Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My writing day : Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Inspired by this, I decided to write up my own.

7:30am: Awake, to toddler footfalls; the length of hallway. Newborn squeaks.

7:45am: As Christine dresses toddler, newborn assists as I prepare cereal for toddler, put coffee on. Check email. Collect newspaper from the front step.

Send out mass email for the new “Tuesday poem” piece posted on the dusie blog today, a series I’ve been curating for more than one hundred and sixty weeks now. Endi Bogue Hartigan. I post to twitter.

Dress newborn. Collect toddler socks and shoes and convince her to wear them.

Finish reading yesterday’s newspaper. I don’t get into today’s paper at all. I set it aside for tomorrow.

8:15am: Normally I would walk toddler to her twice-a-week ‘school’ at 8:45am, but today I head downtown with newborn for the sake of Staples, to correct a chapbook order. I was ready to fold, staple and mail a new above/ground press item on Sunday night, but only realized upon arriving home that the copies had been messed up, and long weekend throws off timing. A secret project I’ve been working on at the prompting of derek beaulieu.  

Christine does a rare toddler drop-off, which might improve toddler’s recent mood (thrown off the past little bit, for shifted attentions and schedules due to our now five-week-old). Newborn sleeps the entire trip. Lucy at the photocopy counter at Staples is thrilled I brought newborn out for the errand. Copies are quickly made.

9:35am: Arrive home with new copies. Relocate laptop and refilled coffee mug from kitchen island to desk in office. This mug, an official mug gifted a decade or so back from the Guinness factory in Dublin, has long faded. From Guinness-dark to dusty white. I might have to request Jennifer Mulligan return to Ireland for the sake of a new one.

I receive an e-notice that the first of a monthly series I’m curating at Drunken Boat has posted. I forward to Amanda Earl, the author, and feed to Facebook, twitter. Post to Chaudiere Books blog and Chaudiere Books twitter feed.

The past month or so, I’ve been listening to Tycho’s album Dive on permanent repeat. I don’t mind music in the background, but I don’t care for most radio, and don’t want the distraction of having to find new music every hour or so. Pushing ‘replay’ keeps me in my head. Replay, replay, replay. After a few weeks (or more), I might get sick of it and put on something else. Or I might get distracted by something and be sent off in an entirely new direction. If only Grant Lawrence still did the CBC Radio 3 podcasts (which were amazing, but far too infrequent). I don’t want talk; it distracts. Just music.

After completing a very short story yesterday and a number of reviews over the past week, I attempt to return to the short story manuscript I’ve been attempting to complete this year (something I’ve been saying, “this year,” for the past three years, but I actually think that this year might be possible). For The Litter I See Project, I spent the entirety of my prior writing day carving and crafting a very short story that accidentally sets in the space somewhere between my novel missing persons (The Mercury Press, 2009) and one of the short stories in the current manuscript, “On Beauty.” I’d originally composed a story around the main character of the novel after the prompting of Amanda Earl, who had wondered what might have become of her, so I wrote the teenaged “Alberta” some fifteen (or more) years later. Now the manuscript has three stories that include her (and another, unfinished, that attempts to further the story of her mother).

I could attempt to complete the half-completed review of Laura Walker’s story (Apogee Press, 2016), but I can catch up with that later.

I print out three stories-in-progress from the manuscript to scribble upon. I completed a further a week or so back (this makes twenty-four completed stories, of which fourteen have already appeared in journals, both print and online); after a week of working on little else, before a week of working on a series of poetry book reviews. I spend an hour or so scratching out lines, adding new ones, carving and carving and carving. Each of these stories are composed of a sequence of short bursts, akin to pivot-points; each story no longer than three or four pages, but often take months to complete. How does a character, or even an idea, move from one point to another?

Working four-and-a-half years on this particular manuscript: another dozen or so stories in various states of completion. I expect I will eventually finish some, and abandon others; so far, none have been abandoned. Yet. I can only really work on a couple at a time, hence my preference to print three and work on each daily for a week or so, depending on what else is going on. It always takes a day or two to re-enter. It always takes a few days to actually accomplish anything. Small, steady accumulations.

The three stories vary in subject and thread: one focuses on an woman attempting a university creative writing class, another focuses on a recently-married woman who realizes she’s pregnant, a decade beyond giving birth to the child she gave up for adoption (with the mess of emotions that come through such), and the third, part of an extended series of stories around a couple with young children. I seem to have two sets of loosely-grouped (threaded?) stories in this manuscript, from the progression of three stories that centre around the woman named Alberta, to another sequence of three or four, some of which centre around a married woman, and the rest around her husband. Given the first couple of stories in this sequence focus on her, I’m tempted to see how far I can take the story of the husband. The stories each exist at different points in their lives, and I’ve been toying with furthering his story through a novella (an idea that is down the road; I have much to complete first).

In my fiction, I work hard to suggest connections without making them too overt; I want the stories to exist as self-contained units that might broaden once you discover the connections. But I want nothing lost if the connections between stories aren’t made.

This is the first I’ve named the male character, also: Malcolm. Had we a boy instead of a girl this time around, that was the name at the top of our list. Once our girl emerged, I had thought of how to utilize the name, and added it to him. His wife and daughter (and now, new child) have been named in the stories for some time now.

Malcolm: I am curious as to where else he might go. But first, I’ve to complete this one particular story. One idea at a time (he says, working on three short stories at once).

I’ve been seeing a relation to my stories to those of Lorrie Moore (hubris, I admit), especially upon reading Bark (2014); mine might be shorter, and attempt a particular level of density, but I think there is an emotional trajectory that our stories share. Or perhaps I see connections where none lie. I see so little fiction that actually excites me.

10:00am: The notice for Stephanie Bolster’s new above/ground press chapbook, Three Bloody Words, a twentieth anniversary edition, posts. I send out mass email and post to twitter. Now that the announcement for the chapbook has posted, I submit the interview I did with Bolster recently to Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Return to short stories.

10:45am: Christine heads out for an appointment with newborn. I assist by securing newborn in car seat and tucking her in. Check diaper bag. Once they’re out the door, I refill my coffee mug, and return to desk.

11:17am: I leave to collect toddler from school. Worry how this routine ends in a couple of weeks. What might the summer bring? She picks half the dandelions en route for her mother, depositing the mound on the living room floor. “Because I need to.” Once home, I prepare her lunch, and mine also.

Fold and staple throughout. I want to get at least fifty copies in the mail by Wednesday morning, given it needs to be in Calgary by Friday. Sixty copies fit into a box. She slowly ingests peanut butter sandwiches, and fresh strawberries. We sit in the sunroom; a rare luxury. It also means displacing the sleeping cat from his chair; he seems less impressed.

Ask toddler about her morning. Apparently she painted, and played with her two best friends. She played outside. White glue covers her arms; flecks of blue/green paint on her face. Details with a two-and-a-half year old are usually brief and/or sketchy.

Clean toddler, post-lunch.

12:25pm: Christine and newborn return home. Quick sweep and rinse of kitchen floor as Christine answers doorbell (one of her friends appears to borrow baby-wrap).

Prepare lunch for Christine. She takes both children downstairs.

Fold a brief amount of laundry. I am behind on this.

I’m not wearing a clean shirt. Should I put on a clean shirt?

12:41pm: Return to desk. Check email. Hit ‘replay’ on music. Scratch yet again at printed draft of short story. Wonder: should I even be looking at poems? I’ve a file open with a series of poems-in-progress, but a single piece I’ve been working on over the past five weeks. The CBC Poetry Prize deadline is less than a week away. I haven’t given up on such, but I’m not working on that today.

Perhaps a decision made by working on fiction, instead.

The story concerning “Malcolm” is currently two pages long, with six sections. The first section reads:

Soon after they married, he glimpsed an article via his Facebook feed that included a list of realities associated with a long-term marriage. “There will be times when you feel unfulfilled,” the list read: “There will be times when you hate your spouse.” The list was not created to frighten, but to allow for a successful marriage; to prevent married couples from falling prey to the myth of constant magic. The honeymoon, as poet Michael Redhill once wrote, “the time life pays you for in advance.”

Malcolm considered the article a relief. More than he might have guessed. It became important later, as they had a moment that could easily have broken them, deciding instead on fixing instead of allowing the rift to widen. They wished to remain together. They remained together.

1:10pm: Attempt to put the toddler down for nap (with stories). More involved than it sounds.

1:45pm: With toddler out, I return to desk, intermittently checking the mailbox at the front door. Any sudden noise or shift of air is enough to prompt another mailbox check, and, until 1:55pm, there is nothing.

1:56pm: Attempt to re-settle toddler.

2:06pm: Return to desk. Open mail. New titles by Nathaniel G. Moore (Frog Hollow Press) and the late Anselm Hollo (Coffee House Press). Hollo’s The Tortoise of History opens with this “Foreword” by Jane Dalrymple-Hollo:

Could Anselm have possibly foretold
that The Tortoise of History, this particular compilation of old and new
musings, revisitations, letters to past and future, love notes
      to friends—and to me

was an inevitable foreshadowing of this day, when I, his Janey
would stop the endless fuss, unplug the phone, sit quietly
      for 20 minutes,

and then settle into his chair, in our kitchen
and read this book—aloud, in his cadence
and really take in

this “message in a bottle”?

2:18pm: Realize Christine and I still owe annual dues to The League of Canadian Poets, so I call to pay such via credit card. They don’t pick up the phone.

2:28pm: I send interview questions from the “12 or 20 questions” series to Cynthia Arrieu-King. Why hadn’t I asked her prior?

2:31pm: Apparently there is someone in The League of Canadian Poets office now.

3:10pm: Prepare last of package for Calgary. Salvage toddler from nap and prepare newborn for outing. Toddler remains with Christine. Head out for errands with newborn.

4:14pm: Return to desk, with newborn settled downstairs with Christine and toddler, and groceries in fridge. Post Richard Van Camp interview to the blog for Friday. Query some half-dozen outstanding interviews to see where they’re at.

4:30pm: Return to fiction, just as I hear toddler saunter down the hallway. She requests more milk in her sippy-cup, which I collect. She insists I bring it downstairs for her (she does not wish to do such herself). Return to desk to an “On Writing” submission in my email from Bruce Whiteman, which I set aside to read for later. Also, Douglas Piccinnini is concerned about one of his answers in his forthcoming “12 or 20 questions” interview. I respond to an email about a contest I’m judging, named for the late American poet Hillary Gravendyk, and quickly return to fiction.

Wonder: should I do a summer run of poetry workshops? Or should I wait until Autumn? What might that mean for our potential travel, or even, Christine attempting bedtime for two wee girls?

4:45pm: I abandon desk and head downstairs for the sake of organizing the chapbook room. Laptop lands in basement alongside. Christine requests a shower; I collect newborn and distract the toddler.

5:11pm: Christine reappears, and toddler swoons. I return to the dozens of boxes that fill our downstairs spare room, filled with some, if not most, of the eight hundred publications produced by above/ground press over the past twenty-three years. Over the past six or seven weeks, I’ve spent a few hundred hours opening boxes and organizing publications, discovering dozens of above/ground press items I thought long gone, and even further that weren’t completely put together. It means there are nearly two hundred items that I’d long thought out-of-print, some more than twenty years old, that I now have a small handful of copies of. It also means that, over the past month or so, I’ve sorted thousands upon thousands of slips of paper.

I spent three days a week prior, for example, folding and stapling one hundred and fifty copies of a Stan Rogal chapbook I produced back in 1997. I discovered twenty copies of a jwcurry item from 1998 I hadn’t finished stapling. Other items by Gregory Betts, Susanne Dyckman, Max Middle.

5:45pm: Dinner-prep, quick shower. Dinner.

6:21pm: Return to folding/stapling, including the remainder of the chapbooks I sent derek, and a mound of unbound copies of my 4 glengarry poems (2002).

7:00pm: I begin to prepare bath for the toddler. Bathe toddler. Fold another random assortment of laundry.

7:25pm: Return downstairs for further folding/stapling (as we all, also, have ice cream) while watching a bedtime episode or two of her Pajanimals.

Dig some more through the chapbook room: at least a dozen titles that need only one more item to complete a stack of copies. Fifty covers here, one hundred colophons there. Digging further for originals, I collect a couple required pieces, but far from all. There is so much more work to be done. Anne Le Dressay. Jason Le Heup. Marilyn Irwin. Rae Armantrout. Peter Norman. Douglas Barbour.

8:02pm: Collect toddler and attempt to settle her for bedtime: brushing teeth and stories.

8:57pm: Toddler asleep, head downstairs again. DVR of The Flash, etcetera. Son of Batman. Wine.

I post a variety of “12 or 20 questions” interviews for June, including Malcolm Sutton, Rahat Kurd, Douglas Piccinnini and Mia You.

11:04pm: Assist Christine and newborn to bed. Return downstairs to watch recent unseen episodes of The Daily Show on DVR. Crash.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sarah Burgoyne, Saint Twin


the ocean you grew up watching has decided, finally, to take you in. “where else was i going to go?” you ask, setting off. it spews squid and minnows into your little boat for you to eat if you are hungry. you throw them back because you know the ocean is hungrier. at night, the moon casts a sidelong glance into your boat. you are less round. the ocean is delighted with your company. it carries you from place to place, each day a little easier, imagining your bright bones, sideways moons, it’ll use them as walking sticks.

The author of chapbooks through Proper Tales Press, Baseline Press and above/ground press, Montreal writer and editor Sarah Burgoyne’s first trade collection is Saint Twin (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2016), a collection of, as the back cover informs, “story poems, short lyrics, long walks, tiny chapters, and fake psalms.” A hefty poetry collection at nearly one hundred and seventy pages, Saint Twin is a curious mix of straighter lyric, prose poem and short fiction, blended together to create something far more capable than the simple sum of its parts. Part of the unexpected quality of Burgoyne’s surreal lyrics comes from the structures of her pieces, slipping prose beside more traditional line breaks beside dialogue/script. Whereas most poetry collections hold together through their structural connections (some of which are the result of editors and/or copy-editors), Saint Twin remains deliberately scattered, almost collaged, maintaining a strength far more evocative than whether the collection of poems maintain consistent capitalizations or punctuations, all of which speak to Burgoyne’s incredible capacity for putting a book together. Furthermore, while the book might be structured into eight sections, one has to seek out the connections through other means; poems from the second section, “Psalms,” for example, according to the contents page, exist on pages “10, 13, 18, 23, 27, 30, 36, 42, 48, 51, 57, 61, 63, 67, 72, 81, 99, 113, 116, 119, 124, 132, 137, 139, 142, 144, 147, 152 [.]”


Torn up in the surgery of night. The buttering under of it. Seven halos away from becoming a sprig of something anointed. Never too few in the brooding door frames; the spoken-to lighting the walls. The corner-drawing minds buttoning silver horns of ancient wisdom. A voice: Dance with me, future loser, I love you. Hide under the table, I will call down the Lord without sulphur. To cast alms over our future mistakes.

I’ve been long intrigued at the options on how to construct a poetry manuscript out of scattered parts, aware that some who compose in chapbook-length units have set the units side-by-side for the sake of the book-length manuscript: Toronto writer Kevin Connolly’s first collection, Asphalt Cigar, is a good example of this, as are Kansas poet Megan Kaminski’s two collections, Desiring Map [see my review of such here] and Deep City [see my review of such here] (I’m less aware, with Kaminski, the chicken-or-egg of “which came first,” admittedly). Another poet, such as Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell, might have composed the individual pieces of his 2007 poetry collection The Real Made Up [which I discussed here] into  section-groupings, but resorted the manuscript into a single, book-length unit, allowing the final selection to blend together as a more cohesive single unit. What makes Burgoyne’s collection so unique is in how she somehow manages both sides of the structural divide, as one infers that the section were composed as single-units (at least two of her section titles correspond with chapbook titles), whether as short lyrics or prose poems, but were re-sorted for the sake of the full manuscript: the uniqueness lies in her adherence to that earlier, compositional structure, while allowing the book to live (or die) on its own single-unit coherence.

The poems in Saint Twin contain multitudes, from surreal wisdoms, biting self-awareness and hard-won observations to a wry humour, dark prophicies and proclimations, and an incredible optimism, such as in the poems “MY NEIGHBOUR’S MISFORTUNE PIERCES ME / AND I BEGIN TO COMPREHEND,” “IT WAS NOT IN PARKS THAT I LEARNED HUMLITITY” and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, IN A NICE WAY.” As she write to open the poem “TO THE MASTERS OF OUR YOUTH, GREETINGS”: “the last days of a person’s life are the same / as the first [.]”


Maybe everything is good, after all.

The act of reading and the act of understanding

made it. The point is, relates to reality.

No wonder.

And what of this?

Precise laws. Behavior of individuals.

Unintentional walk. Map of maps.

Wheels on the table legs. The main activity

continuous drifting, these visions.

Dear professional juxtaposer,

maintain a division.

Cyberspace, I walked across it.

I’m a little disappointed.

Where the body is, at the corner.

Monday, May 23, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Scherezade Siobhan

Scherezade Siobhan is a Jungian scarab moonlighting as a clinical psychologist. Her writing has been published worldwide, has been nominated for Pushchart Prize as well as Best of the Net anthology and translated into multiple languages. She has been featured in various digital and physical spaces and her work can be found in literary magazines, anthologies, international galleries, rehab centers and in the bios of okcupid users. Her digital collection of poems Bone Tongue was published by Thought Catalog Books in 2015 and her full length poetry book Father, Husband was recently released by Salopress UK. She can be found squeeing about militant bunnies and clinical psychology at or @zaharaesque on twitter.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
In a way it feels more like my life changed first and the book was an outcome of that flux; something that a river deposits on its banks after a heavy monsoon. I wrote Bone Tongue for therapy with self through an intense and often debilitating period of MDD. In that sense, any writing I attempt is merely an extension of my compulsive diarying. My second book Father, Husband was actually a longer and more complex narrative because I was addressing multiple difficult subjects in it which I have usually chosen to be incredibly private about for most of my life. These books were like dizygotic twins - they shared a certain similarity of appearance without being the same, a common pool of genetic content but eventually each grew into its own individual behaviours, responses, narratives and personas.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My grandfather had an envious library and I remember reading Eliot - “Do I dare disturb the universe?” I may not his writing as much today but at that point, it was such a critical shift in my ability to perceive my own reality as a young, introverted child on the threshold of complex psychological anomalies. I was stunned by the idea that you could indeed eat a peach AND disturb a universe in the same line.  My grandfather also had a comprehensive collection of Tagore, Ghalib & Urdu poetry which he interpreted for us. Their melodic softness was a sharp contrast to my immediate world which was riddled with violence of childhood abuse. Through my grandparents I discovered Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Mahmoud Darwish, Shair Ludhianvi, Arun Kolatkar. It felt like those traveling carnivals that have a tent full of weird mirrors where every mirror showed you something new about yourself that was previously unexplored. Poetry, as opposed to fiction, told me that I could dream as wildly and as softly as I wanted to. Fiction expressed things. Poetry altered them.

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?
I have never fully kept tabs on time mostly because I am always trying to steal snippets from frantic hours stuffed between traffic jams and client sessions. These tight, sardine can spaces are those in which I fit my writing. I think Ruth Stone had mentioned something about a poem coming to her with its tail first and then her chasing it there on. I sometimes experience the same thing. I distill from experience, cull from imagination. Lot of list making precedes my writing. In that sense I keep repeating to myself and my world - I am a diarist, first and always. Sometimes first drafts languish for months because I can't bear to look at them, let alone rework or edit. Note-taking is an occupational hazard since I am a clinical psychologist and it does percolate my overall cognition. On some days, the more agitated my mind is, the more intensely I enter the poem (sounds lacanian!). It is an act of chasing lightning. It is also the act of growing roses. A certain inevitable patience manifests itself and continues to straighten my spine on days I feel inexplicably weak.

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?
Most poems begin as lists on google keep. This is another of my grandfather's legacy. He was an amateur entomologist and as a little girl I was fascinated by this ability to record the beauty of minutiae. I  have notebooks filled with what I can lingual sigils. Verbs, adjectives, nouns snuggle with each other to define my day to day existence so I can return to the good parts on bad days. I don't write full sentences to begin with and this is simply coz when I started working on my own depression, I realised that as a habitual completionist the act of documenting my depression helped me but I often neglected it on account of not being able to write complete statements when I was clinically depressed. Twitter arrived in my field of vision exactly at this point and the staccato and minimalism of that medium was useful in setting up routines for me. This is something I personally find very satisfying because my depressive states are so compounded and extensive, I often feel I can't see beyond them or that there are no breaks in between. Writing helps me create silos out of this seemingly pervasive darkness - shines some light, cracks open some windows. Keeping this in mind, no I don't intentionally set out to write a book per se. It is usually an editor or a publisher who realises this while reading my body of work and makes me aware of it.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I did a lot of locally organized spoken word performances when I was a teenager. I was terribly  shy as a child and being on a stage really helped me get more comfortable with my own voice. I have read at a variety of local and global venues and each experience is highly individualistic. As a student of psychology, I like observing how a poem is intercepted by a group of people, how it either challenges or acquiesces to their assumptions about poetry. As a community fest, a group of expat students from Russia came and held my hand after I read a poem called “Suvival Kit” which details my struggle with suicide attempts. They were 19-23 and each had the same thing to say – Thank you. I chronicle my own battles with mental health quite frequently in my poems and when I read it for other people, catharsis becomes a community. I come from Indian and Roma lineage and most of our ancestral storytelling happened in the tradition of oral poetry so I very strongly believe in the restorative powers of performance poetry.

Whether it arranges itself as a seance or an exorcism.

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?
Initially I wanted to abstain from recondite proselytizing in poetry. It struck me as jejune and narcissistic. I love what Sina Queyras once wrote – “I don’t want a theory; I want the poem inside me. I want the poem to unfurl like a thousand monks chanting inside me. I want the poem to skewer me, to catapult me into the clouds.” In a way, as you get older you strive for a balance that may not entirely be achievable but nevertheless helps you ache and aim for something more infinite expanding within you. I do realise now that much of my love/hate relationship with psychoanalysis does inch its way into my own writing. I can't abstain from academia because I am constantly engaging with it. Even my occasional disdain for it has to be delved into. I am writing as a woman of colour and I am writing about agencies of psychological and material exiles. In the world I inhabit, a woman may achieve significant physical freedom but there remain vast bastions of her mind that are colonized by way of media, morality, body politics and a horde of other constructs. I recently started writing about PTSD and childhood abuse where a lot of  my what I was processing was happening in the company of books and texts by Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine & Judith Lewis Herman as much as it was happening with my internalizing the work of Dawn Lundy Martin and Anna Kamienska. I can continue to answer this forever but in summary, poetry is the theory of everything. A poet is the serf of time - Canetti, I think.

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?
In the cultures I emerged from, a writer is always perceived to have the opposite of a dissociative personality wherein instead of one self fracturing into many, many independent selves combine into one while retaining their respective autonomy. In that sense we were raised with the idea of writing as an act of revolution - whether personal or universal was a think for the afterward. In most cases, a really good writer might bring about both. As half Roma Spanish, I look at the significance of Lorca or  Generación del 98 or as half Indian, the significance of Ishmat & Manto in countering gender and sexual morality in pre/post-independence India even at the risk of imprisonment, those are foundational aspect so my self-building. In India Dalit poets eschewed conventional, “highbrow” languages to form their own slang and circle of acceptance. There is a singular measure for how well a democracy is functioning: How frequently is it willing to discuss & listen to the voices its bureaucratic & policing machinery are not entirely comfortable with. Whose voices are these? Where are they coming from? Us, of course! From DADA to Oulipo to alt lit, everything is an act of reaching out, turning things upside down, small or big subversions. A lot of times I hear criticism about how my generation often writes bland, flat-line poems about cats and I urge those people to inspect deeply as to what the conditions surrounding this generation are. When you are thrown into global wars you resent and oppose but have no say in stopping, when you are buried in debt, have to lead lives of hyperactivity you can neither avoid nor fully digest then maybe writing about a cat is the most amazing act of revolt, of flipping the bird at the collective poobahs of literary canons and saying - I am reclaiming my ordinary. I am not breaking at the jaws of your expectations.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
In my experience, it has been quite non-intrusive and dependable at the same time. I don't know if this will continue as I collaborate with newer and bigger publishing spaces but I do hope it stays the same!

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My mother after reading something I wrote at 18 - It is good but why don't you let Borges be Borges and you try to write like yourself? It will take a lot of time to figure out who “yourself” is but try it anyway. I would love to see that.

(She is a Skinnerian behaviourist. That should explain a lot.)

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?
A typical day begins with patients (clients)! (I record things into my phone through the day, I scribble notes next to clinical profiles. I tweet a lot of things circling my head through the day.)

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I am good at compartmentalizing things. This is not always a healthy habit but can be honed to help you organize how you write. When anything gets stalled (and you know this fairly well just in terms of how much time it has taken me to complete this interview!), I usually go 180 degrees from its origin. I will travel or watch movies or cook waiting for the proverbial tail of the lightning to swish my nose again!

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Roses, darjeeling tea & shami kebabs.

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?

Music, extensively. My day job involves listening to people but outside of it, I am always found with a pair of headphones enthroned on my nest of hair. Cooking or culinary arts is a new found area of interest which feeds (ugh, pun!) the writing a lot these days. Martial arts, astronomy, steganography, cartomancy, calligraphy - there is a whole group of activities that involve me and keep me nourished.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many! I write poems because Mina Loy once wrote poems. She is the first word in my vocabulary. Her work along with that of Djuna Barnes' stretched the boundaries of my imagination and I am thankful for that.

Currently, Dawn Lundy Martin's poems are incredibly potent and necessary for me. It's marvelous combination of defiance and empathy is nearly prophetic. I am thankful for every woman of colour who writes and occupies that space without apologizing for it or herself. Bhanu Kapil is another writer whose existence has changed the course of how I think about identity, language and the bridge between identity and language. Jennifer Moxley is my spiritmother even if she doesn't know it! Will Alexander’s collections comforted me into believing that you didn’t need to simplify your language in order to pander to a common greed for porridge poetry. Cathy Park Hong, Sandra Cisneros, Naomi Shihab Nye, Suheir Hammad, Helen Oyeyemi, Safia Elhillo, Kaveh Akbar, Kazim Ali, W.S. Di Piero, Aimé Césaire, Mike Young and my partner Greg Bem.

Historically, Alejandra Pizarnik, Paul Celan, Rene Char & Anna Kamienska were some of the writers who made it ok for me to write beyond categorization or expectations because they chose to be non-linear and made meandering acceptable as well as introspective.

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

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 already do it – Shrinkology. I always wanted to study the human mind & now I do!

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It was the other way around; everything else I did always led me to writing.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
A manual for cleaning women (Lucia Berlin)
Nahid (Iran)

19 - What are you currently working on?
A red velvet cheesecake.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Helen Hajnoczky, Magyarázni


No, Hungarian is not a gendered language,
but no, you do not want to play Joseph in the
goddamned Christmas play again this year!

No, you’re not jealous that no on asks her which
bathroom key she wants, even though
you’ve been asked this while wearing a skirt.

No, no long hair, no stockings,
no heels, no tailored shirts. No way to indicate
them, no not them, not her, not him, just them.

No, she always gets to play Mary, and no,
you do not want to play a goddamned
shepherd either!

Just no.

In an interview posted over at Touch the Donkey [a further interview with her on the same project lives here], Calgary poet (recently returned to the city after an extended period schooling in Montreal) Helen Hajnoczky discusses her second trade poetry collection, Magyarázni (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2016):

Q: I’m curious about the Magyarázni poems: you speak of a difficulty in part, that came from writing out your relationship with your cultural background and community. What prompted you to begin this project, and what were your models, if any? I think of Andrew Suknaski writing out his Ukrainian and Russian backgrounds, for example, of even Erín Moure exploring the language and culture of the Galicians. And might Bloom and Martyr have progresses so quickly, perhaps, due to it being a kind of palate cleanser?

A: Magyarazni germinated for a long time. There’s a wood chest in my parent’s house that my dad carved, and the tulips in his design are what inspired my project originally, particularly the visual poetry in the book. I started doodling tulips in the margins of my school notes with letters at their centre, with the accents used as stamen, long before I had really been introduced to visual poetry. The moment that sparked the project, though, was one night when my dad and I were up late chatting about when he, his sisters, and his mother left Hungary after the ’56 revolution and I thought “I should really write this down.” So, I went and typed up everything he’d said and made a little chapbook of it for him. I wanted to do something more on the topic though, and was fortunate to get a grant for the visual and written poetry book and to travel around Western Canada interviewing people who’d come during or after ’56, or whose family had done so. Originally I’d thought of including the interviews and poems in one book, but the interviews are numerous, long, and detailed and really deserved to be their own thing (which I’m still slowly working on). Though I didn’t use anything from the interviews in this book the people who so generously told me their stories definitely influenced me and the writing of Magyarázni.

For more poetic influences though, Oana Avasilichioaei’s book Abandon, and the way she deals with cultural identity and nostalgia had a huge influence on me. The way Fred Wah’s writes about cultural identity, how that’s tied up with family, and the way he sets all this against the backdrop of the prairie all strongly informed the way I approached writing this book too—there’s a lot of Calgary in Magyarázni. Additionally, in 2007 Erín Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei spoke at the UofC for Translating Translating Montréal, and I have this fuzzy memory of them discussing translating words based on a feeling of the word or based on a word in a third language that the word in the source text reminds you of (I can’t remember precisely what they said and I don’t want to misquote them or misrepresent their ideas, but I believe the discussion was something along these lines), and this idea was key in the writing of Magyarázni. For example, the poem “Belváros”—the word translates into English as “inner city” (so, downtown), but I always hear it as ‘beautiful city,’ because in French ‘belle’ means beautiful. I went to a French immersion elementary school and I started hearing the word that way as a little kid, and I still hear it that way, not as inner city but as beautiful city. Because the project struggles to answer the question of how much one person’s experience of a language or culture can be representative of a community as a whole, I thought it was important to include these little hyper-personal feelings about words in the manuscript.

The author of numerous chapbooks, Hajnoczky’s first trade collection appeared as Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising (Montreal QC: Snare/Invisible, 2010) and a portion of her manuscript “Bloom and Martyr” was selected for the 2015 John Lent Poetry-Prose Award, to be published as a chapbook by Kalamalka Press “in spring 2016.”

As the press release for Magyarázni informs: “The word ‘magyarázni’ (pronounced MAUDE-yar-az-knee) means ‘to explain’ in Hungarian, but translates literally as ‘make it Hungarian.’ This faux-Hungarian language primer, written in direct address, invites readers to experience what it’s like to be ‘made Hungarian’ by growing up with a parent who immigrated to North America as a refugee.” Bookended by the poems “Pronounciation Guide” and the prose poem “Learning Activities,” Magyarázni is composed as a stunning, lush and lively abecedarian, and each poem appears with a corresponding visual poem in resounding red and black. There is an element of “coming-of-age” to this collection, as the author/narrator works to reconcile the past with the present (and future), from a childhood built by Hungarian language and culture (from her parents’ own stories to her own engagements with cultural heritage), and how such foundations now require translation and explanation, even as she attempts to reclaim those same histories. Magyarázni writes her childhood home, her parent’s homeland and her time spent in Montreal (as in the poem “Zibbad,” as she writes: “You’ve been here longer now / than you were ever there and then some.”), writing embroidery, linen, memory and grief.


Your reflection
      splintered in foil
these solemn treats

            this bitter history
sugary sweet

unhooked from the tree
                        you melt

a plastic angel dipped
            in flames, blurred
      and bubbling

you unwrap
the old world
          you chew
                 and smile

        you don’t swallow
until they look away.

The poems are composed as someone caught between two poles, still navigating the blend of culture and cadence of language, family and belonging. The extended paragraph-poem “Learning Activities,” a poem that closes the collection, ends with: “Please note that W is not a true Hungarian letter. Please note that X is not a true Hungarian letter. Please note that Y is not a true Hungarian letter. Cut the sickle and hammer out of a communist-era Hungarian flag. Tell me, do you miss speaking Hungarian? That is, do you miss your father?”