Friday, August 24, 2018

TtD supplement #113 : seven questions for Samuel Ace

Samuel Ace is a poet, sound and visual artist. Ace is the author of Normal Sex, Home in three days., Don’t wash., and, co-authored with Maureen Seaton, Stealth. He is the winner of the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund Award and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award in poetry as well as a two-time finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Lambda Literary Award. His work has appeared in Poetry, Fence, Troubling the Line: Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, Best American Experimental Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. Ace’s first two books will be republished by the Belladonna* Cooperative in 2018 and a new collection, Our Weather Our Sea, is forthcoming from Black Radish Books in early 2019.   

His poems “So here it is a crib,” “The cells” and “Where are you hiding” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “So here it is a crib,” “The cells” and “Where are you hiding.”

A: In “So here is a crib” and “Where are you hiding,” as in much of my recent work, I am interested in how language intersects with specific moments of daily life. The pieces are fugue-like, using repetition and other sonic/musical elements to create layers of meaning as the poems unfold. I believe that “The cells” does the same, in the context of the hidden and daily violence of incarceration, forced isolation and solitary confinement.

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

A: They are similar and dissimilar. Most recently, I’ve been working on longer-form poems (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/92393/standing-at-a-desk-of-cranberries), that are rangier and not as rhythmically compact. I’m also working on a series of complex sound pieces, with instrumentals, layered language and sampling, based on several of the newer poems.   

Q: I’m curious about these experiments with form: is this your usual approach for how a poem begins? And is shape something deliberately decided upon at the beginning, or does it emerge through the process of composition?

A: Poems begin in so many ways, rob. Sometimes in a phrase, a fragment from a notebook, a dream, someone else’s voice, something in the landscape, a memory, a sound. In the night or early morning. On a walk or in something that’s been lingering and worrying me – that needs to be said. Or sometimes simply showing up and waiting with the channels open. I do have forms I go back to. If they serve to lubricate the channels, I stick with them. If they become stale, or a barrier, they need to go.

Q: You mention multiple threads – from longer-form poems to complex sound pieces, alongside the poems included in this current issue – might these threads all end up in the same book-length manuscript, or are they part of entirely different projects? Or do you even think of book-making in such terms? Is the act of composing individual poems even part of the same process as putting together a manuscript?

A: Over time, of course there are multiple threads, voices calling out of the dark. I do have a book (coming out next year from Black Radish), that contains work from the last several years. With the help of a couple of grants, I’ve been creating sound pieces based on many of the poems in that manuscript, and I’m hoping to have an album’s worth by the time the book comes out. I do love the process of forming a book, thinking of it as a whole, how poems relate to and speak to each other. It’s another form in itself.

Q: What is your usual process for putting together a book-length manuscript, and how did it first develop?

A: Up until now, I have not preconceived the form of a book. Although I am aware of many project-based works in the world, my writing thus far has not been generated from an idea or constraint toward a greater whole (not to say that that might happen at some point in the future!). Mostly the writing process happens in the day-to-day, and themes emerge over time. The book itself comes together later as a form unto itself (separate from the writing) by seeing how pieces ultimately relate to each other. It’s not a science. There is chance, and there is a music and a visual rhythm to the process.

Q: With a small handful of titles over the past twenty-plus years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Having lived in the east (Cleveland, New York City, Columbia County in upstate NY), I had never lived anywhere west of Ohio until I moved to Tucson 1997. I thought it was going to be a short stay – maybe two years. But it ended up being a twenty year sojourn that is ongoing. I still consider Tucson my home, although at the moment I am teaching in western Massachusetts at Mount Holyoke College. I’ve coined the term bihomeal – which seems to describe me in more ways than just my physical location. Although I wrote a great deal during my early years in Tucson, I published rarely in the aughts. I should also mention that I began a medical gender transition in 2000. My work has always come from a profoundly physical place – and I attribute my relative silence to the long process of finding home in an extremely unfamiliar landscape, as well as in my body. Coinciding with a deeper sense of place, both in the landscape and in my body, the last ten years have been extremely productive. A few years ago, I was also able to leave a very demanding job – which has freed up a great deal of energy and time. I feel as if my work continues to surprise me. The sound work keeps evolving, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

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

A: I am constantly reading rob, and constantly inspired. This week I am reading and listening to Douglas Kearney, Ronaldo V. Wilson, Ariana Reines, Sherwin Bitsui, Tracie Morris, Paul Celan, Daniel Borzutsky. I am also reading novels. I recently finished Jesús Carrasco’s Out in the Open, all of Jesmyn Ward, and Jenny Zhang’s linked short stories, Sour Heart.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TtD supplement #112 : seven questions for Dani Spinosa

Dani Spinosa is a poet of digital and print media, an on-again-off-again precarious professor, the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory, and a co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press. Her first chapbook, Glosas for Tired Eyes, was published in 2017 with No Press, and her second, Glosa for Tired Eyes 2, appeared in 2018 with above/ground press. Her first scholarly manuscript, Anarchists in the Academy: Machines and Free Readers in Experimental Poetry, appeared recently from University of Alberta Press (Spring 2018).

Her poems “Mirella Bentivoglio,” “Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt,” “Eric Schmaltz,” “Franz Mon” and “Nico Vassilakis” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Mirella Bentivoglio,” “Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt,” “Eric Schmaltz,” “Franz Mon” and “Nico Vassilakis.”

A: So, these poems are what I call vispo glosas, where I have altered the glosa form to suit visual, and particularly typewriter concrete poetry. I take four “lines” (loosely interpreted) from a visual poem, and I build a “forty line” poem around those four lines, usually in the four ten-line stanza format of the traditional glosa.

For the poem from Mirella Bentivoglio, the beautiful Italian artist, poet, and sculptor, I chose four lines from her “Untitled (Amore),” already in the beautiful red ink, and built a forty-line glosa around those lines playing with the grid and my very flimsy grasp on the Italian language. Similarly, the poem from Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt takes four lines from one of the German poet’s “typewritings” and constructs a digitally-altered typewriter poem. The poem from Franz Mon literally subtracts numbered elements from one of Mon’s typewriter art pieces, and the poem from Nico Vassilakis separates one of his visual poems into four “stanzas.” Neither of these poems was ever reproduced on my own typewriter.

Finally, the poem from Eric Schmaltz takes from Schmaltz’s series, “Technical Babble (after Steven Shearer)” that was presented at the =SUM THINGS group show from the University of Waterloo Critical Media Lab, where I also had a digital installation. Schmaltz’s series borrows terminology from Amazon reviews of writing and printing technology. I extracted four lines from the piece and reproduced them on my typewriter, filling the other nine lines of each glosa stanza with words that matched Schmaltz’s in the number of letters, all of which were taken from the original manual of the typewriter on which I was writing (which, incidentally, Schmaltz sent me when he shared a digital archive of typewriter manuals). The piece became one of my favourites from my series of vispo glosas, tracing the way that our language around writing technology has evolved as we moved from typewriter to word processor to printer and beyond. It is also deeply collaborative, and brings to the fore the ways that Schmaltz has supported my writing (and the writing of many other young-ish writers today). Schmaltz’s series will appear in his forthcoming collection, Surfaces, coming out with Invisible Press in 2018.

Q: Part of what appeals about these poems is the way in which you are using the form to explore your understandings of each poet’s work, and building upon it. How did these pieces first emerge, and how did you decide on the glosa as your form? What do you feel the form allows that other forms might not?

A: To be frank, I started writing vispo glosas because almost every time I showed another male poet one of my typewriter poems, they recommended that I read another (usually male) visual poet. I chose the glosa form to mitigate these responses, laying bare that I had indeed already read broadly in the field and also to trace the derivative and collaborative nature of visual poetics. The glosa makes this derivation obvious. It also helps me to bring female visual poets like Bentivoglio and Wolf-Rehfeldt into the conversation because they are so often left out of these discussions.

Q: Impressive. I know of Judith Copithorne’s work (jwcurry has long been one of her fiercest champions), but not the other two. How does this work compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: The glosas took over. I used to write the occasional lyric-style poem here and there, but I struggled to find a voice and I always felt a discomfort with the level of authority I had over a reader with that kind of authorship. Now, I pretty much only write these little glosas. The glosas have also made me a better book designer; I came into this form as I was setting up Gap Riot Press with Kate Siklosi, so the design elements of both the press and the poems are really feeding off each other.

Q: How did working your glosas make you a better book designer?

A: Well, I got a crash course in Photoshop. But I also started thinking about how the words looked on the page. I started imagining how extracting these “lines” from their contexts allowed me to alter the original images substantially. And I realized that I too often thought about meaning without thinking about the visual elements of form. Now when we receive a submission at Gap Riot, the first thing I think is: how will this page LOOK.

Q: How long have you been working this form, and how far do you see yourself working within it? Do you see anything beyond it yet, or are you still deep inside? Are you working on any other types of writing alongside?

A: I started about a year ago. I still have the post it note I left for myself that says: “why not a vispo glosa”? And I am still deep inside the glosa cave. I don’t write anything but glosas now, and feedback for student essays. I am sure that one day I will get bored of them, but as long as there are new visual poems for me to read, I suspect I will be making glosas out of them.

Q: How many have you completed so far? Are you aiming, also, for a single piece per subject/poet, or are you working multiple pieces from the same authorial source?

A: I have around 50 of them right now. So far, I am only doing one per author because the process encourages me to find poems and poets I have not encountered yet. But, when I have the time, I would love to do a series on some of my favourite poets. I am also toying with how to do a series on Judith Copithorne, because her work uses so much handwriting. One day.

Q: Okay, I am enormously excited about the thought of that. So, finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Right now I am reading and rereading Canisia Lubrin’s Voodoo Hypothesis. I love the way she uses line breaks both in terms of the aural and the visual effects. But, what I always return to, no matter what, is John Cage’s “62 Mesostics Re Merce Cunningham.” They have everything: ridiculous nonce words, fancy Letraset, secret love messages, anarchist queer politics, and they are pretty pictures! I suspect I have “read” these mesostics once a week since they were first introduced to me (in Andy Weaver’s course) and that was nearly a decade ago.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

TtD supplement #111 : seven questions for Stephen Cain

Stephen Cain is the author of six full-length collections of poetry and a dozen chapbooks, including False Friends (Bookthug), I Can Say Interpellation (Bookthug), Zoom (above/ground), Etc Phrases (Bookthug), American Standard/ Canada Dry (Coach House), Torontology (ECW) and dyslexicon (Coach House). His academic publications include The Encyclopedia of Fictional and Fantastic Languages (co-written with Tim Conley from Greenwood in 2006) and a critical edition of bpNichol’s early long poems: bp: beginnings (Bookthug, 2014). He lives in Toronto where he teaches avant-garde and Canadian literature at York University.

Three poems from his “Walking and Stealing” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the sequence “Walking and Stealing.”

A: Walking and Stealing is a long serial poem composed over the summer of 2017 which encompasses my interests, over the past decade, in constraint-based writing, psychogeography, and political resistance, and continues my exploration of the pun, popular culture, and alliteration. Each section was composed at a park in Toronto and the GTA between innings of games in which my youngest son, a Peewee AA ballplayer, was pitching and fielding. The composition time of each section is the length of a game, and the first draft of each section was recorded in a notebook in the shape and design of a baseball (see attached). While the impetus and origin of the poem is juvenile sports, baseball is not so much the subject of the poem, but the site and event which allows the poem to arise as I explore duration, association, and subjectivity. The game of baseball also functions as an analogue for poetic exploration; for example, the title of the poem refers to plays in baseball (interestingly, two ways which one can gain a base without hitting a ball), but also to psychogeographic perambulation and “stealing” as poetic intertextuality.

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

A: It’s hard to see where you’re going when you’re in it, but right now W&S feels libratory. It’s led to a one-off poem of discarded lines “Punch the Wall” and a longer serial poem “Tag & Run”. But it also fits with academic work I’ve been pursuing: an essay on the writing of Queen St. West as a hauntology, another on spatiality in Austin Clarke’s depiction of Moss Park, and even a newer enterprise analyzing the depiction of Kensington Market in Canadian sit-coms. There’s also a nascent uber-project tying together the early cinematography of David Cronenberg with the public sculptures of Sorel Etrog, Oscar Wilde’s visit to Canada, and spaces where Emma Goldman, Jane Jacobs, and Kathy Acker changed the trajectory of Toronto’s cultural representation. 

Q: With a half dozen trade titles and a dozen chapbooks published so far, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Like the previous question, I don’t know if I can say there’s been an evolutionary trajectory of my writing. I don’t hate my earlier books (which I understand most poets do at middle age/ mid-career), and other than believing that my ear is better now, my interests in poetry have remained fairly consistent: exploring how, through word-play and humour, language can “surprise”, reveal latent political and ideological constructions, and hopefully allow the reader to see material conditions in a new way. As to moving forward, I still feel these issues haven’t been exhausted; I’ll keep trying my hand at new formal structures and make modest efforts at inventing new ones. Right now I’m excited by working at the micro-level: short lines, intense alliteration, and highly condensed puns, striving for maximum compression as I hope W&S illustrates.

Q: You’ve long been engaged in the serial poem/sequence, and even spent a time working sequence of tens, in tens. What is your attraction to working such longer, sequential forms, and what do you feel you can accomplish through such that might not be possible otherwise?

A: Indeed, I’m still at it. W&S is a site specific and temporally-bounded serial poem (poems at a set baseball diamond and the game time = composition time). You’re right that I keep working in sequence and with constraints. I think I’m not as bound by the sequence of 10 as I used to be (relinquishing the “metric system”? Decimation, a lost manuscript of the 1990s…) but I still find the serial form useful. While earlier in my writing I was more of an OuLiPo/ constraint poet, I’m finding the Spicer/ Blaser serial form more intriguing these days. Could it possibly be a happy medium between the two schools? I like listening to Martian radio to guide how I move from line to line and stanza to stanza, but I also like having an end-point, or a point of closure (i.e. I stop listening to the broadcasts after 10 lines or 6 innings).

Q: Do you see a distinction between, as you describe them, “an end-point” and “a point of closure,” and how do you decide which to utilize? Or does it vary from piece-to-piece?

A: Interesting question. Yes, I feel there’s a difference, with “point of closure” being something more definitive, pre-planned, tied up nicely, whereas “end-point” is more like “I think that’s the end, that’ll do for now.” Years ago when I was researching the history of the long poem in English literature I recall that I came to accept the difference between the Modernist Long Poem ™ and the Postmodern Long Poem was about conclusions. That while some Modern Long Poems “fail” to come to conclusive endings, they at least envision an ending—cross that bridge, bring rain to the waste land, write your way out of hell—the Postmodern long poem doesn’t have an end goal in mind. They can both equally fail but I guess the PoMo version doesn’t even have that wager on the table. I find myself mostly in the latter camp these days with both W&S and the new sequence I’m working on (Tag & Run) in that I value the process itself over getting to absolute conclusions.

Q: Would you call this an evolution in your work, valuing the process over absolute conclusion, or more of a realization? Either way, what has the difference been?

A: I think it’s more an issue of resisting the “punch line” poem, or the poem that builds to a powerful final line. Not in itself a bad thing, but the danger is that the whole poem exists just to support that final phrase. Why not just present that “crowd-pleasing” line and give up the pretense of all the excess build-up? It was more a danger in my earlier short poems, or in my concrete poems (the pun-based ones, or ones involving permutations of initial words that reveal puns) rather than in the longer sequences, but it can occur in the longer pieces as well. I guess my coming to this point is not so much evolutionary as it is a reflection of my aesthetic sensibility over the last few years, perhaps paralleled by my interest in free jazz and improvised music: I like moment to moment surprises, or periods of confusion followed by flashes of recognition or illumination, rather than a steady move to a final climax.

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

A: Always bpNichol, always bp. But since you asked about revisiting, rather than new poetry that I find exciting, over the past year (and during the composition of W&S) I enjoyed re-reading (and found inspiring) the works of Gwendolyn MacEwen, Jack Spicer, Dionne Brand, David McFadden, Phyllis Webb, William Blake, Erin Moure, Gertrude Stein, Aimé Césaire, Nancy Shaw, and Iain Sinclair.