Friday, February 24, 2017


This is not an oral history of The Poetry Project, for instance, though a great deal of information that might qualify as anecdotal history of The Project and its numerous social and artistic contexts can be found within. It’s not a scholarly book or a book “about” poetry, though one may find out a great deal about poetry as a living art form flowing through the costume of each interview. It is an anthology of a type, and many readers will naturally jump around the book while reading it, but the book is also a collection of stories filtered through the form of the interview into one longer story made of overlapping circles. As such, it will reward readers who take on the experience of reading it from beginning to end. Characters appear, recede, and pop up again in surprising places. Jobs, death, illness, war, and money problems come up as frequently as references to the arts, and the chronological structure of the book belies a sense of time that often reaches back to the 1960s and earlier, while examining the future from the perspective of that particular day a conversation is taking place. It is not a linear chronicle of an era, but it is a chronicle nonetheless, an assemblage verging on accidental chorus that presents ideas and discussion about poetry in the charged words of the poets, not in unreadable academic speak, and not in insulated literary terms divorced from the broader ground of the world and its inexhaustible complexities. Its necessity is bound up with the casual intensity of its invitation: you won’t find many people who speak on and for poetry, or anything else for that matter, in such high and ordinary terms. The ride is for anyone to take. (Anselm Berrigan, “INTRODUCTION”)

Produced to “coincide with the fiftieth anniversary season of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church” in New York City, is the hefty anthology WHAT IS POETRY? (JUST KIDDING, I KNOW YOU KNOW): INTERVIEWS FROM THE POETRY PROJECT NEWSLETTER (1983 – 2009), edited by Anselm Berrigan (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2017). As Berrigan writes in his introduction, the series was originally founded “in 1966 out of the need for a stable ongoing reading series/gathering point/community center for the overlapping circles of poets in downtown NYC. Those circles included and came to include poets variously associated with the New York School, the Beats, Black Mountain, Umbra, Language writing, and the Nuyoricans—associations which are variously highlighted, fleshed out, made ambiguous, undermined and otherwise reformed in the interviews found herein. In one sense, these groups and their outliers are a source-in-common for the poets and artists this book casts its light upon. But The Poetry Project has always been a site of challenge and respite for individual poets who refuse to take conventional paths, who want live experience with fresh material right now, and who, as Ted Greenwald puts it in his conversation with Arlo Quint, ‘want the work out front.’ That’s the ethos.”

7:44 PM 7/29/96 Dear Barbara, …Writing in fragments seems to be a very contemporary response to the postmodern distraction, the channel-surfing attention span, our fractured sense of time, on the one hand. People I know, poets and academics, are writing literally on the fly, taking their laptops aboard airplanes. That’s what we share with the business passenger working on a spreadsheet or annual report. On the other hand, when I think of poetry in fragments, I also think of Sappho, whose work comes to us, like classic Greek art and architecture, as enigmatic shards and evocative ruins. Given the human capacity to destroy civilization “with the touch of a button” the same way we microwave lean cuisine, ancient ruins stand as a figure for the obliteration of ourselves and our own culture. We imagine that some extraterrestrial archaeologists might someday examine our fragments, and wonder what manner of beings we were. In some contemporary work, including my own, the artist is engaged in a kind of archaeology of the detritus of consumer culture, the artifacts of the electronic age. That’s why I immediately recognized Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Houses, in Detroit, as visual art equivalent of what I was trying to do in Muse & Drudge. David Hammons has a similar approach to recycled resources. I’m also inspired by the work of Leonardo Drew, which is more abstract, but still carries the emotional charge of abandoned and reclaimed materials. (“An Interview With Harryette Mullen,” by Barbara Henning; October/November 1996, No. 162)

As Berrigan writes, the interviews collected in this volume were originally done for publication in The Poetry Project Newsletter, with a collected thirty-eight interviews that range in dates from 1983 to 2010, conducted with poets (some who are included here more than once) including Red Grooms, Paul Schmidt, Bernadette Mayer, Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch, Harryette Mullen, Alice Notley, Ed Sanders, Samuel R. Delany, Renee Gladman, Fred Moten, Stan Brakhage, Larry Fagin, Tina Darragh, Edwin Torres, Brenda Coultas, Will Alexander, Ron Padgett, Ted Greenwald, Eileen Myles and Bruce Andrews and Sally Silvers. As fascinating as the interviews are in the collection, editor Berrigan presents a whole array of information and insights on The Poetry Project in his introduction, including the suggestion that perhaps a proper history of their five decades-plus might be worth someone finally putting together. There are ways in which the interviews, collected here as they are, do present a portrait of the ongoing activity and environment of The Poetry Project, one that comes with friendships, apprenticeships, arguments and pitched battles, all while attempting to do the work of writing and continue a writing life. This is an enormous volume, and one that should already be seen as enormously valuable in terms of both history and craft, and showcasing the value of The Poetry Project itself, for hosting, assisting and developing a wide array of writing and writers. And, if nothing else, this volume should point readers into understanding just how important it might be to start reading the contemporary issues of The Poetry Project Newsletter, to keep up with what else is happening.

Lisa Jarnot: I want to talk to you about Allen Ginsberg. Partly, what was your relationship with Allen like?

Ed Sanders: I was a senior at high school and read Howl and I bought Howl actually at the University of Missouri Bookstore on a fraternity weekend. And it seemed like, as a young man, about everything I’d been looking for in terms of a model for writing poetry and combining poetry with your personal life in a way I thought would be appropriate, although I was living in the Midwest, in a ‘50s type all-American environment. Then I moved to New York later and saw him from afar. I attended poetry readings at places like the Gaslight on MacDougal Street or the Living Theater on 14th Street. I saw him read as I did other poets—Edward Dahlberg, Kerouac, Corso; I saw Frank O’Hara read. So wherever I could go to find poets that I admired to watch them read I went, but I never considered introducing myself or trying to be a part of it; I was just a witness. And I was going to New York University trying to study languages so I didn’t really meet Allen until 1963 when he came back from a long stay in India and Japan and Cambodia, Viet Nam, and other places—he went to the Vancouver Poetry Festival—and then he came back. And before that I had corresponded with him. I sent him Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts in India and he liked it and sent me this really important poem, “The Change,” where he kind of changed spiritual directions and came to terms with his body on atrain in Japan after visiting Joanne Kyger and Gary Snyder on the way back to Vancouver. So anyway, from 1963 on, when I formally met him, and he took me to a party at Robert and Mary Frank’s house, I began hanging out with him any time we were around in the same area until he died 34 years later. We had many, many capers and adventures and he called all the time and we saw each other now and then. A number of people could say the same thing. He was part of my life, and part of my family’s life. He was part of the household. He gave us advice, a lot of advice. And you know, he’d give advice on what kind of furniture to have in your kitchen; he was very much a teacher. (“An Interview with Ed Sanders,” by Lisa Jarnot; October/November 1997, No. 166)

The book does make me wonder if it might be worth putting some of the other interviews online, a la The Paris Review, for the sake of a wider readership and even scholarship. Given there are more than two hundred interviews (at least) to date, what else is out there worth reading?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

announcing : VERSeFest 2017 : March 21- 26, 2017

Six days, sixty poets, one festival. Celebrating written poetry and spoken word in English and French, VF ’17 brings you some of the most exciting poets on the planet.

Our seventh annual festival! With a schedule that includes readings and performances by Alan Gillis, Alessia Di Cesare, Ali Blythe, André Narbone, Benoit Jutras, Bertrand Laverdure, Beth Anne Ellipsis, bill bissett, Brandon Wint, Cannon2X, Carolyn Smart, Chus Pato, Erika Soucy, Erin Moure, Eva HD, Faizal Deen, Gregory Scofield, Guy Jean, Jill Jorgenson, Kay'la Fraser, Kayla Czaga, Leanne O'Sullivan, Lisa Robertson, Louis Bertholom, Lounat, Madhur Anad, Marco Fraticelli, Marilyn Irwin, Mark Doty, Mark Frutkin, Maxianne Berger, Paisley Rekdal, Patrick Friesen, Phoebe Wang, Rhizome, Robyn Sarah, Roger Des Roches, Sandra Ridley, Sharon McCartney, Stephen Collis, Steven Heighton, Tereza Riedlbauchová, Thierry Dimanche, Ulrikka Gernes’ and Zachary Richard.

And the announcement of Ottawa's first two (English and French) Poets Laureate!

For further information (including a complete list of participants) on poets, schedule and tickets, check out the link here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017



I don’t know how to write. Other templates emerge. My faith is insurance. A pat on the shoulder. Again, our skunk winters. Beneath forgotten hills. Salted. Indenting the crawlspace. A back-step of litter, strewn. There are exceptions. The birdfeeder seeds. Such vilification. Those bastard squirrels. Desperate, material evidence. Limits. Half your share. How to convince anyone. I want to know how it is you are keeping.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ongoing notes: mid-February, 2017

[Lady Aoife's split-second mood shifts, during lunch]

Hey, everyone. What’s up?

I asked for chapbooks, and some of you even responded! Much thanks! Would obviously love to see more. What else do you have, world? Items can be sent to me c/o 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9

You might have noticed a flurry of activity over at above/ground press lately: there have already been new titles in 2017 by Jake Syersak, Helen Hajnoczky, Derek Beaulieu, Kyle Flemmer, philip miletic, Geoffrey Young, Jason Christie, Carrie Hunter and Sarah Swan (as well as Touch the Donkey #12), with forthcoming titles by Sarah Cook, Jessica Smith, Nathan Dueck, Stephen Collis, Jordan Abel, Marilyn Irwin, Ian Whistle, Sandra Moussempès (trans. Eléna Rivera), Brenda Iijima, and Sarah Fox, a new issue of Touch the Donkey, and even a new issue (#25!) of The Peter F. Yacht Club, just in time for our seventh annual VERSeFest!

There’s even (still) time to subscribe for 2017 if you wish; I’m totally willing to backdate such to the beginning of the year…

Brooklyn NY: Thanks to editor/publisher Brenda Iijima, I’ve been going through a mound of chapbooks and full-length books from her Brooklyn-based Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs. While these publications, even the chapbooks, are rather hefty, I find it curious that none appear to include author biographies (obviously a deliberate choice), leaving the works to live on their own merits (well, one can always Google). One of the most recent titles in the stack is Biswamit Dwibedy’s chapbook of short lyrics, EIRIK’S OCEAN (2016). The author of a handful of books and chapbooks, Dwibedy’s [see his 2015 ’12 or 20 questions’ interview here] lyrics are composed across an incredibly large canvas, writing out to an endless horizon. Writing on water, islands, discovery and some of the founding myths of “America,” Dwibedy’s lyrics are endlessly searching, reaching out for what might still be possible, and what never was.

Eirik the Red

Father of the first Finder of America
nurtured a vague little sense of religion

He pleasured in when you cannot see
wanderings and intermissions
of violence and kindness

incoherent after finding grapes

Prophetic North Star
Norse rose shape
glass hides honey, “milk”
weed I touch               floats”

linger luckless, but act like a voyage

uncertainty & importance of

drift of sand or snow

impossible to dress an unity

Master’s down in bed &
Wearing Icelandic

Victoria BC/London ON: I’m always curious about collaborations, so was eager to see a copy of London, Ontario poets Andy Verboom and David Huebert’s chapbook FULL MONDEGREENS (Victoria BC: Frog Hollow Press, 2016). I must say, I’m not often attracted to poems displaying such formal considerations, but I’m rather fond of the rhythms these two have composed together:


Evander peals through Mexico,
a dreamy rose-kissed Romeo.
A scarred embrace, an infant’s cry,
a nark, Bill, lamely zings on by.
Fierce lure: I need a fish taco.

Where is that bread? What brays that goat?
She weaved along the undertow.
Shove after shove rent sour her cry:
“Evander feels!”

Break up that coral, fish for toes.
Say! Brew some baby hands for show.
Ha! Scorch neighbours who scold the shy.
Iffy? Grey rape will rust through lies.
He falls asleep, jalopies blow,
Evander reels.

The rhythms are compelling, and the poems might appear straight, but are anything but. So far, Verboom is the author of the chapbook Tower (Toronto ON: Anstruther Press, 2016), and Huebert is the author of the full-length collection We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class (Toronto ON: Guernica Editions, 2015), but I am hoping that they might continue working together, even as they work on their own individual writing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

(another) very short story

I’ve been holding a theory that Donna, companion to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who, was actually the Doctor’s mother. Or at least, would be. Despite her memory “re-boot” at the end of her story-arc, she was still half-Time Lord, infected by the Doctor’s spare hand. After all, he had offered once that he was part human (although: the Doctor lies). Why else was the Doctor, pre-Donna, drawn to her grandfather, Wilf? Why was he still, long after she had returned home? Why was the Doctor so drawn, twice, to Donna at all? There was the elder red-headed Time Lord that only Wilf could see in the second part of The End of Time, a woman that writer Russell T. Davies has since admitted was meant to be the Doctor’s mother. Why was she so drawn to Wilf, but for the sake of a final assist to her grandfather? The series certainly wasn’t overrun with redheaded women: the elder version of Donna, having reconciled the rift in her human-Time Lord state for reunification, memories intact. Some might argue a stretch, given the poor ending the writers gave poor Donna Noble, but all the clues are still there. She would become his mother, and the elder version couldn’t tell him. Not yet.