Monday, March 25, 2019

TtD supplement #130 : seven questions for Marie Larson

Marie Larson’s writing has appeared in GAM, DIAGRAM, Shampoo, Bombay Gin, Fact-Simile, Jacket and Pallaksch. Pallaksch. She is the author of Dendroctonus Ponderosae (Shadow Mountain Press, 2009) and Dromeda (Goodmorning Menagerie, 2013). She lives in Milwaukee, WI.

Her poem “PART TWO: THE STARS” appears in the twentieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “PART TWO: THE STARS.”

A: The project began as a meditation on evolution and heredity, the repeating and mutating patterns (tessellation, honeycombs, etc.), and how those patterns intersect myth, human relationship, family, language and my own ridiculous existence.

In past projects, I wrote through various characters (a whale, a parasite/host, a whole slew of perforated bodies) as a way to approach messy intersections, messy bodies. It felt good to write from behind a curtain. But now, I’m awkwardly figuring out how to write as myself, in my own life.

Three years ago, I lost my mom and became pregnant with my daughter. All at once. The news came that my mom was dying. The next day I found out I was pregnant. Two days later I took a redeye Greyhound to St. Paul to help my mother (and father) through the last three weeks of her life while this tiny, sticky fractal of new life burrowed in. The intensity of that experience (it’s reverberation, syllabus, whatever you want to call it) transfigured this project – became the horse it rode. Losing a mother / becoming a mother.

The first section of this project is titled The Forest. Minnesota and the north woods, where my mom grew up, where I spent much of my childhood, emerge here. I carry those woods around with me. They make me feel like myself and embody my personal mythos, family and language.

God emerged in Part Two: The Stars, which still surprises me. I’m not religious but I do value ritual, the ecstatic, the magic of language. I began writing about stars and constellations. We are the makers of narrative. We connect dots. We look up into a black vacuum and translate pin pricks of light into bulls, crabs and lions. My mother was born under the sign of cancer, which is also the illness that took her (nasty tessellation, another kind of fractal.) All narratives are parallax. I think of “god” as parallax, as a constellation. In that, I’m also interrogating (and exalting in) the value of art and all creative, iterative acts. Life itself, I suppose.

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

A: This is the only work I’ve been doing lately. I’m not the sort of writer who has multiple projects going at once. My progress has been embarrassingly slow—initial scribblings for this series started about 5 years ago. There are large swaths of time inside those years where I haven’t written at all. The project prior to this (Dromeda) was a metaphorical narrative told by two voices sharing one body with central themes of mirage and reflection, mirrors and glass, light and dark, self-love and self-hatred. It was more inward-looking than this new writing but a few threads carry over to this newer work—the phrase “god is a...” I nearly forgot that appears in the last project. Its emergence surprised me then, too. Also, addressing the creative act—the last project used glass-blowing as a metaphor for writing poetry, weaving comes up in this new work as a similar placeholder.

Q: You mention your prior work being more inward-looking than your current project. What do you feel brought about this shift, and how is the difference presenting itself in the work?

A: I already noted how central the birth of my daughter and death of my mother are to this work, and as cliché as it is, I think that really is the pivot point. Where past work has been, mostly, an internal dialogue, I feel like I’m writing to my daughter in this newer work. A bedtime story, maybe – one you tell your child after they’re already asleep. And then there are also passages that act like a sermon or eulogy. A fairy tale and a eulogy. Binary stars. The outward look most clearly presents itself where the work addresses readers directly (“friends, you know that the hours worked here are holy”). There’s more of an invitation into this work.

Q: Were there any other writers whose work might have provided you direction? What poets are sitting at the back of your head as you begin to work on a poem?

A: The opening line is a clear nod to Inger Christensen’s alphabet. That work certainly has impacted this project and how it goes about collecting the world, the power in naming things. Aase Berg’s work, in general, is always clawing around in the back of my head. Lorine Niedecker and Clarice Lispector as well. Those are the big ones. I’m not sure how to draw clear lines between my writing and these other writers (whom I admire so much) other than to say I think my poems share with each of them a similar sense of what’s at stake.

Q: What is it about their works, specifically, that have prompted your own? Is that something you’re even conscious of, or is it more intuitive?

A: It’s intuitive in how anyone’s affinity for another writer is intuitive. I certainly didn’t intend to alphabet and it wasn’t until quite a bit later that I realized (in rereading that opening line) that work was in the background of my thinking. The ways Lispector and Berg write messy bodies was formative for me, how their writing offers a kind of maximalist path to the ecstatic. And, on the other side of that is Niedecker’s vivid restraint in language, both her and Christensen’s attention to the natural world, the zeroing in, the naming of things, transforming the mundane, or maybe wiping the mundane film off the sublimity of the natural world. Rhythm is part of all this as well. alphabet is hypnotic, like a conjuring spell. All of these writers are conjurers in my opinion.

Q: With two trade collections and a work-in-progress over the past decade or so, how do you feel your writing has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Hmm. My initiation was in visual arts and that is still the seed of how I understand myself as a writer. I largely think of my development through the lucky circumstances of community I’ve been afforded, chiefly revolving around Woodland Pattern Book Center and Naropa University. That’s where I began to complicate my understanding of what’s possible. More recently, I’ve become really good at dissolving into the immediate lives of those around me. I’ll go through periods where I write almost every day for a few weeks and then only sporadically for months. I’ve nestled myself into a comfortable warren of family life and, somewhat ironically, back into a community of visual artists and designers as an administrator. I’m relearning some important lessons through watching them work and I get to remain somewhat invisible creatively. That’s how has my writing developed over the last decade or so … Slowly, mostly in secret, often not on the page and, as of late, in near total writerly isolation.

Am I answering the right question? Is this what you are asking me?

Where is my work headed? I plan to keep working on this current series and find out where it takes me. Right now, I’m working on Part Three: The Lake. Someday I’d like to come out from hiding and reinvest in the writing community here in Milwaukee. Woodland Pattern remains a beacon.

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

A: In terms of poets – Aase Berg, as already mentioned, is central. In particular, Transfer Fat, but all of her work translated by Johannes Göransson. As well as Clarice Lispector, Elizabeth Robinson, Stacy Szymaszek, Alice Notley, Roberto Harrison, Selah Saterstrom, Aimé Césaire. This is what comes to mind, but to be honest, I don’t often return to a book once I’ve read it. When I want to gather energy for my own work it’s more about gathering language or ideas that touch where I’m writing from. Right now, I’m reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari which discusses the evolutional leap to fictive language. (conjuration!)

Monday, March 18, 2019

TtD supplement #129 : seven questions for David Dowker

David Dowker was born in Kingston, Ontario but has lived most of his life in Toronto. He was editor of The Alterran Poetry Assemblage from 1996 to 2004 (which can be accessed at Library and Archives Canada). He published Machine Language in 2010, Virtualis: Topologies of the Unreal (with Christine Stewart) in 2013 (shortlisted for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry), and Ma nt i s in 2018.

His poems “CRASH FLOW,” “THUDDITE,” “SENTIMENTAL NECESSITY,” “PROTECTIVE INTIMACY” and “PASTORAL LOGIC” appear in the twentieth issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: The “method” used, if method it be, in these poems (except for “Crash Flow”) is to make use of, or riff on, (some of) the language from the “source” poem(s) to create something new. The result is a derivative, in the mathematical (and poetic) sense, of the original. I suppose one might say that an accidental dialogue of sorts occurs, but I’m not sure that would be entirely accurate (or particularly useful). Then again . . .

So . . . “Thuddite” was derived from “Let My Voice Thud Throughout the Land” (and “Vulgar Marxism”) by Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, and “Sentimental Necessity” from a mash-up of “Sentimental Intervention” and “Historical Necessity,” also by Dorothy Trujillo Lusk. Early versions of these poems were written for a “Pestschrift” (organized by Aaron Vidaver).

“Protective Intimacy” is derived from “the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings” from “Protective Immediacy” by Rod Smith. As I recall, the title came from a misprint somewhere.

Finally, “Pastoral Logic” is derived from “I drove through this old world this afternoon” by Clark Coolidge, and has, I think, a slightly different relation to its “source.”

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

A: Not at all really. Another somewhat related example of this method is “n-chant(s)” (which was published on-line in The Alterran Poetry Assemblage, but revised since then), based upon Lissa Wolsak’s Pen-chants. It is essentially a work of erasure, though (similar to Ma nt i s). Time-Sensitive Material (which I’ve been working on since Virtualis) is something quite different.

Q: With your erasures, as well as your works in “accidental dialogue,” you appear to favour composing pieces that respond to other works. What is it about working these kinds of responses that appeals? What is it about the conversation between poems that attracts you, and what do you feel is possible through such explorations?

A: I wouldn’t say that I “favour composing pieces that respond to other works.” It’s just another approach among many. It all began with the Alterran Poetry Assemblage, I suppose, and probably reflected a desire on my part to interact with the authors that I published. The most successful example, I think, is the transformation of David Hoefer’s “Riot Trousers” into “Griot Trousers” in the second issue, but that is also quite different from the previous examples. Also, the germination of Virtualis dates from then, with Christine Stewart’s “Patience details its follies” becoming “Patience arrays its strategies” and various other examples, mostly from Taxonomy (with a bit from “The Trees of Periphery”). Ma nt i s  arose, in a sense, from the idea of  “root notes of a transient present” in Clark Coolidge’s The Maintains (and, of course, the example of Ronald Johnson’s RADI OS).

Perhaps a couple of quotations might be illuminating:

“The poet and the reader, who if he is intent in reading becomes a new poet of the poem, come to write or to read in order to participate through the work in a consciousness that moves freely in time and space and can entertain reality upon reality.” (Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book)

“The knowledge of the poem is a—psychoanalytically probably not fathomable—shared knowledge with an other; there are invisibly communicating vessels.” (Paul Celan, trans. Pierre Joris, The Meridian)

Q: You mention The Alterran Poetry Assemblage, the online journal you ran from 1996-2004. How did that journal originally begin?

A: It began as an e-mail sent out to a number of people. I can’t remember if it was sent out in installments or as one long e-mail. I soon decided that a “website” was the way to go, so I wrote the HTML (it was very much “early days”) and put it up on the World Wide Web.

All of the work was solicited (at least to begin with). The authors selected came from readings in journals such as Raddle Moon and Talisman, and a special West Coast Line issue featuring new British and Irish writing (edited by Peter Quartermain) was quite useful.

Will Alexander, Caroline Bergvall, Kevin Davies, Stephen Ellis, Allen Fisher, William Fuller, Alan Halsey, Andrew Joron, Karen Kelley, Karen Mac Cormack, Drew Milne, Geraldine Monk, Erin Moure, Bob Perelman, George Quasha, Lisa Robertson, Lisa Samuels, Leslie Scalapino, Christine Stewart, and Lissa Wolsak are some of the over 80 poets published.

Q: What do you think your time spent working on the journal allowed for your own writing? Did you see any shifts in your work during this period that Alterran Poetry Assemblage might have influenced?

A: I suppose that there was an expansion of the possibilities of collaboration, and the idea of the internet as a collective, interactive text. I had contributed to RIF/T at the Electronic Poetry Center, Inter\face, and Juxta/Electronic, as well as (pseudonymously, as required) to DIU (Descriptions of an Imaginary Universe). The Assemblage was a continuation of this activity which, overall, represented a more spontaneous approach to the work.

Q: You’ve furthered that idea of collaboration, working directly with poet Christine Stewart for some time now, such as Virtualis: Topologies of the Unreal, that appeared with BookThug in 2013. What has that experience been like? Has working with Stewart shifted, at all, the ways in which you see your solo work?

A: Working with Christine has been a joy. It has basically been a perpetual back and forth, altering texts, with almost no discussion – just winging it. There was a large gap of inactivity, and then it staggered to life again. Christine’s introduction of the Agamben quotation (from Stanzas) on “Topologies of the Unreal” seemed to crystallize the virtuality. 

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

A: Rimbaud’s Illuminations remains central. Charles Olson is always there somewhere, which means Pound as well, of course. T.S. Eliot and Rilke obstinately continue to influence, and Robert Duncan has been there (with H.D.) for a long time. John Ashbery and Robert Creeley lurk with the furniture.

Among contemporaries, the primary sources of energy would be Lissa Wolsak, Christine Stewart, Lisa Robertson, Christopher Dewdney, Nathaniel Mackey, Susan Howe, and Clark Coolidge.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Touch the Donkey : fifth anniversary sale,

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the quarterly Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] this April: anyone who subscribes (or resubscribes) anytime between now and the end of April 2019 has the bonus option of three (3) items: three Touch the Donkey back issues of your choice, OR three above/ground press (2018 or 2019) titles of your choice (while supplies last) OR any combination thereof.

Issue #21 of Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] lands on April 15, 2019.

2018-19 above/ground press titles include chapbooks by: Chris Johnson, Conyer Clayton, Simina Banu, Frances Boyle, Hawad (trans. Jake Syersak), Susanne Dyckman, Jane Virginia Rohrer, Dennis Cooley, Ben Meyerson, Isabel Sobral Campos, Mary Kasimor, Andrew K Peterson, Natalie Lyalin, Kemeny Babineau, Michael Sikkema, Kimberly Campanello, Stephen Cain, kyle kinaschuk, Paul Perry, Gregory Betts, Billy Mavreas, Claudia Coutu Radmore, Stephanie Grey, Alice Burdick, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Heather Sweeney, Ralph Kolewe, Franco Cortese, Evan Gray, Dale Smith, Virginia Konchan, Joshua James Collis, Laura Farina, Jennifer Stella, Monty Reid, Anthony Etherin, Sarah Mangold, Cole Swensen, MC Hyland, Jamie Townsend, Sacha Archer, Megan Kaminski, Gil McElroy, Emily Izsak, rob mclennan, Sara Renee Marshall, Mark Laliberte, Lisa Rawn, Sean Braune, Michael Martin Shea, Melissa Eleftherion, Ian Dreiblatt, Kyle Flemmer, Uxío Novoneyra (trans. Erín Moure), Stephen Brockwell, Phil Hall / Stuart Kinmond, Billy Mavreas, Stuart Ross, natalie hanna, Miguel E. Ortiz Rodríguez, Natalee Caple, Julia Polyck-O'Neill, Jason Christie, Travis Sharp, Beth Ayer, Jon Boisvert, Jenna Jarvis, Lise Downe, Allison Cardon, Lea Graham, Tim Atkins, Gregory Betts + Arnold McBay, Amanda Earl, Derek Beaulieu, Aaron Tucker, Dani Spinosa, Andrew Wessels, Marthe Reed, Kate Siklosi, Edward Smallfield, Amish Trivedi, Steve McCaffery, Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, Alice Notley, Stan Rogal, Rachel Mindell, Eleni Zisimatos, Adrienne Gruber, Andrew Cantrell, kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff and Anna Gurton-Wachter. 

Canadian subscriptions $35 for five issues / American subscriptions $40 / International subscriptions $50 / All prices in Canadian dollars /

To order, e-transfer or PayPal at at rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com or the PayPal button at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com or www.touchthedonkey.blogspot.com 

Issues are also available as part of the above/ground press annual subscription. 

Because everybody loves a birthday. Who doesn’t love a birthday?

Touch the Donkey. Everywhere you want to be.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

TtD supplement #128 : seven questions for Michael Boughn

Michael Boughn has published 11 books of poetry, including Iterations of the Diagonal, Dislocations in Crystal, 22 Skidoo / SubTractions, Cosmographia—a Post-Lucretian Faux Micro-Epic (short listed for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2011), City–A Poem from the End of the World, and Hermetic Divagations—After H.D.  With Victor Coleman, he edited Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book. He is currently working on The Book of Uncertain – A Hyperbiographical User’s Manual while co-editing with Kent Johnson the rambunctious (some say rude) online poetry site, “Dispatches from the Poetry Wars” (http://dispatchespoetrywars.com/). He (the human) and Case (the Border Collie) can be found in or near Toronto hanging out in dog parks or herding sheep together.

His poem “The pragmatics of to belong as not belonging – uncertain ontological whims and communal phantasies from Chapter 4 of The Book of Uncertain – A Manual” appears in the twentieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “The pragmatics of to belong as not belonging – uncertain ontological whims and communal phantasies from Chapter 4 of The Book of Uncertain – A Hyperbiographical Users’ Manual.”

A: Well, this is really the crucial question facing us at this moment of intensifying crisis. Modernity destroyed a mode of being-together that was an intimate proximity, both to other people, to other animals, and to the divine. It wasn’t idyllic by a long shot. It was by all accounts brutish, violent, and horribly intrusive. But it was a different mode of being-together than what awaited us in the cities. Living cheek by jowl, we insulate ourselves from the people who live closest to us for privacy, where the only animals we ever encounter are domesticated pets, where our meat is purchased in cellophane wrapped packages, and where the divine, as Jean-Luc Nancy put it, no longer flutters except exsanguinate and grimacing

What’s missing is belonging in a human sense of being-together. We struggle to live among the wold vagaries of vast markets, including labour markets that force people into motion all the time. Witness what just went down in Oshawa. Society is a place of probabilities and statistically verifiable behaviours among alienated individuals determined by a set of social imaginary significations and governed by imposed norms. We are seeing the result of that process that has been going on now for some 500 years in the rise of reactionary populists like Trump and Bolsonaro who are able to exploit that deep alienation by creating a “movement” in which people experience a sense of belonging to something with others who also belong – a being-together, but one that is finally based on exclusion and violence against those who don’t belong. William Carlos Williams nailed it in that poem in Spring and All that later got called The Crowd at the Ballgame:
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut—

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it— 

The Jew gets it straight— it
is deadly, terrifying—

It is the Inquisition, the

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
To belong as not belonging is to find a way to do both at the same time so that the exclusionary violence can’t find purchase in the indeterminacy.

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

A: Well, it’s really all the same work, ever since Iterations of the Diagonal back in 1995. It’s the work of finding ways to weave the complexity and mystery of beinghere in language. Think of the poem as a step transformer in a cosmos that radiates energy at an infinite number of vibratory intensities. The poem receives high-voltage information and transforms it – steps it down – into a gnosis acceptable or accessible within our finitude. Those higher voltage levels can't be processed without possibly burning out the receiver unless they are modulated. Imagine a poem that literally blows your mind, leaves the mind shattered by the sheer intensity of the energy transmission. Something like that, on a less catastrophic scale, happened to me in 1964 when I walked into an enormous lecture hall full of hundreds of students and saw on the green chalk board at the bottom of the bear pit a poem:
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
I got a blast from eternity that shook me profoundly. It wasn't the full voltage but it was intense enough to leave me struggling to come to terms with a whole new dimensional possibility of language. Things looked different. The gnosis transformed me so that the work and the initial knowledge of techné required to fulfill my obligation to poesis began to come into focus. That formation goes on through all my books addressing one necessity after another.

22 Skidoo marked a transition to a new energy level that is still significant in terms of what I'm doing now. In that initiatory book, the incoming energy included encoded instructions on how to proceed that were tied up with two facts of that moment: teaching my five-year-old daughter antique slang, and the imposition of a physical limit dictated by the number of the lines on a page in my notebook. The mystery surrounding chance and fate then become part of the procedure and resonate with that indeterminate knowledge.

Cosmographia, my very own post-Lucretian faux micro-epic, took it to a new level, channeling Lucretius to compose a cosmographical epic outside any current imagination of the possibility of poetry – pretty much limited to either the bio/psychological or the sociological – that I’m aware of.

Great Canadian Poems for the Aged addressed that incoming energy in the context of Canada as continuing composition, and the ways in which that ongoing composition, which, as far as I know is unique in the world, undoes the nationalist obsession with “identity” by continually reopening it to include more and other. The danger is that the past will evaporate completely. These poems address an imagination of Canada that I first encountered in 1966 when I crossed the border as a 20 year old refugee fleeing being forcibly impressed into the USAmerican Imperial War against Viet Nam. The questions that it proposes have to do with cultural memory and cultural composition and Canada's unique contribution to the question of national identity. Identity as non-identity. Belonging as not belonging.

The Book of Uncertain--A Hyperbiographical Users Manual is unique in that it attempts to find a relationship to the material of bios that escapes the usual psychological or sociological reductionism. Jack called me on that years ago and I have never forgotten. How do you open your sense of “the life” to those larger energies that inform us? It’s not easy to get beyond that reductionism because we are inundated with messages asserting the supreme significance and democratic virtue of our feelings which include feelings about our social identity. The whole culture is saturated in it, so it’s easily commodified and sold. A poetry of modular elements rather than intermodal excess. Meubles, Olson called it. Selling the “self”. Copyrighting it. But the question of being resonates at frequencies far beyond that meagre attention. The question is how to compose the language, how to arrange the words so that they receive that gnosis, harbour it at accessible intensities of energetic information that locate it in other ranges of significance, one of which we think of as Myth. It is always a disturbance, and its ordering of language is also always a disordering because it is finally uncontainable.

Q: You mention your work to date as all being part of a singular, extended work. How did this first emerge? Was this something deliberate on your part, or was this something you discovered along the way?

A: I just think that the work of poetry, the mode of knowing that poetry is uniquely capable of manifesting, embodying, because of its particular relationship to sounding, sound’s body, has driven my love of poetry from the beginning. All my books have been addressed to that soundingknowing. Even Iterations of the Diagonal and Dislocations in Crystal which were assembled from single poems or series of poems. With 22 Skidoo the book became the unit of composition, as I said, partly by chance, perhaps with a bit of fate thrown in.

At the time, I was primarily responsible in our family for ferrying the kids to their schools and their various activities. I spent a lot of time waiting for the piano lesson or the karate class to end. I had almost no time to sit at a desk and write. So one Saturday at a soccer lesson in the field house at the U of T Athletic Centre, I thought, why not write a book of poems centered on the old slang I was teaching my infant daughter at night before bed. Since there were 22 lines on my notebook page, I decided to do 22 poems of 22 lines each. Then I wrote down all 22 titles—yap, caboodle, golly, etc.. All I had to do then was fill in the poems wherever I was sitting waiting for the kids to come out. Thus 22 Skidoo was born. And SubTractions. It has been a very productive methodology for me, one I still follow to a large degree, even though the kids are now grown. I love titles. And I love the challenge of facing a title like “Myth, Gluten Free Pornography, and Your Health,” or “Axial Ordination: The Calculation of Sublation,” and then having to compose its poem. That’s really fun. And it’s conducive to the process of composition as steady work rather than what Jack Clarke called an irregular momentary incursion.

Q. With eleven trade collections under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: It has become more relaxed, less concerned with the cruelties of perfection, and more at home with its own stuttering forays beyond what it already knows. In that sense, I don’t see it headed anywhere. The question is where does it see me headed? My hope is that it will continue to unfold its surprises and tangled language into forms I didn’t see coming. I love being blindsided by poetry. That could be my epitaph: MB—Blindsided by Poetry. My current work, a book called The Book of Uncertain – A Hyperbiographical Users Manual, consists to 20 chapters (I have the titles!). I am just finishing up Chapters 8 & 9, which leaves 11 to go. Since I am 72 years old, finishing may take what time I have left on this plane. So I guess you could say it’s headed for the cliff like my heroes, Thelma and Louise.

Q: I’m curious about your interactions with Robert Duncan’s work. How has his writing influenced yours, if at all, and how did you and Victor Coleman end up co-editing his The H.D. Book? How did you approach editing such a hefty volume, especially as a pair?

I first came into Duncan’s work through Robin Blaser when I was a student at Simon Fraser University in 1967. Robin gave me the world, including Blake, H.D., Spicer, Williams, and Pound. And Olson. And of course Duncan. At that time Robin and Duncan were on the outs, but whatever was between them, Robin always expressed profound respect for Duncan and his work. He ends up as a Great Companion in The Holy Forest, along with Pindar and Dante. That’s impressive company. So I read with great interest and admiration The Opening of the Field and Bending the Bow. I was never moved to write like Duncan in the way I was by H.D., Williams and Spicer, but his thinking deeply influenced me. After various peregrinations, I went back to school in 1980 after a 10 year stint working in various industrial situations. I ended up in a course on contemporary poetry at UC Santa Cruz with Nathaniel Mackey who was very close to Duncan. I wrote a long essay for Nate on Eros and imagination in Duncan’s work which is when I became aware of The H.D. Book. I learned a ton doing that essay and began piecing together the scattered limbs of The H.D. Book, Duncan’s magnificent quest for a poetics through an intense, prolonged meditation on modernism.
I was supposed to edit that work after I completed my PhD. at Buffalo, but for several reasons it never happened. Later, after I moved back to Toronto in 1993, Victor Coleman and I decided to respond to the continued deferral of the publication of the book by posting a pirated edition on line. I had copies of all the little magazine publications from my stint in Buffalo. Victor, who is an excellent typist, transcribed them. We posted the book online attributed to Frontier Press, and anonymously mailed out 3.5” floppy disks to 30 or 40 poets we knew would keep spreading it around.

The original editor The H.D. Book for some reason couldn’t manage to supply an acceptable manuscript to UC Press. After three shots at it, UC took it away from him, and through a series of unexpected contingencies, eventually offered it to me. Since Vic had transcribed the whole thing, they were persuaded to include both of us as joint editors. We had photocopies of Duncan’s manuscripts with his handwritten changes. The editing was pretty uncomplicated. There was a bit of confusion at some points about which of several different manuscripts to use as copy text, but mostly Duncan had carefully indicated his intention. Vic and I spent a year reading the whole thing aloud to each other a couple of times, interpolating the various versions. Sometimes we’d go up to my cottage near Wiarton on southern Georgian Bay and spend three or four days doing that on the deck. Reading Duncan’s marvelous prose aloud in the presence of Georgian Bay . . . it was glorious.

Q: Did you see any shift in the ways in which you approached your own writing, given how deep you were delving into Duncan’s work? Did any poems emerge from this process of editing, reading and rereading?

A: More confirmation and challenge than any profound shift in approach. I have been close to Duncan’s work for a very long time so editing The H.D. Book wasn’t so much about being inspired, so to speak, as being reminded of my responsibility as a poet. What has always been significant for me is his understanding of poetry as responsible to what he calls What Is. Jack Clarke once told me if I wanted to write poetry I needed to go live in the Air Force Academy and understand what goes on there. Part pun, part metaphor, the challenge was to come into the power of a poetry that is beyond you but integral to the full complexity of the world. Knowing my history as a war resister, his point was that poetry you to move beyond the meagre limits of the self as bios rather than zoë, where bios is a recitation of the events of a life, where zoë is the time of the soul. The self as bios, he said, will only yield what he called antithetical systemic representation. I needed to fully engage with, to immerse myself in, that which I had opposed, or posed myself against. Instead of opposing it, poetry demands that you enter it and find a way to open the work to it. That’s Duncan’s challenge as well, his sense of responsibility, the ability to respond.

In these strange times, we find ourselves caught up in powerful historical currents that seem to continually tear us apart, polarize us into unresolvable warring camps. It’s a ferocious incursion of intense Typhonic energy, and the pressure is on us to hole up behind some impermeable moralist wall and duke it out with the enemy, to make identity – that unification process – the goal of poetry, and to mobilize it against antithetical identities. William Blake called that state Ulro and pictured it as a man and woman tied together back to back. Beyond that he saw two further states of being – three fold vision, Beulah, a “sexual” paradise of the visionary union of opposites in which identity gives way to what’s beyond it by embracing what it has excluded; and Jerusalem, or four fold vision, in which the full spiritual reality of all creation is apparent in every perception. Jack articulated that in terms of a poetics he called the strengthening method of world completion. That is Duncan’s assignment, as well: to never allow your poetry to lose sight of its responsibility to the forces of that larger field of What Is.

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

Good question.  I constantly read to feed my work, but it’s not so much a particular work as it is a writer. And there is no single writer I return to. It’s a bunch of them. Mostly it’s poetry and philosophy. Jean-Luc Nancy, Stanley Cavell, Isabel Stengers, Karen Barad, Giorgio Agamben, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are constants for me, stars in my internal sky. Then there are H.D., William Blake, Robert Duncan, Billie Chernicoff, Jack Spicer, Lissa Woslsak, Charles Olson, Jack Clarke, Gerrit Lansing . . . it’s hard to draw a line, actually, because picking up one thread leads to the whole poetic firmament coming in.

If you absolutely forced me to pick one from each group, I suppose it would be Emerson and Jack Clarke for exactly the opposite reasons. Emerson is the beginning of a mode of thinking that provokes and feeds into all the significant current thinking of our condition, including the Europeans via Nietzsche. The rich, multi-valenced complexity of his language and the extraordinary break he makes into what he calls the “ordinary” or “common” are openings that have yet to be fully grasped and embraced. At the other end, Jack Clarke’s work went about as far as you can go today. From Feathers to Iron remains the most significant work on poetics since Valery and takes Charles Olson’s breakthrough work further than anyone else has dared to imagine. As does his poetry which is a constant source of astonishment. I love Jack Spicer. He is a huge player in my imagination of what poetry can do. But he takes a turn with language that leads down a very dark hole that winds up with him as sacrificial victim to wild logos. Jack’s domesticity, like Emerson’s, saved him from that. He was a motherman, a nurturer, gentle but absolutely incisive. As Al Cook said, he took it as far beyond Olson as Olson took it beyond Pound. And that’s pretty much as far as we have got.