Friday, August 25, 2023

TtD supplement #244 : seven questions for kevin mcpherson eckhoff and Kimberley Dyck

Kimberley Dyck likes to write, but is mostly mumming and experiencing the world as pooemful. This is her first publication! Originally from te motu o aotea; a small island in nz; she now lives in the okanagan valley, bc.

kevin mcpherson eckhoff has written and published some stuff, but mostly he reads other people’s books to his 2 boyos and teaches mopes and milks goats. Oh, and he has a very quote-comedy-unquote album called Joke Killer.

Their collaborative poems “HOW TO WRITE A POEM” and “TO WOO TEARS” appear in the thirty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “HOW TO WRITE A POEM” and “TO WOO TEARS.”

K2: “How to write a poem” and “to woo tears” are four-eye poems about being the giver and also the receiver, taking life’s sadness and wantingness and painting a wash of love over ideas of obedience and other such god and parent complexities. Our collaboration was a kevinsight proposed shortly after Kimberlent him the writings of Richard Rohr, whose work felt like fresh, inspired, heart-harmonizing interpretations of scripture. For several months we each wrote individual poems reflecting on the themes of Rohr's weekly words, and then took turns mashing our lines together! In the making of each these mix-ups, there are a total of 3 poems: his and hers, and then the offspring, of course!

Q: How do these poems compare with the individual projects or poems you’ve each been working on lately?

K2: My individual poems oh and I’m writing are mostly sad and lonely lustrous subtropical salt caked verses at the moment in my head while being inundated, while these are happy and hopeful, if not explicitly, then implicitly by relatives and friends in post-covid/, by the fact of their collaborative Oh-my-guts spirit! /-together-again/ too many things /-frenzy/: sketches, screenplays, short fiction experiments, translations, buttfaces!

Q: What first prompted the collaborations between the two of you? Is this all you’ve done so far, or have there and/or will there be further?

K2: This series of collaborations was prompted by a bouncy kind of belief relief in the joy-power of sharing word energies that rough and tumble the mix of egoic stoic and evolving thoughts within the immanence of this god-shaped not-hole that we are. Yes and we don’t know! Yes and we don't know!

Q: Were there any models for this particular collaboration? How did you decide on approach or form?

K2: Kimberley, did you have any particular models for this collaboration?

Hmmm. Not consciously, but I retrospectively see the model of the risen Christ embedded in creation… As longshore currents travel, they pick up sediment and transport it down the beach in a process known as longshore drift. Longshore drift can form long, narrow outcroppings of land called spits, as well as barrier islands, long islands located parallel to the coast. Barrier islands constantly change as longshore currents keep picking up, moving and redepositing sand. I'm a bit of a drifter… And you, Kevin, what patterns, paths, pals inspired you to collect words in this collab?

Probably the main patterns/paths for this collab would be a junk drawer of disconnected or one-off poems done with writer-friends like Jake Kennedy and Jonathan Ball, although none had followed quite the same process. There’s a certain dialogic energy with these, and sometimes a kind of overlapping and quilting of our two voices into one. This nature might be more obvious in pieces other than these two in TtD. In some ways, the poems are extensions of our text-based exchanges about spirituality and everyday life, and as such, Kimberley, you were a main source of inspiration through your invitation to share Rohr’s meditations with me, through your openness to share your own work, and through your willingness to explore organic ways of wording together! (Dammit, I just read yours now and it’s so much better than mine… Now i have to rewrite mine)

(Awww no it isn't!) I also wanted to add you as a model or inspiration because of your can-do candid creative initiative and other-empowerment in suggesting that we write out of our responses to weekly readings. That was kindling! So, Kevin next question, how did you decide on approach or form?

(You go first this time! I won't read your response before I respond. Also I think we should keep all the brackets and dammits ;)

Did I decide?! Died side I’d? Sighed eye dye? We deed seed? Was it I that proposed the collab and proposed approach? For my own poems, I couldn’t always resist my typical loopy language goofs, but also strove for a kind kind of sincerity—not always with consistent results! There was the urge to honour the original inciting texts and find resonance in my own beliefs and daily livings. I suppose these pieces are like a triple collab, responding initially to Rohr’s words, then to one another’s: a three-ingredient potato salad! As for the poem mashing, how did we decide to take turns head cheffing them? Not sure I had any premeditated forms… it was a lot of mix and taste and remix, bake and taste and, if bitter or off, start over! How’d I land on this stupid cooking metaphor?! And Kimbers, how form or approach was your decide on and what?!

(Whoops I accidentally skimmed your answer and then waited till I forgot before cooking up my own response). My side lacked decisive. Cautiously meddling pretty word arrangements produced a short- and long-stemmed chop and chunky bouquet. Lightly and with impulse and feeling, not with a lot of thought. Thought produced some remixes from the kevin side that I find most lovely and reading through the collection again I hope to dissect as darlingly my own writing as a practice I can attribute to what I learned from our collaboration. Flowers and food are great metaphors... we keep very busy arranging and mixing in life with the best petals and produce, we are so blessed to do so.

Q: Are the formal strategies and conversations shifting throughout the process of attempting a manuscript? How are you seeing the poems impacting each other, if at all?

K2: Formalities and convos for this project have stalled while other life things get sorted. My google docs has gone into the cloud, and so without looking back at the poems to remember fully I'd say they impacted each other just as we as a creative triad did; never running out of material or words to add or repeat. There is repetition in the poems as in the meditations for as culture shifts, bodies age, and our worlds change, life still revolves on its axis, the one constant: love, which emits waves so that even though we cycle in the same space not one cycle is the same. We still write about the centre, nature sings about it and seekers still find it. That was me kimberley; kevin do you have anything to add?

I second all the what you said! I’m not sure we’ve gotten to a point where the poems lucidly envision an overall manuscript yet, although the potential seems clear given the premise and practice. I’m sure the strategies of process and form will shift in ways that organically evolve and inform new poems—I just suspect we’re not deep enough into the project to recognize these shifts. Or perhaps such manoeuvres are subtler and more difficult to perceive than what feel like the larger, more obvious ones inspired by constant shifts in our inner and outer worlds: changing seasons, family dynamics, cultural happenings, job demands, communitying, our understandings of our faiths, etc. I appreciate your words like “axis” and “waves” and “cycle” and “centre”… they make me think of a solar system with all of these outer elements as planets and moons and comets, and unseen inner forces like gravities, UV light, and cosmic rays, and at our core is this sun, a belief in god as love that powers everything, but even that is hurtling through space at a crazy velocity on its own trajectory to who knows where. And our poems are what happens when our solar systems intersect, the overlapping of atmospheres, confluence of electromagnetic radiation, the collision of asteroids. Just please don’t ask how our newly confirmed alien friends factor into this silly analogy!

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

K2: Kai pai! You start these ones Kevin; maybe aliens will somehow inform your answer to this next set of questions ;)

Okay! I’m a bad reader. Horrible. My reading practice is lazy and random and embarrassing… I only get to a few books each year—contending with endless essays during the academic year kinda burns me out… patheticsadface emoji. But I love reading to my boys! Axe Cop, Lord of the Rings, Dr Seuss, Bone, Amulet, anything Star Wars… but there’s also some aspect of performance there (i.e. doing character voices) which changes the reading action for me, makes it more enticing and rewarding, as does relishing the boys’ reactions to plot twists and tensions. Also, attending readings generally energizes my work more than reading books… perhaps my drive is fuelled by community? I recently read and loved Lizard Telepathy, Fox Telepathy by Yoshinori Henguchi, and some of my perennial return-to-ers include Dianne Williams and Lisa Robertson and bpNichol and Flarfers and Queneau…

(I don't know if I'll get to this quickly :) but I will!)

(No rush ever! Enjoy your folks!)

I read on the toilet or holding a book in one hand and a hose in the other; but rarely am I sitting or watering for long. At the moment I have a few books on hand from authors who share the same landscape as me, and I keep coming back to these because I love this place I call home now:
“Called here by some other beat
in my blood
by blue sky & turquoise”
~Michelle Doege
And I love to hear “chocolate lilies, shooting stars, columbine, and the oh so delicate calipso orchid” (Virginia Dansereau) as if they are friends we have in common.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

TtD supplement #243 : seven questions for Monty Reid

Monty Reid is an Ottawa poet and gardener. Author of a dozen poetry collections and many chapbooks (including 5 from above/ground), his latest book, The Lockdown Elegies, will appear this fall.  

A cluster of poems from “The Lockdown Elegies” appear in the thirty-eighth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “The Lockdown Elegies.”

A: The Lockdown Elegies is a sequence of poems that is either too early or too late, a farewell to something that hasn’t disappeared yet, a premature consolation or a belated recognition. Fragmentary, slightly aphoristic, sometimes funny and sometimes scared, the poems address the stresses, the isolation and the contradictory responses in evidence to the ongoing pandemic. They try, repeatedly, to pretend it’s over.

The entire ms is indeed an elegy, for my father-in-law Jack Hill who passed away during the second lockdown. He didn’t have Covid, but the virus certainly complicated his last days. Scattered throughout the ms are short poems dedicated to other friends who have died during this period. The overall tone is subdued, but not bleak. The opportunity for quiet humour is frequent, whether it be a quick celebration of toilet paper or sex on zoom. The poems are deliberately short, disarmingly straightforward, and tenacious in their hold on the world.

While contemporary events aren’t front and centre in the poems, they contribute to the background anxiety, whether it be climate-change-driven forest fires, horrific residential school discoveries, shortages real and imagined, mask anxiety, anti-vax campaigners, etc. The virus itself doesn’t make much of an appearance in the poems, altho it too is clearly airborne around the edges. What is at the heart of the work is the sense of loss, but also a search for the conditions that make grace possible

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

A: This gathering of poems, all very short, respond to a specific situation, a situation shared, at least in part, by most Canadians. The thematic linkage is not unusual for my work, but the focus on something so public and politicized is a bit different. Taken together, they don't constitute a long poem – they lack the necessary attention span, and one of the things I lost during the pandemic was the ability to pay attention to much of anything for very long. So these are the fragments that remain. You can see the poems looking around for some scaffolding to enable coherence, whether it be dreams or prayers or govt policy, but none of it’s convincing. All you’re left with is the people you love. I think this book is more desperate than my other recent work.

Q: While you’ve worked intermittently on book-length works across your writing life, it would seem your past decade-plus of work has been far more focused on these larger projects, from this forthcoming work to your lengthy poem on espionage to “Host,” a project I recall hearing you read during the mid-aughts at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Has you been aware of a shift, or is this simply the way you’ve always worked?

A: Now that I think about it, most of my books, going back to the 1970s, are groups of interconnected poems. Karst Means Stone grew out of my grandfather's rather spotty memoirs, The Life of Ryley was about life in a small Alberta town and The Alternate Guide grew out of a natural history project I was working on for the provincial museum In Edmonton. Most of the others (Dog Sleeps, Garden, Meditatio Placentae, etc) are gatherings of less-than-book-length sequences. Collections of short, unlinked poems are fairly rare in my published work. Maybe the best example would be These Lawns. So that compulsion has been pretty consistent for a long time now. But what I notice has changed is the scale of the projects. There are 365 espionage poems. The parasite project (Host) keeps expanding as new and fascinating parasite species are described. Recently, I’ve been trying to curtail this tendency by writing short poems (haiku-length) and shorter poems (haiku-like, but missing a syllable) but usually this results in the combination of the short pieces into much longer chains. I think I’m doomed.

Q: What is it about the linked sequence or book-length project that appeals? What is it that you feel the structure allows that might not be possible otherwise?

A: Here are some things that make it attractive:

1. carrying capacity – it can be a poem with history in it, a la Pound or Brand or many others, but it can also accommodate dreams and memories and music and documentation and whatever else you might need. It gives one room to develop a thought, or to let your mind wander. Sometimes that can result in a tiresome pastiche, but sometimes you get a brilliant new recipe.
2. coherence, but not too much of it – most of my favorite long poems – like Seed Catalogue (Kroetsch) or Naked Poems (Webb) or, more recently, Hannah Sullivan’s Three Poems or Laura Walker’s Psalmbook – tend to be fairly focused, but I also like the sprawl of David Antin’s talking poems and the meander of The Martyrology. While there is probably a narrative impulse at play in most long poems, it’s frequently disrupted and detourned, and sometimes that’s where the most interesting poetry occurs. And in the pandemic, everybody;s narrative got a bit messed up

3. persistence over time – lyric poems traditionally step out of time, but long poems step right into it. Their duration is the point, the ending is deferred, and you have to stick with it to get to the best parts. So they require a certain amount of patience, which is an undervalued virtue in the twitterverse. And there’s Bob Kroestch’s famous ‘delay’, crucial in both love-making and in poetry.

Q: With over a dozen collections going back to the 1970s, including a selected with Anansi in the 1990s, how else do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: While I do appreciate whatever attention my work attracts, I do understand that it situates just a little off to the side of the main streams of Cdn poetry. I’m ok with that, and it leaves me with room to work on material that doesn’t always generate clicks but may have huge impact in other contexts – like espionage in Canada, or cell biology. But to tell the truth, I have no clue where my work is headed.

Q: I’ve long considered that Disappointment Island (2006) was a geographically-between collection, almost untethered, given how deeply everything prior to that was bound to Alberta. Your collections since have been linked to other considerations, whether geography or otherwise, from Luskville, Quebec to your Beacon Hill backyard garden, and into notions of, as you say, “espionage in Canada, or cell biology.” How do you see your work in terms of geography, or even those shifts through and beyond specific sites?

A: I think you’re right about Disappointment Island as a transitional book, but Karst Means Stone (1979) was definitely a Saskatchewan book (although Anne Szumigalski was soon to advise me, rather primly, I couldn’t be a Saskatchewan writer because I’d “reneged in my soul”) and all those Alberta books were also linked to other considerations, from birds (The Dream of Snowy Owls, 1983) to map-making (The Alternate Guide,1985) to Burgess Shale fossils (Flat Side, 1998).  So geography is certainly a factor, but never the exclusive factor. And while I’ve always been interested in geography at a macro level (as in continental drift, ice-free corridors, sea level changes, etc), I live at the local level, house and garden and playground, and that’s what I tend to write about. So the espionage poems came about because Canada’s spy agencies are housed two blocks away from me and I see them everyday, and the parasite interest grew out of my work with natural history collections. In my poems, I find that attention to the local is what makes the larger interests/issues possible, and there is often great danger and misadventure when the larger issues overwhelm the local, inescapable as that sometimes is.

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

A: For long-term sustenance – Phyllis Webb, Yehuda Amichai

For short-term recharge – Lisa Robertson, earlier Don McKay

Current - Jorie Graham

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

TtD supplement #242 : seven questions for Michael Betancourt

Michael Betancourt’s work with asemic poetry has been published in Die Lerre Mitte, aurapoesiavisual, and Utsanga. He is also a pioneer of “Glitch Art” who began glitching in 1990 who has made visually seductive movies and statics that bring the visionary tradition into the present, setting the stage for the contemporary mania for digital materiality. His diverse practice is unified by a consistent concern for the poetic potential of the overlooked and neglected possibilities of errors and mistakes in recognition, which equally informs his approach to asemic poetry and media art. By emphasizing the central role of audience perception, his aesthetics encourages the viewer to find poetic meaning in their everyday life. He is a board member of the Art of Light Organization.

His visual sequence “Recursive Glyphs” appears in the thirty-eighth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the visual sequence “Recursive Glyphs.”

A: My work with Typoetry tends to be formal, concerned with questions of reading and recognition—even when it's expressive and evocative. The Recursive Glyphs are a series of typoems made with a very restricted set of requirements: each is composed from only four letters in no more than four typefaces, which are then collaged and arranged. Glyphs are a common element of computer interfaces, but they are typically automatically generated, serving as visual icons. Because any attempt to read mine creates weird loops of mis/recognition, they’re “recursive”—they can only refer to themselves, always pointing back to their own arrangement, rather than to anything else. At the same time, since these typoems were created to have an iconic character, giving this series that title seemed appropriate.

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

A: These are typical of my work right now. It’s a moving target. New ideas change my approach, which then makes more new ideas, changing things still more. (And thus recursive!) These are, in a sense, challenge works: self imposed restrictions that become a big part of how the piece comes together. Working with only four letters was surprisingly easy, but avoiding familiar or recognizable words in selecting the letters quickly become important so I wouldn't think too much about their meaning as words. That made the play of suggested words and letterforms easier to embrace. Nothing definitive ever really emerges, but that's by design.

Q: What first prompted you to work on visual poetry as a form? How did you get here?

A: When I started in the 1990s, my typoems weren’t something I was taking seriously, and I rarely (if ever) saved the things I was making. They were a way of playing with language, and to see what I could do with Adobe Illustrator, but they weren’t something that I tried to show. Then we had the Covid Pandemic and I was corresponding with Michael Jacobson from the Post-Asemic Press about an introduction I was writing for a book of Marco Giovenale’s asemic poems. In the course of things I showed him some of my little experiments and he was enthusiastic about them. His enthusiasm was a bit of a surprise, and it encouraged me to send them out. When I was first doing these, the reactions were almost always negative and that made making them no fun, so I just stopped showing them to people. The kinds of things that happen to language in these poetics has provided me with a way to think about writing and reading without necessarily considering what these glyphs actually mean, and that has always been very exciting.

Q: Have you any models for the types of work you’ve been attempting?

A: Depending on your point of view, there are three answers to that question: yes, no, and not exactly—and they’re all correct! “Typoetry” was originally proposed for typographic (concrete) poems created by Hansjörg Mayer in the 1960s, and my work definitely belongs to that lineage. Both Mayer and another visual poet/typographer of that era, Norman Ives, are reference points for what I’m doing, but they worked with physical type. Because I’m using vectorized typography, there is a greater fluidity and ambivalence to my work. The difference in medium—physical lettering versus digital graphics—means what I do is related to their earlier works, but they can’t really provide models for how I do things.

Q: How do you feel your work has progressed since the 1990s, and where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s hard to say, since I didn’t keep those earlier works, but I think they were much simpler, more legible, than they have become. As to where things re going, I really don’t know. It all depends on “ah ha” moments as I keep working, what kinds of things occur to me and what I do with them. There’s always a tension between becoming more abstract and more legible—and I feel like that’s the balance that I’m currently working through, maximizing their ambivalence, while trying to keep them interesting. But it’s always hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

Q: You suggest a moving target: is this the same reasoning behind the interest in the sequence, wishing not to present a single, fixed point, but a progression of sorts?

A: Yes, very much so. I am by training and inclination a movie maker, so continuums, sequences, and progressions are a “natural” part of how I think about my work. Plus, all language, whether written or spoken, takes place in series—and only becomes meaningful from that modulation and context.

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

A: This is likely going to sound strange, but I mostly read philosophy. Stiegler, Wittgenstein, Barthes, Flusser have all been close to the top of my recent re-reading list. My work builds from conceptual rather than aesthetic or poetic ‘sources,’ and I don’t rely on inspiration for what I’m doing because I work every day. There is always something new to consider and engage. However, I am constantly looking at the visual poetry in my library, putting it along side Glitch Art and historical abstraction. David Zwirner did an exhibition of mid-twentieth century Cuban abstraction a couple of years ago called Concrete Cuba, and I recently bought the catalogue, which is very exciting (and very different from what I’m doing myself).

Thanks for letting me talk about my typoems and what’s happening in them!