Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (2014) is reviewed in Broken Pencil #64

My collection of short fiction, The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) was reviewed by Paul Rocca in the new issue of Broken Pencil. Thanks, Paul! I might be biased, but I think this little collection is absolutely perfect summer reading. Now if I could just get the next collection of short stories finished (my goal for 2014). The short review is now posted over at the Chaudiere Books blog.

Monday, August 18, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Barbara Tomash

Barbara Tomash is the author of three books of poetry: Arboreal (Apogee Press 2014), The Secret of White (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009), and Flying in Water, which won the 2005 Winnow First Poetry Award.  Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, New American Writing, Verse, VOLT, Witness, and many other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Writing does change me (thank goodness). And writing the series of prose poems that became my first book, Flying In Water,  put me inside a longing that came alive first when I was nine years old and was taken to an exhibition of paintings by the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky. I was an obsessive drawer and held long conversations with my crayon colors. Standing in front of the paintings, I felt both awkward and at home—as if I were hearing a new language I understood perfectly without being able (or asked) to translate a word. This was a beauty I really wanted. And it sent me on the path of becoming a visual artist. When, in my late thirties I turned to writing, it took a very long time, really until I found the “she” who speaks in Flying In Water, to be able to use language to report on and shape perception.

Most of the poems in my second book, The Secret of White, were actually written before I wrote Flying in Water.  A group of poems at the heart of the book were inspired by the paintings of Pierre Bonnard. In his works “the subjects”—the people, the objects—are often at the periphery, as if they are about to fall out of the frame, the center may be empty.  And I wanted to find a way to write this same movement or spin, to find in language a center replete with absence.

It feels difficult to compare Arboreal, which just came out, to my other work, because I am so close to it, and as suggested by this question, I have been changed by it.  Each project calls for a different process, or each project calls forth a different logic, even calls forth a different writer.  For Arboreal I worked with sharper juxtapositions of language fragments than I’ve used before, and perhaps a greater density of sound and image. The “she” of Arboreal emigrates from the garden into the woods where she becomes immersed in a sort of end of the world imagining.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Circuitously and surprisingly.  As a young woman, I worked as an artist, painting, and doing multi-media video installations. I started working on films in my mid-thirties, which was really like beginning again. As an artist, I seemed to make it a habit to be a beginner. Which was often painful—never having full expertise—but, I was looking for something. After laboring on a couple of really bad films, I understood something funny and sad—it was harder to make a bad film than a good one; no matter how much “production value” you brought to it, without a good script, there was no hope. So, as a practical thing, I thought I’d try to write a screenplay. But, it turned out that what I wanted to write was all the narration, the descriptive details, the inner thoughts of the characters, all the stuff you are not supposed to put in a film script. It was then that I wrote my first couple of short stories and enrolled in graduate school to study short story writing—once again, I was really a raw beginner—what a demanding and beautiful form the short story is! Out of curiosity, I took a poetry class—I had never written a poem—and I fell  for poetry hard, even obsessively. I remember the tactile sense I had with the very first poem I attempted, transfixed by the endless options and permutations possible in “breaking” lines. That sharp focus and concentration on form was a continuation of what I had been doing as a visual artist—the experimentation, the sense that a poem was a object, made out of language patterns and play, yet full of ideas, of thinking on the page that wasn’t necessarily struggling to tell anything.  I hadn’t felt that thrill of the malleability and physicality of language when I was writing short stories.

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?
It seems that, for me, a book takes around three years to write. I write slowly, find my way slowly. Often for the first year or so, I don’t know what I am doing.  Once I get a clearer image of the book, I experiment full on with form and revise like crazy.  I have no problem chopping up or unraveling a poem that was “finished.”  For Arboreal, in the last year of revision and writing, I joined various poems together to make long sequences, weaving fragments together, cutting parts away, and writing new passages. It was then that the book came alive for me.

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?
My current work in progress, for which I am working with English pre-fixes and found language from the dictionary, has been “a book from the very beginning.” As soon as I wrote the first poem, I felt compelled to keep going, to follow through until I was “done.”  But, this much clarity of purpose at the very beginning is quite unusual for me. I prefer to read and write poetry books that have a lot of coherence of some kind, of voice, form, idea, method etc., but for me this coherence comes out of a lot of trial and error, and just writing to see what comes out.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have stage-fright before I read, but once I am doing it, I love the feeling of having the words inside of my body.  It seems like a whole new stage of the writing process, bringing my voice to it.  The reading can feel oddly trance-like, and I like that. It puts me in a new relationship with the writing—as if I am partnered by it.

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?
Some questions keep circling. If we can’t ever retrieve from the time before language, when we were pre-verbal, the knowing of the world directly through our unmediated senses, then isn’t this loss exactly what makes language so compelling and beautiful?  There is always failure, but not as something dark and despairing, more as a creative companion.

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?
An enormous question. One small angle of approach is the personal. As a child uncomfortable in my own skin, in my own family, I read and read—the basics were food, water, shelter, reading. Reading was an alternative skin, an alternative body I could become whole inside of—so the writers I loved, and I loved so many, gave  birth to me a second time. In some ways this was a more generative birthing. I found an intimacy and truth in the reader and writer exchange, a “more perfect union,” than I did at school, or at home, or even with other children. So, for me the writer has a deeply human, even primal role. But, I haven’t really touched the full contours of this question.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
My experience with my editor at Apogee Press, Edward Smallfield, has been wonderful. But, his approach has not been that of an “outside editor,” as I imagine it. Ed once explained to me that when he accepts a manuscript for publication, he feels confidence in the work and the poet’s process, and does not get involved with making suggestions for changes. He was, however, completely open to changes I wanted to make. I added several poems after the manuscript was accepted and made some significant revisions.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Write five more.”  This was feedback from my teacher, Frances Mayes.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I don’t find it easy to write prose (even answering these interview questions is difficult for me!) but, then I don’t find it easy to write poetry.

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?
That I have any writing routine at all, especially when I am teaching, is by grace of my friendship with three writers I admire—Nona Caspers, Ann Pelletier, and Jesse Nissim—with whom I write in company twice per week. We live in Berkeley, Syracuse, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, so, we meet via video conference call and work together for several hours at a time. As audience, as collaborators, as instigators, as guides, their presence is integral to the way my work develops.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Once I start writing something, once I have words down on paper, the poem itself motivates me to keep going into it—it makes its fervent, sometimes anxious requests of me for further work. And I am grateful. 

For the poems in Arboreal I was looking out the window, and I was listening. I was inspired by how small changes appear to us, what a particular instant of transition looks like, feels like. Often, I was writing at my window just as day turned into evening and then became night. I was arrested in movement—a paradox—the motion of my thinking contained in the view out the window. Light and thought began to feel similar, and that was inspiring.

I can be very inspired to start writing by other art work—by novels or poems or paintings or sculpture, or gardens, or architecture—anything that has a vision to it.

And I’m sustained by the people I’m close to as writing partners who are there at the beginning when things are very raw and often just ridiculous and whose work uplifts me and  grounds me deeply in my own.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Smog. With the ocean mixed in.

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?
I am particularly moved by the visual arts, their revelations about the world by the act of framing and re-framing things, by changing angles of perception, by their recording of variations, shifts, and movements that hold for me the essence of reality.

And by landscape, trees, light, color, geometry, weather. And by daily life, our present situation.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many contemporary writers are important to me that I don’t know where to begin the narrative, or even how to start a list.  It is somewhat easier to look further back, and I think of the psychological and emotional precision and beauty of the novel The Waiting Years, by Fumiko Enchi.  Reading it I discovered an aesthetic that seemed life and death crucial to me as a woman. A bit earlier in my life (and even when I think about it now) Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady made me want to scream (in good way).

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d love to learn how to sing on key. I would be very happy spending my old age singing jazz standards.

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?
Well, I’ve been an artist, writer, and teacher.  If I hadn’t done those things I would have become a wastrel.  Or, perhaps, I have been a wastrel!

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
For one thing, as an artist I found it a struggle, emotionally, to always have to be gathering and hauling building materials, found objects, and other art supplies in my car, and then wrestling with them in the studio—sometimes the materiality of the world just confounds me so deeply. For writing you need virtually nothing at all, and what little you need is readily at hand.

For another thing, I’ll quote Fanny Howe: “Poets tend to hover over words in this troubled state of mind. What holds them poised in this position is the occasional eruption of happiness.”

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve read three very wonderful books recently—the novel, Someone, by Alice McDermott; the cross-genre work, On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson; and Maxine Chernoff’s new collection of poetry, Here. Last night I saw Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel—and it was wonderful too.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a book-length series of poems, each one spinning out from dictionary definitions for words beginning with a particular prefix. All the language is found—but, fractured and juxtaposed with a free-hand, freewheeling approach—so, not surprisingly, my proclivities for certain kinds of ideas, images, and language keep emerging and circulating around.  I don’t know exactly what it all wants to be yet, but, I am enjoying making the poems. A portfolio of twenty pages from the manuscript is coming out this month in Verse.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Arleen Paré, Lake of Two Mountains



SUMMER

God and molecules, nuclei and neutrinos:
you’re told certain uncertain things.

Told this is your mother,
whose coffined face you don’t know,
whose dress is a dress she’d never have owned.

If you could, you’d live below theory, subatomic
notions floating unseen. Helixed webs,
beyond life’s unparseable range.

You’d believe in spiders, though they too
occupy their own theoried world.
On ceilings, unfalling, they attach, reattach,
rappelling. Their silks
unconcerned with what gravity can do.

Your mother sat you, as a baby, in the shallows,
the lake licking your spine.
Her face then was all you needed to know.

There’s a photograph. Part of the web.
Everything beginning that moment,
untheoried, exposed.

Victoria, British Columbia writer Arleen Paré’s third book and second trade poetry collection, Lake of Two Mountains (London ON: Brick Books, 2014) is composed as a portrait of a lake. Unlike other poetry collections on lakes, such as Michael Redhill’s magnificent Lake Nora Arms (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 1993) [see my piece on such here], which was composed almost as a dream-portrait of a myth of a fictional lake, Paré’s Lake of Two Mountains explores the lake as a narrative portrait, very much engaged from a highly personal perspective, writing of family outings, gatherings and a variety of relatives, such as the poems “DAD IN THE LAKE” and “OLDER AUNT,” as well as portraits from childhood, amid the explorations into some of the historical threads that run through the region. Originally named lac des Médicis by Samuel de Champlain in 1612, Lake of Two Mountains, or Lac des Deux Montagnes, sits in Western Quebec, on the south-western tip of the Island of Montreal, and is where the St Lawrence River meets the Ottawa. The geography holds such histories as Samuel de Champlain, Brébeuf and the Oka Crisis, some of which Paré works to discuss in poems such as “OKA CRISIS,” that opens:








You saw the war start on your sister’s TV:
masks and camouflage gear. Before that,
you saw nothing at all.

                        Until you knew what it meant,
what could you know? High-school history,
blue textbook, Fathers Brébeuf and Lalemant.
From a distance, five miles or more,
what can be seen?

The lake, a spreading brown water
coming to rest
before it reaches St. Lawrence’s olivine rush.
Fattened hinge,
endless trade route, Old World and New.

Two mountains, seen only from the lake’s centre.
Wherever centre resides. Absent
from nautical maps, and unnamed.

Island cottages morph into mansions,
mushroom the land.
Islanders don’t return to the city when summer ends. Anymore.
When summer ends they book a cruise to Cancun.

This is a very physical collection, existing as a kind of family photo album from a summer cottage, perhaps, over anything overtly political or critical of some of the more difficult and complex histories that run rampant through the area. Honestly, one shouldn’t criticize a book for not being what it simply isn’t, but there are parts of me that wish for a book that was less one that engages from the perspective of the cottage-dweller, existing as a kind of outsider to a region that includes Oka, for example. While even bringing such up might feel entirely unfair, I can’t help but feel such, with the exception of the poem “OKA CRISIS,” writing: “No one knows how hate works. No one knows / why the Mohawk / don’t own the land.” That short example might be among the sharpest, and most pointed lines in the poem, as Paré paints a portrait of a pent-up explosion at the long end of some difficult Canadian history, much of which exists more as a description that the reader is left to interpret and consider, without the interference of narrator. The second page of the three-page piece includes:

The reservation is a settlement
plus several lots in the town. Owned
by the Feds, purchased
from centuries of history.
Sulpician priests, City Hall.
                              Unceded by Mohawks
who keep living there, who claim it,
time immemorial, claim the pines that secure the small hill,
claim their dead buried under the pines.
                                                And the fish,
and the fishing huts that stud winter ice,
raccoons and foxes, firewood chopped
from the trees, the narrow main road,
the farms and the horses, the Mohawk Gas station,
eggs, cigarettes, neon lights, warrior flags,
hand-painted signs.

Still, the collection is an intriguing series of portraits composed as a mix of the personal and the historical, moving easily between the lyric to the prose poem. Some of the most striking poems in the collection have to be the prose pieces, in which the personal “I” is reduced, and a far tighter and more focused portrait emerges, such as the seven “MONASTIC LIFE” poems that thread through the collection, the two “LAKE” poems or the five “FRÈRE GABRIEL’S LIFE” pieces. Somehow, these pieces, spread through the collection, are the poems that hold the entire book together, allowing for more personal poems interspersed throughout.

LAKE 1

The lake harbours no greed. Rain comes, the lake simply receives. Rain comes in spring, and the ice, in plates and in discs, moves east, leaving crust and a thick, ragged skirt. Grit that falls through, trail of a fox falling in. Everything is poor. Rain comes, and wind. Wind like a cousin, not always kind. Wind-scrub and wind-wash, rough play and tease. Wind drags the lake’s floor, casts up what’s past dying. Swollen boards from fish huts, rented in winter, towed onto the ice, bird wings, broken at shore, rotten fish. The lake has nothing to ask, its ear cupped. Its hearing fills with nothing but rain. Water rises. Herons shrug in rock hollows, frogs wallow deeper in mud. Floods well. Lake opens up, gleaning, a chalice brimmed to the lip.




Saturday, August 16, 2014

rob mclennan at poems-for-all (three re-issues,

That lovely Richard Hansen has reissued all three of the mini-chapbooks (with new covers) of mine he produced a while ago through his poems-for-all series (see the whole checklist here). I've always been partial to the series, as it echoes some of the goals of the above/ground press "poem" broadsides, both attempting free distribution of poetry where those who might not have experienced a contemporary poem might discover. As he describes the series on his website:
They're scattered around town -- on buses, trains, cabs, in restrooms, bars, left along with the tip; stuffed into a stranger's back pocket. Whatever. Wherever. Small poems in small booklets half the size of a business card to be taken by the handful and scattered like seeds by those who want to see poetry grow in a barren cultural landscape.
He has produced three of mine so far, including #323. "an acre of something" and #324. "another moonlight" (both November 2003) and #1062. "Museum, pieces" (2009), all of which he has reissued. It's a lovely series worth paying attention to, and other authors with work produced in the series include Robert Creeley, Amanda Earl, Charles Bukowski, d.a. levy, Anne Waldman, Noah Eli Gordon, Pearl Pirie, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Diane Di Prima and literally hundreds of others.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Notes and Dispatches: Essays (Insomniac Press, 2014)

My collection of literary essays, Notes and Dispatches: Essays (Insomniac Press, 2014) has landed, with much celebration!

Enormous thanks to Mike O'Connor and Dan Varrette at Insomniac for seeing the book through.

This is my second collection of literary essays, after subverting the lyric: essays (ECW Press, 2008), and collect a variety of pieces composed since 2010, a number of which appeared, individually, in locations such as Open Book: Toronto, Jacket magazine, we who are about to die, Moira, Rain Taxi, ditch: the poetry that matters, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, The Capilano Review blog, The Globe and Mail book blog, Prairie Fire Review of Books, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, Lemonhound, filling Station, Jacket2 and The Town Crier. My thanks to all the editors and publishers for their encouragement and support, specifically Amy Logan Holmes, Clelia Scala, Julia Bloch, Spencer Gordon and Jenny Penberthy! Either order a copy directly from my lovely publisher, or check out some of my upcoming readings or book fair appearances over the next little bit (see sidebar for link list), including tonight's 21st anniversary above/ground press reading/launch/party, where I would be happy to sell you a copy!

The table of contents for the collection is as follows (with a couple of teaser/spoiler links):

1.    Reading and Writing Glengarry County: writing the Long Sault hydro electric project
2.    How to love everything: thoughts on rereading Sarah Manguso
3.    Douglas Barbour at 70
4.    The Chelsea Hotel, New York
5.    On Pearl Pirie’s “word chain umpteen-eight”
6.    Notes on Robert Kroetsch’s David Thompson
7.    Anticipating The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
8.    ‘a gentleman collector of sentences’: notes on rereading Lisa Robertson
9.    The green-wood essay: a little autobiographical dictionary
10.    Notes on writing, writing
11.    Writing the new (Vancouver) Geography
12.    A short interview with Ken Sparling
13.    The Peter F. Yacht Club: a miscellany,
14.    Notes on the confessional: Lynn Crosbie’s Liar: A Poem
15.    A short interview with John Lavery
16.    Notes on Natalie Simpson’s “similar fingers”
17.    Call and response: a note on Phil Hall, and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge)
18.    On Reviewing: an interview
19.    O bittersweet black sheep: Camille Martin’s Sonnets
20.    A brief note on (reading, writing) short fiction,
21.    A short interview with Michael Blouin
22.    Insect hopes: Jay MillAr’s accumulations
23.    A note on “Miss Canada”
24.    There is something about the body: Sylvia Legris
25.    There is no falling: Robert Hogg
26.    Richard Brautigan, Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970
27.    Collaborating with Lea Graham
28.    Roy Kiyooka’s “Pacific Windows”
29.    Shorthand: eleven short essays on fiction
30.    A halt, which is empty: 402 McLeod Street, Stewarton
31.    Some notes on Lisa Jarnot’s “Sea Lyrics”
32.    Letter to Norma Cole (some notes on the prose poem)
33.    Some notes on Christine McNair’s Conflict
34.    On “from Hark, a journal: 1864-1967”
35.    An informal talk on compiling McLennan/MacLennan genealogies in Stormont and Glengarry
36.    Some notes on Mark Truscott’s Form, A Series
37.    Author Notes: rob mclennan

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Gillian Prew

Born Stirling, Scotland in 1966, Gillian Prew studied Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1984 to 1988.

Her chapbook, DISCONNECTIONS, can be purchased from erbacce-press (2011) and another chapbook, in the broken things, published by Virgogray Press (2011).

Her poetry can be found at Vayavya, The Poetry Shed, A New Ulster, The Open Mouse, Ink, Sweat & Tears, ditch, and From Glasgow to Saturn among others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has twice been short-listed for the erbacce-prize.

Her collection, Throats Full of Graves, has been published in 2013 by Lapwing Publications. Her latest collection, A Wound’s Sound, has just been released from Oneiros Books in April 2014.

She lives in Argyll with her partner, children and cat.

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?
I published 2 chapbooks fairly close together in 2011 with 2 different small presses. The amount that it changed my life can only really be gauged within the bigger picture. Nothing spectacular happened but people bought them and I felt validated as a poet. I would have continued writing regardless but I did so feeling more confident and less isolated.

My recent work is quite a bit different. I have just published my latest full length collection, A Wound's Sound (Oneiros Books), which is far more rooted in language. I am particularly interested in the way words sound together and patterns of rhythm.  I like interesting word juxtapositions and I will often hyphenate two words in order to associate them more closely with one another. I am striving to write something beautiful. I have also become less human-centric and more animal-centric. I have never been a political poet nor I am trying to politicize animal abuse through poetry rather raise awareness and give animals a voice. It feels different in that I am not so much the centre of everything that I write. I feel more of an onlooker and recorder than the centre of experience.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I didn't come to poetry first at all. I have been an avid reader all of my life. I left school and went to university to study philosophy and so I read many philosophical texts but still many novels at this time. I did not read poetry at all. I dabbled in writing and always felt I wanted to write. I started a novel when I was 29 but never completed it. I didn't start writing poetry until I was 41. I wrote a poem as a language exercise and never looked back. Something inside me just clicked into place. I began to read poetry and almost exclusively read poetry now. I cannot differentiate myself from poetry and wish I had found it much sooner.

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?
Once I finish one project I am immediately thinking about the next. I will start writing straight away sometimes with a clear idea of where I want to go and sometimes the poems direct the development of the project. I work slowly and tend to edit as I write. I find it quite difficult to move on from a piece I know is not finished and that I am not happy with. I will typically write straight to the computer but also have a notebook for ideas I have away from the keyboard. Drafts and finished poems can vary drastically or end up being extremely similar. I tend to pare down a poem rather than add to it and most of my poetry is fairly short.

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?
A poem usually begins with a line but often I do not know where the poem is going until quite late on. Sometimes the initial line does not remain as the first line of the poem and sometimes it can change as to be almost unrecognizable. At the moment I am working on a book but it only the vague idea of a book. Normally, I will have quite a few poems before I see a book forming. Certainly, my poems are essentially on the shorter side combining into something larger.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have never read in public. Standing in front of a crowd of strangers hoping to entertain them is not something that appeals to me, especially if I am expected to do it for free.

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?
A poet should write what is inside her. I'm not sure poetry is the best medium for answering anything. It can express and explore revealing things in a new way. It can draw attention to what is going on in the world. My main focus is the status of animals in the world mostly with regard to factory farming and the associated abuses. I also touch on environmental questions such as pollution and the destruction of natural habitats. A human being also needs to find a place in the world and I have dealt with themes such as memory, death, despair, disconnectedness and aging.

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?
A writer should be a mirror for the world, a warped one that both reflects and distorts.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
None of my editors have been difficult. I am not keen on editors who want to change poems but I welcome input on the order the poems should appear in the book.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I love Philip Larkin. This is the best piece of advice I know of for any poet..

"Oh, for Christ’s sake, one doesn’t study poets! You read them, and think, That’s marvellous, how is it done, could I do it? and that’s how you learn."

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 have a routine per se. I work shifts so writing every day is not always possible. Mornings are my best times. If I am not physically writing and I am always thinking about what I am working on.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When I can't write I read. I have a few poets I go back to who always provide me with something to jump off from: Dylan Thomas, Les Murray, Alice Oswald, Chris Murray, Georg Trakl, W. S. Merwin are some. If I am stuck I will sometimes use some virtual device to produce something unusual enough to prompt me. I particularly like Language is a Virus for this. I also find walking useful. I observe the world around me and try to put it together differently. When I walk my mind is clearer and more receptive.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

It depends what you mean by 'home'? Is it a country, a place or a building? I have lived in Scotland all of my life and I do not associate a particular smell with this country apart from the smell of rain perhaps. Home for me is where I live with my loved ones. I burn a lot of incense so probably the smell of that.

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 live in a fairly rural part of Scotland so nature definitely influences me. I am very concerned with animal rights and this also has an impact.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I am reading Jacques Derrida's The Animal that Therefore I am to provide some philosophical background to zoopoetics. I have already mentioned some poets but I would also include Sylvia Plath, Paul Celan, Tomas Transtromer.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'm not a bucket list type of person. I would like to travel a little more, perhaps go on safari.

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?
My ideal life would be running a combined cat sanctuary and poetry press.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing chose me I guess but I don't earn much of a living from it. I do something else to earn a living.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
As I pretty much only read poetry the last great poetry collection I read as opposed to collected works is Translations from the Natural World by Les Murray. I don't watch films.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my second collection with Oneiros Books. It is based around three colours - black, green and red. I am far from completing it however.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rachel Zucker, The Pedestrians



She had a small copper wire inside her. This made conception highly unlikely. She longed for the possibility of reproduction even though she didn’t want another child. Without the chance of another child, sex lost some of its appeal, purposefulness, danger, pleasure, mystery, productiveness. This was difficult to explain to the husband because he didn’t feel that way and wasn’t made that way.

“We’re animals,” he says, happily, after sex.

“No,” she thinks. Not anymore. (“the other city”)

It is through her fifth poetry collection, The Pedestrians (Wave Books, 2014), that New York City poet, editor, collaborator and doula, Rachel Zucker, appears to be receiving the attention her work has long deserved. Described as a blend of “dark” with “darkly comic,” her collections include Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), The Bad Wife Handbook (Wesleyan University Press, 2007) and Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009) [see my review of such here], the collaboration, HOME/BIRTH: a poemic (with Arielle Greenberg; 1913 Press, 2010), as well as a memoir, MOTHERs (Counterpath, 2014) [see my review of such here]. Zucker’s poetry has long wrestled with the combination of personal clarity, lyrical confession, extended prose lines and an array of critical explorations of domestic joys, frustrations, dislocations, distances, grievances and delights. Structured in two halves— “fables” and “the pedestrians”—The Pedestrians opens with a curious series of extended prose fragments composed as a blend of the contemporary with references to fables utilized as a kind of narrative punctuation, sprinkled with a domestic patter, as the piece “oceans,” in the first section, includes: 














They were sitting on the deck having that same difficult conversation they had every few months no matter where they were or what else was happening.

The husband said he felt he’d wasted many previous summers and how did that make her feel?

He said he had nothing to show for himself and what did she think of that?

She thought of fox trying to reach a branch of delicious-looking grapes on the high vine. The trunk was too straight, the bark too smooth, the first branch too high.

Everything about the tree was unhelpful, wrote one of Aesop’s translators.

Through the pieces in “fables,” the lyric strategies of her previous collections of poetry have evolved from a series of long lines, line breaks and spacing to an exploration of lyric prose, or the “prose poem,” stretching ideas out across sentences that expand her palate in serious and subtle ways, still able to strike a balance between emotional vulnerability, confession and a lyrical tautness. It is curious that Zucker chose to make this the first half of the collection, given that it is nearly long enough to exist on its own, and the two halves combine as an intriguing counterpoint. The pieces in The Pedestrians seem to exist as a kind of walking tour, moving poems-as-scenes through the ongoing spaces of marriage. And, if the opening section of The Pedestrians works through marriage-via-fable, the second, and titular, section exists as a collage of short lyrics, walking through a myriad of moments and concerns, both large and small, that exist inside a domestic life of husband and three children. How does one negotiate and navigate through such complex relationships? How does one negotiate through admitting such fear, and such utter loneliness and helplessness, even as culture demands we keep so much of this to ourselves? What has long appealed about her work is in the fearlessness in which her poems explore some of those dark corners of domestic life: “marred and lonesome / the sun pushes me / deeper into the earth,” she writes, in the poem “[usage].” Throughout, her art is created out of complications more common than comfort might allow, and so often unexplored; through writing, Zucker begins to make sense of it all.

fridays

good shoppers trampled a man
to death does laziness save lives?
I meant my laziness by which I mean
the many ways I keep my boys
alive & the few words I put aside
for later Be kind mothers say
to yourself and others this is
an old topic & the only one today
I want to trample my own heart
here they come: sudden onset
of the end of loneliness