Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
Another damned meme. Today is Blog Tour Day, apparently. This blog tour is where writers and authors answer questions about their writing process, and I was tagged by poet E.E. Nobbs, who wrote about her process here.
Here are my answers:
What am I working on?
Although the manuscript “World’s End” is still very much in its beginning stages, it is slowly moving through a series of transitions, from our house-purchase on Alta Vista, to the birth of my second child, Rose. I’ve spent the past few years exploring the lyric sentence, interested in just what some of the possibilities might be, ranging from going through issues of the American journal sentence: the journal of the prose poem to the writing of Lisa Robertson, Rae Armantrout, Elizabeth Robinson, Elizabeth Willis, Anne Carson, Susan Howe and Lisa Jarnot, among so many others. My individual poetry manuscripts accumulate themselves into individual shapes and concerns over a year or two of composition, each working to answer a new set of questions, but also follow a particular kind of linearity from project to project: “World’s End” follows the lessons of “Signature form,” for example, which follows the lessons of “Life sentence,” and “household items.” Everything happens in a particular order, as a series of linear steps.
The title, “World’s End,” deliberately suggests an ending, which is also a beginning, where everything is forced to become new, outside the safety of the city gates. What will the new shape of this space end up being? “World’s End” is what British pubs outside the city walls were called, when the village was the entire world for most of its occupants, and to travel outside was to reach the limits of knowledge (so why not have a drink, possibly). The title section, “World’s End,” works to articulate our new geographic and psychological space—home-owning in Alta Vista. The neighbourhood was created out of a patchwork in the 1950s as Ottawa’s first suburb, and where my mother and her family moved during the same period, making for a series of interesting perspectives on what our new space is, was and might actually mean. The second section, “Glossary of Musical Terms,” plays short prose poems around musical terminologies, and the weeks and months leading up to the birth of our new daughter. I wanted to engage with the lyric of impending arrival, and the impossibly abstract semi-imagined realization of our new addition. Through this work, I am attempting to articulate this new space, while working to stretch out into new, and even frightening, territory. To end is ever to begin again.
Another section, “The Rose Concordance,” perhaps the only work I’ve really managed to consider since Rose was born in November, 2013, is constructed out of a series of stand-alone seemingly random phrases. The inattention to work that Rose presents is something I’m attempting to capture in this fragment-collage work. If all I can compose at the moment is the occasional stand-alone line, then I will work from that perspective. The first line was composed on the day she was born, from our hospital room at the Montfort:
Wednesday’s child is full of whoa—
Sleep, a bitter fiction
Babe agape, snores slightly
One writes like a storm, intermittent—
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
A good question. How am I to answer that? I am continuing to explore the lyric sentence, a narrative arc constructed out of the collage of fragments, and how history and geography (basically, our surroundings) continues to present us with perspectives we aren’t necessarily aware of.
Why do I write what I do?
I write where my interest takes me. Sometimes an entire project can be triggered by something I read in a literary journal, the newspaper or something I catch in conversation. Some projects, such as my interest in exploring the prose poem, took years of consideration and slow, careful reading before I felt ready to dive headlong into a writing project (the as-yet-unpublished manuscript “Life sentence”). I learned long ago to trust my instinct on such things.
How does your writing process work?
Throughout the 1990s, my process involved dozen of longhand drafts which has since whittled down to something more akin to collage or sketchwork. I sketch out lines and phrases that accumulate into poems, sometimes composing directly into my laptop, or onto scraps of paper that are later entered into the work-in-progress on the laptop (or a combination of both). I still often print out pages of poems that might end up with scribbles throughout, words reordered or removed altogether, and new lines or phrases scattered across the blank spaces of the page, before the return-to-computer process begins again. The process can take many steps in a short time, or take weeks or months. While I do attempt to be working constantly, I don’t feel in any particular hurry.
Amanda Earl (who will be posting about her process at amandaearl.blogspot.ca) is a poet, publisher and pornographer from Ottawa, Canada. Her first poetry book, Kiki, will be coming out with Chaudiere Books in the fall of 2014. www.AmandaEarl.com; Twitter: @KikiFolle.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Quanta of light move in waves over the sea, move the sea to the horizon.
Purple is a horizon extending the sky.
It seems not an earth-sky.
To think of attention as moving without trying to be moved to shadow, hepatica, sea, to purple or sky.
Rain falls on the sea and forms a night field of circles glittering idly in moonlight then dissolves into sea surface.
To give attention to what does not exist.
Here, there. (“Wind”)
Toronto poet and American expatriate Julie Joosten’s first trade poetry collection is Light Light (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2013), a collection of dense lyrics blended with the attention of essays. Joosten writes on spaces lost, forgotten and otherwise misplaced, or even deliberately obscured. “[S]ecrecy another form / of resistance,” she writes, in the poem “If light stabilizing / If to receive a bee.” The sixteen extended lyrics that make up Light Light sketch out a series of meditative studies on and around small moments, as she writes to open the poem “Ghost Species”: “Henry David Thoreau would describe the seasons, listing // the flowering times of wildflowers around Concord Massachusetts / (1851-1858). // It continues today: the data, the occasional field, the wildflowers, / declining.” The poems in Light Light are small studies in horticulture, sketches of ecologies and exploration of botany, and how any gaze changes both watcher and precisely what is being seen and studied. To describe her poems as “eco-poetry” would do the book a disservice, through reducing a more complex set of structures, ideas and perspectives to something far less. And yet, quite simply, her poems speak to a perspective that becomes irrevocably lost, once we lose sight of what is just outside our window, and the relationships we have with nature. By describing and discussing the world and natural histories, she becomes one of the natural world’s strongest advocates.
It began a field, grew valley. Light tipped grass scatters from pollen. Tree atoms gather in splints, divide to aster and cress.
Become a room of weather.
The sun coppers the ground. Its angles bring several seasons at once.
The accident of petals quarrying a winter field.
In a valley of wild hive, orange blossom, and honey the sun is silent. Is carried on the backs of horses.
Ferried against the wind.
By sympathy or suggestion I remember what I am. Walking beside a river humming with the dark. (“Once Sun”)
She certainly isn’t the first to work through ecological concerns and/or natural histories in poetry, and some recent examples of works that share Joosten’s ecological attentiveness, striking language and the book-length unit of composition include Robin Clarke’s Lines the Quarry (Richmond CA: Omnidawn, 2013), Brian Teare’s Companion Grasses (Omnidawn, 2013), Ken Belford’s Internodes (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2013) and Larissa Lai and Rita Wong’s collaborative re-issue Sybil Unrest (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2013). There have been poetic conversations going back decades about the pastoral, with more recent strains of eco-poetry and other ecological concerns added to the mix, which can’t help but fall deeper into the writing with every passing day. Light Light is a striking, subtle collection of sharp lyric movements that ebb and flow like water, alternately rushing, punching and as soothing as same. Not just light, but lighter, light or lighter than.
The green of the field felt so unforgettable winter could never again exist.
I’d have said in the absence of colour there thought was. The hills bringing the mind not to itself but to the idea of green. To the feeling of sunlight as expectation. The future opened from a circle of snow.
Stone, maple, daffodil, tadpole, skein.
When the valley came to be a valley I was watching winter grasses brown against the sky then green then suddenly in a startling smallness bud to pink. But it wasn’t as peaceful as that. Mud thickened the ground, made it grabby.
It gripped a finch, spit up feathers to write with, took an oak, four kittens, a thunderstorm, and a pair of woolen gloves. Grabbed a man and a woman whole, left imprints like swollen snow angels.
In a place of winter a field emerged, carving beauty’s furrows, entrenching muck-spattered beauty into the valley.
I was to guard the valley, name it, speak to it by name. (“Once Sun”)
Friday, March 07, 2014
Mercedes Eng is a writer and teacher in Vancouver, Coast Salish territory. Her first book, Mercenary English (CUE Books, 2013) “combines tart insights into gender and racial relations, and a playfulness of language not always found in political poetry.” Her writing has appeared in various critical and literary journals, on the sides of Burrard and Granville bridges as contributions to public art projects, and in the collective-produced movement-based chapbooks, r/ally (No One Is Illegal), Survalliance and M’aidez (Press Release).
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It was published less than a year ago so it’s hard to say; sometimes I still can’t believe I published a book.
Recent work is similar regarding starting place and poetic tactics but now I produce tighter work more quickly.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
As a poetic form, (some) rap music exposes, critiques, and resists oppression in lyrically innovative short narratives all while making a body want to move; I wanted to try that.
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?
The first book took the longest, both to start and to finish. Initially writing was a slow process, then I began to write longish documentary poems. The process of working with found text—finding it, ingesting it, transcribing it—generates material quickly but it takes time to distill the language and organize it into a structurally cohesive poetic weapon. Working with found text right from the beginning of my current project, Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, I find I “write” less and less. Sometimes I think I don’t need to write anything anymore because what’s circulating in the infosphere only needs to be curated.
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?
Originally I wrote short pieces, now I think in terms of book-length poem.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Definitely part of. I often intend to practice my work aloud and don’t, so readings force editing because you’ve heard the words aloud not in your head and they don’t sound right and you’re embarrassed because you didn’t have your shit together. Also, I’ve felt encouraged by audience responses, which motivates the creative process, especially when you feel like you killed it and left the room empty of breath.
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?
Material concerns definitely. My current project uses a government questionnaire on the implementation of the Multicultural Act in the Canadian federal prison system. My answers are three streams of information: the privatization of the prison and refugee detention systems in Canada and the US; the criminalizing of dissent and the corresponding rise of indigenous activists in prison populations where indigenous peoples are already disproportionately represented; and the criminalizing of poverty and the corresponding rise of incarceration rates of refugees, many of whom are people of colour.
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?
Currently, for myself, see previous question.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. Mercenary English wouldn’t be what it is without the editorial prowess of Roger Farr and I’m a better writer for the experience.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Remember to breathe.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Sometimes I think I write poetry because I’m a lazy prose writer, so I don’t find moving between genres easy. Instead I create (or more accurately, borrow) hybrid forms that bridge them. When I write creative text (which often starts with distilling found text such as mainstream news and government reports) I think in terms of argument or thesis. “knuckle sandwich” was taught in a university class not as poetry but as critical writing alongside Spivak and Fanon. That was cool.
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?
When I’m coordinated, and depending on my paid-work schedule, weekdays begin with reading/writing for 1-2 hours.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
It’s not so much getting stalled as needing time away from writing as part of the process of writing. If I’m not getting anywhere with what I’m working on, I research another aspect of that project, or I work on another project, or I don’t look at any projects for weeks because the NBA playoffs are on.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
All of them, music and visual art especially.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The folks comprising the various writing collectives I have or do work with; writers whose books I’m not interested in reading but are conceptually innovative and help me think about form; books I wouldn’t read again but were formative in expanding the boundaries of my thinking in my youth; books I wouldn’t read again but were imperative for escaping painful parts of my youth when I didn’t yet have a command of the written language to help me through it.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a novel set in the Chinatown supper club my grandfather used to own.
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 really like what I do now which is teaching and writing.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I teach because I love learning so I guess I write because I love reading?
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
Finishing Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, an excerpt of which recently appeared in Line; a subversive sewing sampler; internalizing the principles of water.