Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Kate Greenstreet, The End of Something




It takes something like 345 squirts to get a gallon of milk. You get three or four gallons a milking, depends on the cow. She needs to be milked twice a day, morning and night, no matter what.

When a cow is moved to a different field, the milk changes flavor. When they shit, it falls from a distance and, in a cold barn, steam rises off it. You can see the breath come and go through their immense nostrils.

If you’re a child when you see a calf born, you always know there’s a place as big as you inside a cow. (“12. LIVES OF THE SAINTS”)

I’ve seen American poet Kate Greenstreet’s latest poetry title, The End of Something (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017), on at least one best of 2017 list, but am only seeing such now (otherwise I might have included it in my own). The End of Something wraps up her quartet of poetry collections – case sensitive (2006), The Last 4 Things (2009) and Young Tambling (2013) [see my review of such here], also with Ahsahta – existing as both closure and a further opening, as she discussed in a recent interview posted at Touch the Donkey:

The new manuscript is actually the center of a bigger project that includes art, video, and audio experiments, based on The End of Something and offering alternate ways into it. That will all be accessible from a site (theendofsomething.com), which will go up when the book is published.

After I finished case sensitive, when I was writing The Last 4 Things and then Young Tambling, I didn’t think of the books as parts of a set or some kind of continuing inquiry. But while working on this one, I began to realize that my books are interconnected, and to feel I was putting down a fourth corner to define a formerly open-ended space.

Although I see The End of Something as a conclusion, I also like the idea that a reader could start there and go to case sensitive next. Or to either of the others. The books seem to belong to each other in a new way, so that any one of them might be the beginning or the end of a cycle that now feels complete.

There is something remarkable in the collage effect of Greenstreet’s meditative bursts and matter of fact lyrics, one that concurrently holds a series of incredibly precise specificity and floating generalizations, with neither direction contradicting the other. The structure of her poems allow for anything and everything to be included, all while managing a narrative through-line, there enough to follow, but one that isn’t essential to engaging this work. Questions such as “Who is Mike?” or “Why would you let a dog eat pizza?” become superfluous, and there is something glorious about knowing that her work can be read in any order, whether as her quartet of books-to-date or even within each collection, opening any page at random to simply begin, without losing out on any element of what her work is doing. One might say that her quartet is less a sequence of four poetry collections than a single work, expanding outward as it moves beyond its borders, while refusing a single linearity.

Greenstreet’s poetry has elements of both the magpie and the meditative lyric, exploring memoir, memory and whatever scrap might catch her eye, able to weave even the most disparate element into the fabric of this expansive work. I like the idea of her quartet as a sequence of works engaged in “continuing inquiry,” and invite comparisons to the work of other essay-poets, including Lisa Robertson, Phil Hall and Erín Moure, or even non-fiction works such as Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments (Graywolf Press, 2016) [see my review of such here], Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (Wave Books, 2009) [see my review of such here] or Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable (Black Ocean, 2013) [see my review of such here]. Given the collage-element of Greenstreet’s work has expanded to include image and short film, unable to contain the multitudes of her engagement within the confines of the poetry book, I’m curious to see where her work might go next; and might her next work extend what she has accomplish here, or move entirely beyond it?

I was back on the farm. I felt though that I was not really there but remembering, because new elements were present. I saw some sheep cut in half but they were hollow. I swept out a tiny building that didn’t used to be there, which led to a system of tunnels underneath the ground I just wanted to be alone in the tiny place I’d swept, but I could hear people coming up through the tunnels. I seemed to have nowhere else to go, and then, miraculously, I had the thought “If this is remembering, I could try to forget,” and with that I woke up. (“64. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A STRANGER”)





Monday, January 22, 2018

the launch of ottawater #14: Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal

Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan


Come out to the launch of the fourteenth issue of ottawater, featuring new writing by Manahil Bandukwala, Stephanie Bolster, Sara Cassidy, Jason Christie, JM Francheteau, Spencer Gordon, Chris Johnson, N.W. Lea, Leah MacLean-Evans, Christine McNair, Colin Morton, Dani Spinosa, Priscila Uppal, Jean Van Loon, Ian Whistle and Maha Zimmo. The issue also includes visual art by Christos Pantieras, Joyce Crago, Denise Landriault, Nate Nettleton, Anne Marie Dumouchefl, Kathleen Axam, Robert Stevenson, and Andrea Sutton.

http://www.ottawater.com

The launch, featuring readings by a number of this issue’s contributors, will be held on Friday, February 2, 2018, upstairs at The Carleton Tavern, Parkdale at Armstrong; doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm.

Lovingly hosted by editor/publisher rob mclennan.


Founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada's glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats, and found at http://www.ottawater.com. An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appeared in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

The issue itself isn't online yet, but all previous issues remain archived on the site. Thanks to designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Claire Kelly

Claire Kelly's first full-length collection, Maunder, is available from Palimpsest Press. She has curated a chapbook of emerging Edmonton poets for Frog Hollow Press’s City Series. She lives and writes in Edmonton. Her second book of poetry will be released in 2019 with ECW.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook gave me something tangible to point to for friends and family who knew I had moved away to work on writing, but having a physical thing to explain my extended absence was very nice.  It was also lovely to read from a book instead of from papers that always seem to end up crumpled in my backpack.

My new work feels a bit more punchy and possibly more reactionary. I am still using poetry to reflect on how I feel about things, or why, but the things I’m reflecting on are more political and less based on what I see when I take walks. The world makes me angrier right now (*cough* Trump *cough*) and I am trying to find ways to write that anger into my work without losing other aspects of my poetry that I like, such as humour or a sense of beauty or surprise. The world makes me feel itchy, so I’m trying to be surprising and funny and maybe even evoking the beautiful while trying to evoke that itchiness.

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

When I was a kid I wrote all sorts of things. But when I hit my early teens I fell in love with movies. After a house fire our power got cut by an overenthusiastic cable company worker who had walked by our burnt stuff in a dumpster. So we didn’t have cable for half a year and rented VHS tapes from the library. It was the first time I got to see old movies that weren’t Sunday night Disney films. So I wanted to make films and then when I realized I didn’t want to deal with people, I wanted to write and edit film. Slowly that became wanting to watch films, which I still do. Last night I saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon and it was awesome. Best designed horror monster ever! Then I wanted to write fiction, but what I always found myself actually writing was poems. It makes sense in retrospect because of how often I hoarded the school library’s copy of Alligator Pie.

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 tend to write in bursts and through the writing figure out the themes and concerns that are bouncing around in my head. Lately I’ve had two projects on the go so that I can see where the poem fits, if it fits in either. The writing is quick and the editing is long. Some poems are very similar to their original forms, generally with some pre-writing that can be deleted or crafted into a title, and some post-writing that is just me explaining to myself what I’ve done which can be helpful for the editing process. Some poems change forms completely. If I have felt stuck with poetry for a while, I will gravitate towards forms to kickstart writing. And then sometimes I find a form holding me back so I will remove it. Very often a poem will start of as a prose poem and something will feel off, so I’ll create some white space through line breaks, and vice versa.

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?
Only when I was writing my thesis, which became Maunder—though many of the poems from the thesis did not make the book version—did I write towards a project. I have to say, though, I did purposely pick a topic that I could hang a lot of different poems on. I mean lots of poems are about walking or are imagined while walking. Walking does help create the necessary rhythm for me to start writing, as does reading other poets’ work. I need the rhythm, what I’m doing with that rhythm is part of the process. I’m just figuring it out and discovering as I go. That way I don’t get bored.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are integral to my process. Often that’s when I learn not just how the poem is working but where the poem is working toward, if that makes sense. My mouth and ears don’t trick me in front of an audience as much as my brain and eyes do in front of a computer. I have learned to love performing in the last year or so and not just find public readings useful. I practice a lot beforehand so that the audience finds the experience useful and engaging too.

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?

This is the sort of thing that works poem to poem for me until I notice a pattern. Right now I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness and how despite our technological connection many people seem to be weighed down with loneliness. Were we always this lonely? Or does the expectation of connection we see on our screens make us feel as if we are lonely? I don’t know if this is theory or not, but it is the concern behind what I am writing, even if that concern is way back in my subconscious as I write about wanting to lash out at cars on the way to work.

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 enjoy writers who are processing their culture, whether they take it further and directly engage or not. I think most poetry is political. I wish the culture cared more about poetry, but I think that poets are often overly apologetic about writing poetry. It’s hard to engage people while apologizing for what you are creating: “I write poetry, which no one reads, except poets” * squirm *, * squirm *. I wish we’d talk more about how our lives are enriched by poetry to those who have only been taught it poorly in classrooms, instead of cringing. Tell them how much fun it is to find a poem that engages your tongue and eyes and brain. I have no idea if I’ve answered this question.

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

As many eyes as possible is helpful. Even if someone does not present the right solution, very often they inform me of a problem or confirm an issue that I’ve been avoiding. When the eyes belong to someone who is not my friend it is helpful because I get the feeling that they are not overly swayed by my feelings. Friends who edit are helpful as well, as they want me to succeed and are willing to go super far in helping me get to the weird destination that I am trying to will the poem to.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Writing requires white space. John Barton made me feel better about dropping an academic class at UNB by saying that phrase. And I’ve reminded myself of it when I am making choices that take away from my reading, thinking, writing, and editing time.

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?
I don’t write every day, but I think about writing every day. I’m not just saying to myself, I wish I was writing. I mean that I am doing the editing and crafting away from the computer a lot so that when I get an hour or so (lunch hour at work, say) I can hop in. When I find that hour or so and my partner hears me mumbling to myself from the other room, he knows that I am working. So no set time or place, but if I haven’t worked on some poem drafts or written a first draft of a poem after a fortnight, I am uncomfortable in my brain.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I find switching to a new poem helpful so that I am not forcing something that just needs some time to itself. Having just one thing on the go bores me and makes that one project heavy and burdensome, like an angry, giant toddler. Best to have a half-dozen kids just in case one does something terrible like not make sense or say the exact opposite of what was intended (note1: that simile broke down; note 2: I do not have children). Also, reading poetry helps more than I can adequately express. I type up the poems of others a lot so that I have them ready to go just in case.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Unscented candles after you blow them out and a roast in the over about twenty minutes before it is ready (that point where cooking meat infuses the air).

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 have written quite a few ekphrastic poems. If I had my choice, and enough patience and skill, I would have chosen being a painter. Song lyrics have also been important to me. I have learned a lot from different lyricists. Two that pop into my head this moment are Joanna Newsom and Shane MacGowan. They are both very good slant rhymers.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Virginia Woolf and Ali Smith have made me a better writer and maybe a better person. Both are willing to leap into the heads of others and imagine what they are going through, and have a serious sense of play.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I am in the process of writing a horror novel. It is terrifying (the process and hopefully the novel). Longform narrative is a completely different mode of obsession than my short poems. So many more words to wrangle.

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 would want to be a palaeontologist. I never grew past the awe of the dinosaur, their size and alien-ness and their tongue-contorting names. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t become a writer. I don’t think I’d be a successful dino-scientist. The fact that my answer is still so much the same as when I was eight is probably a sign that I don’t have marketable skills outside of writing and helping others get their writing into book form.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Sheer dumb inability to be good at anything else.

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

Ali Smith’s Autumn for fiction was amazing. I already want to read it again. I thought the ending was hopeful, but it would take a reread and a long conversation to explain why I feel that way. Kathryn Mockler’s Onion Man is one book that I’ve been thinking a lot about since I read it in the Spring. It’s form made such sense and I hadn’t read a character like that in poetry before. Layers and layers. As to a movie, if anyone hasn’t seen the movie Frank, I feel bad for you and jealous of you because I wish I could watch it for the first time again. It is such a study of genius and talent. It is dark and funny and I keep singing the songs aloud. I’ve watched it three times this year.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the first draft of a horror novel titled Her Kind. I will be editing a new manuscript with ECW soon about moving from New Brunswick to Alberta, which is also very much about having A.D.D. (One Thing—Then Another). And I am working on a new project about loneliness, tentatively titled Weirdo Poems.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Megan Levad, What Have I To Say To You




THE HEAT I FEEL I FEEL
all the way

over there in my body

I watch while
eighteen hundred parents

stand for the Hallelujah
chorus in a college gymnasium

From here I see it
my body

waving to you
like wheat in the wind

course, plain, alive

under the sun
like everything

San Francisco poet and librettist Megan Levad’s second full-length poetry collection, following Why We Live in the Dark Ages (Portland OR: Tavern Books, 2015), is What Have I To Say To You (Tavern Books, 2017). Composed as a book-length lyric suite, Levad’s poems explore the intimate at an extremely high speed, moving through the imagination and the body with great detail and dexterity. As she writes: “IN THAT SCENARIO / I think I would // save your mother // you would get / the fifty-fifty // I would drown // the most romantic / way to go // But I might be wrong  […].” Levad’s first person accumulation of pieces read as though it could be a letter composed at the end of a relationship or affair, or an interior monologue on what might have gone wrong, ending up as a curious blending of both that doesn’t necessarily require to be read in order to comprehend.

I HAVE NO ONE TO TALK TO
I am my own Texas

I am a stadium
filled with screaming fans

I have no one to talk to

I am Amelia Earhart
piloting the Kittyhawk

with the Lindbergh baby
strapped to my chest

I am first in everything

I am a career violinist

The bruise on my neck
I did to myself

Levad’s epistolary accumulations are intriguing, and move from confrontation to meditation, interior monologue to direct speech. The “you” of her title, in a certain way, becomes superfluous, or at least secondary, making the remainder of her title a question she works with great attention and detail to answer. What Have I To Say To You might suggest a direct response to another, but it feels just as much a kind of intricate, lyric character study composed as monologue. Just who is the “I” that is speaking, and what has she to say, exactly, to anyone?

WHEN A COMPASS
is broken

it can be replaced

needle, cork, shallow dish
is all it takes

More difficult
is learning

the compass is broken

That part takes decades
of wandering in the desert



Friday, January 19, 2018

The Capilano Review (Fall 2017): 3.33




Time knows what it does or it doesn’t,
is it truly a sequence that is continuing?
I might suck time from the ridge of your lips.
I think, the city negates me? Yes + No.
The mess I’ve made of things. I’m given
to the question mark, the ellipsis.
The future has already happened
and I understand nothing. A child
cries on the street and the mother
answers, “I don’t care.” Another
woman walking past in expensive
spandex says into her phone,
“whatever I have risked I stand
to earn.” I cannot hunt, I lock
the door when you go away
with my love and then with fern
in hand I signal recalcitrance. I am bogged.
A pustule of glial shine. It is possible
the rest has ended. (Liz Howard, “This Nocturne Went Summer / (a series of cosmic missives)”)

As you already know, I’m sure, one of the journals I consistently look forward to is Vancouver’s The Capilano Review [see my review of the previous issue here], currently edited by Catriona Strang. The current issue, as the short editor’s note suggests, pushes back against what often feels like a growing dark: “And yet, even as they articulate our horrors, the texts and artworks included here resist them, paradoxically finding fleeting moments of joy and delight in learning ‘to appreciate the raw beauty of our contingencies’ with Sria Chatterjee, or becoming ‘joysome from the thick damp leafage’ with Ted Byrne and Kim Minkus. So that perhaps this fall issue provides some transitory respite, and maybe refigures respite as resistance, or at least as mulch, at the same time as it takes a good hard look. ‘We’ve gathered the info,’ writes [Angela Jennifer] Lopes, ‘suck it up and believe.’” Existing as both a port in the storm and a focus on resistance, one could argue that The Capilano Review has been actively publishing and supporting this kind of work for years. In this current issue, the first thing that jumped out at me were the two short prose pieces by the aforementioned BookThug author Angela Jennifer Lopes:

at it again

So we’ve got this one. We’re planning a return to school to study physics or maybe linguistics. We knew these colonizers were just really insecure with no feeling of human. Because we know this we’re enraged. To support this moment of rage is a choice you get. For us it’s a part of it. But if you really know, the sojourn entire cannot be just peace getting a real job. It’s something we get, an attraction celestial where frothing at the conscious calves splinters. That we are ourselves the closest we are to nothing. The clandestineness of destiny is based upon a certain order earthly the report that there’s some blessing and some shunning. Some of our friends detoxify inner urgency with such sleek grace. Why do “let’s just sit on it”? And let’s bring that friend to mind. She’s the one who doesn’t care about opinions. She exudes virtues, primordial time.

I haven’t seen as much work from Liz Howard lately (I suspect I might be looking in the wrong places, possibly), so seeing her five-page “This Nocturne Went Summer” was a definite highlight. As she writes: “I dreamt supranatural and killed my memories with salt.” It was also good to see new work from Reg Johanson, Lise Downe, Colin Smith, Brian Dedora and Kevin Davies, all writers one doesn’t exactly see publishing in too many literary journals (this is one thing I’ve learned through my years of going through literary journals: when too many journals are simply publishing variations on the same, and even the same grouping of authors, any journal that includes work from authors we don’t see enough of gets my attention). Another highlight includes Sria Chatterjee, including her “THREE LETTERS,” the first of which reads:

  1. Letter on a dream

I woke up this morning having dreamt that four new elements have been added to the periodic table. They sank to the bottom of my mind like words or synthetic rocks, superheavy. I arranged and rearranged these particles of primary matter on my clear blue mind slate, and you. I am writing because you were in my dream, prodding it like it was water. It was water. Each element a different tonal cluster, plunk, ringing in my plunk like Listerine. You spoke nonstop of the molecular unconscious, its two poles: paranoia and schizophrenia, molar and molecular, the nonhuman sex, the problem of affinities, the dwarfism of desire, terror and law, Seaborgium in the evolution of the state Americum, capitalism and schizophrenia, old earths and new, I had my ears to the ground you were vomiting clay screaming for Darmstadtium. You were drawing furrows in my water. We were screaming over and above each other. ORGANIZE, EXECUTE, EAT LOCAL, & MAKE the police take the Hippocratic Oath. Abstain from doing harm. I hope you are doing OK. Do write. The sky here is unfixed with the atomic structure of milk.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Terry Watada



Terry Watada is a Toronto writer with many titles to his credit.  His publications include Light at a Window (a manga, HpF Press and the NAJC, 2015), The Game of 100 Ghosts (poetry, Mawenzi House, Fall 2014), The Sword, the Medal and the Rosary (a manga, HpF Press and the NAJC, 2013), The TBCthe Toronto Buddhist Church, 1995 – 2010, (non-fiction, HpF Press & the Toronto Buddhist Church 2010), KuroshioThe Blood of Foxes, (novel, Arsenal Pulp Press 2007), Obonthe Festival of the Dead (poetry, Thistledown Press 2006), Ten Thousand Views of Rain (poetry, Thistledown Press 2001), Seeing the Invisible (a children’s biography, Umbrella Press 1998), Daruma Days (short fiction, Ronsdale Press 1997), Bukkyo Tozena History of Buddhism in Canada (non-fiction, HpF Press & the Toronto Buddhist Church 1996) and A Thousand Homes (poetry, Mercury Press 1995).  He is also proud to be part of the anthology Vancouver Confidential (ed. John Belshaw, Anvil Press 2014), which was ranked number 1 by the BC Publishers Association two weeks in a row.  His current publications include The Nishga Girl, (HpF Press and the NAJC 2017) a children’s story about Judo Jack Tasaka (a Nisei boatbuilder) and Eli Gosnell, a chief of the Nisga’a Nation; and his second novel, The Three Pleasures (Anvil Press, 2017).  The book centres on the Nisei (second generation JC) Resistance Movement during WWII.

As a playwright, he has seen seven of his plays receive mainstage production; his best known is perhaps Vincent, a play about a Toronto family dealing with a schizophrenic son.  Workman Arts of Toronto has remounted it every year from 1993 to 2008.  Most notably, it was produced at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the first and second Madness and Arts World Festival in Toronto and Muenster, Germany, respectively. 

His essays have been published in such varied journals and books as Maclean's Magazine (March 2011), Canadian Literature (UBC), and Ritsumeikan Hogaku “Kotoba to sonohirogari” (Ritsumeikan University Press, Kyoto Jpn).  He wrote a monthly column in the Japanese Canadian national journal the Nikkei Voice for 25 years.  Since 2012, he has continued his column in the Vancouver JCCA Bulletin when the magazine expanded to a national level.  Essays about his work have appeared in the International Journal of Canadian StudiesModern Drama (UTP), and in Transcultural ReinventionsAsian American and Asian Canadian Short-Story Cycles (TSAR Publications).

For all his efforts, Terry was awarded the William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award from the City of Toronto and a Citation of Citizenship from the Government of Canada.  Recently, he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the NAJC’s National Merit Award.  His dedication to the development of human rights in Canada was recognized with the Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Award.  His archives of the Asian North American experience have been collected as the Terry Watada Special Collection and housed in the East Asian Library.  His literary papers are part of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Robarts Library, the University of Toronto.  His theatre production papers are part of the Guelph University Library collection, his oral history is stored within the Simon Fraser University Library.  His books are part of the collections of the National Library of Canada, Stanford University Library, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Nikkei (Canadian) Library, the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and the Beijing Foreign Studies University Library.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, A Thousand Homes, was a collection of poetry based on my mother’s life.  When she died in 1984, I discovered I had many, many stories about her that could’ve been lost if I hadn’t started writing.  So I composed a long poem about her in one night.  I entered it into the CBC Writing Contest.  “Chisato” (her name which translates to a “thousand homes”) made it to the final round.

I then broke down the long poem into component parts, adding new poems along the way, and voila, I had a book-length group of poems.  I submitted it to Mercury Press which published it in 1995.  The collection was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.  With such encouragement, I decided to write more poetry and to work on prose pieces.  My life was profoundly changed as a result.

My recent collection of poetry, The Game of 100 Ghosts (Mawenzi House, Toronto, 2014), is much more assured.  I remember one critic said of A Thousand Homes that I didn’t have the “chops” to write poetry.  That of course is a matter of opinion, but I will say I am much more confident in writing poetry than I was in the 1980s and 90s.

My second novel, The Three Pleasures (Anvil Press, Vancouver, 2017), continues my exploration of Japanese Canadian history, traditions and community, but beyond my family stories.  It feels different because I imagine I am resurrecting that lost community, the JC community just prior WWII and throughout the war.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
As I said, I began with poetry.  In actuality, I started writing songs first.  A friend once quipped that writing lyrics was writing bad poetry, so I was following my true passion, I suppose.  I was in various rock bands in the 1960s, playing around and beyond Toronto.  When the last band I was in broke up in 1970, I decided to write my own music as many singer/songwriters were doing at the time (Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Carole King to name a few).  Fortunately, I found an audience in the Asian Canadian communities.  With their encouragement, I continued writing and performing music in the folk scenes across the country and into the US. 

I turned to writing short fiction and then novels because I found I couldn’t express everything I wanted to within the confines of a poem or song.  I could create worlds with prose; I wasn’t good enough to do so with poems or lyrics.

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 haven’t found it a problem starting a writing project.  I’ve heard many stories within and outside my family over the decades.  No matter where I am people tell me stories.  I feel blessed that I have their trust.  Once I have the kernel of an idea for a book, I begin an intense period of study through interviews, histories, and self-published memoirs.

I find the writing comes quickly afterwards, but initial drafts need a lot of rewriting.  Then the editing process takes it through several more drafts.  So I would say the final manuscript in no way resembles the initial drafts.

4 - Where does a poem or work of 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?
With a poem, an image or phrase comes to mind which I like.  I then work to make it into a poem.  I wouldn’t say my short pieces become novels, but anecdotes do.  I like expanding and stretching them into full plot lines.

Back in the 1990s, an agent suggested I write a long novel (about 1000 pages in length).  Writers like Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie and others were all the rage then.  So I thought about a book that could include all the personal anecdotes I had.  When I returned to her a year later, she said “long books are out”.  Somewhat discouraged but not diminished, I took what I had and devised three distinct books.  I never went back to that agent.  But I had my path clearly mapped out before me.

Having said that, I can see taking any of my short stories and incorporating them into a longer piece.  I do have an idea for a collection when writing short pieces.  Every subsequent piece then is in service to that idea.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy public readings.  I guess that comes from my years as a musician.  I like to raise the reading to a performance using emotion and different voices.  Readings of poetry and prose are a lot easier.  In a band, I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me, audience members assault me while on stage, and call me all kinds of racist epithets.  None of that happens when reading a poem.

I also see readings as part of the creative process; I find what works and what doesn’t.

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?
My primary concern is to get it right.  What I write must sound authentic.

Questions:  Is the language accurate to the first and second generation Japanese Canadians?  Does the setting reflect the situation described?  Do the traditions, customs and cultural imperatives ring true for the characters?  Therefore, do the characters act in a plausible way?  What was life or the experience like?

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?
The writer is the conscience of the larger culture.  The writer’s role is to uncover the truth and reveal it to his/her reader.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both actually.  I see the necessity of an outside editor when clearing up plot confusion, organization and a host of other things.  The problem comes into play when the editor doesn’t understand the culture behind the characters.  Misunderstanding follows.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Have the courage to create.  Be truthful while being sensitive to all concerned.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to plays to music to poetry)? What do you see as the appeal?
Fairly easy.  The challenge is the appeal.  Can I write a play?  Can I write an effective history or a memoir?  As opposed to poetry or fiction, which I know I can write.

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?
My day begins with breakfast with the family and seeing them off.  I then catch the news before watching something entertaining, like a favourite drama or comedy.  By then it is 9:00 and I begin to write in my office.  I stop at 11:00 to make myself lunch, read the paper and catch the noon news.  I then continue writing after 1:00 until about 4:00 when family begin to arrive home.  I seldom write in the evening unless I have a pressing deadline.  I carry this routine throughout the week (including the weekend), making time for family chores and social obligations.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I do read (at night) to gain inspiration.  Sometimes an intelligent film or a TV series does the same.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Sizzling beef in a pan.  More aroma than fragrance, I suppose.  When I was a kid, beef was a rare dinner, my working-class parents could afford it but once a month, if lucky.  Whenever I came home and smelled the frying beef, I was in heaven.  I had it like my father: sliced beef, rice, and tofu (with a hot vegetable on the side of course), soy sauce added for flavour.  That is what made home special.

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?
Old Japanese fairy tales and ghost stories really influence my work.  Hence the Japanese ghost film is important for me to watch.  It helps me to create atmosphere in my work.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Haruki Murakami is my guru.  The magic in his work mesmerizes me.  I love the disappearing characters and the parallel worlds.  I attempt to sink that influence into my work.  Don’t know if I am successful.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Win a major literary prize.

Outside of writing, I’d like to take a train across the country, hopping off and on as I go, meeting the people, sampling the local food and taking in the countryside.  I did it once, but I was seven-years-old at the time.  I now fly over the country.

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 was a college professor, but it served to finance my writing and musical ambitions.  I suppose I would’ve become a full-time musician.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
As I stated before, my mother’s death caused me to write.  Other than that, I developed a real yearning to know what life was like in the Japanese and Japanese Canadian community before, during and after WWII (until the 1960s).  I could approach that through writing.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book was IQ84 by Haruki Murakami.  The title is a Japanese pun for 1984 – Q is the number 9 in Japanese.

The last great film would have to be The Human Condition by Masaki Kobayashi.  I couldn’t believe it tackles the controversial themes of Korean Comfort Women and the brutal treatment of Chinese war prisoners.  And this was in 1961!  Amazing nine-hour film done by an artist of great courage.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’ve got two projects going at present: my fifth collection of poetry and a third novel.  The poetry collection is called The Four Sufferings, based on a teaching of the Buddha, and the novel is called The Mysterious Dreams of the Dead.  The novel is partly based on my friend who robbed a bank in the name of Japanese Canadian redress in the 1980s, and another part centres on the search for the protagonist’s father with supernatural and magical elements in play.  I am nearly ready to submit the manuscripts for both.