Friday, February 25, 2022

TtD supplement #209 : seven questions for Nate Logan

Nate Logan is the author of Small Town (The Magnificent Field, 2021), Inside the Golden Days of Missing You (Magic Helicopter Press, 2019) and Apricot (above/ground press, 2022). He teaches at Franklin College and Marian University.

His poems “I Can Feel Evil Creeping In,” “Self-Portrait at 37” and “Arbor Day” appear in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “I Can Feel Evil Creeping In,” “Self-Portrait at 37” and “Arbor Day.”

A: I don’t know much, but I’ll tell you what I do know.

“I Can Feel Evil Creeping In”: This poem is for my friend and fellow poet, Jessie Janeshek. While I borrowed the title from a song, something is usually creeping in in Jessie’s poems, which I enjoy. “James Dean” was on the cover of her last chapbook, Channel U, and is one of the few famous Hoosiers who isn’t embarrassing.

“Self-Portrait at 37”: I was thinking of David Berman’s “Self-Portrait at 28” when I wrote this.

“Arbor Day”: To my knowledge no one has written a poem about Arbor Day, so I thought I’d be the first. Thanksgiving, Christmas...these days have enough.

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

A: In terms of form I’d say they’re right in line. I’ve been in a prose poem mode for a little over a year now.

Q: What prompted you into this stretch of the prose poem? And what is it about the form that appeals? What do you feel the prose poem provides or allows that might not be possible otherwise?

A: I’d been writing prose poems since graduate school, but only occasionally. Post the publication of my first book, I noticed that I’d written a handful of prose poems that were yet to be collected. I read some classics in the genre (e.g. Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End) and consciously decided to attempt to write enough of them for another manuscript (which I have!). It was also during this time I was introduced to the work of Lesle Lewis, which has nudged me into a longer term relationship with the form than I initially planned. I may never go back.

A lot of my feelings on the prose poem can be summed up in this quote by James Tate:

“The prose poem has its own means of seduction. For one thing, the deceptively simple packaging: the paragraph. People generally do not run for cover when confronted with a paragraph or two. The paragraph says to them: I won’t take much of your time, and, if you don’t mind me saying so, I am not known to be arcane, obtuse, precious, or high-fallutin’. Come on in...”

Q: Is there a difference in the way you approach the prose poem against any other particular form? What is it that you think the form provides?

A: I’d say the only difference is that I follow all the rules: the prose poem is one paragraph (or more) composed of complete sentences. I bend with other forms. For example, I’d keep a sonnet at 14 lines, but ditch the iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme.

As for what the form provides, I think the prose poem expands the possibilities of what poetry can be. And because its hallmark is forgetting the tool of line break in the garage, it will always be inherently subversive, which surely appeals to the poetically-inclined.

Q: With a handful of published poetry chapbooks and a trade collection under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think the only thing I can say for sure is that the poems are “better,” more complete, require less revision, etc. When I first started writing seriously, I often shoehorned my waking life into the work; my poems started getting better after I cut that stuff out.

I see more prose poems in the future. Maybe I’ll try a long one.

Q: Have you any particular models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting lately, whether specific authors or works?

A: Lately, I’ve been returning to Lesle Lewis and James Tate. I particularly love the surprise, the jumps that happen from sentence to sentence in Lewis’s poetry. And the narrative impulse in Tate’s prose poems, always charming, is something I usually find myself leaning toward.

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

A: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but reading James Tate always puts some zip in my step (Distance from Loved Ones is a favorite). Michael Earl Craig’s work I’ve loved since graduate school and keep revisiting. Every autumn I reread Joy Williams (the season just feels appropriate). If I ever run for election, making Jennifer L. Knox’s “Hot Ass Poem” required reading will be my first campaign promise.

Monday, February 14, 2022

TtD supplement #208 : seven questions for Lillian Nećakov

Lillian Nećakov is the author of six books of poetry, numerous chapbooks, broadsides and leaflets. Her new book il virus was published in April 2021 by Anvil Press (A Feed Dog Book). In 2016, her chapbook The Lake Contains an Emergency Room was shortlisted for bpNichol chapbook award. During the 1980s she ran a micro press called “The Surrealist Poets Gardening Association” and sold her books on Toronto’s Yonge Street. She ran the Boneshaker Reading series from 2010-2020. She lives in Toronto and just might be working on a new book.

Her poems “How to Walk a Dog,” “Grocery Shopping on Compassion Road,” “Muskoka Weekly” and “About a Book” appear in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “How to Walk a Dog,” “Grocery Shopping on Compassion Road,” “Muskoka Weekly” and “About a Book.”

A: The first 3 poems are part of a series I have been working on. I started with this constraint; every poem had to respond to or use as its catalyst a “How To…” manual. For example I wrote “How to Walk a Dog” after “How to Solve Physics Problems”, “Grocery Shopping… after “How to be Compassionate” and “Muskoka Weekly” after “How to Be a Canadian”.

I love these kinds of challenges. I love moving outside my immediate self, looking at things from say, a scientific point of view and then bringing it back to a particular moment or event that is relevant to me. When I was writing “How to Walk a Dog”, I was thinking how do I reconcile instantaneous velocity with walking my dog, how does this formula pertain to me, in this specific moment in time?

“About a Book” was written after I went to a dear friend’s book launch. A sentimental poem about missing someone with a bit of nostalgia mixed in.  

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

A: I think the difference is in the process. These pieces (excluding “About a Book”) were very deliberate, they all had a similar starting point and intent. It took me much longer to work on these pieces, since I was relying on found material (the “How To” books).  I would search out books from the public library and in some cases had to wait for the books to arrive at my local library branch. Sometimes I didn’t relate to the books, or they weren't what I thought they’d be, or they might be too technical or too flippant. So the process was very different from how I normally work.

In terms of how these pieces compare in theme to my other current work, they do overlap somewhat. Even though I was sometimes working in response to texts that were outside my field of interest or didn’t “fit” with what I am usually drawn to, I somehow managed to write my way back to myself. If that makes sense?

Q: Is “intent:” a common starting-point for how your poems emerge? How does a poem, or grouping of poems, begin?

A: No, most times it is not. More often than not, for me, a poem begins with a headline, a scene in a film, a broken robin’s egg, a visit to the emergency room with one of my kids, a scent, a snippet of overheard conversation, a memory, a walk with my dog, a nightmare, a death, a birth, anything really. What I am most excited about is how/where the poem ends. Where you begin and where you end are often two very different places. The big themes, if you want to call them that, are always there, in your subconscious, and even though you begin with a line about a magnolia tree or your son’s broken clavicle, that’s not what the poem is ultimately about, that’s not where you end up. I don’t usually sit down and think, okay, today I’m going to write a piece about climate change, or my father’s funeral. Those things might become woven into the landscape of the poem as I write. The journey is what I find so satisfying and sometimes I end up surprising myself.

Q: With six published collections and numerous chapbooks under your belt, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I definitely feel that I have a much wider lens and I don’t take myself as seriously. Not that I don’t take my work seriously, I’m just no longer that brooding, angst-ridden young poet. I can approach my work with a sense of humor and move past my own ego. The Chilean poet Nicanor Parra said, “it’s when you lose your sense of humor that you begin to reach for your pistol”. As a result, I think my work is more expansive, much deeper and hopefully more accessible.

I’ve done a lot more collaborative writing in the last few years which has included quite a bit of visual stuff. That has really opened a lot of doors for me and given me confidence to experiment more. Now, when I write, I feel like I’m creating community, I’m not writing in a vacuum. I hope I’m headed in the right direction!

Q: What kinds of collaborations have you been engaged in?

A: Prior to the pandemic, Jim Smith, Nicholas Power and I would try and get together about every 2 months or so and spend the afternoon writing together. We would use found material in both English and other languages (print, sound, visual) as a starting point and just go from there.

Most recently, Gary Barwin and I worked on a collaborative poem, duck eats yeast, quacks, explodes; man loses eye that turned into a book which Guernica is publishing in 2022. It was so much fun to work on and it took me on a wild literary journey.

Here is a short synopsis of the book:
“duck eats yeast, quacks, explodes; man loses eye is a book that traverses the 'big' questions through literary shenanigans, exploding ducks and mathematical equations. It celebrates the strange and surprising beauty of language and thinking”.
Q: You referenced this a bit earlier, but how has your collaborative work affected the ways in which you approach your solo work?

A: There is definitely a lot less self-doubt. A shift occurs when you let in other voices, boundaries are expanded, you start to work across differences in language, vocabulary, and theme and that extends to solo writing. There is always that sense that I am part of something bigger and that is very comforting.

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

A: I go through different phases. Currently I am reading Marieke Lucas Rujneveld, Ocean Vuong, Joy Harjo and Juan Felipe Herrera. I always return to Charles Olson, Charles Simic and Octavio Paz.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

TtD supplement #207 : seven questions for Carrie Hunter

Carrie Hunter received her MFA/MA in the Poetics program at New College of California, was on the editorial board of Black Radish Books, and for 11 years, edited the chapbook press, ypolita press. She has published around 15 chapbooks and has two books out with Black Radish Books, The Incompossible and Orphan Machines, and a third full length, Vibratory Milieu, out with Nightboat Books. She lives in San Francisco and teaches ESL.

Her poems “The Chorus of Condemnatory Shrieks from the Entourage,” “Less Hygiene, But More Spirit,” “Back to the Dollhouse,” “Primness of Outline,” “And the Woman with Orange Pink Hair Stood Silently By” and “The Pugilists Have Returned to Their Corners” appear in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “The Chorus of Condemnatory Shrieks from the Entourage,” “Less Hygiene, But More Spirit,” “Back to the Dollhouse,” “Primness of Outline,” “And the Woman with Orange Pink Hair Stood Silently By” and “The Pugilists Have Returned to Their Corners.”

A: These poems are all from a series based on reading and engaging with John Ashbery’s Flowchart, sometimes analyzing how one writes such a long extended poem, and sometimes just responding to his lines. The titles of these poems are all lines from Ashbery. Later, I started collaging in lines from Marthe Reed’s posthumously published Ark Hive, which is such a great ecopoetic-focused memoir. Mixing in Marthe Reed’s lines with writing on Ashbery started when some of us did a Dusie chapbook exchange in honor of Marthe Reed, which was read at the New Orleans Poetry Festival in 2019.  This chapbook, called The Hyperobjective Marthe Reed, used words and lines from her essay “‘Somewhere Inbetween’: Speaking-Through Contiguity” from the book she co-edited with Linda Russo called Counter-Desecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene. After that chapbook was done, I continued on, using lines from Ark Hive (this section is where the poems in Touch the Donkey come from), and which will comprise a second chapbook from the series, called All Gabled Roofs Will Fall, forthcoming from Smooth Friend press in the distant or near future.

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

A: These pieces are closer in form to the poems in my Black Radish Book Orphan Machines, which used a more abstract form, whereas other poems I’ve been writing lately are more accessible, and quirky maybe. The other project I’ve been doing is reading random news sources or Twitter late at night, and writing one line responses (in some cases you might call it subtweeting) and then pasting the lines into prose poems. They are sometimes funny and definitely more accessible, with a lot of references to COVID and the new language that’s evolved due to the pandemic. They may look and feel more like my other Black Radish Book project The Incompossible, which were all prose poems as well. I’ve been noticing as I age, that my writing has different modes that are starting to repeat. I guess my third mode might be my Vibratory Milieu mode (out with Nightboat Books) which is a long-form collage piece. I’m starting to work on another long collage project, but it is very new, and I’m not sure how it will evolve.

Q: Given the structural echoes you are beginning to see in your book-length projects, have you begun to consider your work as a series of discrete and distinct threads, a sequence of self-contained projects, or as a singular, ongoing project?

A: I don’t think they are self-contained as I’m always writing through different projects, yet not really singular since there are different modes. The idea of discrete and distinct threads appeals though. Malcolm Curtis asked a similar question in an interview for his online journal talking about strawberries all of the time, and I wrote something like I always see my poetry projects as really different, but others have told me that they see all my projects to be in a very distinctive voice.

Q: With three full-length collections and over a dozen chapbooks published-to-date, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: It took quite a while to figure out my voice and how to use it better as a poet, but now I feel like it is time to go in a new direction, whatever that might be. I’ve been thinking about evolving my poetry collage style into a paragraph collage style, since all my friends are writing prose now, yet prose is not at all natural to me. On the other hand, to further refine and go deeper into my style, and just watching and observing how it naturally develops over time is also appealing. My favorite thing about writing poetry is the surprise of seeing what comes and what evolves and changes form over time.

Q: What is it about the collage style that appeals? What do you feel is possible through working collage that might not be possible otherwise?

A: I think it has worked well with my particular daydreamy ADD brain. Even when I’m writing in a journal just for myself, sentence to sentence, it is not a straight narrative, it jumps around, one sentence will be completely unrelated to the previous sentence. So the collage technique works really well for me. I’m unsure if this poetic technique has changed the way I think, or if I've always been this way, and it just finally matched up. It seems to me a truer picture of reality, of my reality, and so working with collage makes what is reality to me more visible.

Q: I’m curious about your interest in John Ashbery’s work generally, and his Flowchart specifically. What is it that first prompted you to engage with Ashbery’s work at all, and this particular project, and in such a way? And what do you feel you’ve discovered, if at all, about either Ashbery’s work or your own through the process?

A: For a while, I was doing reading/writing projects that entailed writing to/from/around books that I wanted to read, as a way of reading them. I started a trilogy Tumblr blog in order to read The Divine Comedy (although yet unfinished). After that I started writing around Ashbery’s Flowchart as a way of reading it. As an “experimental” poet, I was drawn to the way that Ashbery was “experimental,” yet accepted in the mainstream, which most of us are not.

What I love the most about Ashbery is the difficult, abstract quality of a lot of his work, and I love that he was possibly a nonlinear thinker like I am, which was largely why I wanted to read Flowchart. As I’ve read through Flowchart though, I’ve started liking him a bit less, not because of his poetry, which I love, but I started feeling less and less connected to him as a person/personality. I love him for his difficulty, as I said above, but he was in a much more privileged position in the world than I am, quite middle-class bourgeois, which, although I am white, as an adjunct and a woman (and not famous), I don’t quite occupy or fit into the same place in the world that he did. I realize it was a different era when he was writing, but it is also simultaneously surprising that he was so conservative in a certain way that comes across in the poetry. He also became something of a more bourgeois gatekeeper type at some point, which I can’t imagine happening in my own life. “Gatekeeper kept out by the gatekeeper.”* These sorts of privileged experiences of his also lends a sort of detached air. “If you want to know Ashbery’s solution to all your pain,/ it is ‘atmospheres and easy repose.’”*

There is also a point in reading Ashbery, when one comes to see his “difficulty” as really just a trick, and not actually difficult at all. I think I also got this idea from reading a biography of his early life (Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best) in which he's described as writing in journals, but writing everything in code, to keep the fact that he was gay hidden from his mother, who he knew was reading his journals! “All he’s doing is obscuring who and what he’s talking about. It’s not actually difficult if those subjects were there, so his difficulty is just a trick.”* His patriarchal ongoingness also started to bother me, as a sort of literary manspreading, yet I am also writing an ongoingness in response, and my manuscript is now over 150 pages! But in response to that aversion of mine, I have started inserting quotes from women poets, Marthe Reed, Leslie Scalapino, and Lyn Hejinian.

So the project has become somewhat arbitrarily legible, much like I feel erasure projects become, where one wonders if the poet is erasing the author because they love them or because they hate them, and maybe it's a little bit of both.
* quotes from my still untitled long poem on and after Ashbery’s Flowchart.
Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I’m going through something where I’m no longer motivated to read just for the sake of keeping up with the new, the old, and the canonical, but inspired by what you said, to reenergize myself through returning to works I’ve loved in the past. I’m thinking of Lisa Robertson, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Lyn Hejininan, Leslie Scalapino, kari edwards, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Brenda Hillman, Rachel Blau Duplessis, Alice Notley, H.D., Emily Dickinson, Oppen, Joyce, and Orwell.