Monday, April 24, 2023

TtD supplement #237 : seven questions for Junie Désil

Junie Désil is a poet. Born of immigrant (Haitian) parents on the Traditional Territories of the Kanien’kehá:ka in the island known as Tiohtià:ke (Montréal). Junie has performed at various literary events and festivals. Her work has appeared in Room Magazine, PRISM International, The Capilano Review, CV2, G U E S T: A Journal of Guest Editors, and Capitalism Nature Socialism. Junie worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, on the unceded and Ancestral Lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh for many years. Junie’s debut poetry collection Eat Salt|Gaze at the Ocean (TalonBooks, 2020) was a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay poetry Prize

Her poem “Revolution” appears in the thirty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem ”Revolution.”

A: I wrote this poem in a moment of  funk I suppose. Between the Indigenous Blockades/Land Back movement, Climate change, the pandemic and the racial uprisings (George Floyd), defunding or abolishing the police – I really thought we were poised to have a revolution, general strikes, and people out in the streets. I realized that actually we aren’t necessarily comfortable with upending our current systems. Conversations with my parents for example revealed their apathy and disdain for challenging the status quo, and friends constantly asked “do you want a revolution”? That question in particular stung in the sense that many of us were saying “what about...?” to radical solutions and instead proposing middle-of-the-ground solutions. More truthfully it revealed that some us myself included are comfortable with “armchair revolution” saying the revolutionary incendiary words and statements, but then going about our lives in ways that many folks actually  on the streets fighting for their basics don't have the luxury of doing. I will always refer to Le Guin’s 1973 short story—The ones Who Walk Away From Omelas—this fictional town whose utopia is dependent on keeping a child in perpetual misery. As townsfolk become older and learn the truth of how their town’s utopia is maintained, their initial horror turns either into acquiescence of the status quo or walking away from the  town. I wonder when we’ll stop acquiescing or walking away and actually revolt and demand something better.

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

A: I would say this poem is my go to style in that it is a commentary, a complaint, a rant if you will. Where it differs is in its length (shorter) and in a couplet. I typically write poems run-on style with no real space to breathe – much like how my thought process works – prose-y sometimes. And it seems like most of my work involves referencing one or the other parent, and this is one of a few that references both. When I first started I always had something that referenced my mother. My current manuscript that I’m working on is more diaristic ( I think) and even more personal – still political though ( I hope)!

Q: What prompted this shift into, as you call it, a style more diaristic?

A: More courage? Perhaps? Settling into what it means to write about what’s important to me. I guess being ok with being a bit vulnerable. Only a little bit though! If I dwell too much on the potential for too much vulnerability I just become paralyzed. At the same time I am learning to just write and not self-edit or self-censure. For this manuscript I had also intended it to be literally diaristic, and follow the trajectory of what it was like the past few years struggling (like everyone else) with making sense of our world in a pandemic, making sense of all the domestic and global escalating conflicts while in the midst of experiencing what felt like my body and health betraying me. Suddenly I couldn’t burn the candles at both ends, but also I didn’t want to. I also struggled (still do) with the fact that it felt like I was abandoning a whole segment of a population BUT at the same time  reckoning with the fact that I don’t want to be paid to care and support folks made vulnerable, I never wanted to participate in the non-profit industrial complex, and the best thing (for me anyways) was to exit that and find other and more sustainable ways to provide care. Still figuring that out while I calm my nervous system!

Q: Have you any models for this new approach, or are you working more on intuition?

A: I think as writers we’re always influenced even subconsciously – I can’t say there is a model per se – and I know I’m not inventing anything new. I’m just doing what works for me. I haven’t been formally trained so I also feel that what may have been “in” or particular styles or models have already been done, and I’m just stumbling on them as I settle more into the business of writing, and as I find more time to savour reading.

That said, I admire Mercedes Eng’s vulnerability especially when she’s reading at public events. I also recently read a poem called “Fear” by American poet Raymond Carver, and then myself and other writers in workshop engaged in an exercise listing our fears. I noticed that my fears have shifted with my recent move and have allowed me to look at those things if not more dispassionately at least with a fresher perspective,and more (self) compassion. I definitely, definitely work with intuition or something. I go somewhere else it seems (!) when I really get into putting words on the page – sometimes I don’t recognize my own words – did I write that? is a frequent question I ask myself hahaha. Intuition is my superpower.

Q: With a published full-length debut and your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think that one way I’ve developed is more of a willingness to experiment with forms. I’m still a bit reluctant but the idea is not so daunting. I'm liking the idea more and more of a container for “working the page” I’m guessing my reluctance is because I haven’t been formally taught forms. I’m leaning into the idea for now that writing is what I want to do, and that provides a focus if you will, but I’m taking my time. In terms of where I see my work headed, I don’t know but I am most excited about “maturing” and leaning into the craft and discipline of writing and being curious about where I go with it!

Q: Part of what impressed me so much about your full-length debut was the way in which you managed to stitch together a wide array of fragments into a much larger tapestry. Did the form for that project come together organically, or had you a larger structure in mind? How did such a project begin?

A: I definitely relied on intuition to put this together. I didn’t have a sense of the larger structure until I got deep into the manuscript. I was panicking at first that the pieces didn’t connect but then I ended up printing what I had and taping them to a window, moving them around and cutting pieces until I could see a bit of a pattern and flow. Then I started “adding” pieces. Other poems triggered a research bug, so that I could add or subtract pieces. Once it felt like it had a shape, I decided to have three sections. The sections kind of mirrored the journey of how I ended up in Vancouver, but also the larger transatlantic journey of how enslaved folks ended up in the Americas. Largely because it was intuitive, it was such a treat to hear how others read and experience the manuscript. A few folks described it as polyphonic, multi-layered – lots going on.

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

A: I always return to Dionne Brand – she’s my first! – and Claudia Rankine. Brandon Wint is newer and I have been re-reading Divine Animal – the musicality and rhythm and each line just hits you! (I also feel like the trouble with this question is that I feel like I am leaving people out!) I also love going down research rabbit holes and love reading academic articles, or science-y type things.

I just learned that if I’m in a block/funk it makes sense for me to just lean into it and read without forcing things. AND reading quirky or unusual or not my usual go -to is better for me. I recently discovered Gary Barwin’s For It Is a Pleasure and Surprise to Breathe. I had kind of dismissed it in the sense that it was in the to-be-read-at-some-point-pile. Anyway I decided I’m going to pick it up and read it. It just rattled my brain enough to get me out of the writing block. It was quirky, cerebral, with moments of surprise tenderness. Generally though I turn to fiction and again that’s Dionne Brand, Edwidge Danticat ( if I feel a vague tugging for “home”).

I also just read Suzette Mayr’s The Sleeping Car Porter and it was another book that left me shook! I couldn’t get enough. Finally and funnily enough recently (because of my move to an off-grid, remote island), someone recommended I read My Year in Provence ( and this is my year of saying YES to all the things), so I did with some minor reservations, and well I did enjoy it and saw the similarities, and was able to reframe my move.

All this to say that I’m becoming more open to reading all the things, or rather going back to my love of extensive reading without an agenda. I’m finding that reading for pleasure without guilt and without a restriction to genre is much more generative for me. I like the surprise of being ....surprised, moved, challenged. And lastly since I’m going on and on here...there are four writers I follow on social media, 3 are by extension of knowing and following American writer Steven Dunn. He has the the most interesting posts about everything and anything that make you laugh, but he also has great posts that make you think. Anyway his three other friends, Said Shaiye, Jay Halsey, and Jay’s partner Hillary Leftwich all have come out with books recently. But the point of this is that their posts are some of the most reflective thought- provoking posts and musings about life, the writerly life, community and just challenges. I've found myself having to ask them if I can use a quote or two for my work projects.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Touch the Donkey : thirty-seventh issue,

The thirty-seventh issue is now available, with new poems by Micah Ballard, Robert Hogg, Ben Meyerson, Leigh Chadwick, Junie Désil, Devon Rae, kevin mcpherson eckhoff and Kimberly Dyck, Benjamin Niespodziany and Barbara Tomash.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). But today I‘d like to talk to you about a pleasant tasting candy that actually cleans and straightens your teeth.