Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TtD supplement #118 : ten questions for Kate Siklosi

Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. She is the author of three chapbooks of poetry: po po poems (above/ground press, 2018), may day (no press, 2018), and coup (The Blasted Tree, 2018) and is the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, a feminist experimental poetry small press.

Her poem “pentaptych” appears in the nineteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “pentaptych.”

A: Aside from being really really fun to pronounce, “pentaptych” is all about the contours of the co(e)ur, the heart, the place of tribunal and also romantic courting, in language. The “ptych” in pentaptych comes from the Greek ptychē (“fold” or “layer”). Using letraset, thread, and careful hands, this piece invites words to unfold and unfurl their hearts and limbs to reveal their in/sides—the barred, the sacred, the close, the far. As H.D. writes in her novel Bid Me to Live, “She brooded over each word, as if to hatch it.” For me, using letraset to create visual collages of words refracted within and without themselves is always connected with a feminine praxis, a fragile yet gilded nurturing of meaning, production as incubation, throwing words like pottery, but gently, as if listening, as if words are things we can hold up to the light or close to the ear and wait for the waves.

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

A: “pentaptych” relates to my other work in that lately I’m continuing to use letraset in my visual poetic practice as a means of investigating the raw materiality and inherent generosity of words in language. In this way, this work builds off my first chapbook with above/ground, po po poems, (2018), wherein I use letraset to create linguistic collages. I have also been working on some more lyric-based poetic works as of late, but going back to letraset and to visual collage always grounds me in the elemental and atomic foundations of language, as well as in the handicraft of poetry—the tactility of using my hands and handling words carefully because the medium demands it. So, while I am writing what some would say resembles more traditional poetry, I always come back to my letraset practice when I feel the need to reconnect with raw materials, get my hands dirty (my skin is literally littered with letters after a letraset making session!), and seek a playful escape from the aweful tyranny of the line.

Q: What first brought you to working with letraset? Who have your models been for this type of work?

A: I first began using letraset as a child. My dad owned a small electrical business and he used it a lot in his shop to make labels and organize inventory, so we always had it laying around the house. I used to play around with it and remember being so in awe of its transfer “magic.” After getting more into experimental visual poetry in grad school, I became inspired to use letraset again as a medium to create visual collage. I’m heavily influenced by the work of Mira Schendel, a Jewish wartime refugee, who used letraset on rice paper to create stunning visual installations that register the ghostly traces of language in a fleeting, spectral plane of possibility. I have also always admired derek beaulieu’s use of letraset in his poetics, especially in kern, which is a ridiculously beautiful collection.

Q: What do you feel working with letraset allows that might not be possible otherwise?

A: As I said, working with letraset allows for a very material and handmade poetic practice on the page that fancy computer programs can’t reproduce. The actual act of writing with dry transfer on paper or other objects (I also have pieces that use letraset on found objects such as leaves and shells) is difficult because letraset is a vintage medium that is fragile and prone to crack, break, or not transfer completely perfectly into what you might want it to be. So, there is always an element of spontaneity and having to do away with direct authorial intention because the letraset does have a mind of its own. That y you intend to place might decide, if you remove the letraset form too fast or disturb it ever so slightly, to lose its tail and be a v. And you have to accept that and move on, allowing the letters to unfold as they will. I love that it requires a unique focus and organic hand to object relationship while imperfection and chance guide the creative process.

Q: How does your letraset work compare to your more straightforward text work? Is there any overlap in consideration, or do you see them as two distinct and disconnected threads?

A: Mostly I see them as two distinct and yet interconnected threads. Both modes allow me to play and sprawl, but with a different poetic i/eye focus—one on the line(s), one on the letter(s). I’ve always seen value in going back to simplicity. bpNichol was and is huge for me in that when things get complicated, messy, unsure (I am existential AF on a good day, let’s be honest), I often go back to his work for its simplicity—not that it isn’t complex or deep, but working with elemental aspects of language has a way of bringing one back down to earth. I can get really carried away with a line in a straightforward text poem, so working with the small and simple always grounds me. And the way I get to use my hands with letraset, the way it challenges my motor skills and patience, is always a humbling and refreshing counterpart to the voluminous indulgence of the line. *in a very parental voice*: I love both equally.

Q: You’ve had a couple of chapbooks appear over the past year, all of which appear to be composed as individual projects. Do you see your work in terms of projects? And are these works self-contained, or part of some larger, as-yet-unseen pattern?

A: I’m a creature of projects. I love starting and finishing things. I also like to be doing different things in and through my work, mostly so I don’t get bored. This past year especially, I’ve been challenging myself with different materials and mediums, ways of doing and making. That’s why all three of my chaps are different and self-contained. But they all use language to fuck shit up in different ways—whether it be linear meaning, patriarchy, capitalism. I’m always working in language and finding ways to use it to disrupt, set fire, rebuild.

Q: Given your first slate of chapbooks are now in the world, where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s a good question. After completing my PhD I had a lot of pent up creative energy needing out, clearly, so it’s been a busy and fun year producing some great works with some great people. I don’t plan to slow down. I’m working on a couple bigger projects at the moment: one is a book-length experimental poetic study of the Hibernia oil field that I have been working on for some time now (the poems from may day (no press 2018) are from this collection), and one is a (re)written poetic history of my Hungarian grandparents, who fled with their children from Budapest under the iron curtain. I never got to meet them, and because of a bunch of messed up reasons, their Hungarian culture and language was lost with them and very little is known in my family about their lives. There are only gaps, a handful of facts and names, torn memories, and a lot of unspoken pain left in their wake. So I’m just now coming to know hereditary grief as a thing, and so writing through the absence of such stories with new ones of my own, as a means of re-membering, has been extremely powerful.

Q: I’m curious about your “poetic study of the Hibernia oil field.” How did this project emerge?

A: I thought you’d never ask! I’ve always been intrigued by our love/hate relationship with oil—the disputes and detest for oil companies, alongside our ever-growing desire for a life fueled by opportunity and mobility. These poems explore our complicated relationship with the oil industry in Canada through a series of experimental love poems to the Hibernia oil platform in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin off the coast of Nova Scotia. The work weaves together a global, national, and personal narrative of the oil industry in Canada. Working in an oil refinery was one of my first jobs before university, and my family has a deep history as oil and gas workers in the “Chemical Valley” of Southwestern Ontario, and they have worked aboard the Hibernia platform.

Hibernia is of particular interest to me because of its “offshore” physicality, its history of human tragedy and loss, and the complex rhetoric with which stakeholder oil companies characterize the rig, the submarine oilfields, and the risks of their business to the environment. I am interested in Hibernia as a particular place in time—the physical site of Hibernia lies in contested international waters, is privately held, bears scars of historical tragedy, land and resource rights violations, and the tempestuous sea that surrounds it is some of the roughest waters in the Northern Hemisphere.

Using cut up techniques and other experimental ways of poeming, these pieces use archival material taken from the Ocean Ranger disaster, from oil companies’ press releases, workers’ accounts, voices of resistance, legal documents surrounding offshore resource rights, and The Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act in order to salvage and bring to the surface a submerged humanity that gets lost within a rhetoric of corporate malfeasance and economic production and profit. All of these documents, reworked through and in poetry, reveal a complex cultural imaginary surrounding oil’s integral place in our national fabric, one that is deeply rooted in early pioneering mythologies of sustainability and innovation that continue to shape Canada’s identity in the present.

Q: Your Hungarian reclamation project sounds intriguing as well (I’ve been fascinated by seeing Calgary poet Helen Hajnoczky forays into exploring Hungarian language, culture and family histories over the past few years). How are you working to reclaim this lost history? How is the shape of this project revealing itself?

A: Yes, I love Helen’s work as well—especially her gorgeous Hungarian folk art pieces in Magyarazni. The shape of this project is revealing itself in a very difficult and yet very tender way. I grew up having to “understand” things about the way my dad grew up, the unspoken traumas of his and his family’s past, the way relationships were always somewhat difficult. I have always been envious of people who have close relationships with their grandparents and their family’s culture—my Hungarian background has always been so close and yet so far, so out of reach, cut off because I didn’t grow up with it and lost my grandparents before I was born. So, in the masterful words of M. NourbeSe Philip,
how does one
poetry from a place
a place structured
                          by absence

One doesn’t. One learns to read the silence/s.
I’ve only begun to learn to read these silence/s of my childhood—the quiet acknowledgements, looks, and gait of grief, the half-knowing attempts at making goulash, the meagre objects of a life, the protected heart centre where all things reside in an archive of memory. I don’t have much to work with in terms of facts or objects, proof. So much is lost. I’m reading a lot of history and folklore. I’m pouring over recipe books. I’m interrogating Hungary’s forgetting of its own past in the way it has mistreated refugees over the last couple years of the Syrian war. But mostly, I’m making it all up as I go. I’m living and writing in the broken edges of fragments. I’m experimenting with how fractured memory can create meaning in absence. I’m using poetry to forge a path not of knowing, but of imagining, of re-membering a present past.

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

A: So much is giving me LIFE these days! I just finished an advanced copy of Dionne Brand’s new work, The Blue Clerk, which is due out very soon, and it completely devastated me in the best way. I always know I am loving a work when I’m furiously writing through and alongside it. Her work has always energized my own work in terms of its mastery of language and the way she can spin an image of human emotion so pristinely.

I return to different poets depending on my mood, what I’m writing, and how I’m feeling about the world. When the fires of beautiful resistance need stoking, I go to NourbeSe’s work, especially She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. When I need to return to simplicity and play, and get out of my head, bpNichol and bill bissett are always close by. Lisa Robertson is eternal. Canisia Lubrin’s Voodoo Hypothesis continues to keep me up at night. Robert Duncan fuels my anarchic tendencies and desire for collective, imaginative revision.   

Also, being a part of the small press community, I’m always looking at what’s emerging, what’s disrupting. As of late I’ve been loving the experimental works coming out of The Blasted Tree and Puddles of Sky Press, in particular.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Touch the Donkey : nineteenth issue,

The nineteenth issue is now available, with new poems by Michael Robins, Ken Hunt, Rob Manery, Rae Armantrout, robert majzels, Stephanie Strickland and Kate Siklosi.

Seven dollars (includes shipping). It's the part I was born to play, baby!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

TtD supplement #117 : seven questions for Jon Boisvert

Jon Boisvert was born in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and now lives in Oregon. He studied poetry at Oregon State University and the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland. His first book, BORN, was published in 2017 by Airlie Press, and a chapbook, EGOCIDES, is new from above/ground press.

His poems “SNAKE,” “ECLIPSE,” “CABIN” and “BURIAL” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “SNAKE,” “ECLIPSE,” “CABIN” and “BURIAL.”

A: Snake: I grew up watching the creatures living along the small creeks of southeastern Wisconsin, and water moccasins in particular. When I began the project that became EGOCIDES, those lenses of rebirth, self-destruction and trading places opened me up to these snakes in a new way. That they are a live-birth snake rather than an egg-laying snake, and especially that they may reproduce asexually felt relevant. They aren’t just another viper: they embody questions about what it means to be a parent, child, and individual.

Eclipse: This poem expresses one of the major themes of the project, that of trading places. Through a bit of movement, a change of lighting, I become you. And don’t you expect things to be different after an eclipse? Aren’t you disappointed when the world returns just as it was? I am, and I think that disappointment reveals very old, very deep desire for magic in the sky.

Cabin: There’s a little Zen monastery in Oregon called Great Vow. I participated in a ceremony there once, where I and others whose children died very young walked into a little nearby woods and chanted and left small presents for those we’ve lost. It was fall; the sun set early, and as we all wept and left our gifts on the ground, owls began to hoot. Since then, I’ve associated the forest with letting things go. So in this project, with its cycles of creation and destruction, the forest was a pretty obvious place to visit.

Burial: Like all of these poems, “Burial” is curious about the violence in love, about two people continually undoing themselves to embrace and embody each other. This poem also borrows from some friends’ experiences of mock-burial ceremonies. Listening to their stories led me to question: if I were being pressed to death, what would come out of me? The answer was more questions.

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

A: It’s certainly a less-populated environment than the poems in my first book occupied. In BORN, there’s a community, a lot of characters and personas. In these poems there’s you and me, and occasionally our parents, and that’s pretty much it. And there’s a lot more open space. The result, for me, is a relatively quieter collection, with room to build a more-complex relationship between the I and the you. And while there’s still some magic and some violence, the characters have agency and investment in what happens; there’s more mental and emotional activity on their part, and a bit less action.

As always, I wrote these poems, in part, to digest what’s really going on in my life, which right now is a lot of self-reflection inspired by a strong, loving relationship. But these poems also make room for my criticism of the ideas and traditions of love and marriage. Which is good. I don’t think I’d be as interested in this topic without that tension.

Q: When you say “collection”: has this grouping of poems shaped themselves into a manuscript? Given you’ve a single full-length title published, are you noticing a difference in how your second manuscript came together, compared to that first?

A: I had a big mass of poems accumulate over the last two years or so, and inside that mass maybe a third of them had a similar sound and were driven by the same feelings or events. So I put them together and started looking for an axis to line them up on. What I found was part narrative, part geography. Both are incomplete or imperfect, which I how I prefer things.

This part of the process was pretty similar to the time I spent arranging the poems in my book, BORN. Recognizing this similarity helped a lot; I could move more quickly, because I was improving upon a process rather than creating one. And, of course, the fact it’s 20 poems and not 60 made it easier, too.

I don’t really see this specific group growing into a full-length collection, though. I’ve always wanted to do something intentionally chapbook-sized, and right now I feel pretty satisfied. To have allowed myself this set amount of space to explore one thing was very fun, and being able to think of this set of poems as “finished” or “whole” has been inspiring. I feel free to move on, like maybe I’ll find another 20 poems that all go toward something else someday. This sort-of boundary or containment aspect is probably the biggest difference between writing this collection and writing BORN, even more than the difference in length.

Q: You seem to favour a variation on the American prose poem. What influences brought you to utilizing such a form, and what do you feel the prose poem allows that you might not be able to achieve otherwise?

A: Two of my favorite poets are Marosa di Giorgio and Russell Edson. Both wrote in prose-poem forms, but what matters more to me is that they wrote narratives that are at once straightforward and bewildering. Their grammar and syntax and all that stuff is really functional—it stays out of the way. Their stories, though—and their people and places—are such rich puzzles, full of magic and feelings and social critiques.

Both of these poets use a form that goes all the way to the right margin; their poems look just like paragraphs. The form I’ve been using is different. I find that using really wide margins helps me pay some attention to the words and music, as well as the story. The form still looks like a paragraph, but almost always create a four- or five-beat line. This also puts some pressure on the narrative: something should happen on each line.  And using the full-justification, besides creating a visual order I like, alerts me to words that are too long. Long words create larger gaps in the line and make it harder for that line to contribute in a meaningful way. All these layout tools have really helped me develop leaner prose and quicker plots.

As for the prose poem form more generally, I think it offers writers freedom from what, to some of us, can be really distracting elements of poetry. I, for one, have a very hard time deciding where to break a line and why. There’s also something really childish and fun about taking something that’s so obviously not a poem and telling people to pretend it is. It reminds me how much of art is about perception.

Q: You mention constructing manuscripts out of groupings, sorting poems out of the pile. Is this your normal method for constructing full-length manuscripts? It suggests a curious combination of writing poems (as opposed to writing books) and constructing books. How did you arrive at this method?

A: Well, I won’t pretend I’ve got all these manuscripts sitting around. BORN is the only full-length collection I’ve successfully put together, and it took me two years to arrange that. And the early attempts look much different from the final version. I wasted a lot of time trying to isolate by topic: keeping separate spaces for poems about childhood, adulthood, Wisconsin, Oregon, my father, my son, etc. I finally saw that, if I just lay them out chronologically according to the life events that inspired them, they will make enough sense to be a book. Then I was able to finish the arrangement in a way that makes sense to me, and feels honest.

Of course, I did swap a few poems in and out—writing two new ones to bridge some gaps—with the help of editors at Airlie Press. But that part, compared to the years of struggling that came before, was very fluid. The Airlie team gave me a lot of confidence in the book, so making those small adjustments later seemed easier.

So yes, the long process I went through with BORN was a combination of chaos and intent. But the intent to write in a book-minded way didn’t come until very late in the process.

And that’s pretty much exactly what I went through with this chapbook. I had a bunch of individual poems, each written on whatever topic had my attention at the time. I looked through them all (so many times), then finally saw a thread or theme that matched up with real life, and went from there.

I’d say that this process is enjoyable, but not intentional. I’ve tried the intentionally-writing-a-book method and not succeeded. And I love those really focused, project-based books of poetry, but I just can’t do it yet.  I can’t really know what I am doing in the moment; I have to dig through it all afterward.

Q: If the individual poem is your preferred unit of composition (over the chapbook, or the full-length collection), how does a poem usually begin?

A: I have two common starting points.

In one, the first lines come first. I don’t know where they come from, but they arrive as sort-of just having potential, rather than having a clear point. For example, a very new poem I am working on begins, “I put a microphone on top of a cactus.” I don’t know where it came from, but I feel like it has potential: it’s giving me a landscape, a character, and some kind of desire. So from there, finishing the poem means unraveling the mystery in this first line.

In the other, I have a feeling I want to write about, but which is hard to describe. So I try to create a short scene or bit of action which I think captures it. In BORN, there’s a poem called “Elephant” that came about this way. Initially, I wanted to write about losing contact with an alcoholic parent. This is a complicated experience, and very surreal. So what fit, for me, was a story of a man crawling into an elephant’s belly and the elephant running away. One reason this fits for me is that it’s not that the father leaves; his intentions are something else. But a force much larger than him—one that also captures other men’s attention as well—takes him.

I use these two methods pretty much equally, and have been for maybe eight years now. I think I’m ready to try something else soon, though.

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

A: Again, Marosa di Giorgio and Russell Edson. I was very glad when Ugly Duckling Presse released a new translation of a bunch of di Georgio’s work, I Remember Nightfall, which is terrific. I love going back to her poems because they create and exist in a very complete, unique world. So do Edson’s. Other contemporary books I feel accomplish this are CAConrad’s The Book of Frank, Lisa Ciccarello’s At Night, and all of Aase Berg’s books in English. I’m sure there are many more I am not remembering or don’t know about, though (and maybe you have some recommendations?).