Monday, July 23, 2018

TtD supplement #110 : seven questions for Ryan Eckes

Ryan Eckes is a poet from Philadelphia. His latest book, General Motors (Split Lip Press, 2018), is about labor and the influence of public and private transportation on city life. Other books include Valu-Plus and Old News (Furniture Press 2014, 2011). His poetry can be found in Tripwire, Slow Poetry in America Newsletter, Entropy and elsewhere. He has worked as an adjunct professor at numerous colleges and in recent years as a labor organizer in education. He won a Pew Fellowship in 2016.

His poems “injury music,” “injury music,” “horses” and “for what we will” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “injury music,” “injury music,” “horses” and “for what we will.”

A: “horses” is from my latest book, General Motors, and is part of a series of prose poems called ‘chase scenes’ that deal with desires for speed and escape from labor and how the history of transit shapes personal or family history. I was writing poems that blur easy distinctions between “public” and “private” realms and trying to undermine the U.S. myth of rugged individualism. After finishing General Motors, I started writing poems called “injury music” and “for what we will,” not entirely sure where I’m going. I’m thinking about pain, trauma and more questions around work. “For what we will” comes from the old labor union slogan, “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will.” It’s sad that 8 hours of work/40 hours a week is still considered normal, considered actually natural by many people, a century after it was established as a *protection*. Why aren’t we at 4 hours by now? Why is the minimum wage still so low? Why do Americans worship the rich? I could go on. But these are the kinds of questions that I let propel my writing at the same time that I am trying to understand myself as a living thing made of relations.

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

A: I’ve also been experimenting with essays that address similar concerns, to dig deeper into history. I try to use the paragraph the same way I use a line in a poem, letting associational thinking lead to unexpected connections, new ideas. There are some essays called “spurs” in the new book.

Q: What do you feel you are able to explore through the blend of poetry and essay that you might not have been able to accomplish otherwise?

A: It’s easier to convey information in prose. Because I’ve gotten more interested in writing about history that’s been erased, I accumulate factual material that I want to share, and so the essay has become the vehicle. I think of the essay as a poetic form, keeping in mind the meaning of the verb to essay, to attempt. The exploratory nature of the essay is what makes it still feel like poetry. I’m just putting pressure on language in a different way. But to answer your question in one word: history.

Q: With three full-length collections over the past near-decade, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: The writing has become more overtly political over time as my sense of urgency has grown. By sense of urgency I mean an awareness of time fleeting—mortality and consequent desire. Desire for justice, desire for pleasure, desire for human connection. Poetry is about living, and as we live under capitalism, which is about killing everything, writing feels like cutting through the wind, and that feels right. It’s harder to answer your second question, about the future, because I’ve never had too much of a plan and have moved through life largely intuitively. Sometimes I feel that poetry is not enough, that I should do something else entirely. Then I think nothing else makes sense to do, and I keep going.

Q: Have you had any models for this kind of writing? What other poets have influenced the ways in which you approach your material?

A: So many. In terms of mixing prose and poetry, William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All and Jack Spicer’s After Lorca were early influences. I’ve always liked the idea of a book as a book—as all one piece—rather than a “collection” of standalone poems. I think of poems in relation to other poems, and in relation to non-poetic material. This is because of Philly, too. Advanced Elvis Course by CAConrad, for example, will change how you think. And becoming a poet in Philly in the 2000s, in the post-9/11 era, changed how I think. It radicalized me for sure. I learned far more about history and politics from hanging out with poets in bars than I ever did in school. That is not an exaggeration. And I think it’s because of knowing poets like CAConrad and Frank Sherlock that I so often go back to influences from the 60s-70s-80s—Amiri Baraka, Diane di Prima, Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lorde, Ammiel Alcalay, and so on.

Q: How does one “become” a poet, as opposed to, say, simply starting to write? What does it mean, in your definition, to be a poet?

A: I think a poet is a person who writes poetry. But people quit all the time, and I know would’ve quit a long time ago if I hadn’t gotten to know other poets. Poetry, any art, for the most part, can only exist in a community, but people suffer from this dominant conception of the artist as an isolated genius—that’s what museums usually present to the public, this idea that an artwork sprung up out of nowhere in the middle of a field, when in reality it came from a complex social dynamic. Influence is played down and originality is played up. Any time I teach an intro creative writing class, I have to explain this to my students. When I was 20, I fell in love with poetry because of a class I took, and it happened that two of my classmates also fell in love with poetry, we were very serious, and somehow we figured this out about each other and we started hanging out outside of class, having intense conversations, trading books, etc, and among the three of us a whole other little world started to seem possible. It felt like magic. That is how I think I started to “become” a poet. At a certain point, in my late 20s, I realized I would never stop. I was too far in.

Q: Perhaps you’ve already answered much of this, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Well, over the last year, here are a few: Abdellatif Laâbi, Frank Lima, Anne Boyer, Marion Bell, Diane di Prima, Alice Notley, Amiri Baraka, Raúl Zurita, Lewis Warsh, Maged Zaher.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Touch the Donkey : eighteenth issue,

The eighteenth issue is now available, with new poems by Ryan Eckes, Samuel Ace, Stephen Cain, Howie Good, Dani Spinosa, Rusty Morrison, Lupe Gómez (trans. Erín Moure), Allison Cardon and Jon Boisvert.

Seven dollars (includes shipping). It’s ultramodern, like living in the not-too-distant future!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

TtD supplement #109: seven questions for Victor Coleman

Victor Coleman was born and still lives in Toronto. Please take his books out from your local public libraries to help increase his PLR.

An excerpt from his poem “Suite Sixteen” appears in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Suite Sixteen.”

A: “Suite Sixteen” is an Oulipian exercise in, or examination of, the “truncated sonnet”

It started while I was participating in the bpNichol Writing Group that formed a few years ago at the Coach House Press and continues, although informally, today.

I simply missed a syllable when attempting to write a 17 syllable stanza and, as is my wont, continued apace, at least until someone told me to stop.

It is also a somewhat playful exercise in rhyme.

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

A: It doesn’t.

Q: You’ve worked on longer projects for some time now: suites, sequences or otherwise connected poems constructed through a series of what Bowering called ‘baffles.’ What is it about these exercises composing linked poems that appeals? What do you feel you can accomplish through such structures that might not be possible otherwise?

A: The Serial Poem, as defined and practiced by a group of poets from California’s Bay Area (San Francisco, Berkeley, etc.) including Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer, was a further investigation of the more traditional poem sequence practiced by poets in many languages over an unspecified period of writing. At its lowest manifestation it’s the typical minor poems repeated endlessly with large and/or small variations. Higher up the chain it’s a book-length poem with a common “theme” – or “the me” as I like to point out to potential student/practitioners of the art.

“I like to describe this in Ovidian terms, as a carmen perpetuum, a continuous song in which the fragmented subject matter is only apparently disconnected.” – Robin Blaser, “The Fire”.

Q: What is the bpNichol Lane Writing Group, and what effect, if any, has it had upon you work?

A: The bpNichol Lane Writers’ Group started a few years ago as a writing seminar organized by me and Mike Boughn to accommodate some of Mike’s University of Toronto students who were either actively writing or beginning to lean in that direction. We met, if I remember correctly, every two weeks at The Coach House Press, which is located on what is now called bpNichol Lane, after it was christened that by my sister Liz Amer, who was a Toronto City Councillor at the time.
The group has evolved over the years – even starting a periodical called COUGH (three issues published to date), and performing large group readings, etc. The group no longer meets regularly – but it still exists as an informal infrequent get together.

Q: Has your participation in the group altered your considerations of writing at all? And is there a difference between engaging with emerging writers now than, say, forty or fifty years ago?

A:  Forty of 50 years ago I was an emerging writer, so I’m not prepared to expound on that. My engagement with younger writers is extremely important in what I consider to be my continuing development.

Q: Who are the writers among these contemporaries are you most excited about, and think deserve more attention?

A:  To date I’d say the writers who have actually managed to put together publishable manuscripts, such as Emily Izsak, David Peter Clark, Michael Harman, Zach Buck & Andrew McEwan. The amount of attention they deserve is not something I seriously consider.

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

A:  Currently I like to dip into the collected works of William Carlos Williams, Wyndham Lewis, Douglas Woolf, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, Lorine Niedecker and Edward Dorn.