ottawa.

His piece “Oh, to What Feeds” appears in the third issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: What is your relationship to the poetic fragment?

Depends on the fragment. But in general, I see such fragments as an opportunity to keep the writing ball in play. They stimulate my imagination. I can extemporize 'off' a fragment, sort of like a jazzist can riff off a bass progression, say. Even if keeping the same bass, there are almost endless spontaneous jam arrangements possible.

There's a sense in which poetic fragments have a holographic nature. By this, I mean that a poetic fragment still contains a version of something larger than itself, much like a small section of a holographic plate still contains the whole 3D image, just less sharply defined.

I sometimes like to take fragments from other sources, from the writings of others, my own writings, or even short passages of entirely made-up literature that I then build into poems of their own. For an example of the latter, see the long poem Hat_Pulse (Singular Plurals (Chaudiere Books, 2014)).

Starting from the other end of the spectrum, I sometimes write pieces that seem whole and complete, but whose texts take on additional meanings when woven into the larger context of a chapbook, or book of poetry, or possibly even a life's work. I'd like to imagine that the same holographic principles apply, and that this wider meaning of a poem in a new context was somehow enfolded in it, all along.

Q: Tell me about the impetus of the poem “Oh, to What Feeds.”

A: It’s nearly impossible to be aware of all the antecedents to a poem. So, we adopt a kind of a fiction and name the most likely sources.

Likely, the most salient source of emotional energy behind “Oh, to What Feeds” relates directly to my very recent experience with throat cancer. Without getting into too many unpleasant details, one of the side effects of my treatment was that I had to live for two months entirely on liquid supplements. Nutrition was greatly simplified, and its crucial importance for survival was brought home to me in a visceral way. This poem tries to express that importance, not just for actual food, but in all the different ways we get nourishment for body, psyche, culture, etc.  You can see this in such lines as:

    Oppose the draining charge.  Dimming
    battery.  Endings.

A second side effect of going through that condition has been a palpable increase in feeling “glad to be alive”: a strong realization that I should not take life for granted. This causes a general opening up in a person, which is also an emotional undercurrent of this poem.

            Eyes, windows,
    doors, all open.  Welcome.

So many folks helped me get through this challenge that I also got a strong impression of community, and of our being in this thing together.  This third emotional thread finds expression in the text as well.

    Build what’s greater
      than any one.

There are many examples for each of these emotional veins in the poem, but these quotes should be enough to show the connections.

As for the style of this poem: for decades, when the subject calls for it, I've adopted what I’ve called ‘tight-form writing’. Roughly this results in a kind of telegraphic, shorter version of English. When this text tightness gets applied along aesthetic lines, this results in the type of poetic grammar seen here. It fits the emotional content of the poem in that it praises each individual breath.

Q: What is it about the “telegraphic, shorter version of English” that appeals?

A: Telegraphic or as I now refer to it “tight-writing” developed first while taking notes, as a way of dealing with motor-mouth lecturing professors when I first arrived at University. It seemed impossible for me to catch every sentence they uttered, and tape recording their lectures for later transcription more than tripled the amount of work. So I quickly had to develop a very condensed way of taking notes in order to come close to keeping up with the knowledge stream.

Three examples from Astronomy course notes, 1976:

    Hubble thought: classification system, mistake.
    Big Bang Theory – correlates to Universe expanding.
    Relativity meant: static Universe impossible.

Not long after, in the pages of my logbook, I noticed that certain awareness-based experiences were also overloading my capacity to write, if I tried to transcribe them live. As with the University notes, there was simply too much happening all-at-once for me to catch any meaningful percentage of it in ink. So I adapted my note-taking way of writing for ‘live stream capture' in my logbook. I noticed there was quite an important difference with these ‘live in the moment’ texts, with a particular advantage in capturing the core of an experience. Tight-writing had been adapted to logbook writing, in other words, for those cases where I wanted to capture experiences in the stream as they flowed.

Examples from my logbook, sometime in 1989:

    Must drop soul-garbage. Detritus. Past does not bind.
    Accept. Answerless in world of changes. Can be done.
    As inside, so outside. Pile of fragments, not EZ.

At a much later time, when writing poetry, I had to try to capture my picture-imagination. I once again had to find a way to catch very fast - almost kaleidoscopic - image changes, in text. There were many more tweaks and adaptations required this time, since there were many aesthetic considerations to maintain. However, I began to associate this condensed form of writing with imagination. Even when later editing my ‘pixmind stream captures', I tended to keep these pared down tighter sentence fragments, their focused attention to unadorned details. That’s the genesis of my use of a ‘tight-writing’ aesthetic in poetry.

Example from the long poem Parapagus (above/ground, 2012):

    We are reduced to call upon the eye and ear.
    Dicephalic Parapagus: one body, two heads.
    Their locked proximity, a theft of each other's lives.   
    Female adult remains. Survival to maturity
    Suggests an acceptance of strangeness.
    At the root of meanings: like humane, or superstitious.
    Speculations too easy.  These painless imaginings.
    Guards protect the site. Day and night shifts.
    From a global Fame to beat Lucy’s bones. 

This same style was also applied to "Oh, to What Feeds." It seems to fit the immediacy and intensity of the emotions expressed there.

Q: You seem to have developed a comfortable degree of writerly instincts. I know you’ve been working on a daily “log book” over the years, where first drafts of much of your work emerges. How does the daily practice of composing your “log book” translate into finished pieces? Do you consider yourself a writer of poetry, or a writer of a “log book,” some of which might be carved out and reworked for the purposes of publication?

A: My successful logbook journey began at the age of 15, after half a dozen failed attempts to keep a daily journal. Somehow on this particular try, the habit finally took hold. If I were to guess at what made the difference, I’d say it was a sense of exploration. A huge drive to understand the world, this life, and awareness. Though the logbook contained many rough drafts of works of fiction, short plays, short stories or poems, these for many years took a back seat to working out insights, discoveries, and understandings. The creative writings were a means to an exploratory end. Their texts were probes, existential experiments, and not aesthetically meant for public consumption.

At around age 45, that is after 30 years of this, I felt like I'd gotten a decent preliminary look around. Also, along my travels and explorations, I’d discovered that the concept of human culture had taken on a growing importance for me. For the first time, I felt I could and perhaps should give priority to creative work.

I've always considered myself an explorer first. Trying to map out what was mappable, and beyond that, trying to encapsulate what was meaningful in a multitude of other ways. As such, all writing consists of a single thing, for me. Logbook, emails, essays, songs, stories, and poems. All of them: instances of bearing witness in some way or other. It's not exactly that I consider myself a logbook-writer who then catches certain parts to craft them into poems. It's a bit wider than that. I've been an explorer all along, and only some of these explorations end up in written works of various kinds. Some of them in logbook pages, and more recently, others in poems, depending on the subjects and treatments desired.

The main difference between the logbook and a poem is that, whereas they both share my drive to “encapsulate meaningful awareness-tunings,” with poems, I'm trying to do so in an aesthetic medium, and sometimes also, for the purpose of placing the work on River for a potential eventual re-animation by others.

Everything goes into everything else, when it comes to writing. Explorations into ink, and ink into a myriad of forms, including logbook and poetry. In actual fact, in a human mind, everything seems to interact anyways. Might as well put that into one's design for being, and therefore also, for writing. Seems to me.

Q: You make it sound as though you came to poetry and the use of the poem-fragment rather organically, and yet, I know you’ve done an enormous amount of contemporary reading of poetry. Over the years, what writers and works have influenced the way you approach a poem? Who have you been reading more recently that have had an influence on the way you work?

A: Over my entire lifetime, there’ve been quite a few poets of influence I guess. But of particular note “over the years” would be: e.e.cummings for his willingness to play with and re-invent grammar, Charles Olson for his attention to the percussive nature of poetry, Jack Kerouac for his freedom and awesome poetic travelogues, Irving Layton for his in-your-face uninhibited attitude, bpnichol for the sheer fun of word shapes and sounds, Leonard Cohen for the clear and powerful vision of his songs, Robert Creeley for his willingness to kick holes through our typical boxes, William Carlos Williams for the sculpted power and simplicity of his words, T.S.Elliot for the wide modernist grandness of his sight, Margaret Atwood for her mean-but-true fishhook barb end twists, and Robert Kroetsch for his organic experiments with creating better vehicles blending sound and meaning with form. These, off the top of my head, would probably represent my main writing influences, lifelong.

As for more recently, the poets who are clearly influencing me at the writing chair in practical ways: Gil McElroy for his always inspiring and ongoing Julian Days series of poems, Dionne Brand for the mysterious tone of her book Ossuairies, Mary Jo Bang for her seminal mix of grammar and emotion in her poem The Opening, Monty Reid for his ability to find the perfect distance while providing rich multi-levelled perceptions in The Luskville Reductions, anything by Margaret Avison (whom I’m re-reading) for the sheer spark and fresh/gentle wildness of her sensibilities, and rob mclennan for his ongoing willingness to show us finer details, yet still let them speak for themselves. This list of active present influences keeps changing all the time, but this represents my present roster.

Q: How do you feel the poem “Oh, to What Feeds” fits into, or even expands, the rest of your writing? And now that you’ve a first trade collection under your belt, as well as a small handful of chapbooks, where do you see your writing headed? What do you feel you might be working towards?

A: There’s been a progression, to be sure. A gradual re-working of voice and tone, coupled with a paring down of considerations. I’d describe it as a shorter distance between awareness and text. I’ve written a few poems recently that have this character: “Oh, to What Feeds” (Touch the Donkey #3, October 2014), “We Verb Nature” (Dusie, expected online Nov 2014), and “Knack to Promise” (Chaudiere Books, National Poetry Month, April 2014) represent three examples of such works. That’s where my writing’s going, stylistically.

As I’ve written elsewhere, with poetry I’m trying “to create and encapsulate meaningful awareness tunings in aesthetic language, for later re-animation by a future self or others down River.” At the writing chair, I’m attempting to increase clarity, while still “enshrining the mystery.” I’m more aware of eyes and ears other than my own, and I'm starting to feel the writing implications of this.

As an activity, I increasingly see poetry as much more than a transcription of what’s already perceived. Instead, it’s an actual forging of awareness, somehow improving it, making it more rich, increasing its reach, titrating its possibilities. In other words, adding new windows to my dwelling-place. This feels more fully aligned with my life's explorative drive.

That’s why there’s a second – and the beginnings of a third – poetry book manuscript in the works. Certain recent health challenges have honed things down significantly, simplified things, as such challenges often do. I find there’s very little that truly matters. It’s from this fresh and sparser sensibility that I hope to approach future writing and manuscripts. At least, that’s where my compass points.

Friday, November 14, 2014

TtD supplement #13: eight questions for Megan Kaminski

Megan Kaminski’s first book of poetry is Desiring Map (Coconut Books, 2012). She is also the author of seven chapbooks, most recently Wintering Prairie (Dusie Kollektiv, 2014), which was recently reissued by above/ground press. Her current work Deep City explores the body and the city as architectures in crisis. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Kansas and curates the Taproom Poetry Series in downtown Lawrence.

Her piece “Sister // Deer” appears in the third issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the extended poem “Sister // Deer.” How did it originate?

A: My second book, Deep City, is going to be coming out next year—I’ll have an official announcement soon—and “Sister // Deer” is part of my new/current project Gentlewomen. The poems in Gentlewomen play around with and revise gendered domesticity through a re-imagining of the voices of female allegorical figures, specifically Natura, Providentia, and Fortuna—giving voice to particularly feminine desires and appetites. The poems consider the kinds of wildness and incivility that arise from a rejection of various forms of cultivation. They also celebrate feral longings and weedy appetites as counterforces to productivity and as a means of reclaiming the wild. As I’ve been working on the project, I’ve become particularly interested in sisters and the idea of sisterhood, in the relation of the allegorical figures to each other and also the relations of the various other women who inhabit the book—lost girls, icy mothers, drowned and ghosted children, and also the two sisters who get their own long poems, “Dear Sister” and “Sister // Deer.” While “Dear Sister” and her correspondences (there’s an excerpt here at Two Serious Ladies) live very much in the suburban domestic sphere, “Sister // Deer” rejects that world. While I think of her poems very much as spoken utterances, as a kind of response to her sister, they are also language eroded through a kind of self-erasure. A resistance to pleasantries and the types of usefulness and meaning that create the language of her sister. The poems aren’t conventional utterances, and they aren’t the type of responses one might expect to correspondence, and “Sister // Deer” herself perhaps isn’t quite human.

Q: Is this a normal part of your composition process: writing around and through a particular subject/idea?

A: I don’t typically start out with a particular subject—at least not an encompassing and defined subject. In this case I started thinking broadly about voice, examining and playing around with the authority of voice and questions about who gets to speak/who gets to be heard. I’m particularly interested in how these questions play out along lines of gender, class, race, and ecological systems. So I guess I had these set of concerns in mind when I started writing. Gradually the voice of Natura came out in the poems—this loving and at the same time brutal mother and sister. That voice developed in the poems, and as I was writing, I started doing research—a whole ton of research. Research into literary history, literatures and theories of the feral, various ecological systems, philosophical explorations of nature and fortune, and allegorical depictions of women throughout history. That research fueled my writing and the project. I guess this is how my compositional process always goes. For me writing poetry is a way of thinking, about the world, about language, about bodies, about architectures, about capital, about how they all fit together. I’m always thinking, and I'm quite often writing, and every once in a while something comes along that coheres into something interesting enough to pursue as a creative/intellectual project. I’m always thinking and writing and doing research—only a small part of the work I create makes its way into the world.

Q: You give the impression that you are very much working within the framework of the book as unit of composition. Is this a fair assessment, or do you focus more on the individual poem, or handful of poems? Are your books constructed as complete units or more as a collection of disparate parts that eventually cohere into larger projects?

A: Sometimes I write a poem or poems and sometimes I work in larger units. I’m always looking for connections, ways in which poems are thinking through something. Sometimes that thought works itself out in the duration of a single poem, though often the initial thread develops into something larger—a series or even a chapbook or book. I’m always looking to raise additional questions and to develop resonances outside of the initial moment or thought. Since I’m hard at work on a book length manuscript, I am currently very much focused on the form of the book. That said, each book manuscript that I work is part of a larger process of inquiry. The book-to-be, Gentlewomen, is only a small part of the larger intellectual/creative project. There are other writings and creations associated with the project, different ways of thinking through some of the material and ideas that are coalescing into the book manuscript. Some of the writing and research associated with the larger project has developed in the form of book reviews, poetics papers and talks, somatic exercises, and even a textile project. And there’s also a lot of research and writing and thinking associated with the project that will never make its way into the larger world. I’m not so interested in being efficient or productive in a way that is readily recognizable, each book manuscript is only a small part of what I am up to.

Q: What else are you up to?

A: Besides the book manuscript I mentioned earlier, I’m working on a few scattered projects. I’m writing some poems about weeds, bodies, connections, and riots and some poems about the prairie. Working on a lost girls embroidery project. Working on a collaborative project with the poet Bonnie Roy. Reading and thinking a lot about the post-human, citizenry, bodies, crisis, incarceration, revolution, and other things for a residency I’m participating in Joshua Tree. And also thinking about all these things in connection with the poems I have been writing about weeds and weedy connections.

Q: Tell me about this upcoming residency: does this mean you’ll be working on a specific project involving “the post-human, citizenry, bodies, crisis, incarceration, revolution, and other things” while there? What are you imagining this project might look like, or are you still in the preliminary research stages?

A: It’s through the Summer Forum for Inquiry + Exchange, which is a roving residency program in its second year/incarnation, this summer in Joshua Tree, California. This year’s theme is “Networks of Belonging: Geographies, Citizenries, and the Masses,” and there will be residents, invited guests, and organizers all getting together to collaborate through readings, discussions, presentations, and art-making. I’ve been working my way through the extensive reading list this spring and summer and also making connections through other research that I have been doing on my own. This coming week, we’ll all be together in Joshua Tree. I’ve never participated in something like this before, and I’m excited about the ways in which the residency connects with my previous and current work. I’m also excited about the generative possibilities of this week-long exchange in Joshua Tree and the ongoing exchange after. I’m guessing that this will be the start of something new for me in terms of a poetic project. Mostly though, I’m excited about being a part of a larger community of artists, philosophers, and writers, with all of us exploring and grappling with these larger questions. Writing can sometimes feel like an isolating experience, even if what drives you in your writing is a desire to connect.

Q: After one poetry collection and a small handful of chapbooks (as well as this current work-in-progress), how do you feel your work has developed? What, if anything, do you feel you are working toward?

A: I don’t really think of my work in a narrative of progress—so there’s not really a goal or an end that I am working towards. When I first start conceiving them, my individual book and chapbooks projects feel like they are doing quite different things—experimenting with different voices, forms, subjects, etc—but as I spend more time with each of them, I see connections. I continue to be interested in various geographies and architecture—of the natural and made world, of the mind, of the self, of language, of larger systems and networks. Though, I suspect that describes a pretty broad and encompassing field of inquiry.

Q: Winter seems to be a thread that exists through your poetry. What is it about the subject that compels?

A: Well, this winter was particularly rough in Kansas, as for much of the country. My recent chapbook, Wintering Prairie (Dusie 2014), is a long poem devoted to exploring the season and how it mediates our relation to place, specifically the prairie that spreads across Kansas. Besides that poem, I’m not sure if winter is more central to my writing than any other season. Though, I am often surprised and startled by the length and intensity of the season, and perhaps summer, too, after spending so much time in more temperate places.

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

A: Oh—there are so many! Some current and sustaining favorites include Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Leslie Scalapino, C.S. Giscombe (especially Giscombe Road), Renee Gladman’s Ravicka series, Fanny Howe, Joseph Massey, Terry Tempest Williams, Bhanu Kapil, Erín Moure, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Palmer, Jennifer Moxley, Gina Myers, Jen Tynes, Ji Yoon Lee, Melissa Buzzeo, Pattie McCarthy, Joshua Clover, Cecilia Vicuña, Michelle Naka Pierce, Stephen Collis, Lisa Robertson—so many wonderful writers. And that’s just who’s on the top of my mind this morning.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

TtD supplement #12: seven questions for derek beaulieu

derek beaulieu is the author or editor of 15 books, the most recent of which are Please, No more poetry: the poetry of derek beaulieu (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013) and kern (Les Figues press, 2014). He is the publisher of the acclaimed no press and is the visual poetry editor at UBUWeb. beaulieu has exhibited his work across Canada, the United States and Europe and currently teaches at the Alberta College of Art + Design and Mount Royal University. He is the 2014—2016 Poet Laureate of Calgary.
His piece “one week” appears in the third issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the extended prose piece “one week.” How did it originate?

A: I was invited by Richard Harrison to be a part of the “Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” project with a pair of readings, one in 2011 and one this last spring. Mutanabbi Street is the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls. A car bomb exploded and killed 26 people on Mutanabbi Street on March 5, 2007, decimating this cultural hub. For the 2nd reading I composed a new piece that applies the ideas of conceptual writing. This piece consists solely of press releases outlining the deaths in Iraq during the week that Al-Mutanabbi street was bombed.

Q: Have you utilized this kind of flarf-esque structure before? What do you see as the effect of a piece such as this?

A: Well, I don’t think that “one week” is a flarf poem in the slightest, it works along more Conceptual frameworks. Flarf poetry is written with an eye to what wikipedia says are “rejected conventional standards of quality and explored subject matter and tonality not typically considered appropriate for poetry.” Flarf poems are written to be intentionally corrosive, cute, or cloyingly wacky. “one week” on the other hand is closer to conceptualism whereby it scrapes the internet for language and then presents it back without filter—a means of presenting daily language in a way which draws attention to its poetics—there’s nothing cute or cloying about the reporting coming from Iraq.

Q: Given that such a conceptual framework, as the back cover of Please, No More Poetry: The Poetry of derek beaulieu (2013) suggests, “challenges the very idea of reading,” I wonder about how such a piece is considered in various contexts. For example: an audience in an art gallery reading such a piece on the wall might be more open to its conceptual frameworks, but even a highly-literate literary audience reading the same piece in a poetry journal is still subject to a narrower view. Is part of the purpose of the piece to simply challenge the idea of what “poem” is currently considered?

A: I wouldn’t say that the purpose of the piece is solely to challenge our expectations of poetry, no. That said, Conceptual and Concrete poetry both challenge our reading habits. My friend Christian Bök jibes that the reason why so much text art is unsuccessful is that people don’t like to read standing up. I think that in a lot of ways the reading that we do most often occurs standing up—standing on public transit, walking down the street, waiting in line—and that poetry can only benefit from engaging with this new reading spaces.

Q: Have you composed any other pieces along the lines of “one week”?

A: Yes, for the most part it’s the same strategy I used for the majority of How to Write (Talonbooks, 2010). The internet provides an unending source of material, it’s just a matter of where to look and how to choose.

Q: I’ve always had the impression that you predominantly worked on larger projects. What happens with the small one-offs you create in-between, or are they eventually to be part of something larger as well? I’m curious, too, about the piece “from Extispicium” in the uncollected section of Please, No More Poetry. Was it also constructed using a similar strategy?

A: In addition to larger projects like flatland, Local Colour and The Newspaper, I always have smaller pieces on the go in various stages. Those poems are sometimes occasional and sometimes are incorporated in to larger sequences, depends on the piece. Extispicium is a long-term project that combines personal narrative with harvested testimony and phrases from survivors of abuse and bullying.

Q: I’m intrigued at the political engagement of “one week” and the social engagement of Extispicium, elements I haven’t been aware of in your prior work. Is this a relatively new element you’ve been exploring, or simply one that’s more overt? What do you consider, if any, the social responsibilities of art? Or does it live at the level of honest engagement?

A: Conceptual writing (and Concrete poetry) is often dismissed as apolitical. I think that it is, in fact, highly charged within a political awareness of subjectivity, ownership, theft and formulations of the commons. Rob Fitterman’s No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself (Ugly Duckling, 2014) is a perfect example—in it Fitterman has crafted a deeply intimate, deeply personal, lyrical longpoem crated entirely from phrases and confessions he scraped from chatboards and internet postings. Subjectivity and ownership—poetic property—are charged spaces. I would say that my work has continuous engagement with the politics of reading and theft.

Q: As a writer, publisher, editor and critic, you are extremely engaged with a variety of practitioners of Conceptual writing as well as concrete and visual poetries across Canada and across the globe. Who would you consider are the current writers that should be receiving more attention? What emerging writers would you recommend we watch out for?

A: I strongly recommend the emerging poets who have been featured in 89+ / POETRY WILL BE MADE BY ALL especially #girlproblems by Victoria Braun and Space Administration by Ken Hunt ... and there’s a tonne more in that great, foreword-thinking series…