Thursday, January 20, 2022

(orange) (2000-2002): bibliography, and an interview

this interview was conducted over email from June 2021 to January 2022 as part of a project to document literary publishing. see my list of interviews and bibliographies of literary publications past and present here

Nikki Reimer is a poet, artist, and non-fiction writer living in Southern Alberta. Published books are My Heart is a Rose Manhattan, DOWNVERSE and [sic]. Work has appeared on stages, billboards, public art exhibits, pop-up bistro menus, and in various magazines, journals and anthologies. Visit reimerwrites.com.

ryan fitzpatrick is the author of three books and over fifteen chapbooks of poetry, including Coast Mountain Foot (Talonbooks 2021) and Fortified Castles (Talonbooks 2014). Over the last twenty years, he has been involved in the poetry communities of Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto. Currently, he is the editor of Model Press, an online poetry micropress founded during the pandemic. You can find him at ryanfitzpatrick.ca.

Chris Patrick Carolan is an author, editor, and hovercraft enthusiast, originally from Glasgow but currently based in Calgary, Alberta. He writes science fiction, fantasy (urban and epic), and steampunk, though he has also been known to turn to crime to make ends meet. Crime fiction, that is. THE NIGHTSHADE CABAL was published by Parliament House Press in 2020 and was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence 'Best First Novel' award. He can be found on Twitter as @cpcwrites but consider this fair warning… it’s mostly wisecracks about McNuggets and Simpsons memes.

Q: How did (orange) first start? 

NR: It started when the UCalgary English department convened a meeting to see if anyone was interested in reviving Grove, the previous department undergraduate literary publication. The faculty advisor Frances Batycki may have been in attendance. A bunch of us said we were keen, and off we went. I think ryan and I took the leads because we were the keenest, but ryan’s memory may be sharper than mine.

rf: Yeah, I think that's right. Grove was the most recent in what was a chain of undergrad literary journals in the department. There was another one before Grove called Sanskrit. Frances Batycki called a meeting that was held in the English department lounge in Fall '99 maybe. Was it called because there was some leftover money from Grove? It was attended by quite a few people, but it ended up being Nikki, me, and Michael Thome who were the most interested. Michael was more vocally interested in being involved than I was. For me, at least, joining the undergrad journal felt more possible than joining something like filling Station, which might as well have been on the moon even though it was being run by people who were only a few years older than us and also didn't know what they were doing.

Q: I don’t know anything about Grove. What was Grove? And where did the title (orange) come from? It had always been my impression that it had been lifted from that prior Calgary journal, Secrets from the Orange Couch, yes?

NR: I must have a copy of Grove -- it was my very first publication credit -- at home; I will look and report back. I believe Micheline Maylor may have been an editor? And nope, we -- at least, I -- had no knowledge of Secrets from the Orange Couch when we began. I think we were riffing off “grove” and ended with “orange”... as in grove. A wee bit cheesy. 

rf: Well, I might’ve known about Secrets from the Orange Couch, though I think I stumbled across it in MacKimmie Library right after we named the magazine. We named the magazine (orange) as a play on Grove for sure. I vaguely remember conversations about not wanting what we were putting together to be like Grove, which was maybe not experimental enough for our tastes, but we still wanted to nod to the continuity. It also reminded me of the joke that nothing rhymes with orange. I do remember finding Secrets from the Orange Couch and thinking that we had somehow chosen the perfect name, since both Nikki and I were in Nicole Markotic’s intro poetry workshop and Nicole was one of the editors of Secrets

NR: I just found my Grove, and the editor’s note from Micheline does mention a previous journal called Sanscrit. Someone should make a lineage of journals associated with the UCalgary English department. 

rf: For sure, Sanscrit then Grove then us then Nōd.

Q: Honestly, it is blowing my mind a bit that (orange) wasn’t deliberately a furthering of Secrets from the Orange Couch (as I’d been presuming for years now). In hindsight, how do you see (orange) in relation to those other journals, both prior and what came after?

NR: I don’t know if I can give a satisfactory answer to this question, rob. I’ll admit that I haven’t studied what came before or after thoroughly enough to make any claims. ryan is the more intellectual of the two of us, and may have more to say. I did feel some jealousy at how professional Nōd appeared to be. I remember trying to figure out how to get sponsorships and ads so that we could become a grown-up magazine; I could have used a mentor. 

rf: Hmm. I think that if we were picking up on the earlier vibes of Secrets from the Orange Couch (or Absinthe, or even filling Station), it had something to do with what Nicole and Fred were putting into the air as our teachers even though they weren’t pumping up their own small press histories. It’s not like Fred was bringing copies of Tish or Scree into class or anything. Instead, he and Nicole would nudge folks into producing things and then those folks would nudge other folks and so on. I remember someone (maybe tom muir) telling me that filling Station started because Fred put the idea into the head of a few students and they ran with it. As for Nōd, I remember feeling some annoyance at how professional they seemed to be, maybe because I felt (and still feel) that poetry should be a little unprofessional. I like that (orange) was kind of unpolished. After (orange), the scene seemed to get more professional across the board. Not just Nōd, but Dandelion became a bigger fixture in the community and filling Station was getting squeezed by funding bodies to professionalize. 

Q: How was the argument for the journal formed? Was it seeking to be a repository for the kinds of work that was being produced around Calgary during that time? Were you seeking a particular aesthetic or poetic?

NR: It wasn’t intended to be Calgary-centric. I think we had some inklings of wanting to publish work that pushed back against what was at the time a more dominant lyric movement, but we also really had no idea what we were doing. I do admit some jealousy towards journals like PRISM that are more embedded within the institutions they are part of, and where folks start as volunteers, and gradually learn how to run a magazine. We were just a bunch of scrappy kids photocopying our little magazine at Staples and trying to figure out what we thought was good. On the other hand, that’s pretty punk rock of us, which was very much in line with the Calgary I remember from that time.

Q: I think the “scrappy kids” aspect is what gave the journal character. How was work gathered for that debut issue? Were people solicited or was a call put out? 

rf: Did we put out a call? I just remember asking people. Half the writers in the first issue are just people who were in our class.

NR: Gosh, I don’t think we put out a call for the first issue, no, we must have asked folks we knew. I do remember a later call for submissions poster ryan made with the line “submission is necessary”. Our vibe was pretty cheeky. 

rf: I probably have a copy of that poster somewhere.

Q: Do you remember the response to those first few issues? And how were issues distributed? You say you didn’t want the journal to be Calgary-centric, but how did you get the word out, especially to anyone beyond the city’s borders?

rf: I always thought we were very local. This is probably a better question for Nikki.

NR: I thought we were too, though when I flipped through the issues for this discussion I saw quite a few contributors from other parts of the place we call Canada. But some of those people were friends, or friends of friends. We may have tried to get a call for submissions put onto some of the literary listservs that were active at the time. I think either Natalie Simpson or Jill Hartman wrote to a number of “big name” writers who were kind enough to submit as a favour to us -- Erin Moure, Nicole Brossard. 

I seem to remember walking around to the used bookstores in town and trying to get them to carry us. The UCalgary Bookstore stocked us. I wrote a brash press release that got our inaugural launch party onto A Channel. Our activities made it into FFWD magazine a few times, which had been one of my goals for us. Otherwise, yeah, we mostly spoke and responded to what was happening locally around us.

CPC: I remember a lot of hand-selling copies to anyone who came to our events. I always preferred to lurk in the background at the readings, so I spent a lot of time at the table trying to get people to buy the latest issue. It felt like a very DIY punk rock way to get literature into people’s hands! I don’t know what percentage of our circulation came from selling at those readings and launch parties, and I don’t think we ever sold out a print run, but it was certainly fun.

Q: What else was happening during that time? Who else was around?

NR: filling Station was around and established at that time, and the Single Onion reading series. derek beaulieu was running house press. Jill Hartman, Ian Samuels, Tom Muir, and Natalie Simpson were all local writers I looked up to. Rajinderpal S. Pal and Richard Harrison were older, established writers and good folks who were mentors to me in the art of literary event organizing and hosting. We were all involved in the UCalgary writing classes, so literary events the department hosted were a part of the milieu, and our writing instructors Fred Wah and Nicole Markotic. I seem to recall a joint event with Single Onion at a warehouse in Bridgeland? ryan, what am I forgetting? 

rf: Are you talking about that one reading at that place right on Memorial? The Emerald Cafe? I vaguely remember something like that. Couldn’t tell you anything else about it. Anyway, it felt like there was a lot going on, some of which in retrospect was pretty short lived. filling Station was around, but I was only vaguely aware of it when we started. Nicole gave us all an issue of it in class one day, I think. Dandelion was just about to be folded into the English department at that point, but wasn’t really a presence around town until after that. I found the microstuff more compelling. Jill and Natalie were in a writing group called the Phu Collective with Lindsay Tipping, Darren Matthies, Trevor Speller, and Tillie Sanchez (and Julia Williams, who seemed like a non-member of the group). I remember being really impressed by them because they had gotten an article in ffwd. And they had chapbooks in the University bookstore! Really, they were all just folks who were a year or two ahead of us in the English department. Single Onion had just recently started and maybe Ian Samuels was involved in it at that point, but it was pretty focused on lyric work and spoken word centered on a crew of Sheri-D Wilson, Kirk Miles, Fred Hollis, and some other folk. Some folks from our circles moved in and out of Single Onion a little later--I remember getting to read for them at different points because André Rodrigues and Jocelyn Grosse were on their collective. I think tom and derek were starting EndNote with russ rickey at that point, maybe? There was House Press of course, but there was a ton of other chapbook publishing going on too. I remember a class reading at the Beat Niq jazz bar in the basement of the Grain Exchange and the piano on the stage was covered in chapbooks that people had made. That was mind-blowing to me.

NR: No, it was called the Daniel Sponagle Centre for Contemporary Art & Mischief; the space i Bridgeland. That was closer to when we folded; maybe you were in Korea at that point ryan? I agree with you about the energy and excitement around the microstuff that was happening. Nicole Markotic had Jill Hartman come to our poetry class to show off the tiny perfect chapbooks she was making, and it blew my mind that it was possible to create in that way. EndNote was so great!

rf: Okay, the Sponagle place rings a bell, but maybe only from an email or something.

Q: From the outside, at least, this really did seem like an explosive period in Calgary poetics, with a huge array of writing and publishing and just general literary (and small press) activity. How did it seem from the inside? What did Calgary have at that time that other centres didn’t?

rf: I’ve given this a lot of thought and, at the risk of riling up some different folks in Calgary, I think, at least for me and maybe for (orange) in general, the central thing defining the shape of Calgary poetry is the University and its creative writing program. In many ways, good and bad, the scene has been defined by the pitches and shifts brought about by the program and the way it created a shifting ground for creative production. I didn’t realize this until I moved to Vancouver, where the poetry scene I was involved in was deeply multigenerational. I’m sure Nikki can speak to this difference too, but for me it threw Calgary’s scene into relief. In contrast, Calgary felt like it had a revolving door. People were constantly arriving and leaving and, in one way, this made it easier to get involved in things and to work yourself up to being a bigger fish in a very small pond, especially if you could adjust quickly and knew how to make your own fun, because there were fewer big institutions and small presses than bigger centers. There was a lot of room to try things. That said, the lack of institutional root work in the early 2000s also created this effect where small arrivals - a new prof, a writer-in-residence, a crew of undergrads, a motivated local - could also shift what was possible as a writer in the community. The scene I remember in 2000, when I started writing and going to readings, was completely transformed by the time I left in 2011. I imagine it’s very different now.

NR: I 100% agree with this take. I felt like it was my job to be a shit-disturber, back in the day. Calgary had and has what gets variously termed the cowboy ethic or the maverick (as in Aritha van Herk’s book, not as in the fledgling separatist political party), where anything is possible if you’re audacious enough to attempt it. There’s something kind of great in that. But there’s also a decontextualized now in that, which misses the importance of legacy. I spent nearly a decade in Vancouver before returning to Calgary and I deeply miss the intergenerational community in Van, and wish Calgary could have something similar. I didn’t recognize the Calgary lit scene at all when I returned in 2012, and I’ve seen it shift and morph again over the past nine years, very much driven by connections to the UCalgary writing program. Calgary has some phenomenal and groundbreaking writers living and working here now, but I don’t so much get a sense that there is any one or two singular, cohesive communities. The writers and artists working and curating out of Shelf Life Books are the closest thing to community for me. Though it's possible I’m just an outsider now, so I don’t see what exists. I remain committed to my own writing practice, and to supporting community when I can, but one has different energies and availabilities in midlife. 

CPC: I think I can speak to Nikki’s point about community, having always felt myself to be something of an outsider on the local lit scene. Back when we were working on (orange) and I was doing my undergrad, there wasn’t actually a whole lot of space in the literary community or academia for what I was interested in, and I didn’t realize at the time that there’s something of a gulf between literary writing and genre fiction. I didn’t find what I was looking for until several years later, but Calgary actually has a very healthy, active, and transgenerational genre fiction writing community. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime. We’re home to both the When Words Collide festival, which draws upwards of 700 attendees each year, and the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, which has been going strong since 1988. We’ve got some strong genre small press stuff going here, too, with folks like Seventh Terrace, Coffin Hop, and Tyche Books regularly putting out great work. I think a lot of this comes back to what Nikki was saying about the cowboy/maverick “can do” attitude here, which is still very much a thing. Whatever you’re looking to start, Calgary remains a place where you can build something if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves.

Q: How did the journal evolve as the issues progressed? I suspect there were considerable shifts once certain editors left and others joined in, which is the very nature of a university-associated publication, but what did that mean for the journal itself?

NR: I think it changed flavour and tone a little bit with every issue, which I see as both a strength and a weakness. Had we carried on for another 16 or 32 or 64 issues, we may have settled into something like an editorial voice. I do think there was always an underlying playfulness to who we were and what we created together, though. And the through-line was me, come to think of it. Some issues were more traditionally narrative than others, but we did try to maintain a spirit of experimentation in who we solicited and published. It was also very cozy -- friends of friends joined the editorial team, family members and romantic partners of the editors contributed artwork.

rm: How did your experience working on (orange) alter the ways in which you saw your own writing, and writing practice (if at all)?

NR: I think it gave me a sense of the possibility of a writing life for myself outside my university classes, both in that writing could be a living breathing thing, that it could exist, and that it could be a thing that I could continue to do. Getting to publish interesting writers at various stages of their careers helped me see that I could continue and grow my own voice and practice.

CPC: I didn’t start submitting my own writing until years after (orange) had come to an end, but I do think being on the editorial side of the process definitely helped. I came away with insights into editorial decision-making I might not have picked up elsewhere. I’ve since been Managing Editor on two anthologies of prose fiction, and reflecting on it now I think I picked up a lot of the cat-herding skills I used on those projects from watching Nikki at the helm of (orange). So, thanks for that… and sorry for any of the times I may have made your job harder than it needed to be!

rm: How and why did the journal cease publishing? And now, all these years later, how do you feel about the experience?

NR: Like ryan mentioned earlier, people come and go, and I think those of us who were left just burnt out. Our tie to the university’s English department was never clear to me – they gave us an office space to work from, but what we really needed was mentorship that would have taught us how to be financially and organizationally sustainable. We had no governance models. We burned bright and fast and then we folded. I look back on it fondly, though. I’m glad I had the chance so early in my own publishing journey to learn things like how to organize and host readings, and read and select from submissions, build literary community, and work with excellent folks like ryan and Chris. 

CPC: I remember resources being very scant. Nikki mentions we had office space, but I don’t remember ever seeing it. I do remember editorial and production meetings at places like the Hop in Brew, our various apartments, and even my parents’ kitchen table. Lots of folding pages and stapling, and of course a lot of laughter. We did as much as we could as cheaply as we could, surreptitiously printing the issues on office photocopiers when no one was looking. Heck, I seem to recall someone – I want to say it was Christiaan van Blommestein, but don’t quote me on that – went out and bought an extra large stapler because we didn’t have one big enough to reach the spine of the folded pages. That was how little support we had from the English department. We bought our own stapler. Meanwhile, Dandelion was also affiliated with the UofC English department, and they were putting out a very professional-looking glossy magazine. I don’t want it to sound like there was bad blood between the two magazines or anything, because I truly do not believe there was, but maybe a little jealousy on our part. Or maybe that was just me. Sometimes it seemed like we spent more time trying to scrape together a little money to print our issues than we did working on the mag itself. I think that constant grind led to a lot of the burnout Nikki alludes to. But ultimately, in a lot of ways, I think Nikki was the heart and soul of (orange). She was certainly the throughline for the entire run. I don’t remember exactly how or why the decision to cease was made, but I can’t imagine our little magazine under anyone else’s leadership.


(orange) magazine bibliography:

No. 1. January, 2000. Editors: Nikki Reimer, Michael Thome, ryan fitzpatrick, Shauna Carson, Marta Samusz. Layout: ryan fitzpatrick, Karen Walker. Contributions by: Darren Matthies, Heather Edey, Chris Ewart, derek beaulieu, Jocelyn Grosse, Lindsay Tipping, Jason Patrick Rothery, Leah Laxdal. Cover drawing: Erin Fitzpatrick.

No. 2 [no date]. Editors: Nikki Reimer, ryan fitzpatrick, Shauna Carson, Michael Thome. Layout: ryan fitzpatrick. Contributions by: Craig Boyko, William Buchan, Rebecca Faria, rob mclennan, tmuir, Ian Samuels, Natalie Simpson, Leah Laxdal. Cover art: Gavin Geist. 

No. 3. [no date]. Editors: Nikki Reimer, ryan fitzpatrick, Heather Edey, Leah Laxdal, Michael Thome. Contributions by: Christiaan van Blommestein, Brea Burton, ethan cole, Paulo da Costa, Dean Heatherington, Andre Rodrigues, Tom Sweetland, Fred Wah, Julia Williams. Cover design: Heather Edey.

No. 4. [no date]. C. Patrick Carolan: Fiction Editor and Layout/Design. Dave Carruthers: Fiction Editor. Sarah-Joy Goode: Editor and Secretary General. Nikki Reimer: Managing and Poetry Editor, defender of the colour orange as a fashion accessory. Christiaan van Blommestein: Poetry Editor and Attorney at Large. Contributions by: Emma M. (trans. Erin Moure), Orides Fontela, Andrew Ross, Christopher Blais, Neil M. Hennessy, Louis Cabri, Nathalie Stephens, Matilde Sanchez Turri, Margaret Wilcox, Nicole Brossard.

No. 4.5. [no date]. C. Patrick Carolan: Fiction Editor and Layout/Design. Dave Carruthers: Fiction Editor. Sarah-Joy Goode: Editor and Secretary General. Nikki Reimer: Managing and Poetry Editor, defender of the colour orange as a fashion accessory. Christiaan van Blommestein: Poetry Editor and Attorney at Large. Delia Shand: Volunteer. Brandy Zimmerman: Volunteer. Harry Vandervlist:  Faculty Advisor. Contributions by: Diana Stokes, Mark Farrell, Andrew Wedderburn, Cheryl Sikomas, rob mclennan. Cover art: Jason Christie.

No. 5. [no date]. C. Patrick Carolan: Fiction Editor, Layout/Design. Dave Carruthers: Fiction Editor. Sarah-Joy Goode - Editor and Secretary General. Nikki Reimer: Managing and Poetry Editor, cute as a bug’s ear. Christiaan van Blommestein: Poetry Editor, Consigliere. Brandy Zimmerman: Fiction Editor. Contributions by: Ken Kowal, Matt Robinson, Susana Molinolo, ryan fitzpatrick, Jason Christie, Matt Santateresa, Salma Hussein. Cover art: Jason Christie.

No. 6. Summer 2002. C. Patrick Carolan: Fiction and Art Editor, Layout/Design. Rebecca Faria: Poetry Editor and Advertising Manager. Sarah-Joy Goode: Editor and Secretary General. Nikki Reimer: Managing and Poetry Editor. Christiaan van Blommestein: Poetry Editor. Brandy Zimmerman: Fiction Editor. Contributions by: Bradley Somer, Erin Lorenz, Rael Bischoff, Jaime Maddalena, Jocelyn Grosse, Janet Neigh, Ronnie R. Brown, Stuart Ian McKay, Heather Tisdale-Nisbet, Michael Saad. Cover art: C. Patrick Carolan. 

No. 7. Winter 2002. C. Patrick Carolan: Fiction and Art Editor, Layout/Design. Rebecca Faria: Poetry Editor and Advertising Manager. Sarah-Joy Goode: Editor and Secretary General. Stuart Ian McKay: Poetry Editor and Volunteer. Nikki Reimer: Managing and Poetry Editor. Contributions by: Eunice Johnston, Ian Whistle, Mike Dempsey, T. Anders Carson, Elana Wolf, Frances Kruk, Bradley Somer, Andrea Strudensky. Cover photo: Nikki Reimer.

 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

Tolu Oloruntoba was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, and practiced medicine before his current work managing virtual health projects for BC health organizations. His poetry has appeared in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, PRISM International, Pleiades, Columbia Journal, Obsidian, The Maynard, Humber Literary Review, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His debut chapbook, Manubrium, was published by Anstruther Press, and was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award, while his debut full-length poetry collection, The Junta of Happenstance, was published by Palimpsest Press in Spring 2021, and went on to win the Governor General's Award for Poetry. He lives in Surrey, BC, in the territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, and Kwantlen Nations.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

It is generally hard to tease out exactly how a book changes the person who writes it.  My debut chapbook, Manubrium, was one of three sections of what became my debut collection. I wrote it in a time of great personal turmoil, and confronting complex topics (dysfunctional family dynamics, mental illness, [im]migration, and the legacy + present of colonialism) through the poems helped me work them out into a modicum of clarity, and survival. Live to fight another day.  Beyond the writing, which I began before I moved to this country, that chapbook helped me meet Jim Johnstone. I’d previously encountered him only through the poetry in his sublime collection, The Chemical Life.  As I often say, his exploration of suffering in the register of science helped me embrace my own style. I had hoped that he would like Manubrium, and was overjoyed when he agreed to publish it. In the wake of that, I completed The Junta of Happenstance, which Jim edited and helped me refine. I am in Jim’s debt, and remain in awe of his warmth and all he does in, and for, our literary community. Reading from Manubrium also helped me meet a universe of dear poets: Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Aidan Chafe, Dina Del Bucchia, Kevin Spenst, Hasan Namir, that continue to change my life with their kindness.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
 
Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?


I tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
 
I have a bit of social anxiety, and do not necessarily enjoy any kind of public speaking, but I honor the sacrament of reading poetry together. I find these gatherings very powerful, and especially in the city I live in, they always feel like home. Often, hearing another poet read their work primes my brain toward poetry and attunes my internal ear toward what works, and what a poem can do. I also find myself editing my published poems when I read and prepare for readings, finding better ways for the poem to work. Editing never ends, I fear. In these ways, I would agree that public readings are a part of my creative process.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I am not formally trained in creative writing. My major concerns include figuring out how to create writing that translates my perspectives with fidelity. I don’t have an agenda. In many ways, these poems are for me. Having people who read them has been quite a bonus. If fidelity is the principle that guides my work, my topics tend to have the gravitational centre I have alluded to earlier in this interview. To express that centre in questions: How can I live in the world? Does anyone else see that so many things are like so many other things? What is the nature of sentience? What is even going on? What has humanity failed to learn about the motifs that litter our history? How does one process trauma, or live with a mental illness?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Writers help and prompt us to explore the spectrum of reality: what came before, what is going on, what will happen, what could happen, what if this happened, why is this happening, what does it mean, how might we approach the project of living? I could, of course, just be applying my metaphysical / existential bias to your question.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I find it very essential. Having a skilled editor examine the scope of one’s work, auditing how well one achieved what they set out to do, and helping to clarify what the work does, while pointing out what else the work could do, are gifts I am very grateful for. I have been fortunate to have worked with editors who exemplify this: Jim Johnstone and Daniel Scott Tysdal.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?


For writing: get it down first; edit later. For life: memento mori.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

When I am actively working on a project, I write before my children wake up, after they sleep (if my brain is still functional), or in the snatches I can sometimes steal throughout the day. A typical day involves no writing at all. I am thankful that with poetry, I do not have to maintain a daily word count (as some advise), because the realities of my day job and parenting would have made that incredibly difficult.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?


When the writing gets stalled, I tend to let it be for some weeks or months. As people smarter than I have pointed out, those intervals are part of writing, too. The brain collects data, runs scenarios, analyses impressions, forms notions, all beneath our consciousness. I have found that reading a lot, in conjunction with the germination that occurs when I allow time for my mind to resettle, often gets me writing again.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I don’t think of home strictly in terms of place. But sometimes I catch a whiff of dust in the dry fall air, and it reminds me of the harmattan season in ìbàdàn, the city I grew up in.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Science would be next on my list, after books. Astronomy, geography, paleontology, geology, physics, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, anatomy, and human physiology feature prominently in my writing. Having spent so many years in scientific training, I am stuck with that way of viewing the world. I don’t hate it. Visual art is a major influence, as well. Directly or not, ekphrasis is a part of my process. Take, for instance, “Body Memories” (https://feudal.substack.com/p/body-memories) a poem I wrote after a memorial head from the Akan peoples, on view at the Met museum.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Whatever Dionne Brand and Yusef Komunyakaa write. The work of Mabel Segun, Mark Strand, Wole Soyinka, Kola Onadipe, Kaveh Akbar, Kimiko Hahn, Canisia Lubrin, and Clive Barker. Kamau Brathwaite’s Arrivants trilogy. Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal. Leila Chatti’s Deluge. Esiaba Irobi’s Cotyledons. Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightning. Solmaz Sharif’s Look. Adrian Matejka’s Map to the Stars. Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. Eve L. Ewing’s Electric Arches.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to be consistently happy and optimistic. I want to be as good a friend, partner, and parent as I can be. I’d like to be unshackled from “work” and devote myself to art.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

For the longest time, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. If I wasn’t writing, I might deploy my empathy and ability to observe and draw associations, toward helping people navigate their mental health.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Necessity. Always. It feels like removing a bee’s stinger from my flesh (without the inflammation and pain a bee would leave). The relief is like nothing else. Once you’ve tried it once, you’ll likely be back for more.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Last great book: Franny Choi’s Soft Science. Last great film: Words on Bathroom Walls.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I have also been outlining the next book I want to write, which I think will be a collection of essays (if I can figure out how to write essays). Meanwhile, I’ve been promoting my debut collection, and working with the publisher of the next.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Cedar Sigo, All This Time

 

Like Someone in Love

Presenting—Star Time—David Meltzer
and the Famous Flames, lovely healer and
hologram, avenger of the blood who could

read for hours, when the children’s faces
                       
followed him upstairs, the dog would bark

The fire spit funerary songs
                       
A smoke of tiny feathers

that we know nothing and gladly say so (smiling)
that a prince is sometimes left to trace and dig and paste

asking after my poems, qualities of transmission
                       
and who had I been listening to? I might say

Lady or The Misty Miss Christy
Carmen meaning McCrae or Leontyne

                       
Price, either way, he was always
right there and shot through,
 

                        Wide wreath in flames

The latest from Lofall, Washington poet, critic and editor Cedar Sigo is the poetry title All This Time (Wave Books, 2021), following close on the heels of the remarkable collection of essays (that I’m still working through) Guard the Mysteries (Wave Books, 2021). Sigo’s poems are first person examinations and explorations on living, thinking, reading and being. The press release compares Sigo to a contemporary Frank O’Hara (via a quote by Ron Silliman), composing an “I did this, I did that” kind of first-person lyric, one that engages with the writers and artists within his immediate circle, and there is certainly that, but Sigo’s poetic is one that engages deeper with those poets he references. The references aren’t set simply as references or simple interactions, but composed as deep, and even foundational, engagements with the work of those he cites, including Diane di Prima, Larry Eigner, Tom Clark, Amiri Baraka, Charles Olson and Joanne Kyger. “Larry Eigner’s words,” he writes, to open the poem “Surface Waves,” “Like golden / flies / stuck in / a loom—made / to fall / with sudden / strumming / they sound, separate / distinct [.]” These are poets clearly important to his reading and ongoing poetic. Sigo edited Joanne Kyger’s There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera (Wave Books, 2017), after all, so the repeated instances of her name throughout are hardly one of name-dropping, but in openly engaging with the work of his mentors, forebears and influences, and there is very much the sense of both engagement and homage through these references. I would even argue there’s far more of a Joanne Kyger influence, and even Larry Eigner influence, throughout this collection than anything out of Frank O’Hara, especially through the accumulation of staggered, first-person journal-entry short lines. Not that one needs to know of the source material to enjoy these poems; Sigo’s offerings are truly his own, although it does open a window into his thoughts on these other writers. Paired with this, as well, are poems composed as dedications to some of his contemporaries (including Joy Harjo, John Godfrey, Ed Berrigan and Julien Poirier); any writer’s work exists in conversation, or at least response, to the works of those around, so I’m simply pleased to see Sigo’s engagements acknowledged so directly. He is, as any good writer is, writing from within a particular and uniquely blended melange of books, writers and community interactions.

Mind control takes hold after four poems.

Elaine should be the poet in a cage (booth) at the LA art-book fair
or better yet, bill her as a prizefighting Jean Harlow

in a slightly bloodied V-neck blouse
and green-gold pyramid cuff.

*

Rereading the first Joanne interview in our new book (There You Are)

“Just write what’s going on around you. Outside and inside.”

I think of this as a statement on sustaining a viable rhythm within the poem.

The poem is the only hem (the only field?) that Joanne has to land upon. (“Six Lines Missing”)

There are times these poems read akin to journal entries or quick sketches, almost Creeleyesque, perhaps, but clearly worked and thought carefully through. There are some sharp insights caught in Sigo’s lyric (and I would highly recommend his collection of essays, the first title of his I’d actually seen; a book I clearly haven’t dealt with properly yet via review), one paired with, and even strengthened through, a lovely, easygoing craft that engages clearly and thoughtfully through the prose sentence and lyric form. And yet, this book refuses any consideration of showy or performative, allowing itself, akin to the work of his fellow Wave-poet, Joshua Beckman, a clarity of pure ease of meditative thinking: a poetry that simply and beautifully is.