Monday, January 30, 2023

Composition

 

1.

In the early stages of this writing, there
was simply no place

to put a period. I attempt to utilize
tension. My in-laws continue to believe

I should cut my hair. The tension
is present.

 

2.

Fourteen lines, with which to apply, opportune
or convey. The pace at which

one stakes, and states,

these complimentary emblems.
The trouble             with normal, or the language

of God: one of senses, rubble.

 

3.

All the years it took to write
that one sentence.

 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Cary Fagan

Cary Fagan is the author of eight previous novels and five books of short stories, including The Student, Great Adventures for the Faint of Heart, and A Bird’sEye. His latest is The Animals. He has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Writers’ Trust Fiction Award, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, and has won the Toronto Book Award and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. He is also an acclaimed writer of books for children, having won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the IODE Jean Throop Book Award, a Mr. Christie Silver Medal, the Joan Betty Stuchner—Oy Vey!—Funniest Children’s Book Award, and the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. Fagan’s work has been translated into French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan, Turkish, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Korean and Persian. He still lives in his hometown of Toronto.

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?

When I first began to produce and send out fiction, I had a difficult ten years of having book-length manuscripts turned down.  Just to make myself feel better I published a chapbook of two short stories which I gave away and sent to various people.  One of the people I sent it to was Timothy Findley and a few days later he phoned me to say he was going to mention me on CBC television as an up-and-coming writer.  (That’s the sort of person Findley was).  That was of course a real encouragement.  It didn’t change my life but it helped me through those difficult years.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

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?

It’s a little mysterious, how the initial idea comes to me, but when it does there’s a sense of excitement I feel that makes me know it’s the real thing.  I may work on it right away but often I’ll wait months or years.  I usually start a notebook so that I can write down any thoughts I have and eventually I start finding scenes.  At some point I’ll be able to write down a scene list in order; that’s often what I use as the basis for an outline to get me through the first draft.  The better the outline, the better my first draft, but still I don’t want it to be too detailed.  Often I write the first draft by hand; after that it's on to the laptop.  It’s the second and third drafts where I reshape and expand the story, so that it becomes what it needs to be.  The drafts after that (another two to six drafts) are a matter of working on the weak spots, of pushing the end a little farther, of refining the voice and style.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?

The last twenty years or more I’ve tended to think in book projects.  So if I start writing stories, I imagine myself building towards a collection.  This was true of my last one, “Great Adventures for the Faint of Heart,” and I think is why, although they are all different, there are some common thematic threads.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Fiction writers don’t generally consider readings as important as poets do.  Fiction is more, I imagine, a voice that a reader hears inside themselves.  I usually only do readings after a new book comes out and I get invitations.  That said, I do enjoy reading the work to an audience, and getting a sense of their response to it. (On the other hand, I do a lot of presentations to kids in schools and libraries for my kids’ books.)

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?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I’ve been dismayed to see the role of the writer diminish over the course of my professional life.  That being said, I’ve never seen myself as a Richler, a Findley, or an Atwood—someone making large statements, in fiction or elsewhere, about where we are and where we are going.  I’m writing in a more minor key.  That’s the kind of writing I like best.

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

I know that some writers consider a particular editor crucial to their work.  This has never been true for me, perhaps because I’ve moved publishers every couple of books.  Even when I stay, the editor often moves on.  And as I only send a book out when I believe it is truly finished, I’m pretty lightly edited.  That’s not to say that the editor doesn’t help to make the books better and I’m grateful for their expertise.  Usually I’m a little anxious until I get the editor’s notes and know that we are on the same page and I can respond adequately to the issues raised.  Even when their impact is minor, it’s important for lifting the book to the next level.  I’ve been lucky to have worked with some very talented editors, most recently Peter Norman for The Animals.

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

My old friend Norman Levine once said to me (I’m sure it wasn’t the first time he said it) that a bad review can spoil your lunch but it should never spoil your dinner.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short stories to children's books to novels to picture books to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I write stories, novels, and books for kids—picture books and ‘middle grade’ novels.  That didn’t happen right at the start but occurred over time.  I now find that it keeps me writing.  When I put down the draft of a novel in the morning I can pick up a kid’s manuscript in the afternoon.  I love doing them all but certainly go through periods when my imagination is more attuned to one form or another for months or even a year at a time.  And by now I can’t pretend that all the work doesn’t inform each other.  My children’s work has influenced my adult and vice versa.

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

I usually have two writing sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  If I can, I’ll have the second in one of the cafes near my home, or wherever I happen to be.  I much prefer writing out in the world than at home. The ambient noise, the sense of being near people but not with them, helps me to concentrate. Plus the coffee’s better.

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

I usually have two or three manuscripts on the go so if something is not working I can put it down and pick up another.  I’ve published a couple of books that I put down for ten or twelve years before picking up again.  Reading also helps. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Gefilte fish?

14 - 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?

Music certainly.  I am an avid amateur (very much amateur) musician and jam with friends every week.  Music has often entered my work in one way or another.

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

I read a lot; it’s one of the great pleasures of life, isn’t it?  At the moment I’m reading Colm Toibin’s new novel about Thomas Mann, Andrea Barrett’s book of stories Natural History, a book on early country music recordings by Tony Russell, a memoir by somebody who worked in a Paris restaurant for seven years, and a few different books of poetry.  (I do read a lot of Canadian books, just not at this moment.).  All of it feeds my own work and makes me want to write more and better.  And one day if I stop writing, then I’ll just be a happy reader.

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

I used to want to write plays as well, but I think that ship has sailed.  I’ll be happy if I can just keep on keeping on.

17 - 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?

I like to work with my hands.  I’ve built a couple of instruments and would have enjoyed being a luthier.  Maybe a violin maker.

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

I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I was about 12 so there really was never another option.  Other than fireman.

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

Last great book?  Maybe Jon McGregor’s novel, Reservoir 13.  Last great film?  Perhaps Drive My Car.  My partner and I are trying to see as many films by the director, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, as we can find.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m finishing the second draft of a new novel.  And I better get back to it.  Thanks for the questions!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, January 28, 2023

new from above/ground press: seventeen new/recent titles (October 2022-January 2023),

Happy New Year! and with the new year, comes above/ground press' THIRTIETH YEAR OF CONTINUOUS PRODUCTION (so you know exciting things are on the horizon, naturally); and did you hear we've already scheduled the spring edition of the ottawa small press book fair?

but for now: SEVENTEEN NEW/RECENT TITLES: Perfumer’s Organ, by Lindsey Webb $5 ; Something or Other, by Jason Heroux $5 ; TAKE IT DOWN, by Barbara Henning $5 ; G U E S T #25, edited by Laurie Anne Fuhr $5 ; Touch the Donkey #36 $7 ; The Peter F Yacht Club #31 "The Factory Reading Series 30th anniversary" issue / edited by rob mclennan $5 ; ONTARIO HYDRO, by Derek Beaulieu $5 ; from RUBY WOUNDS, by Artie Gold & George Bowering $5 ; Teeth, by Douglas Glover $5 ; G U E S T #24, edited by Sara Lefsyk $5 ; The Goose, by Melanie Dennis Unrau $5 ; Report from the (Robert) Hogg Society Vol. 1 No. 1, edited by rob mclennan $7 ; Report from the (Pattie) McCarthy Society Vol 1. No. 1, edited by rob mclennan $7 ; glass / language / untitled / exaltation, by Jason Christie $5 ; Report from the (Helen) Hajnoczky Society Vol 1. No. 1, edited by rob mclennan $7 ; Red Heads, by Adrienne Adams $5 ; some of the raccoon poems, by Chris Johnson $5 ; (see the list of prior 2022 titles here


and keep an eye on the above/ground press blog for author interviews, new writing, reviews, upcoming readings and tons of other material;

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
October 2022 - January 2023
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each


To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at at rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com or the PayPal button (above). Scroll down the extensive list of names on the sidebar (many, many things are still in print).

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request.

Forthcoming chapbooks by: Gil McElroy, Ben Robinson, Miranda Mellis, MLA Chernoff, Terri Witek, Geoffrey Olsen, William Vallières, Jessi MacEachern, Pete Smith, Julia Drescher, Robert van Vliet, Brad Vogler, Samuel Ace, Nathanael O'Reilly, Joseph Donato, Ben Jahn, Leesa Dean, Nick Chhoeun, Grant Wilkins, Isabel Sobral Campos, Mark Scroggins, Laura Walker, Jordan Davis, Andrew Gorin, Marita Dachsel, Stuart Ross, Angela Caporaso, Isabella Wang and Grant Wilkins! among others, most likely,

and 2023 subscriptions are still available! huzzah!

stay healthy! be safe! be nice to each other,

Friday, January 27, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Julie Doxsee

Julie Doxsee is the Canadian-American author of five books of poetry: The Fastening (Black Ocean, 2022), What Replaces Us When We Go (Black Ocean, 2018), The Next Monsters (Black Ocean, 2013), Objects for a Fog Death (Black Ocean, 2010), and Undersleep (Octopus Books, 2008). She holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Denver (2007) and an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2002). Upon repatriating to the states after nine years in Turkey, she moved to Pennsylvania in 2016, where she is now Associate Professor of English at Harrisburg University.

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

Funnily, I cracked open a copy of my first book, Undersleep, the other day for the first time in several years because I couldn’t remember much when I tried to recollect the signature poems therein. The return to the book was prompted by the memory of a significant event that recently arose via long-lost friend and it dawned on me that I may have included a poem about the event in Undersleep. My distance from the book object, as well as from that version of my poet self, meant I was reading a new book by a different poet (akin to the jolt of remembering a previous night’s dream while waiting at a red light or something). Back in 2006, publishing my first book changed my life; the Octopus Books crew, and then the Black Ocean crew, became my poet family. On an aesthetic level, my first collection was hewn from a secret recipe of University of Denver-inspired voices, friends, interests, books, styles, and editing advice. With each new book I publish, I have less and less exposure to these secret ingredients. The overall effect is The Fastening contains density that breathes with a grittier (more mature?) DNA, whereas the crafting of Undersleep left quite a lot of air and light on the pages. Also, I have lived and adulted 1000% since 2006.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I have only published poetry and poetry-leaning prose, but I started with multiple genres, as many institutional creative writers do. I discovered I was wired as a poet my senior year of college. I liked the freedom, the absence of rules, the legacy/movements, and the attention span involved in the act of writing poems. Also, like many of my poetry students today, I thought poetry was the best way to communicate the life of a confused, anxiety-ridden, identity-seeking, early-20s woman.
 
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?

Projects come on strong for me and manifest quickly after the initial spark. I start writing when preoccupation with the project nags to the point I can’t ignore it, then I write obsessively till I finish a first draft. Since I became a mother, this process is more difficult because I don’t have time to ride out the obsession. First drafts sit for a year or more in most cases, and the work of editing is where true enjoyment emerges for me; hence the first drafts tend to resemble distant cousins of the final manuscript. I think The Next Monsters is my only title that arose from copious journals and notes over a period of about 6 months.

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?


This is a great question because I have never thought about it. The answer is: since grad school I have never conceived a single poem without conceiving a book-length work. I guess that means my education instilled a project-minded approach to my poetic undertakings. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

In before-COVID times I would have answered “absolutely” that readings are a part of the creative process, but now (mostly for personal and family reasons) I find it very difficult to tour, plan, travel, and even to arrange online events. I have attended some smashingly well-done online events since the pandemic began, but after spending all day every day teaching on camera for the better part of a year and a half from 2020-2022, I was exhausted by the idea of getting camera-ready and zooming up for a 2-dimensional audience. And now, in the aftermath of the aftermath of ebbing/flowing emergencies, I hardly think about doing readings. I am hoping this will change in 2023.
 
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?

The current questions for me are always about human decency, vulnerability, puzzling masculinity, love, sex, and the dilemmas of personal and societal unwellness. As for the general poetry community, questions are infinite and dynamic, which contributes to the wealth of the genre. I have never tried to answer questions in my poetry, but I have played with questions (exposed them, posed them) using the strange fabrics of language and thought. The writing of The Fastening exposed a necessary pissed-off voice, too, that brought healing and resolve. 

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

In my professional life, in addition to teaching poetry classes, I foster the learning of very precise intentional, connotational, denotational uses of language—as well as responsible research. It is not easy, especially in the last decade or so, to advise long research projects in the Googleverse. I am also super uncomfortable with rapid-thumb-jab communication (generally speaking) while at the same time realizing communication naturally evolves (also, I love a TikTok wormhole, so I hesitate to claim that a writer/creator identity has been mortally wounded by smartphone ubiquity and scroll fixation). I guess my answer is that writers have extreme levels of power in larger culture, especially with so many informational/artistic platforms, but without responsible media and carefully vetted curation, I worry about the survival of writing, writers, attention spans, art, poetry, and brain health. Also, I can’t envision what my sons’ writing lives will look like as they continue their educations over the next decade plus (???). It’s scary, frankly; thinking about the loss of complex written forms leads me to fantasize about a Mary Ruefle computer-free, 100% poetic lifestyle.  

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


No (not difficult) and yes (essential). Having a dedicated reader/editor is part of the publication process, and necessary to the eventual appearance of the physical book. After long periods of editing my drafts, I am no longer the best audience for my work—I am fully ready to hand it over. I am lucky, I guess, that my editing sessions have been minimally invasive. For some authors this is not the case.

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

*You can’t be an artist if you don’t take risks, you can’t take risks if you hate embarrassment* (paraphrase)

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

I read, read, read as much as possible. I also work on booking travel in the not-far future. Another recent undertaking is exploring markets around my home for much-needed cultural exposure. Within a few miles of my home there are Indian, Nepali, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Pan-Asian, and African markets, and international food stalls in the central market. These explorations are guaranteed to provide infinite eye and soul candy, interesting conversations with proprietors and customers, and also tasty non-American fare (hence dense fodder for the writer spirit).

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?


Turkey will always be the most sensory of my homes, and where I felt most alive. Imagine lemon cologne, sage, sea-salty air, and mangal (wood barbeque). 

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?


I don’t believe that books come from books; I believe reading is essential to the learning the music of poetic language, but life experience, including visual art, nature, science, travel, dreams, quirky encounters with humans and animals, and so on, are what make the poet a poet.

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

There are too many to list—so, so, so many. Need a book contract for this answer!

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

I have many nonfiction writing projects I would like to work on, but I will likely have no time until I retire from academia. In fantasy I have many careers (I know this goes beyond the doable to-do list, but I seriously think about these things): stuntwoman, fisherwoman, medical doctor, actor, fiber artist, field reporter, attorney, stage diva, filmmaker, comedy performer, to name a few.

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?

See above.

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

Need for flexibility/multi-faceted identity and no boss? Wiring? Becoming a writer was the easy choice when books vacuum-dragged me into this orbit years ago. I am wired as an artist and poet/linguist, so the choice was made for me. Theoretically, if I want to be someone else or choose a different identity, research and fictionalizing would allow me to live out some of the fantasy occupations referenced in #15.

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

Brian Evenson’s The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell. Every Evenson sentence kicks my soul hard. After reading The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell, I was shattered that I would never have the feeling of reading it for the first time again. I don’t recall ever feeling this way about a book.

I watch a lot of movies—sometimes as many as seven a week (couch + popcorn + twilight). Barbarian (2022) was the best of 2022 for me. The strange meandering plotline and creepy jump scares as well as the total eccentricity (without resorting to supernatural tackiness) was akin to encountering genius enjambment and then encountering it again and again. Barbarian upended the passive viewing that tends to occur with my voluminous intake. Like, there is no way I could fold laundry during my viewing of Barbarian let alone pause it for any reason.

19 - What are you currently working on?

  
A book about my son, who underwent an intense medical journey over the past few years.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Erin Robinsong, Wet Dream

 

I DON’T BELIEVE WE CAN SAVE OUR
CIVILIZATION; I DO, I DO BELIEVE IT

In vibratory consequence to the sea

I fall into the dimensions of an hour

The orcas are ‘done’ Karen told me last night over dinner

On oceanic anoxic tide of unfulfolded brain sadness

Done to in space encircle the earth in loops as lived undulations done

bodies singing voluminous extensions into the sawn-off oceans done

breathing out the tops of their heads

Along the same path the soul blasts at death, out the top of your head

sphincter through which eject spumes of feral joy, or fear breathe

for nearness to be whales / must be

And we’ll continue? Bleaching our wealth, our fame?

At Noba’s last night, in her partly built house with a feverish child

she said, time is a school. She said, you can use that

Earlier she said there’s this thing I always forget to do –

which is breathe in through the top of my head

and exhale out my chest, filling the room not only

but also

The follow-up to Montreal poet and interdisciplinary artist Erin Robinsong’s full-length debut, Rag Cosmology (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Wet Dream (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2022). The thirty-six lyric theses that together form the poetry volume Wet Dream are composed and stretched across an expansiveness; one that comes through mapping such a delicate array of sentenced parts that pool to form shapes. “Poetry is access to information. Yes.” she writes, as part of the poem “CAN YOU TAKE SOMETHING OUT / OF THIS WORLD, YES OR NO,” “Is a rose an archive, no / A memory, yes / of silky sense, yes / A garment? No / Many garments, yes [.]” Her narratives aren’t easy or straightforward, and the poems collected here simultaneously accumulate and collage; one might even say that Robinsong’s canvas stretches across the entire sky, allowing her poems to exist as the lines drawn between the stars she’s already set. “What if the fragility of the system is actually / the strength of the system?” she asks, to open the poem “TRANSFORMANCE 4,” “In wild carrot / intervals I dreamt exhaustively. Didn’t // want to go in the water so I didn’t.”

Throughout the collection, Robinsong composes a staggered, staccato lyric, one that collides, contracts and layers. Her lyrics exist as dreamsongs, as monlogues on ecological anxiety, philosophical contemplation and the bearings of the heart. As she writes, mid-point, in the three-page poem “MYRTLE”: “And I thought love would be very // Clear and mysterious like a strange eye // That would see into and admit like // A sphincter into the flower in the heart // And was not wrong // But I didn’t know I could care so much about // The new shelves you’ve built in your room [.]” Her sentences swirl, offering a book on heat and water, heartbreak and ecological disaster. “The voice I heard spirals,” she offers, as part of the opening poem, “A REPLY,” “you could / say drills, it moved / the opposite way of direct / along the non-arrow of time / of being a person – / spiralic task / ridiculous task / often very shitty task / of being a person // I wanted to become one [.]” There is something quite interesting in the way her narrative lines ripple, forcing the eye to slow down to catch every tumble and sudden turn. And yet, this book is rife with optimism: one that manages to emerge through and despite all the empty, broken promises and ecological calamity. As the back cover offers: “Wet Dream is an expansive book of ecological thinking on a wet planet on fire.”