Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Spotlight series #32 : Stephanie Gray

The thirty-second in my monthly "spotlight" series, each featuring a different poet with a short statement and a new poem or two, is now online, featuring Brooklyn poet-filmmaker Stephanie Gray.

The first eleven in the series were attached to the Drunken Boat blog, and the series has so far featured poets including Seattle, Washington poet Sarah Mangold, Colborne, Ontario poet Gil McElroy, Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Ottawa poet Jason Christie, Montreal poet and performer Kaie Kellough, Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, American poet Elizabeth Robinson, American poet Jennifer Kronovet, Ottawa poet Michael Dennis, Vancouver poet Sonnet L’Abbé, Montreal writer Sarah Burgoyne, Fredericton poet Joe Blades, American poet Genève Chao, Northampton MA poet Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer from Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1 territory) poet, critic and editor Joshua Whitehead, American expat/Barcelona poet, editor and publisher Edward Smallfield, Kentucky poet Amelia Martens, Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie, Burlington, Ontario poet Sacha Archer, Washington DC poet Buck Downs, Toronto poet Shannon Bramer, Vancouver poet and editor Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Vancouver poet Geoffrey Nilson, Oakland, California poets and editors Rusty Morrison and Jamie Townsend, Ottawa poet and editor Manahil Bandukwala, Toronto poet and editor Dani Spinosa, Kingston writer and editor Trish Salah, Calgary poet, editor and publisher Kyle Flemmer, Vancouver poet Adrienne Gruber and California poet and editor Susanne Dyckman.

The whole series can be found online here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Richard Froude, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

The Year of Half-Light remained in the moment of birth and death. The Year of Half-Light was the achievement we would to take to God but the Year of God refused to arrive. So we dug deeper into the highways and opened a chamber beneath the Year of Mirrors, a chamber flush with the years we would never know: years of precognition, years of impossible allotropes. So we teetered on this precipice: on one side of the Year of Unborn Ice, a year of torment, and on the other these years of exquisite beauty, touchable but too impossibly real. (“Prelude: Our Past”)

From American poet Richard Froude comes the debut novel, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (Boulder CO: Subito Press, 2018), a lyric blend of narrative storytelling and poetic sentences. Given his first two books—Fabric (Denver CO: Horse Less Press, 2011) [see my review of such here] and The Passenger (Cheltenham, Glos UK: Skylight Press, 2012) [see my review of such here]—were poetry titles that explored the prose poem, the larger structure and the lyric sentence, a continuation further into prose to produce a novel isn’t, in certain ways, an unexpected move. With an opening sequence that feels almost Brautiganesque in style and tone, Froude provides the overall structure of the novel, and the novel’s sections, in the most curious kind of abstract, before moving into first section, and more tangible scenes.

Subtitled “a novel in ruins,” he offers thirteen short sections, as well as prelude and coda, with titles such as “The Year of Whispers and Purgatory,” “The Year of Improper Ascension,” “The Year of Windows,” “The Year of Our Defeat,” “The Year of Passing Cars” and “The Year of Unborn Ice.” Your Love Alone Is Not Enough is a book very much aware of its own structure, and the possibilities within, allowing both the shifts and the spaces between those shifts to wrap in and around each other, providing a series of direct and indirect threads. As he writes as part of “The Year of the Highway // The Year We Began // The Decisive Year”: “Form is recreated from tidal patterns: I have scraped my arms across the sidewalk, dragged my skin over broken bottles.” On the whole, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough is a book about grief, love and heartbreak, and a book very much about the benefits to and drawbacks of the very passage of time: the flashes of, and through, and the intricacies of its movement. With sections flipping back and forth between time and narrators, providing multiple perspectives throughout, this is a work of incredible detail and density, working in silence and hushed tones. As he writes, offering perhaps some perspective on the book’s author: “My single motivation is authentic experience. I can only approach it by telling stories.”

There is nothing atypical that I want, only the capacity for movement. It’s as easy as rabies, my friend, as natural as believing in an all-knowing, invisible God. The definition of mass is an object’s resistance to acceleration. What I want is painless, a methodical loss of this hindrance. To be carried by a tide: a ghost ship, an object set adrift on a surface already moving. I admit that I want to dissolve into the world. But more than that, I want the world within me.

Monday, December 10, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Josh Spilker

Josh Spilker is a writer and content strategist living in Nashville, TN. His new book is PLS Advise. When he's not writing, he's watching the NBA, paddleboarding or doing stuff with his family. Find him at

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

Changed my life? I don't think my first book changed my life in any significant way. The most significant change was the completion. And realizing that I can meet a goal. The newest book is shorter than the first, that's one difference. Otherwise, I'd say I'm not as emotionally invested in the newest one, even though it's more personal. Now, it feels like something that is supposed to happen, and brief sketches are already down for the next one. So it goes. 

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

Well, in college I was more into poetry. Poetry seemed more observational and not as long, so I thought I could do that. But I quickly realized I didn't enjoy reading poetry. So I didn't know why or how I would contribute something to that. I've been a reporter and I also work in content marketing for a living, so arguably I came to non-fiction before fiction. The demands of logistics and research aren't as demanding for fiction, at least not for the type of fiction I'm interested in.

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?

Love process questions! No, it doesn't come quickly. And I'm not a person that outlines. Instead, I write very rough drafts that contain plot notes and basic dialogue. I write everything by hand, with legal pads. And then after I've written a few thousand words, I'll start typing it and editing it as I go. And then after I type, I'll start again and rework. Once those sections are "done," I'll go back to the legal pad and pick up where I left off, and write until I'm ready to type that section.

I like using legal pads and writing by hand, because I'll fill the margins with direction...about what to connect it to in the future or what to go back and add in. Usually I find myself writing sections and parts that aren't sequential, so I'll have to re-order it when I start typing. 

4 - Where does 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?

I'm definitely a person that writes with a larger novel in mind. I don't start with a "short story" even though I'll term some of my excerpts as such. That said, I don't have the book plotted out from beginning to end when I start writing. I often find myself writing first what later is actually the middle of the novel. Or the middle of the story at least. 

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

I don't mind readings, but I don't actively seek them out. There are some local open mics and such, but I don't attend those too often. If someone invites me, sure I'll participate. I'm more likely to read my tweets or something humorous rather than what I'm actually working on...I've been to too many boring readings and so I want to keep the audience in mind at all times, especially since readings are such a different experience than reading a book. 
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?

Well, I studied postmodernism and experimental fiction in grad school, so whatever questions would accompany those things are interesting to me. Questions of authorship and determining what's real are two main questions that I think our culture is confronting for the first time in awhile. PLS Advise definitely deals with those. I feel like there's a higher demand in fiction in this time period for things to be real or not real, hence the rise of autofiction and the rise of dystopian sci-fi. Everything in between seems out of place in contemporary fiction.

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?

I like this G.K. Chesterton quotation: "The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost." The role of the writer is to uncover what may be lost or has been lost and bring that to attention. There could be some urgency around that call, especially in current political times.That uncovering  can happen in a documentary film or a well-made TV show, but it can happen even faster with well-placed commentary, article or critique.

For fiction writers or longer form meditations and memoirs, it may not be immediately pressing matters, but could be uncovering greater societal and cultural shifts.

To me, that's what writers do best: find what's being lost and give people a reason to potentially love it.

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

I don't find it essential; but there's no doubt that it's helpful. The editing process can (and potentially should) look a lot different than it used to. Crowdsourcing, commenting and public review can also provide a type of editing that may have only come from a single voice a generation or two ago. 

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

Introduce mystery. Kill your darlings. Write by hand. 

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?

Because of my day job, I do essentially  write every day. I don't always work on my personal projects every day however. So to that end, I don't keep a regular writing routine. Generally, I'll knock out administrative tasks and meetings in the morning, and try to carve out time to write in the afternoon. Most of the time, that's writing for my day job. My personal writing usually happens on the weekends or at night. I probably peak between the hours of 4pm and midnight, but due to you know societal norms and family life with young kids, I can't keep that schedule. So for my personal projects I'll work on things at night, like 9pm and after.

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

For inspiration/guidance in general, I go to the Bible which also has some good literary inspiration in there, too. The Book of Acts is pretty crazy with a lot of action and challenges to authority. 1 and 2 Samuel has a lot of family drama.

Otherwise, I'll reread a book by a favorite author and even copy down a few passages here and there to get in their head. That usually stirs something up in my own head and writing.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Sunscreen. My sister, her family and my parents live near the beach and I spent my high school years there. So slowly baked sunscreen reminds me of home.

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 listen to a lot of music, but I don't think of it as necessarily impacting my writing, which means it probably does.

I would be naive to say think that the Internet and specifically social media isn't influencing my writing--it definitely is. The short bursts, incomplete thoughts, the constant stream of randomness is now probably the biggest influence on my writing and I don't even always know how.

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

A lot of books definitely influenced this book, and I put together a list of those here.  The book that most influenced PLS Advise is Ben Lerner's 10:04. I loved how he blended so much anxiety of the age into his work--about procreation, about equality, about disaster, about life ticking away--along with "his" own career and art. It was definitely a model for PLS Advise and I felt myself reflecting on it quite a bit while writing.

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

Live outside North America and write my next book.

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?

I was very close to becoming a lawyer, and sometimes I even think about picking it up in my 30s. I've always been great at research and distilling information; I just don't know if it has enough creativity for me. 

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

Kinda answered above. 

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

I'd say White Teeth by Zadie Smith, even though it was uneven in some places. Great epics seem to be effortless to her.

The last great film? I'd say Sorry To Bother You the Boots Riley film with Lakeith Stanfield. The third act was very bold and I'm sure most big-time studios would not have let him do that. But it was great and invigorating. 

19 - What are you currently working on?

Lots of blog posts. I've started skestching ideas for the next book. I have a central idea, but I'm not certain what form or style it'll take. It won't be far off from my recent books like Taco Jehovah and PLS Advise...but I think there's a crime, which came out of nowhere.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair (part three,

[Aoife and Rose, colouring during post-fair clean-up]

Here’s another batch of items I picked up at the most recent ottawa small press book fair [see part two of this list here; see the list from the prior fair here]; and you saw I’m doing same recently as well from similar gatherings from Toronto’s Meet the Presses [see my most recent post on such here], right?

Windsor ON: I am intrigued by Toronto poet Hanan Hazime’s debut poetry chapbook aorta (ZED Press, 2018), moving from the paced lyric poem to a more rushed, and even breathless, prose style. A poem such as the full page single stanza prose poem “holding my breath in seawater” is a wonderful rush of words, threatening to overcome and even drown, especially against the three-line fragment on the following page: “across muddy fields, / their dismembered hearts ached, / still longing for peace [.]” Composed as, quite literally, a book of the heart (the poem “eat my heart out,” for example, or “he arted heart strings”), there are parts of this that do feel a bit uneven, and in need of further editing/tightening (as well as the removal of the occasional cliché), but there is enough in the writing here to make me want to see what else she is capable of.

kintsugi or the art of repairing broken hearts

lately I see my reflection better in shattered mirrors as I’m searching for the fragmented pieces of me of I of myself of you of us but a hole can never be whole again and I can’t line the fractures in my atrium with gold or repair the tears in my tendons the way the Japanese decorate their broken pottery because my heart is no ornament and it cannot be remanufactured and my wounds are not wilted flowers to be watered back to health and even though the heart is one of the first organs to form it still takes nine months to fully grow a human so why was I born at six then what a miracle they said why she’s as tiny as a doll but I was no porcelain figure no I was soft tissue malleable bones barely functioning lungs and sometimes I wish I never learned to breathe on my own never left my mother’s womb but that’s not the point no when my favourite tea cup cracked in half I could not mend it I could not glue the ceramic back together with gold lacquer because I’m too broke to afford precious metals to afford lavish therapy and people like us from broken systems broken families broken bodies and broken brains cannot be fixed because humans hearts are not manufactured but grown

Kingston ON: It is always a pleasure to see what Michael e. Casteels is up to in his Puddles of Sky Press, and one of the items I collected was illiterature, issue eight, with the tag-line “a journal / of rubber-stamped poems.” Produced in an edition of one hundred copies, there are ten small publications in the envelope of this issue (I’ll let you begin the math on the impressions he would have had to hand-stamp), with new works by Conor Barnes, Ben Robinson, Kate Siklosi, LeRoy Gorman, Michael e. Casteels, Robert R. Thurman, Conyer Clayton, Gabriel Bates, Zane Koss and Robin Wyatt Dunn. As Dunn’s poem, produced in a black slice of paper, folded, reads:

some swan
the black deep

Brooklyn poet (and Canadian expat) Zane Koss’ poem exists in an even smaller envelope, titled “STATEMENT OF POETICS,” with a quote by the late American writer Joe Brainard on the front that reads: “Sitting here only a few feet away from the ocean it’s hard to think of anything to say (except ‘ocean’) so I guess I’ll stop.” His poem has an enormous amount to unpack in such a small space, and reads:

nature poetry is impossible
because where would all the
words come from, and be
sides? its always got to get
            to the people somehow

There is an enormous amount of care that comes through a publication such as this, both through editorial and production (akin to jwcurry’s offerings, or Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 Press) that make this item, especially through the limited edition, one of the more intriguing from this year’s event.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Julie McIsaac, We Like Feelings. We Are Serious.

Statement of Poetics

Every loss I have ever felt has registered in my brain, marked my body, and influenced all of my relationships. I know that you feel the same way. Please believe me, I want sincerity most of all; however, I am saddened and frustrated to find that I, too, am tyrannized by irony.

From Hamilton, Ontario writer Julie McIsaac comes the expansive and powerful We Like Feelings. We Are Serious. (Hamilton ON: Buckrider Books/Wolsak & Wynn, 2018), a poetry title that follows on the heels of her debut short story collection, Entry Level (London ON: Insomniac Press, 2012). McIsaac’s debut collection of poems rages against numerous oppressive systems while highlighting the often-unspoken traumas of female experience, composing poems as journal entries, and questioning her own behaviour as much as she shines a spotlight on the behaviour of others. 

Through nine poem-sections—“Statement of Poetics,” “Young Love in the Post-Activism Era,” “Young Feminists in the Archive Era,” “Emotion of Hope,” “The Orange Toxic Event,” “The Suicidal Revolutionaries, Or God Bless Kathy Acker” “Haibun Dribs and Drabs / Scars and Scabs,” “Fire Poems I” and “Fire Poems II”—McIsaac composes a series and sequence of prose poems that accumulate to form short essays on experience, trauma, dismissal, resistance and methods of survival. As she writes to open the poem “FEMINISM IN THE ARCHIVE ERA”:

I am browsing the Feminist Archives.
The university libraries house them in their central middle-of-
            nowhere branch.
I heard about this place through graffiti on a bathroom stall.
Good thing I have all this menstrual blood to write with to fill out
            the call slips
Because there’s no money in the budget for little pencils.

Lonely on the margins
or lost in the middle
or nowhere at all.

Hers is a poetry that focuses her attention on forms of power that work to reduce or dismiss the contributions of women, from theory to patriarchy to literary writing to cultural influences to more intimate interactions. For all the rage that rages throughout, there is an enormous amount of play going on in the writing itself, exploring structures of the lyric sentence, prose poems and the haibun, allowing repetition and rhythm and the effects of sound to showcase her enviable ability to strike and parry, twist and sing at even the highest volume. She writes: “Is this the end of irony? / The moment that I have been waiting for?”


From inside the feminist bookstore: “But wait,” she says, “I want to talk about silence. Does dishing out the same shut up that we’ve heard for so long make us more powerful? Are we trying to just spread oppression more equally, thus begetting a new, morbid equality? Are we all in this pit together? Maybe I should be silent on this, or write it down in menstrual blood and delete the pronouns. I’ll fuck my sister, keep it in the family. Rainbows will explode out our eyes when we cum. I could sink a ship, a big fat cargo ship, a motherfucking oil tanker, with all my lust. But desire should be a weapon – right? – pointed at the horizon, the one we rode away from? That’s where I should keep my anger and my agency. Is that what you’re saying?”

Friday, December 07, 2018

Ongoing notes: Meet the Presses (part five,

It seems like I picked up rather a lot of publications at this year’s Toronto’s Meet the Presses’ annual Indie Literary Market [see part four of my notes here; and you see I’ve been posting on our more recent ottawa small press book fair as well, yes?], doesn’t it? Well, here’s another list of items. So there!

London ON: Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley’s latest, following her Griffin Prize-nominated Silvija (Book*hug, 2016), is the chapbook Quell (Baseline Press, 2018), a sequence “written in the late summer of 2016 [.]” As the acknowledgements offer, this small sequence of prose poems “began at Perth, Ontario’s ‘Framework: Words on the Land’ event in August 2016.”

The edge. Transposed. Turn yourself away from it. It’s impossible to know where your gaze begins and ends, even if you touched the trace of it. Drift. Wood. This slight shift—fetched when our gasp elongates. Takes shape in foxtail restlessness. Sweat. Rivulet. Wet behind the knees. All this time, each moment, we search for one true furrow. Thistle-blade. The dark is coming. Unalterable. Stars pull themselves up from the swamp.

Ridley is notoriously quiet about what she’s working on, with publications often appearing without much fanfare, but she has quickly emerged into one of the strongest poets working in Ottawa, as well as one of the most read. I’m enjoying Ridley’s shift into the prose poem, a form she’s been working in, around and through for some time, so fascinated to see her focus on the poetic sentence, while still aware of pace, and breath, and cadence, writing in and among the absences, and small cracks. Her poem begins in the woods, and moves further out, attempting to disappear even as the narrator attempts not to be completely overcome. Is there a middle? What is this quell?

No sleep, no aftershock, no afterimage, no ghosted silvering, no depth, no swamp, no murk, no lake, breath, no sleep. Weak pulse kiltered to the rustle. Awake. Awake. Nothing happened—but lack.

Cobourg ON: I’m enjoying the oddness that is Toronto writer Heather Birrell’s short story chapbook Dreaming Fidel (2018), produced by Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press. I clearly need to be reading more of Birrell’s work (I blame the distraction of small children). What is Heather Birrell doing writing about Fidel Castro, you might ask? Hers is a curious examination of revolution, the public Castro, and a variety of conjectures. With a clarity and an oddness, she offers that “Fidel appears to me in miniature, a tiny perfect replica of his human self [...].” As her story begins:

Castro as a young man looks like a clean-cut boxer with his knobby out-of-joint nose, then an imperfect chubby Errol Flynn when he grows the thin moustache, and later still, in profile, somewhat regal, more seasoned. As the beard comes, in the moustache grows to meet it; the fatigues fit like a second skin. And there are the hats: the peaked pillbox army cap he wears on the sports field and, while leaning close to hear the greetings of important heads of state, the revolutionary beret pushed to the back of his head like a relaxed tea cosy, the wide-brimmed straw sun hat he dons for cutting sugar cane with the campesinos. His eyes are not wide. When he is not smiling they are guarded and sad. When he begins to smile they soften like ripening fruit. Sometimes he uses them to peer up through the cigar smoke that rises from his like steam from a kettle.