Sunday, February 28, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Eleonore Schönmaier

Eleonore Schönmaier's writing has won numerous awards including the Alfred G. Bailey Prize, the Earle Birney Prize, and her story "Sidereal Time" was a Sheldon Currie Fiction Award winner. She's the author of the short story collection Passion Fruit Tea (Roseway Publishing) and the poetry collection Treading Fast Rivers (McGill-Queen's University Press) which was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best first book of poetry by a Canadian. Recently she performed her poetry at the Music Room in Halifax, and as part of the Footnote Series in Rotterdam. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in many magazines internationally including Canadian Literature, Descant, Event, Grain, Prism international, The New Quarterly, Vallum, Border Crossing Berlin, De Tweede Ronde (Amsterdam), Dreamcatcher (UK), Stand (UK) and has been translated into Dutch. She has undergraduate degrees from Queen's University, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and has taught advanced fiction writing at St. Mary's University and creative writing at Mount St. Vincent 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?

It was great to have a beautiful object as tactile evidence of my work. My first book added joy to my life, and the book launch was great fun. Though I was already teaching at universities prior to my first book, it was important to be able to list a book publication on my resume.

My recent work has two distinct and contrasting branches which are both different from my earlier work. I'm writing short poems of supreme minimalism, and I'm writing longer poems with many complex interconnected images. My short fiction has also become increasingly intricate.

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

I've been writing both poetry and fiction simultaneously all my life though they are not necessarily published simultaneously.

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 always have multiple writing projects on the go with no clearly delineated beginning.

Overall I feel I write extremely slowly. However, I'll often enter my office and come out thirty minutes later with a fully formed poem. A lot of my writing takes place in my mind and when a collection of thoughts and images reach peak intensity I have to be ready and prepared to write it down. Even when a poem transfers rapidly from my mind to the page I still rewrite/fine tune extensively.

Each day I write thoughts and quotes in notebooks and once I've written something down it stays in my mind. The notebooks are my tool-box but I don't necessarily refer to them in the actual first written draft of a poem or story.

In my daily life I remain intensely alert to the world around me and it is this receptiveness and perceptiveness which for me is essential to the writing of poetry or fiction.

4 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction 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?

It is only after the fact that I can attempt to retrace a poem or story to its origins. With the increased complexity of my work I actually find it harder and harder to locate the exact first step. For instance, I could say a poem depicting a night baker began the evening I cycled past a window where a man was rolling out bread, but in the same poem there are many other images that also could qualify as the beginning of a thought.

I don't have a book in mind as I work though I do follow themes which form into books.

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 part of my creative process. As I prepare for a reading I memorize my poems. If a poem is tedious for me to memorize it is also going to be dull for the audience, and therefore in the process of memorizing I rewrite extensively. Through this preparation I push my writing to new levels of excellence.

I also enjoy the post-reading interaction with the audience, and I love attending readings by other authors in multiple genres and multiple languages.

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?

Writing allows me to push my thoughts to their farthest limits in an attempt to seek questions that have not yet been asked with the full knowledge that there are no answers.

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 provides a forum that allows readers to explore their own thoughts, perceptions and interactions with the world.

Wittgenstein said, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."

I think that what we cannot speak about we can attempt to translate into poetry, and perhaps this is the role of a poet in society.

A writer can also move our thoughts away from the noise of the world to a form of stillness that is not unlike a beating heart at rest. To hear, feel and listen to this beating is I think vital in an overly clamorous world. I think it also works the other way around: to bring necessary sound into the world out of the blank stillness.

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

A good editor is invaluable to the writing process.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Know the rulebook. And then torching it. Facing doubt. And then eliminating it. Feeling pain. And then beating it. Recognizing limits. And never ever accepting them.

This is advice from a dance brochure, but I think it also applies to the writing life.

One can also apply Daniel Barenboim's words (from his book Everything is Connected):

What is, ultimately, perhaps the most difficult lesson for the human being--learning to live with discipline yet with passion, with freedom yet with order--is evident in any single phrase of music.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I love both poetry and short fiction. I like the web of imagery inherent to poetry, and I like characterization and dialogue in fiction. Of course good fiction also has strong imagery, and I do have a habit of including dialogue in my poems. The interchange between the two genres is often porous for me.

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?

I write each day of my life, always, even if it's just a single phrase. Writing is like breathing.

The first thing I do each day is play the piano. This invigorates my brain so that the writing may flow freely. I try to avoid checking my email first thing in the morning though I often fail.

I rewrite in the morning, but rarely write a new first draft early in the day. New work evolves in the afternoon (in the winter) and in the evening (in the summer). I rewrite more in the winter and create more new work in the summer.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I can't remember the last time I felt stalled in my writing. To add additional energy to my writing mind I hike, kayak, cycle, take photographs, read, look at art or play the piano.

A good conversation with a friend can also be wonderfully inspirational.

When I have a superb conversation I write not to find a poem or story but to understand the conversation in the unspoken layers.

13 - What do you really want?

What I want most in life is to find my way into interesting thoughts, and to meet fascinating people. The resultant inspiration I then attempt to turn into new forms of literature. It is the actual creative process that provides the greatest personal reward and satisfaction.

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 read extensively in three languages, but my influences are from the lived-in world.

Nature is intrinsic to all my writing. I've spent the vast majority of my life living directly within two forests (in the vast northern Boreal forest, and in the coastal Nova Scotia forest). In Nova Scotia roofers have said to me, "Wow. You have a lot of trees." Roofers for practical reasons don't like trees, but I refuse to remove any part of the forest. Trees are of course essential both for human sanity and for the preservation of the earth. The forest is vital to my writing life. Currently I live part of each year across from an urban forest that in turn borders on a large seaside nature reserve.

Music, science and the visual arts are all important for my work and my life is rich in all of these. Many of my closest friends are musicians, scientists or visual artists. I regularly frequent art galleries, science lectures, and concert halls. I work together with musicians in performances where I recite my poetry; our recent concert theme has been the migration of both birds and people. I work with a cellist who is a bird migration scientist and part of our programming includes music by the composer Emily Doolittle. Emily composes music based on bird and animal sounds, and has herself studied animal acoustics.

Three of my music themed poems, along with photographs of my work with musicians have recently been published in The New Quarterly (Winter 2010). Three of my visual art poems were published in a special art issue from Prism international (Spring 2009). I also have a series of science and/or math related poems that I'm working on.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

There are so many, many books that are important.

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

I'd like to have dinner with Doris Lessing, Stephen Hawking, Pierre Boulez, and Daniel Barenboim. I'd also love to be able to fly around the world in a hot air balloon. If Lessing, Boulez, Hawking and Barenboim want to join the balloon ride that would be fine too.

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?

Neurologist, composer or hot air balloon pilot.

I have no talent in these areas, but I would love to be able to understand the brain, to be able to write music and to be my own pilot.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

My sister says I was writing before I was doing anything else. I've had other careers, but writing comes most naturally to me. Writing gives me the opportunity to weave all my wide ranging interests into my work. I can be curious about anything and everything. I can research in many different areas.

Daniel Barenboim in his February 13, 2010 lecture said, "Specialization, knowing more and more about less and less, results in disconnection between ideas and facts that are organically related." In my writing I try to bring together seemingly disconnected ideas into what I hope is an organic whole. It's a difficult way to make a living, but a great way to make a life.

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

Primo Levi's The Periodic Table.

Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalgia.

20 - What are you currently working on?

Poetry, short fiction and a series of black and white photographs of writer's hands. I've also been attempting to translate Gerrit Achterberg's poems from Dutch into English.

12 or 20 questions (second series);

Friday, February 26, 2010

George Bowering, The Box

It is a commonly held belief that an innocent country boy or girl, upon moving to the city, will be exposed to temptations great in number and strong in attraction, that his or her innocence will be attacked, and in most cases, at least bruised, if not entirely battered. He or she may be debauched or hardened or criminalized or even robbed of life. Less has been said about the youth who moves from the iniquitous city to a bucolic setting. Even Émile Zola, our great founder of experimental fiction, never investigated such an eventuality.

I am a city dweller who spent his boyhood in the orchard country of south-central British Columbia. Though I have often heard people point out that I retain some of my early innocence, I also know something of the darker corners in metropolitan life, far from my mother’s eye. My best friend moved from the city to my village when we were about ten, so I did not look to him for my information, although a psychologist might. (“An Experimental Story”)

With the spotlight on Vancouver lately, through all that Olympics, there is also George Bowering’s short story collection, The Box (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2009). The Vancouver author of some dozens of books of poetry, novels, memoirs, essays, short stories, histories and plays, Bowering’s The Box focuses on those younger years, in and around the Vancouver of the early 1960s.

Bowering’s first forays into fiction included that fictionalized version of himself, the character Delsing, that we remember so well from his first novel Mirror on the Floor (1967) and his first collection Flycatcher and other stories (1974), and this new collection of stories (his first since the appearance of his selected stories, Standing on Richards, appeared in 2004) stretches through the bars and urban spaces and fruit orchards and rural spaces in and around Vancouver of the early 1960s. One of the strengths of Bowering’s prose over the years has always been through the use of voice, and this collection of stories exists in such a surety of voice that it’s sometimes hard to see these stories outside of Bowering’s own voice, despite the changes in detail from his own experiences. This is a period of Vancouver that Bowering knows first-hand, but what are these stories telling us? Are they fable, fiction, drama or memoir or all the above? In ten stories, this collection wanders and weaves, but never loses track of itself, always managing to keep to the thread of what the story is made for, how the story gets told, and all with a fine pace, the story walking casually along Georgia Street, perhaps going down to the Hotel Vancouver. But with his recent reissues of Burning Water and Shoot! by this same publisher, one wonders, will Bowering ever return to novels?

No, wait a minute, that hitchhiking took place in 1954, just before I joined the air force. In 1958 I was working in the forestry around Merritt. I might have gone into Kamloops then, or maybe I bought that book for ten cents at some church sale in Merritt, though as I remember, I was in pubs a lot more than I was in churches, if indeed I was even in a church. I do reemmber two books I read in a tent beside a lake in the mountains not far from Merritt. The other two people in my crew were out on the lake fishing, while I was reading. One of the books was Turvey by Earle Birney, and the other was The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. So who knows? Maybe I was on a Conrad kick then. (“The Box”)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ottawater #6 now on-line;


The sixth issue of ottawater, Ottawa's own annual poetry pdf journal, edited by rob mclennan, features work by various residents current and former, including: Sylvia Adams, John Barton, Sara Cassidy, Michael Dennis, Andrew Faulkner, Spencer Gordon, Gwendolyn Guth, Phil Hall, Marilyn Irwin, Robyn Jeffrey, Anne Le Dressay, Rob Manery, Karen Massey, Marcus McCann, Heather McLeod, Christian McPherson, Soraya Peerbaye, Richard Rathwell, Peter Richardson, Janice Tokar, Paul Tyler, Priscila Uppal and Catriona Wright, and artwork by Reid McLachlan, Heather Munro, Gail Bourgeois, Stefan Thompson, Marc Adornato, Stefan Grambart, Pedro Isztin, Beaston, Danny Hussey , Rebecca Mason and Dan Martelock.

ottawater would like to thank designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

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 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. All back issues still exist on the site.

Long seen only as a town still echoing its origins as a backwater Victorian lumber town, and made up of bureaucrats and technocrats, and a more conservative poetics, "ottawater," edited by Ottawa-born writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, exists to remind readers of what work is happening, and has been happening for years, despite government types insisting on repeating that the arts in Ottawa is about to begin. We say instead: we have always been here.

The first issue features work by various residents current and former, including: Stephen Brockwell, George Elliott Clarke, Anita Dolman, Tamara Fairchild, Laurie Fuhr, Gwendolyn Guth, William Hawkins, Matthew Holmes, Clare Latremouille, rob mclennan, Max Middle, Peter Norman, Monty Reid, Chris Turnbull and Ewan Whyte, interviews with poets John Barton and Max Middle, and reviews of work by Stephen Brockwell, Peter Norman and Shane Rhodes.

The second issue features work by various residents current and former, including: Stephanie Bolster, Louis Cabri, Rhonda Douglas, Jesse Ferguson, Anita Lahey, Nicholas Lea, Anne Le Dressay, Karen Massey, Una McDonnell, Colin Morton, Jennifer Mulligan, Nick Power, K. I. Press, Shane Rhodes, Sandra Ridley and Ian Whistle, interviews with poets Monty Reid and Chris Turnbull, and reviews of work by Diana Brebner, William Hawkins and Nadine McInnis.

The third issue features work by various residents current and former, including: Michael Blouin, Terry Ann Carter, Anita Dolman, Amanda Earl, William Hawkins, Elisabeth Harvor, Clare Latremouille, K.L. McKay, rob mclennan, Nadine McInnis, Max Middle, Cath Morris, John Newlove, Wanda O'Connor, Roland Prevost and Kate Van Dusen, interviews with poets K.I. Press, Stephen Brockwell and Shane Rhodes, and reviews of work by Laura Farina, Anita Lahey and Matthew Holmes.

The fourth issue features work by various residents current and former, including: Gary Barwin, Louis Cabri, John Cloutier, Michael Dennis, Adam Dickinson, Rhonda Douglas, Laura Farina, Andrew Faulkner, Laurie Fuhr, Chris Jennings, John Lavery, Nicholas Lea, Anne Le Dressay, Rob Manery, Karen Massey, Seymour Mayne, Marcus McCann, Christian McPherson, Colin Morton, Peter Richardson, Sandra Ridley, Priscila Uppal, Andy Weaver and Ian Whistle, interviews with Nicholas Lea, Anne Le Dressay and David O'Meara, and reviews of new books by Rob Winger and John Newlove, as well as artwork by various Ottawa artists.

The fifth issue features work by various residents current and former, including: Cameron Anstee, Michael Blouin, Stephen Brockwell, Monique Desnoyers, Amanda Earl, Jesse Ferguson, Warren Dean Fulton, Adrienne Ho, Sean Johnston, Ben Ladouceur, Lainna Lane, Marcus McCann, rob mclennan, Christine McNair, Colin Morton, Jennifer Mulligan, Wanda O'Connor, Pearl Pirie, K.I. Press, Roland Prevost, Monty Reid, Shane Rhodes, Suzannah Showler, Sandra Ridley, Mike Spry, Gillian Wallace, Zack Wells, Rob Winger and Rachel Zolf, as well as an interview with poet Nina Berkhout.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

rob mclennan launches 2 new books (novel, poetry) at dusty owl, ottawa

Nearly two years since his last Dusty Owl event (podcast) (June 2008), Ottawa author rob mclennan returns to launch his second novel, Missing Persons (Mercury, 2009) and his seventeenth poetry collection, wild horses (U of Alberta Press, 2010);

Sunday, March 7, 2010
2pm to 5pm
Swizzles Bar and Grill,
246-B Queen Street (downstairs), Ottawa

As usual, the series includes a featured reading (which is what rob is doing) and the open set, as well as the "object of desire" competition; as rob has called it, "not the best reading series in Ottawa, but easily the most fun."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Angela Carr, The Rose Concordance

of nearness

that i dare near him to speak volubly

now a tertiary nearness i must leave

envy oh those near leaving

me now near the vanishing

(as if never near a smaller thing)

little by little if i interject

this button of yes-nearly-loving

(and know that i am nearly)

bears remaining’s weight

a wetness nearly adjusting

know well, when i flee nearby

if nearness that soft button feels

i will nearly return

trampling tender grasses

When I went through her first poetry collection, Ropewalk (Snare, 2006) [see my review of such here], most of what I was excited about Angela Carr’s writing was in seeing exactly where it might go next, and what came next is The Rose Concordance (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2009). The first thing about her book of harmony, her book of lists, her concordance, is just how slippery it seems, how hard it the collection is as a unit to get a handle on, making that by itself its handle, a book of mercurial shifts. As she writes near the end of her collection to open her “APPENDIX A: GLOSS”:

This book was conceived of as an allegorical mall with a central fountain and concordance corridors leading away from it in several directions. Amid mass-produced goods and consumers, perched on the grim of the central fountain, sits the poet, otherwise known as Poverty, dipping her hand into the water to retrieve coins. Over the loudspeakers play the voices of a slowed-tempo chorus of literary critics. The entire scene is in black and white except for the green basin of the fountain and the green money exchanging hands across counters. The sculptural feature of the fountain is a gorgeous representation of Narcissis, whose face is turned down toward the water. Directly above the fountain, there is a round opening in the ceiling with the inscription “Our Pink Heaven” in a ring around its edge. The sky above is grey. (Note the mall must be closed when the sky is blue and when it is raining).

These poems move almost amorphously, wandering descriptions that take the form of water, pushing when needed, and slipping away just as easily, in poems such as “of the middle,” “of nearness,” “of alarm and fountains” and “of love,” where she begins, “I mistook love for an ending. / An ending love for a mistake. // There is no love without mistakes. // I mistook a tree for love. An ending. // You wrapped us up in love and mistakes.”

of disappearance

I disappeared

into discontinuous contact

between water and bone

into the fountain

its seemingly perpetual movement

drawn restless I am abyss

Carr explores the meanings and lists of tangible and intangible things, rendering concept into object and vice versa, blending the two; the lyric takes on the properties of the hard sentence, which takes on the properties of light, and of mist, covering all else with its soft impossibility. How is it Carr writes out such wonderful impossibilities?

I bled language until I had no body.

Bled between turnips and snow

Bled the cold bare language.

By the middle

Our story was less

Language had bled from me

So our story was less. (“of the middle”)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Norma Cole, Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008


Human battens smoke to mouth

threatened fretted message

Return of self defying breath

one up against one side mind

one of a nether system of said objects

defy an inspired couch

let alone from it

neither couch sandwich and books

lived and taught to emigrate

Born and raised in Toronto, does her former city even think of her now, San Francisco poet Norma Cole, author of Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008 (San Francisco CA: City Lights, 2009)?

Published as the first in an ongoing series of “City Lights Spotlights,” the collection works through twenty years of her trade collections of poetic activity (starting some ten years after leaving Toronto for San Francisco), from Mace Hill Remap (Moving Letters Press, 1988) through Moira (O Books, 1996) to Spinoza In Her Youth (Omnidawn Press, 2002) to Natural Light (Libellum, 2008)


Like wasps’ nests

where we were

like many fires buildings

crumpling in flames in a

forest of trucks rushing

past in the night, headlights


To see, hand

covering her eyes, hand

brushing back his hair, the sounds

of forest days and night

sounds sun comes up or is

obscured by clouds or it is

raining or blazing light is it

late, too late for me to

come back to your place

I can only applaud City Lights for producing such a collection, but one thing that always frustrates about a selected poems is when it comes without an introduction (Dennis Cooley’s Sunfall from 1996 did the same); certainly, any book should speak for itself, but wouldn’t it be nice to have some kind of word to provide a context for the work and for the author, some kind of explanation as to why and what the poems are doing, why we should be listening? Still, this is the sort of collection that makes me want to read deeper into her writing (rumours of a chapbook came out of Montreal last year, published by Angela Carr, but I still haven’t found a copy), into the individual collections, to see where her deeper engagements lay. Can twenty years of service come through in only one hundred pages?