Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hoa Nguyen, Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008


You shall hear the story
You shall hear the story how Pau-Puk-Keewis danced
at Hiawatha’s wedding
The student cried “Hurrah!”
The student cried “Now you have it!”
I must have more light
I must have what I asked for
Your presence will not be necessary

The wonderful thing about American poet, editor, publisher, expatriate and current Toronto resident Hoa Nguyen’s [see my profile on her here] new collection, Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008 (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2014), is knowing it collects all of her published work prior to her third and most recent collection, As Long As Trees Last (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here]. Collecting the work of her two trade collections—Your Ancient See Through (Subpress, 2002) and Hecate Lochia (Hot Whiskey Press, 2009)—as well as a small handful of chapbooks including Dark (Mike & Dale’s Books), Parrot Drum (Leroy Chapbook Series), Let’s Eat Red for Fun (Boog Lit), Red Juice (effing press), Add Some Blue (Backwoods Broadsides), Poems (Dos), What Have You (Longhouse) and Kiss a Bomb Tattoo (effing), it becomes interesting to see the trajectory in Nguyen’s work spread across some two hundred and fifty pages. While striking over the pages of her first few small publications, it is through the publication of the chapbook Red Juice in 2005 where her work really begins to solidify. The first piece that really catches is the poem “Up Nursing,” which opens both the chapbook and book-section “Red Juice” of the new Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008, and packs an enormous amount in a very small space. 


Up nursing         then make tea

The word war is far
says my boy                 about the cat

I think anthrax
                & small pox vax

Pour hot water on dried nettles
Filter more water for the kettle

Why try
to revive the lyric

In just a few short lines, she manages to articulate small observations and frustrations on the domestic, the mundane and the lyric, highlighting a series of packed and pressured silences. After originally appearing in the chapbook, the poems in this section were incorporated into the trade collection Hecate Lochia, a book rich with blood, laundry, domestic patterns and children’s birthday parties. In fact, it was Hecate Lochia that first brought her work to a larger attention throughout the United States, showcasing a poet serious in her articulation of small moments, and how the fantastic can be buried deep within. As part of an interview for a profile I wrote on her for Open Book: Ontario, Nguyen responded:

I write poems one at a time and tend not to approach the page with an idea, concept or project in mind. I write in engagement with and informed by other poets. What this looks like is that I’m deeply reading a full-length volume of poetry — or a selected or collected volume; I’m noticing different rhetorical happenings in the poems, their patterns and use of language. And then after reading a section of poems aloud (this I do with a group of poets participating in the private workshops I lead), I write by inviting these strategies as I write while still experiencing their language or voice in my body and other sites of reception.

Throughout Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008, Nguyen’s poems are composed entirely of presence, of articulating a series of particular moments in which the narrator/author are entirely present, whether the classroom, the kitchen, the bedroom or the yard, as well as in the far-larger scope of the world. In his introduction to the collection, poet and critic Anselm Berrigan describes Nguyen’s poems thusly: “Immediately apparent inside Nguyen’s poetry, to me ast least, was a command of voice as an ongoing structural phenomenon, built through diction and velocity while giving off an implicit belief in the agency of a life and the agency of a poem, at once.” Further on:

Phrase by phrase Nguyen’s work can be conversational, playful, funny, angry, acutely self-aware, and loaded with sensory information. The poems’ accrual of emotional significance (an aspect of their form) is evenly distributed among points of consciousness and their attendant pressures: the continuous need to assert the oddity of action that makes up a self; the necessary figuring and refiguring of love and intimacy in a shared space; bringing babies who become children with their own relationships to language into that space (“Would you like a K sandwich?”); anxiety about money, time, work, art, family, upbringing, the question of fate, the murkiness of origin; resistance to the notion of permanent war as a public, domestic, agreed-upon mind frame in which to take part, while reckoning nonetheless with the body counts.

It is through everything that Berrigan brings up, as well as the way she blends so much of it in the simple cadence of a couple of lines, such in the poem “No One Wants,” writing: “Driving a hole / in the ozone layer // Grey transformer box / hulks in the backyard / and we have the 60th anniversary / of the bombing of Hiroshima[.]” Or here:


What your dark eyes take back
to itself, hugged in a curve
of toughness. The land between us is flat.
Let’s say we are ruined, Minneapolis,
bricked against ourselves. A red rag
in the kitchen. This isn’t important or I am.

I never wanted to touch you
and still do. How can we pray or find
what collects in heaven, Father?
I’d be surprised by elegance,
meaning something like rugs
and leather. Soft and tough. This.

I want belief like this. Leaving
the sea is a rag doll I once was. Texas
clouds in dreams, swinging. My loving you
once, mud puddle, swing set.

I’m curious to know if any of the works in the new collection were previously uncollected, or if all had appeared prior in chapbook or book form. Given the absence of any more recent work, as well, might this suggest a new collection looms somewhere over the horizon?

Monday, September 15, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nikki Sheppy

Nikki Sheppy is a poet, editor and arts journalist. She has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Calgary. Her book reviews have appeared in Uppercase Magazine, Alberta Views, and Lemon Hound, and her poetry in Event. She serves as President of the Board of filling Station, Calgary’s experimental literary and arts magazine. Grrrrlhood is her first collection of poetry.

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?

The biggest change is exposure: basically, meeting new people or meeting people anew, as a poet. I’ve met other writers, readers, publishers, advocates and critics, with whom I’ve had many delightful conversations. The chapbook itself was an opportunity to play. When I wrote it, my goal was to have fun and try a few things I hadn’t done before. So “translating” the math-like poems, for instance, was born of my wish to experiment with an irreverent, figural engagement with science, converting the rules of math into the puns, slippages and gamesmanship of language.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When it comes to writing, it was always poetry for me. My mother teaches Québécois poetry, so as a child I would write poems I think as a way of speaking her language. I once wrote a terrible rhyming piece as a kind of spell to do away with her debilitating migraines. At puberty, I also wrote a cheeky jingle for tampons. As I got older and began reading people like Nicole Brossard and Erin Mouré, I realized that I related to language more than I did to narrative.

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?

Some days I spend twelve hours and nothing happens. The next day, something complete emerges in twenty minutes. There’s no particular dividend for time invested. My work is a process of throwing out 85 per cent of what I do, tout entier. I write it, revise it, throw it out. Except for what stands out. What makes it to print or performance is a question of timing or survival.

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?

I typically fail when I try to exert too much control. Therefore I often invite a lot of divergence, fragmentation, swerving away from what I thought I was ‘doing’ in the poem. As a process, this can feel incoherent, though it’s meant to reflect a way of being that is responsive and open to its own dismantling. I tend to work on sequences or books—several of them at once, shifting focus as a particular project gains momentum.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Given how terrified of performance I was as a child, I’m surprised by how comfortable I am reading. Perhaps it’s my age. I feel that reading is ephemeral, occasional and social—it’s part of an event or community more than it is any profound statement about myself. It’s merely a contribution to a particular historical expression of literature, after which we go for drinks. I appreciate that it gives me an opportunity to hear, and to let others hear, the work aurally.

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’m less inherently interested in “current” questions than some writers. I tend to focus on the concerns that I—as a particular kind of writer—am well-adapted to address. Broadly, I would say that my concern is power. My projects are often both critical and utopian, starting with the representation of a problem and then envisioning an alternative, even (perhaps preferably) an impossible one. Sometimes the solution is merely a particular kind of enunciation. Power is not always a question of identity politics. Sometimes it’s situational, discursive, historical, ecological, even romantic. I find it amazing—given gender and sexual politics and the inherently power-laden dynamic of eroticism—that people succeed in having romantic relationships, for example. Often my work is about trying to recover power where a particular situation is unfavourable to it. Perhaps it’s a mark of cynicism that my “solutions” are so often imaginary or strictly formal, rather than real or practicable.

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?

Ouch! This is a massive question. Yes, the writer has a role. To surprise, thwart, resist, play, dismantle, entertain, fuck up publicly, intervene, cry havoc, run around disturbing people with their nakedness, tactically deploy artifice, denounce the denouncers who are just consolidating power—and, well, write words, sounds, glyphs and graphics.

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

I have very little experience of working with an outside editor, though I have enjoyed it. My internal editor can be pretty vicious, at times, so I think I would welcome that feedback.

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

Whenever you wish you could achieve things in writing that you see others doing so beautifully, take a moment to locate whatever is strange and exceptional in your practice. That is your contribution, even if it’s not to everyone’s taste—even if sometimes, it’s not to your own.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to journalistic prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

I find it easy and necessary. It’s a reboot for writing ruts. I like being able to switch modes so that I consider different grammatical structures, lexical registers, and types of discourse. They lend themselves to each other with interesting results, I think. I also enjoy reviewing books or commenting on culture in journalism, as an opportunity to reflect on both my reading and creative writing.

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 write in coffee shops. My favourite serves excellent green tea. I set up with books, laptop, ear buds, and time (and sometimes my friend Naomi). They are very tolerant of me, as long as I occasionally purchase more tea, so I find that I can work for hours at a stretch. This suits me because I need social buzz around me (insulating myself with music) in order to focus internally. If it’s too quiet, I focus on my environment.

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

I read. Poetry, belletrism, speculative architecture, and even sometimes theory. Anything that is more about form, argument or linguistic presentation than narrative.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Lilacs. I didn’t know it until I lived in London during my MA. Then one day I was down near the Wetland Centre in Barnes and I passed beneath a lilac tree. I was immediately, acutely, homesick. In Calgary, there’s a Lilac Festival every spring around my birthday.

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?

I’m very responsive to visual and spatial practices, including film, architecture, and maps. Of the sciences, I prefer math and natural science. I find them fascinating, but as a dabbler, I fear getting things somehow ‘wrong’ in my work, which is likely why I use these fields as ways to mess with other things, rather than as ends in themselves. I take pleasure in the scientific precision of work by other poets, like Adam Dickinson’s Kingdom, Phylum and Polymers, for instance, and Susan B.A. Somers-Willett’s Quiver—though they too use science to mess with things.

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

So many! I wrote a doctoral thesis on poet Sylvia Plath and experimental modernist Anna Kavan, with considerable attention also to Paul Celan and Bessie Head. I am wowed by the likes of Lisa Robertson, Dennis Lee, Nathalie Stephens, Vicente Huidobro, M. Nourbese Phillip, Tim Lilburn, David Dowker, Christine Stewart, Erin Mouré, and so many talented friends and peers in my writing community across Canada. I think what nourishes me is the splendor of diversity that we enjoy in contemporary poetry, rather than any privileged handful of books.

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

Become sufficiently proficient in CAD software that I could create visual poems of an architectural nature. Visit the Okavango Delta and the mountains of Bhutan.

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?

Architecture or cartography. I like systems that map space—typically, but not always, internal space. I also enjoy the outmoded discourse of psychoanalysis, which is in some ways a spatial paradigm for psychic process. I worry, though, that I would have been lousy at these because I’m not very practical. In truth, I would be likelier to produce speculative architecture, maps of imaginary realms, or parodies of psychoanalytic theory. Or to somehow combine these interests to produce detailed axonometric drawings of sublimation machines, or topographical maps of melancholic fixation.

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

I prefer ongoing challenges—things that can exercise me for a while, and have no “correct” solution. Ultimately, many undertakings are of that sort, but I found writing to have the most satisfying array of methodologies, and to be fairly permissive. Breaking rules is fine if the work itself is successful enough, so it’s a good place to tinker.

19 - What was the last great book you read?
I just read the lovely sonic experiment, Thrum by Natalie Simpson; savvy study of grief, M x T by Sina Queyras; haunting dismantling of children’s forms, The Staghead Spoke by Erina Harris, and beautiful taxonomical poetry, Kingdom, Phylum by Adam Dickinson. A few months ago, I also took great pleasure in reading Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, about the recovery of Lucretius’ lost De Rerum Natura by a medieval bookhunter.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a few things… A series of centos that address appropriation. Some palindromic experiments. And a book that re-envisions the mythic in order to contest literary politics, the representation of gender, and traumatic experience as fate. This latter has been a difficult process of shedding numerous false starts, and trying to manage the politics of my own writing life. It has also been a struggle to find compelling ways of dismantling representations not just of the powerless feminine, but of the always-instrumental masculine.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Little Red Leaves: Tynes, Alexander + Hofer,

As I slowly sift through my stack of elegantly designed chapbooks from Little Red Leaves Textile Editions, designed and sewn by Dawn Pendergast, today I’m focusing on Jen Tynes’ here’s the deal (2013), Charles Alexander’s SOME SENTENCES LOOK FOR SOME PERIODS (2013) and Jen Hofer’s Front Page News (2013). It is interesting how all three titles are composed out of variations on fragment and accumulation, each utilizing such in entirely different ways to achieve their goals. Michigan poet and horse less press publisher Jen Tynes’ here’s the deal is a sequence of untitled fragments structured as a single, extended chapbook-length poem, reminiscent of some of the work of Washington State poet Sarah Mangold or Vancouver poet Stephen Collis for her use of sequence, accumulation, the fragment and space on the page. What intrigues about her chapbook-length piece is in the way it doesn’t necessarily have a beginning or an ending, but a sense of being an ongoing stretch of narrative, whether one excerpted from a larger structure, looping back to the beginning, or able to re-order for the sake of a different series of connections.

we have more

than enough occupations

between us to register

a dream with a habit

in its middle blood flow

is migration ruby

throated Laundromat never

again having a three-

digit silence

Tucson, Arizona poet and CHAX publisher Charles Alexander’s SOME SENTENCES LOOK FOR SOME PERIODS is constructed as a prose-poem triptych. As he works through butterflies, ideas of perfection, piano chords, Hamlet and ballet, his prose accumulations twist and turn in on themselves in an intriguing way, and the rush of words have a particular level of velocity I wouldn’t mind hearing read aloud, if possible. Each piece appears to build upon what came before, accumulating and piling upon the exploration of perfection. Are there more to the sequence, or does it hold at three?

I tell myself that nothing can be perfect. I tell myself in nothing words that nothing words that can be perfect. I tell nothing myself nothing words. I tell myself words. Once a butterfly, then a burning hand, a memory of a burning hand. Everyone left me at eight years old, so I left, too, walking a road out of the city, toward a lake. Step one and two. A piano next to the mirror. My sister has beautiful red hair, and she plays piano. Notes are sometimes red. Near the piano, I tell my mother’s hard drinking friend to leave the house. After Tennyson, I always hear the bells. The beauty of a liberty (bell). To cry with a beast, truly the only human present. Also lost in Japan, wandering where water goes. The truck knocks me down, and perhaps out.

As the blurb for Jen Hofer’s Front Page News reads: “From one birthday to another birthday (2011 – 2012), Jen Hofer made a cut-up poem using the front page of the newspaper in the city where she woke every day. The result is a beautiful portrait of what ‘daily’ means wen tempered with poetic, political and personal endeavor. This larger than normal LRL chapbook features custom-printed fabric and color facsimiles of a selection of Hofer’s poems.” Knowing that this is part of a potentially far larger structure intrigues, and yet, it doesn’t necessarily confirm that such will appear later on in a larger state (although I certainly hope so). Pendergast wonderfully reproduces from Hofer’s original collages, allowing an imperfect linearity between certain passages and words to float through the text, and her daily ‘day-book’ structure incorporates the cut-up strategies of Susan Howe and others into the poetic journal played so well by Robert Creeley and Gil McElroy, as well as, more recently, Jessica Smith (who utilizes similar strategies in her own current work-in-progress, “The Daybooks”). (Her method, however intriguing, also makes it tricky to attempt to replicate via the blog-review.) As she writes for Wednesday, April 27, 2011, the poem “borders”: “commanders / air war / strikes against / command /// officials / support / drones / to sever / and supply / army units / as / private / official / strike direct // into the heart [.]”

Saturday, September 13, 2014

the ottawa small press fair, twentieth anniversary (fall) edition: november 8, 2014

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

    the ottawa
    small press
    book fair

will be happening Saturday, November 8, 2014
in room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre
(on Elgin, at 320 Jack Purcell Lane).

contact rob at rob_mclennan@hotmail.com to sign up for a table, etc.

"once upon a time, way way back in October 1994, rob mclennan and James Spyker invented a two-day event called the ottawa small press book fair, and held the first one at the National Archives of Canada..." Spyker moved to Toronto soon after our original event, but the fair continues, thanks in part to the help of generous volunteers, various writers and publishers, and the public for coming out to participate with alla their love and their dollars.

General info:
the ottawa small press book fair
noon to 5pm (opens at 11:00 for exhibitors)

admission free to the public.

$20 for exhibitors, full tables
$10 for half-tables
(payable to rob mclennan, c/o 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9;

send by November 1 if you would like to appear in the exhibitor catalogue.

note: for the sake of increased demand, we are now offering half tables. for catalog, exhibitors should send name of press, address, email, web address, contact person, type of publications, list of publications (with price), if submissions are being considered and any other pertinent info, including upcoming ottawa-area events (if any).

& don't forget the pre-fair reading usually held the night before, info tba! also,

given that the spring 2013 was the first to reach capacity (forcing me to say no to at least half a dozen exhibitors), the fair can't (unfortunately) fit everyone who wishes to participate. the fair is roughly first-come, first-served, but preference will be given to small publishers over self-published authors (being a "small press fair," after all).

the fair usually contains exhibitors with poetry books, novels, cookbooks, posters, t-shirts, graphic novels, comic books, magazines, scraps of paper, gum-ball machines with poems, 2x4s with text, etc, including (at previous events) Bywords, Dusty Owl, Chaudiere Books, above/ground press, Room 302 Books, The Puritan, The Ottawa Arts Review, Buschek Books, The Grunge Papers, Broken Jaw Press, BookThug, Proper Tales Press, Phafours Press, and others. happens twice a year, founded in 1994 by rob mclennan & James Spyker. now run by rob mclennan thru span-o. questions, rob_mclennan@hotmail.com

free things can be mailed for fair distribution to the same address. we are unable to sell things for folk who can't make it, sorry. also, always looking for volunteers to poster, move tables, that sort of thing. let me know if anyone able to do anything. thanks. for more information, bother rob mclennan.if you're able/willing to distribute posters/fliers for the fair, send me an email.

Friday, September 12, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) with Dylan Landis

Dylan Landis [photo credit: Lauren Shay Lavin] is the author of a novel, Rainey Royal, and a collection of linked stories, Normal People Don't Live Like This. She has received a 2014 O. Henry Award and a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Prose, and her work has run or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Tin House, Bomb, The Normal School, Black Clock and House Beautiful.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I revere Anne Lamott but I think she is wrong when she says publishing a book changes nothing. For me, publishing was an arrival. My father was a painter, and he used to say, "I paint for only two people, you and your mother—why do you write to get published?" But I do. There is no limit to how hard I'll work to get to keep doing this.

My second book, Rainey Royal, is a novel about a girl who appears in my first book, a linked story collection called Normal People Don't Live Like This. Rainey is the mean girl at school. She's been abandoned by her mother and is being inappropriately touched by her father's best friend. She essentially has to raise herself and make her way as an artist. It's also a novel about Rainey's two closest female friendships, which sometimes need a lot of triage.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I was writing books and articles full-time about interior design when a writer friend, Claire Whitcomb, insisted I take a workshop with Madeleine L'Engle, the late author of A Wrinkle in Time. And Madeleine converted me to fiction as if it were a religion. "Nonfiction is about what is true," she said, "but fiction is about truth." She told us the story of the Good Samaritan, and explained that some scholars believe that the man beaten by robbers was Jesus, while others believe the Good Samaritan was Jesus. "If you can understand that both are true," she said, "you can write fiction." I went home that night and told my husband that I had to change my life.

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?
Every sentence seems to come out like sludge. And my first drafts are sludge, though "first" may be an exaggeration. I revise extensively during the actual writing process. I have to forgive myself over and over in order to inch forward. I work very closely with a particular reader who helps me revise each draft, and it's lovely not working in a vacuum. 

4 - Where does fiction 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?
Fiction begins for me with a character and a problem—a crucible, an impossibly tight spot. I've been writing about Rainey Royal and her friend Leah Levinson and their parents and their circle for years, and each narrative launches for me with a kind of photographic image of one of those characters in a jam, or a situation leading up to a jam.

Ultimately I write books, not stories. But if I thought about that while I was at my desk, I'd freeze. So during the actual writing, I'm just an author of sentences. Only when I'm halfway there do I think about the entire story or chapter. And only when I have half the stories or chapters in hand do I think about the book. It keeps me free, and limber. And yet books remain the point of the whole exercise, unless I'm struggling with an essay.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
An audience has the effect of making me feel tremendously focused. I feel my own words coming up through my body; I feel the beats. With Normal People Don't Live Like This I razored the pages heavily before I read them, cut out every extra word. I made sure every paragraph was tuned it for the ear, not just for the eye. My own copy was all inked up. Public readings have definitely taught me something about the creative process: when you think the manuscript is finished, read the work aloud to yourself at least once. The ear is more rigorous than the eye; it picks up even small missteps in rhythm that can break a story's spell.

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'm not trying to answer questions. I'm trying to ask them. How do we love ourselves if parents can't love us properly? How can a teenage girl sort out power and sexuality? Can art save us? Is a good artist necessarily a good human being?

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?
Wasn't it once very straightforward—to entertain? I think the writer's role is to grip us emotionally, to translate human experience into story, to mirror society back to itself, and in the process to pay close attention to detail. But I think the writer's job is not to think about any of that or she would never get anything written.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It's a blessing to work with a good editor. It's even more of a joy to work with several, sequentially. I'm blessed with a mentor, Jim Krusoe, who reads all my work first, and there's one reader in particular, Heather Sellers, with whom I've come to work so closely I call her my writing wife.

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

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to journalism to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I didn't find it easy at all and yet it's been irresistible. Moving from journalism to fiction required an entirely new language and thought pattern, an awareness of conflict and subtext. Nothing I knew from journalism applied except for two things: that detail and sense of place were important. The shift into personal essays meant relearning structure, and reconsidering the things that matter to readers. Poetry I've only attempted once; I don't know how poets do it, how you write something so small and distilled that works on two levels at once. I need at least ten pages to pull that off.

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'm a jittery writer, but an addictive one; starting quite early in the morning, I bounce between the words on the page and email and Facebook and the cat and the fridge and the words again. This can go on much of the day. Somehow it gets done because I write or revise almost daily and for hours. I'm pretty obsessed. I love writing dates where there's a friend across the table, typing and concentrating. When I look up, I'm inspired by the sight of another writer concentrating on her work, and I get back to my own. 

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I look for a "guide" book in my shelves, a book on which I want to model my own, either for structure, or voice. At the moment my guides are for voice: Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and John Banville's Ancient Light. Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon never lets me down, because of its directness and its exquisite complexity and the way she handles flashbacks and the importance of its story. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Current home? Childhood home? The sense of home I carry inside, no matter how many times I move? I am always faintly homesick. The scent of home is whatever candle I am burning at the time. My mother used to wear Joy. That might be it. 

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?

Visual art and the sciences and the decorative arts and poetry and even jazz, about which I know nothing, all end up in my work; they're inspirations for my characters more than for me. Characters need passions and talents just as we do.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon is the sun around which my very tiny planet revolves. I reread Cormac McCarthy, Junot Diaz, Alice Munro, Marilynne Robinson, Raymond Carver, James Joyce, Deborah Eisenberg, William Faulkner. I'm also in love with Bee Season, a debut novel by Myla Goldberg. It's painful to think of the authors I'm leaving off this list, and worse to think of the ones I haven't read. 

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write more personal essays. Keep a true and daily writer's journal. Get unaddicted to email. Organize my files. Write about my father's death. Learn to ski. I'd like to get off the bunny hill.

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?
Waitressing? Typing? I might be lost. Or I might have kept my old job as a lab tech working with rats, and gone to graduate school in the sciences. I wouldn't be happy.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing always seemed so exotic and unattainable, something madly creative you had to be born into. A gift, like a great singing voice. And yet I wanted to craft something decent with words—a sentence, a paragraph, a newspaper article, a story, a book. I started very small, as a secretary in an advertising agency, writing bits of ad copy. I'm embarrassed to say how thrilling it was when they got printed. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I don't go to the movies; they overwhelm me, partly with emotion and partly, because I am faceblind and don't always recognize people, with confusion. I loved Greg Baxter's The Apartment, in which nothing exactly happens except that a man finds an apartment in an unnamed Eastern European city, but the voice, oh my God. He has a crisp, quiet attention to even the plainest details that's inordinately satisfying. 

20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel, The Hoarder's Daughter.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Frank Sherlock, Space Between These Lines Not Dedicated

You can feel good in the skin you’re in even if it’s been broken
You can feel good about the fire fighter & the wonder of fireworks at once
Show off your titty tattoos & feel good     I feel it     Feel good about
falling in love w/o government sanction         Flip the bird to the law &
feel good    You can feel good about your wave cap when it’s tied just right
Can you feel how good this feels this blinking sign of redemption
You can feel good about smoking in bed & not waking up in a fire
You can you

I’m very taken with the poetry collection, Space Between These Lines Not Dedicated (Philadelphia PA: Ixnay Press, 2014), the first work I’ve seen by current Philadelphia poet laureate Frank Sherlock. The author of Over Here (Factory School, 2009) and the collaborations Ready-to-Eat Individual (with Brett Evans; Lavender Ink, 2008) and The City Real & Imagined (with CAConrad; Factory School, 2010), the poems in Space Between These Lines Not Dedicated are made up of a series of sharp lyric accumulations constructed out of a blend of intimate, social and political commentaries. The poems in this collection explore a series of boundaries, including the space between the private and the public, as well as the personal and communal. “Nothing is / unconditional / in this / existence or / the other way / around     I move in / this manner / as a public,” he writes, in the poem “Very Different Animals.” Much further in the same piece, he includes a single line in the middle of the page, writing:

            The poem starts here

There is something both structurally and subject-wise in Sherlock’s work reminiscent of Vancouver poets Jeff Derksen and Stephen Collis, both of whom also work in the political vein of accumulated poem-stanzas constructed out of short phrase-lines, such as in Sherlock’s poem “Love Letter November 15,” that includes: “I trade / news links / through / militarized / playspace / to keep / witnessing / fresh / to stay out / of the back / catalogue / while / looking to / not be / abandoned [.]” His poems move from point to point, including enormous amounts of information in compact spaces, jumping naturally from thought to thought, connecting a series of ideas and events that together become quite unsettling, and shake the reader out of any kind of comfort. These are poems meant to be uncomfortable, aimed to provoke a plethora of reactions. Composed as a series of fragments held together as extended sequences, Sherlock includes the occasional short poem between longer sequences that exist almost as a kind of Greek chorus, created as a kind of bonding agent that brings the ten longer poems together as a single collection. Despite articulating conflicts, complaints, rants and ongoing fears, there is something entirely optimistic throughout Sherlock’s work, such as the ending of the title poem, well towards the back of the collection, that reads:

Still for now
there is a way for
me to get from
here to the rest of
the world    Hear
me stand inside
the piano & play
I will walk
toward you