Thursday, May 26, 2016

TtD supplement #54 : seven questions for Eric Schmaltz

Eric Schmaltz is a language artist, writer, researcher, & curator. Born in Welland, Ontario he now lives & works in Toronto, Ontario. Eric’s work has been featured online & in print across Canada & internationally including places such as Lemon Hound, The Capilano Review, Rampike, CTRL+ALT+DEL, Open Letter, & Poetry is Dead. His visual work has been featured in the Havana Gallery (Vancouver), Rodman Hall (St. Catharines), & Niagara Artist Centre (St. Catharines).

His poems “Automation” and “Capital” appear in the ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Automation” and “Capital.”

A: “Automation” & “Capital” are drafts from a larger project entitled The Assembly Line of Babel, a small exhibition hosted by the Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) in the Dennis Tourbin Members Gallery in late summer 2015.

In general, the pieces in this series consider processes of making objects & meaning in a ready-made culture. Reflecting on the relationship between Capitalism, machines, & language, one might argue that linguistic acts which conform to normalized spelling, grammar, & syntax make meaning “automatic.” I see this exhibition as a way of offering a playful intervention into how we think about language, signification & automatization.

Q: How do these pieces, and this project, compare to other pieces you’ve been working on?

A: These pieces, & this project, is in close proximity to much of my published work especially other visual texts like MITSUMI ELEC. CO. LTD.: keyboard poems (above/ground 2013), Pages Loading… (No Press 2014), YOU WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING (No Press 2015). These works emerge as a result of my fascination with machines, & ideas of mapping, process, systems, & materiality. While a chapbook like MITSUMI might be considered as a kind of mapping of the materiality of a writing machine, poems like “Automation” & “Capital” depart from this idea. They are much more about process, construction, & potential.

Q: MITSUMI ELEC. CO. LTD.: keyboard poems was composed, in part, as a response to the work of Paul Dutton. What is it about Dutton’s work that prompted such a response, and how successful do you feel, in hindsight, your response was?

A: MITSUMI might be less of a response & more of a collusion with Paul Dutton’s inimitable The Plastic Typewriter. Both The Plastic Typewriter & Mitsumi share an interest in deconstructing the writing machine & mapping the aesthetic possibilities of a machine in ruin. But there are, of course, various departures in terms of technique: Dutton was able to use the carbon ribbon of the typewriter to transfer the surface of the machine onto the page, for example. Mitsumi required black paint, a scanner, & computer software for the pieces to be rendered––which is perhaps significant in that it symbolizes a submission to the machine itself.

Q: Do you see your work-to-date as a single, ongoing project, simply broken up into smaller parts?

A: Recently published works suggest that there is a single, ongoing project since the concepts at play are closely related––machines, visuality, materiality, & so on. But no, there is no single ongoing project. There are other, unrelated projects dwelling amongst the hard-drives: lyric texts composed during hallucinations; a long poem meditating on ideas of home, locality, & memory; delirious poetic-critiques of spectacle & consumerist culture as well as audio/video collaborations referred to as xenoralities.

Q: I like that your work does have that feel of being interconnected, and yet moves in a diverse range of directions. When creating new work, who have your models been? What writers and works have influenced the ways in which you create work, whether visual or text-based?

A: I consider my network of influences to be quite sprawling. Creatively, I am indebted to a vast number of poets, musicians, artists, mentors, & thinkers. The list seems interminable, but in truncated form, I look to the usual suspects: bill bissett, bpNichol, Judith Copithorne, Steve McCaffery, The Four Horsemen as well as writers such angela rawlings, Lillian Allen, derek beaulieu, Nathalie Stephens, & kaie kellough. I’ve also benefited (& continue to benefit) from the mentorship & support of numerous poets, but especially Gregory Betts, Stephen Cain, & derek beaulieu. All of that being said, I try to locate my work within an expanded field & find stimulation in the work of visual artists such as Kelly Mark & Micah Lexier; producers of house, techno, & IDM; graphic designers & illustrators; academics & para-academics; department stores; street artists; filmmakers; & programmers. With every encounter, I seek to draw out an idea & place it among a constellation of thought within which I try to locate my work.

Q: After a small handful of chapbooks, numerous pieces appearing in journals online and in print, as well as in a variety of gallery shows, how do you feel your work is developing? What do you see yourself working towards?

A: Modular projects––chapbooks, pamphlets, journal publications, & the small gallery––have been my preferred mode of production & dissemination thus far. These have provided an appropriate testing ground for ideas & have assisted in locating myself within a thematic, aesthetic, & political framework (another ongoing process). From here, it makes the most sense to work toward a full-length book project within which I hope to more fully flesh out some of the ideas I currently have in play, but while I do that I must also respond to an impulse to expand my sense of the field & find new ways of thinking, producing, & building.

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

A: There are texts with which I have a deep affinity: The Sorrow and the Fast of It by Nathalie Stephens (2007), Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists by a.rawlings (2006), & fractal economies by derek beaulieu (2005), each of which I tend to return to when scheming new projects.

That being said, there are so many texts coming out at an accelerated rate & I want to consume them all. There is little time to turn back: read the present, think of the future.

Monday, May 16, 2016

TtD supplement #53 : seven questions for Paul Zits

Paul Zits received his MA in English from the University of Calgary in 2010. Massacre Street (UAP 2013), the product of his creative dissertation, went on to win the 2014 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry. In addition to serving two terms as Writer-in-the-Schools at Queen Elizabeth High School in Calgary, teaching creative writing to students in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, Zits is a regular instructor with the WGA’s WordsWorth Camp at Kamp Kiwanis. Zits is currently an instructor with the Edmonton Poetry Festival’s Verse Project, and the Managing Editor of filling Station. He recently won the 2016 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

A selection from “dlog, dlog” appears in the ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poetry from “dlog, dlog.”

A: This sampling is part of a new collection, dlog, dlog, or bullet trouble, through the head and in the heart, that reimagines the circumstances around the death of Alex McPahil of Hesketh, Alberta, in 1926, and the subsequent trial of his sister Margaret, charged with his murder. My approach to this book is a little different in that I’ve sought to write it without knowledge of the results of the trial. As the examinations play out and the evidence is recorded, and as I become more immersed in this material — her case file and the trial transcripts — my own position oscillates, with the character of Margaret then moving back and forth from aggressor to victim, and the convoluted nature of this composite characterization enables her to embody something of both. Both brother and sister become these knotted aberrations, grotesqueries that are at times monstrous and at others quite stunning, at times sickly and at others impressive in their strength. Often they carry opposite qualities at once. “Margaret is devoid of colour” is an earlier poem in which I first began to explore these kinds of defining features in Margaret, and when I begin to make inquires into her agency. To achieve these aims I’ve endeavoured for the work to take on a strong surreal quality, employing a variety of cut-up techniques and collage-work. “warm summer afternoon underclothes,” “Q. Did you do anything else to try to help him,” and “it wasn’t so dark” are later poems devoted to Margaret and also serve to advance the narrative. Folded into these poems are excerpts from an interview with Catharine Robbe-Grillet as well as cuts from English fairy tales and articles on the history of feminist film. The poems take their source from relatively stark statements made during the trial, and are elevated by these additional source texts rendering key moments, or key revelations, more complex and provocative. “he was bleeding at the mouth” is built through accumulation — a technique that I developed and refined for my second manuscript, “Leap-seconds”) — and captures Margaret’s attempts to attend to her dying brother. Through the transcripts, one learns that her behaviour at this point was quite abnormal (at one point prying open her brother’s mouth with a spoon in order to pour wine down his throat, and which is later found fastened between his teeth by the responding officer), so I wanted this manic burying of Alex’s blood to further convey Margaret’s frenzied state of mind.

Q: Much of the work I’ve seen of yours so far explores and reshapes historical documents related to a variety of prairie Canadian histories that aren’t often discussed. What is it that attracts you to reworking such specific histories and their materials?

A: First, I would say that my interest revolves around questions of representation, and the frames that distinguish various forms of writing. When I find moments of overlap in these frames, I tend to take notice. As in the documentation informing Massacre Street, the appropriations in dlog, dlog often seize upon unexpected poetic ventings. Secondly, the archive is where I satisfy my passion for stories, history and collecting. My work requires that I am a skilled collector and my poetry collections are often just that, a catalogue of my selections. And I am certainly most attracted to the histories that, as you’ve said, aren’t discussed, as they tend to be the histories that are least subdued. There is no question that I am drawn towards the grotesque, so you will often find that my work in some part explores aberrancy, in image, in character and in behaviour.

Q: You seem very much to be constructing books as large-scale projects, as opposed to collections of stand-alone poems; projects built around particular subjects and structures. How did this process of building poetry books this way begin, and what writers and books have been your models?

A: I don’t know that I experience the world (or have the urge to respond to it) in such a way that would accommodate a practice built upon writing collections of stand-alone poetry. I find that my attention is better kept, and my interest sustained, by pursuing projects that are larger in scale. But even in the larger scale works I can locate a variety of different literary modes, such as autobiography or conceptualism. There are traces of my own history and of the everyday, so there very well may be some parallels between my collections and works that collect stand-along pieces. The suggestion that the work might not be so obviously shaped by my experience neglects the fact that experience is made from a fabric of sources, and countless writings. And so I indulge myself in the research component of my writing projects, and feel wonderfully at home in archives. dlog, dlog is a little different because I have chosen to write this collection without a clear indication of how the actual story ends. As I work through the transcripts, the poems are responsive to new evidence and lines of questioning. What’s captured, in fact, is a personal response to these accumulating testimonies, as I consider and compare new information to conclusions I’d drawn previously. But perhaps I’m straying too far from the question. And I hope that this response hasn’t been too disconcerting for your readers. As for model texts, a couple of examples would be Gro Dahle’s A Hundred Thousand Hours (Ugly Duckling Press, 2013) and CA Conrad’s Book of Frank (Wave Books, 2010).

Q: What is it that drives you to explore such archival material through poetry, as opposed to fiction or non-fiction? Are there things you feel that poetry allows that another genre might not? What is it about the form that drives you?

A: What I hope that I’m doing through my work is causing the lines between these genres to attenuate. But there still remains something largely pragmatic about the use of language in fiction, with some wonderful exceptions of course, while poetry remains for me the language of excess and alterity. Poetry is about shared meaning, whereas fiction, and non-fiction, still feels predicated on authority. As poetry, my role is deemphasized and I find great freedom in that. And that freedom will hopefully be felt by the reader as well: The text has it’s own unity, of course, but the unity that the reader establishes is part of its totality. Sometimes it’s merely a case of locating moments of excess within the archival texts, otherwise I use collage techniques to produce these excesses. Within this excess of language characters take shape, episodes surface, and so forth, but narrativization is largely withheld. I think that to appropriate archival material for the purposes of fiction writing, consequently, means to ascribe that material with a particular authority. All of this being said I am reading much more fiction these days (although Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent stands out as a singular highlight in poetry this year), so it’s not surprising to see my work making some small movements formalistically towards the novel. Konrad Bayer’s The Sixth Sense has exerted a tremendous influence on my work since I discovered it a couple of years ago, and is a beautiful illustration what the novel is yet capable of.

Q: What was it, specifically, about Bayer’s novel that struck you? And, given you mention fiction as an influence upon your work, are you working your way towards composing fiction? Or are you deliberately pilfering fiction for structural influence for the sake of a more expansive poetry?

A: I borrow the following line from the novel for use as an epigraph to “Leap-seconds”: “time? goldenberg said in astonishment, and several days later, after thinking the matter over, he said, it is just a cutting-up of the whole, by means of the senses.” What is remarkable about the novel is its chaos. One takes a truly theatrical surrealist expedition through the spaces and times of Bayer’s text. It’s a jumble and it’s paranoid and it’s irreverent (with regards to the structural rules governing composition, or the consistent expression of time reference). The fragmentation is reminiscent of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck. I find myself thoroughly entertained by the task of sorting the pieces of works like these. It’s assaulting, there is no question about that, but the humour and imagery and poetry achieved really has no parallel. Who would not be taken in by lines like this: “he sat there before the open window as if before a curtain with these two hills in front of his nose sagging at the middle like the mattress on his bed with this sky like the old rug in front of the stove round like the trees in front of him out there or in there with this branch like the glowing stovepipe at this position of the sun”? I am both working my way towards composing fiction, yes, and, certainly, deliberately pilfering fiction for structural influence for the sake of a more expansive poetry. Sometimes the fiction writers get it right and sometimes they even do it better.

Q: With a trade collection under your belt, as well as a number of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

I certainly see threads from one collection to the next, consistencies in terms of motif, subject matter, the value that I ascribe to language and poetry, but the greatest progress has been made in balance.  There are aspects in my earlier work that read incredibly stilted to me now, an imbalance between image and sound, for example. Imbalances between the discourses I fold into the major texts that I am working with. I’m a better collector now. The selections that I make are braver. I feel that my sensibilities have matured, enabling me to better align the form of individual pieces, or suites of poems, to their content. I don’t drive this relationship as I have in the past, instead allowing it to follow more intuitively, reducing my reliance on the intellectual filter. With regards to the second question, in his novel A Time for Everything Karl Ove Knausgaard writes the following: “And as each new age is convinced that it constitutes what is normal, that it represents the true condition of things, the people of the new age soon began to imagine the people of the previous one as an exact replica of themselves, in exactly the same setting.” The notion of making this fallacy of presentism explicit, rendering history in terms of modern values and concepts, is compelling to me. As I continue to work with and expand my current techniques in my exploration of non-narrative representations of historical reality (see Hayden White), I expect my work will begin to more fully embrace presentist interpretations, to more explicitly interrogate issues of bias and morality. Regardless of where I see it headed at this very moment, I expect that I will continue to work in archives with the passion of a collector.

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

A: I love this question. The poetry of: John Ashbery, Heimrad Bäcker, Jonathan Ball, Charles Bernstein, Anne Carson, Paul Celan, Margaret Christakos, Jason Christie, CA Conrad, Gro Dahle, T. S. Eliot, Kenneth Goldsmith, Sue Goyette, Brecken Hancock, Robert Kroetsch, Larissa Lai, Ezra Pound, Sina Queyras, Natalie Simpson, Gilbert Sorrentino, Rachel Zolf, and Steven Zultanski. The prose of: Kathy Acker, Georges Bataille, Samuel Beckett, Walter Benjamin, Roberto Bolaño, Jorge Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs, Blake Butler, Italo Calvino, Leonora Carrington, Anne F. Garréta, Jean Genet, Pierre Guyotat, Tyler Hayden, Hilda Hilst, Alfred Jarry, Jacques Jouet, Franz Kafka, Chris Kraus, Édouard Levé, Tao Lin, Clarice Lispector, Robert Majzels, Georges Perec, Raymond Queneau, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Robert Walser. A top nineteen list of works: Blood and Guts in High School (Kathy Acker), Babyfucker (Urs Allemann), Watt (Samuel Beckett), The Sixth Sense (Konrad Bayer), The Hearing Trumpet (Leonora Carrington), The Book of Frank (CA Conrad), A Hundred Thousand Hours (Gro Dahle), The Songs of Maldoror (Isidore Ducasse), Coma (Pierre Guyotat), Ohmhole (Tyler Hayden), With My Dog Eyes (Hilda Hilst), Automaton Biographies (Larissa Lai), Suicide (Édouard Levé), Ballon Pop Outlaw Black (Patricia Lockwood), Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy), Life: A User’s Manual (Georges Perec), Lemon Hound (Sina Queyras), The Voyeur (Alain Robbe-Grillet), and Janey’s Arcadia (Rachel Zolf). Thank you, reader.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

TtD supplement #52 : seven questions for Laura Sims

Laura Sims’ fourth collection of poetry, Staying Alive, appeared with Ugly Duckling Presse in 2016. She is the author of three previous poetry books: My god is this a man, Stranger, and Practice, Restraint (Fence Books). Sims has been a co-editor of Instance Press since 2009. She teaches literature and creative writing at NYU-SPS and lives in Brooklyn.

Her poems “Olga, who dresses, “Though I didn’t inter these bodies myself, Olga,” I’ve done my time in the hippodrome, working” and “I’ve been kinda bored” appear in the ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Olga, who dresses, “Though I didn’t inter these bodies myself, Olga,” I’ve done my time in the hippodrome, working” and “I’ve been kinda bored.”

A: These poems are part of a series I call “The Olga Poems.” They started in response to spam mail I received from a “Russian Bride” looking for companionship...I don’t have the original message, but something about the language, which was stilted, vaguely sexual, and expressed emotional vulnerability stirred something for me. It wasn’t just the sorrow I felt for this anonymous woman-as-commodity, but also the complexity of emotions I felt toward the man on the other end...who is he? Why is he trying to buy companionship? Why is this something that men are entitled to do? I felt compelled to explore this murky area of human experience (I like murky areas of human experience). The speaker’s voice, which is the voice of the man, kind of popped out of me and I ran with it.

Q: In your “12 or 20 questions” interview, you said: “Usually a new direction for my work starts suddenly—I write a poem, and it’s somehow different, and then if I write a few more like it, I recognize that it’s building into something larger. Right now I’m writing poems in a voice that takes me over—so the voice is dictating this new direction, this new series. Whenever that voice quiets, I’ll be done.” Was that in reference to the current project? And is this a normal part of any new project, catching a particular voice and seeing where it might take you?

A: Yes, that was in reference to the current project, though this project (the Olgas) is on hold for now. I kind of lost the thread of it somehow, and got distracted by something else. Newer work. I’m not sure at this point if the Olga voice has “quieted” for good, or if it’s only a temporary pause. I would like to keep writing the Olgas if I’m able. I’m not sure “catching a particular voice” is a normal part of every project for me, though. Sometimes it starts with an image or a line (overheard or read), and if it continues I follow it, so I guess the impetus is not always the voice. But that particular series, the Olga series, was/is definitely voice-driven.

Q: What is it about book-length composition that appeals to you? Is this something that you deliberately work with your poems, or something that simply evolves as your projects build?

A: I’m not sure. I like the idea of the fullness of exploration the book-length composition allows you...that you can take a thing and look at it from so many sides, or explore a voice, a persona, an idea in depth. It’s immensely satisfying. I didn’t write this way when I was younger, but after I published my first book, I think I started to see that it was possible to publish books (hallelujah!), so I began to write towards that end...rather than seeing what I wrote as discrete pieces, I began to see them as part of a larger whole.

Q: Have you had any models for your book-length projects, or have you simply felt your way intuitively through composition? And would you ever return to single, stand-alone poems, or might such a thing no longer be possible?

A: It seems to be the way of many poets now, so although I can’t identify specific models right now, they are legion! I think of it as being intuitive on my part, but I’m certain the zeitgeist has had some effect. And it’s certainly possible I would return to the single, stand-alone poem, though it would feel weird at this point. Perhaps that’s merely force of habit? It’s hard to say.

Q: After four trade collections and your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed?

A: In the last two years or so, my work has changed quite drastically (from my perspective). I’m interested in doing new things with the line, in loosening my grip on the line and being more forthright (in a twisted way) than abstract or elliptical. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, I dunno. I’ve been writing some fiction, and I always read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, so that is surely influencing my poetry, too.

Q: I’m curious about the idea of loosening your grip on the line. Can you expand upon that? Do you worry your lines were becoming too constrained?

A: I guess I just tired of being so constrained. Loosening my grip on the line means letting things be less mediated, less perfected—letting raw emotions and thoughts break through, and (more importantly) letting them stay where they are, as they are. Playing with rhythm and rhyme, using less severe line breaks, being more playful in general. Letting my sense of humor show. I’ve been so serious! Though again, this is from my perspective, and an outside reader might not perceive such a change. Though after I’d read my new poems aloud the other night, I said to someone in the audience afterward that I felt the poems I’d read were “very different for me,” and he said, “They sure are!”

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

A: These days I keep returning to Berrigan’s Sonnets and Berryman’s Dream Songs for this “new” way of writing and being in the line. “I can’t help but return to” the poets in my course packet, because I’m teaching them...and they’ve been teaching me and energizing me in return: Frank O’Hara, Maggie Nelson, Bhanu Kapil, Claudia Rankine, Russell Edson, Gregory Pardlo, Wanda Coleman, James Wright, Cathy Park Hong...and many others.