Wednesday, August 23, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Allison LaSorda

Allison LaSorda’s writing has appeared in Brick: A Literary Journal, Hazlitt, PRISM international, and The Fiddlehead, among others. Her first book, Stray, was published by icehouse poetry / Goose Lane Editions in 2017.

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?
Writing can be an isolating experience, and one that is abstracted and interior, so it can be disorienting to bring the product of that experience to others. Poems languish on my desktop and rarely feel finished. I find it tough to let go. I’m not sure about my life changing, but having my work published in book form, on real, pulpy pages, makes me feel as though I have completed something concrete.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I don’t recall making the decision. An impulse to tackle something small, to ask questions, or to play with language was probably what first drew me to attempting poetry. Now, though, writing poetry and fiction both feel necessary to me.

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?
When it comes, the writing comes quickly. There tend to be large gaps between productive periods. First drafts are very similar to the shape of final drafts, though of course they’re clumsy and in need of chiselling.

4 - Where does a poem or work of 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?
I tend to start small. Shorter pieces accumulate, and maybe they echo each other in their tone or topic or obsessions. It’d be interesting to start with a larger thematic project in mind, but I expect it would be challenging for me.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I feel neutral about public readings. I’m grateful for any audience that gives poems a chance, but in general, I prefer to watch rather than be watched. While reading I might have the opportunity to notice the awkwardness of a phrase, or a repetition that went unnoticed, so in that sense it is helpful to my editing 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 don’t consciously apply theory to my writing. If I think about it, I venture to say I am trying to clarify what is difficult to articulate, and to anatomize what a particular instinct or choice or system is presenting as simple. I’m concerned with humour and absurdity. I’m trying to ask why certain questions are important to me, and why poetry is the way to open them up. What settles in my mind right now are questions of memory, gender, logic, attachment / detachment, and more that I probably haven’t identified quite yet.  

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?
Man. I worry about being idealistic. Writers can forge the potential for new ways of seeing, can look inward and outward at the same time, and can be mindful of context, uncertainty, and empathy. But there isn’t one way to be a writer any more than there is one way to write.

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

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I like this Jack London quotation: Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s been natural in some ways and tough in others. The appeal, for me, is to bring the energy of fiction and poetry, of far-reaching and tinkering, and mix them into each other.

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 don’t have much of a routine. On a free day, and a good writing day, I hustle out of the house in the morning and write in a café until I get restless. Otherwise, I tend to write at night. I feel that fatigue helps me escape being too cautious.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If I can’t write, I’ll edit. If I can’t edit, I’ll read. Reading boosts my brain.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Burning leaves.

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 influenced by, or at least preoccupied by, everything and everyone most of the time.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
In a sense each book I read is important, whether it drives me up the wall or it gives me renewed energy. At the moment, I’m lucky to read books-in-progress by my talented friends, and otherwise I’m absorbing the work of whip-smart writers like Patricia Lockwood, Danez Smith, Kevin Connolly, Karen Solie, and Ottessa Moshfegh.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Oh, that’s a list. At the top are: Surf. Write a novel. Stick a handstand.

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’d choose to be a professional mountain climber or a midwife. I think if I hadn’t pursued writing in a real way I’d be a veterinary technician.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think writing is, in practical ways, a very low maintenance art form. I just need a computer. I love to read and consume, but there was an urge to engage and participate. What made me write was the feeling that writing is an end in itself.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m late to the party, always. Book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Film: Hell or High Water.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Stories. And what maybe could be a novella.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

the above/ground press 24th anniversary reading/launch/party!

above/ground press presents readings and other such by an array of poets:
Stephanie Bolster (Montreal)
Adele Graf (Ottawa)
Kristina Drake (East Hawkesbury)
Amanda Earl (Ottawa)
+ rob mclennan (Ottawa)
lovingly hosted by above/ground press author and Apt 9 Press editor/publisher Cameron Anstee
7:30pm door/8pm reading
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Backdrop Food & Drink
160 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa

$5 at the door; includes a copy of a recent above/ground press title

Stephanie Bolster has published four books of poetry, the first of which, White Stone: The Alice Poems, won the Governor General's and the Gerald Lampert Awards in 1998. Her latest book, A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth (Brick Books, 2011) was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Award. Work from her current manuscript-in-progress, Long Exposure, from which this chapbook is also drawn, was a finalist for the Canada Writes/CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008 and co-editor of Penned: Zoo Poems, she was born in Vancouver and teaches creative writing at Concordia University in Montréal.

She will be launching the chapbook GHOSTS.

This is Stephanie Bolster’s fourth above/ground press chapbook, after the original Three Bloody Words (1996), Biodome (2006) and Three Bloody Words: Twentieth Anniversary Edition (2016). She also appeared in the fifth issue of the long poem magazine STANZAS (April 1995).

Adele Graf’s poems have appeared in many Canadian journals including The Antigonish Review, CV2, The Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead, Room and Vallum. Her first poetry collection, math for couples, was published this spring by Guernica Editions. 

She will be launching the chapbook a Baltic Friday early in grey.

Kristina Drake writes and edits in the wilderness of East Hawkesbury, Ontario. Her poems have previously appeared in Carte Blanche, Soliloquies and Yalla!, as an above/ground press broadside, and as a Tuesday poem on Dusie.

She will be launching the chapbook Ornithology.

Amanda Earl is an Ottawa writer, publisher and visual poet. She’s the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. More information is available at

She will be launching the chapbook Lady Lazarus Redux.

This is Earl’s fifth chapbook with above/ground press, after Eleanor(2007), The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman (2008), Sex First & Then A Sandwich (2012) and A Book of Saints (2015).

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). He has two poetry collections forthcoming: Life Sentence (Flat Singles Press, 2018) and Household items (Salmon Poetry, 2018). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, Touch the Donkey and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater. He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, a regular contributor to the Ploughshares blog, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

He will be launching the chapbook It's still winter.

This is mclennan's millionth chapbook with above/ground press. There are too many to list.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Julie Carr, Objects from a Borrowed Confession

Therefore the question “Does God exist” is the wrong question.

The answer for religious and non-religious people is the same: no. God does not “exist,” is an object constructed not according to truth but verisimilitude. A literary truth. What exists, says the philosopher to the children, are relationships between us humans, and also the idea of nothingness. These relationships can be more or less activated; we can think about them a lot, or only a little. Also, all of us can think about nothing when we want to. Everyone can entertain the idea of “nothingness” as easily as they can think about their mother. As easily as they can think about their son. A process is always distinct from its products. But whether thinking about it, imagining it, or refusing to, we’re always in some relationship with this nothing, and so, though God does not exist, it also does not exist, and so God is, if we want to say “is,” always on the side of the sky, with the sky open. (“Objects from a Borrowed Confession”)

Denver poet Julie Carr’s latest is Objects from a Borrowed Confession (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017), a collection that explores the form and arguments of confession, the intimate and “confessional poetry.” Through a blend of forms, Objects from a Borrowed Confession weaves poetry, memoir and critical prose to compose a lyric essay on the very nature of confession itself, as she writes to open the “Author Statement” that accompanies the press release [the full version of which is also available via the Ahsahta Press web page]:

The works in Objects from a Borrowed Confession have been written over a stretch of approximately ten years, in and around the writing of various other books of poetry and prose. They all share a common obsession with the theme of confession. I became interested in this theme partially because the term “confessional poetry” carried such negative connotations when I was “coming up” in poetry, even as poets considered “confessional,” especially Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, had been so important to me as a young writer. The situation was similar to being a hard-core punk kid while sometimes listening to Joni Mitchell in my bedroom. I wanted to think about what the Language Poets and the Conceptual Poets had against “confession,” but I also wanted to see why confession was so important to our broader culture. Obviously, in the age of Facebook and the memoir, everyone is a confessional poet, and I wanted to explore that impulse and the attraction we have to one another’s secrets. On a more philosophical level, I wanted to understand what the act of confession has to do with intimacy, empathy and subjectivity.

Through ten sections, Objects from a Borrowed Confession exists as a curious meeting point between the works of New York poet Rachel Zucker and American non-fiction writer Sarah Manguso, composing a conversation illuminating what it is about “confession” that seems so frightening, and easy to dismiss by both writers and readers alike. Thick as a thesis, Carr’s lyric, ten years in the making, is perfectly timed, given the shifts in memoir-writing, non-fiction and, quite pointedly, the “confession,” via writers such as Manguso and Maggie Nelson. In comparison, Objects from a Borrowed Confession retains a strong foothold in poetry, and might even be better to compare to Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s more recent (and quite remarkable) On a clear day (Ahsahta Press, 2017) [see my review of such here] (or even works by Sue Landers and Susan Howe). As Carr writes: “I confess here and now to liking the shape of my own lips as they enact / the future of feeling on a minor scale my focus as narrow as my ambition is grand but these are / ideas we have encountered before so perhaps it’s time to alter my font?”

Highlights abound, but I’ll point out the book’s penultimate section, the three part “By beauty and by fear: on narrative time,” in which her prose ebbs and flows like water, utilizing quotes and rhythmic pauses to explore how narrative time, itself, ebbs and flows, as a microcosm of the book as a whole. We need far more of these, still: fiercely smart books engaged with the world and composed with the whole head, and whole heart. As she writes as part of part two of that same section, “NAME”:

That verb “befall” hints at the crisis that circles the act of naming. The verb dates back to Old English (897), and seems to have meant simply “to fall” until the 12th century where it begins to also mean “to inherit”—which is certainly one of Blake’s meanings here. But as I search the OED I find that almost all instances of “befall,” where it takes an indirect object (“thee”), indicate an inheritance that is bad or dangerous—that will leave its object worse off, not better.

“I do not know what it gives,” wrote H.D. of the “jewel” vibrating at the center of her poem “Tribute to the Angels”: “a vibration that we can not name, // for there is no name for it; / my patron said, ‘name it’; // I said, I can not name it, there is no name” (Trilogy 76). Patrons, kings, queens—need things named. Poets, though they trade in words (or because they do), recognize and defend the unnameable core that burns.

Before named, the infant of Blake’s poem is pure happiness. Language can’t even organize itself correctly around that happiness (I happy am). But once named, once “called,” it suffers a fall, one could say, into narrative. No easy opposition, then, between the fear of no narrative and the comfort of having one. Because as soon as you begin to tell yourself, something of yourself is lost. And not all narratives, dear mothers and fathers, dear children, end well.