author biography ; extended biography ; author page

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How I Wrote Certain of My Books, George Bowering

It was while listening to Jack Spicer that I started wondering what a “book” is when it comes to poetry. Grant-giving agencies and other casual observers don’t have any trouble figuring it out. The Canada Council for the Arts, for example, defines a book as something that has at least forty-eight printed pages between the covers. Anything shorter will be a chapbook or a pamphlet. So as far as the Canada Council is concerned, a forty-six-page poem is not a book, but a collection of forty-nine single-page poems is a book. Probably a lot of people would agree. A US border guard once looked at my copies of Baseball and asked, “You call that a book?” (“Little Books”)
After reading a couple of these pieces in various venues over the past couple of years, I was intrigued to see the final product of George Bowering’s collection of essays, How I Wrote Certain of My Books (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2011). In twenty-six short pieces, Bowering discusses a great deal of how some of his books came to be, focusing on various poetry and fiction titles over a lengthy career. 

Going back to the early 1960s, Bowering’s publications make up a list well over a hundred simply in trade books alone, let alone smaller publications such as chapbooks, broadsides and the like (anyone interested in what Bowering produced up to the end of the 1980s can check out Roy Miki’s incredibly-researched and entertaining volume, A Record of Writing: An Annotated and Illustrated Bibliography of George Bowering, published by Vancouver’s Talonbooks in 1989). Given his lengthy career as a writer, moving through multiple genres, there are the occasional hints toward a larger process, an overview, so to speak, but only in the most general terms, as he cites such constraints as Oulipo in the “Preface” to the collection, writing:
I am not about to maintain that all my books were composed according to the principles suggested by those marvelous Oulipian writers and mathematicians. But all my life I have been interested in finding ways to disrupt my own paths of thinking, of finding ways to have my poems and stories written by accident, of setting up constraints to force me away from representation and description of what I think I see in front of me.
When any writer talks about the work he or she has done, and why, other names are inevitably brought in, and Bowering’s conversation on his own books and writing include incredible amounts of references to other writers and their works, including Harry Mathews, Jack Spicer, Raymond Queneau, Robin Blaser, Raymond Roussel, William Carlos Williams, Artie Gold, Ryan Knighton, Lorine Niedecker, Robert Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Ranier Maria Rilke, David W. McFadden, Al Purdy, Robert Creeley, Jack Kerouac and plenty of others.
Yeats got his metaphors from creatures in his wife’s dreams, of course, but he knew that he was one of many co-workers in the great task of poetry. The language he was working with was far larger, older and wiser than he would ever hope to be, and so was the great work. I remember asking the woman who was teaching my child “creative writing” rather than composition why she was doing that, and the woman told me it was so that my child could “express herself.” My child was lucky that there were James Joyce books in the house, H.D. books and Robert Duncan books. If my child wanted ever to be a writer, she had better not be satisfied to express herself, I thought. She could learn a lot by trying to imitate the writing of H.D., let’s say. (“Autobiology (1972)”)
For those who don’t make books, the entire enterprise seems to be a mysterious and confusing process. For those of us who do make books, it seems equally confusing, but often for a whole slew of other reasons, most of which aren’t confusing at all. Really, one begins to write a line, and then writes another line. One looks back at what one has written, and tweaks it as necessary. This is simply repeated, over and over and over, hundreds if not thousands of times, until a book is completed. What is so complicated with that?
So I started on the plane trip from Vancouver to Dallas, and continued after a day in Dallas, where a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader kicked me in the ankle at the Canadian consulate because I said I didn’t like either the Cowboys or football. There in Dallas they thought I would like to see the house where that famous TV show was filmed, about who killed ER or whatever, the Ewings, but I had never seen the show. I asked to see the site of the Kennedy shooting instead; they couldn’t understand why I might want to see that. Anyway, next day I was flying to Albuqurque, and decided to spend the time on the plane in scratching out whatever I had written and didn’t like. When I got to New Mexico, I had scratched out the whole page, every word. (“Kerrisdale Elegies (1984)”)
Certainly, this isn’t the first time Bowering has discussed writing, in the general sense, from Horizontal Surfaces (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2010) and A Magpie Life: Growing A Writer (Toronto ON: Key Porter Books, 2001) to earlier collections such as Errata (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1988). One thing I’ve always appreciated about Bowering’s essays are their readability. It was essential to me as a young writer, before I knew anything at all, allowing that space into the work, into the page, without requiring too much previous knowledge to dig in, move around. For readers of Bowering’s work, these pieces provide added knowledge to what was previously known, perhaps even allowing the occasional older work a new life, and provide a worthy entry point to new readers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Paul Hoover

Paul Hoover's most recent poetry collections are Sonnet 56 (Les Figues Press, 2009), consisting of 56 formal versions of Shakespeare’s sonnet of that number, Edge and Fold (Apogee Press, 2006), and Poems in Spanish (Omnidawn, 2005). A new book consisting of two poems, Desolation : Souvenir, will be published by Omnidawn in early 2012. His volume of literary essays, Fables of Representation, was published by University of Michigan Press in 2004. With Maxine Chernoff, he edited and translated Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin (Omnidawn, 2008), winner of the PEN-USA Translation Award. The two also edit the literary magazine, New American Writing. With Nguyen Do, he edited and translated the anthology, Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008) and Beyond the Court Gate: Poems of Nguyen Trai (1380-1442), published by Counterpath Press in 2010. He has won the Frederick Bock Award for poems that appeared in the June, 2010, issue of Poetry and, with Sharon Olds, the Jerome J. Shestack Award for the best poems to appear in American Poetry Review in 2002. Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, he edited the widely adopted anthology, Postmodern American Poetry (W. W. Norton, 1994) and currently curates the poetry reading series at the deYoung Museum of Fine Art in San Francisco.

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, Letter to Einstein Beginning Dear Albert, was published in 1979, and it changed my life to a small degree.  I was 33 at the time, and my students had been asking me, “When are you going to publish a book?” So they were relieved, and I’m sure I was, too.  The book had a generous blurb by John Ashbery and was “thick” in language, in the sense that Péret is thicker than Desnos and Breton or Bruce Andrews is thicker than Lyn Hejinian.  The last couple of poems in the book, including “Nature Poem,” turned toward a more casual, everyday phrasing I would use later on, in balance with the “thick.”  Irony has long been a feature of my writing, but in recent years I have varied my idiom, from the lyrical tone of Poems in Spanish, Edge and Fold, and the Desolation : Souvenir (Omnidawn, 2012) to the proceduralist Sonnet 56 and “Gravity’s Children,” a book-length series of poems based on the Books of the Old Testament.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My first real engagement with poetry began when, as a senior at Manchester College in Indiana, I took the Modern Poetry class taught by James Hollis, who went on to become a noted Jungian therapist and author.  My term paper for the course was on William Carlos Williams, a useful choice as it turned out.  I hadn’t written any poetry yet and didn’t trust poetry as a mode of writing.  I had been writing short stories under the influence of Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson.  I didn’t begin to write poems until I was 25 and working as middle manager at a Chicago hospital.  Based on the ten or so poems I’d produced, I was accepted by Paul Carroll to the fledging Program for Writers at University of Illinois Chicago.  Two key moments in those years were James Hollis asking me to get a PhD and return to Manchester to teach with him, and Paul Carroll telling me, beneath an umbrella in a spring sun-shower, that I was a “true poet” and he wanted to include me in the second edition of his anthology, The Young American Poets

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 keep notebooks, but only occasionally make use of them.  The major instance was in writing a series of five book-length poems, each in a single 24-hour day.   Only two have been published, “The Reading,” which appears in Edge and Fold, and “At the Sound,” published by Beard of Bees as an electronic chapbook.  I became more conscious of the structure of my books when I started writing long poems.  The book Poems in Spanish was built around a concept:  poems written as if in Spanish.  In “Edge and Fold,” my first attempt at the serial poem, I decided with the first poem on a specific “look” to the page:  no caps, no punctuation, each page consisting of hesitation, application, swerving, and silence.  Once I’m engaged in a project, I’m persistent and work every day on it.  As a result, I seem to work quickly. 

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 phrase or concept is enough to begin, if I’m open to writing that day.  It also helps enormously if I’m working on a series.  In my last three books, I had the concept from the start.  With “Gravity’s Children,” I knew would begin with Genesis and end with Malachi, one poem for each book of the Old Testament.  But I had no idea of the tone of the book and had not read the Bible to any degree before starting.  In a serial poem like “Edge and Fold,” each page is made to cohere by a lash or knot of language that also sits well with neighboring pages. All the relatedness comes in the moment of making, not in advance, by intuition rather than a map.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I enjoy giving readings and believe that the best test of a poem is to read it in front of an audience.  But there can be a great difference in audiences, and some poems aren’t designed for a general audience.  Charles Bernstein has a lot of fun with this theme in his recent book, Attack of the Difficult Poems.  The rule is generally: the more avant-garde your work, the less a general audience can understand you.  I prefer to feel a perfect absorption of the poem by the audience, which can literally be heard as a silence from the place you are speaking.  It’s this exchange of attentions that probably led Robert Creeley to define a poem as “an act of attention.”  Difficulty can receive such attention, too, as long as the poet reads her work in its true cadence and intention—that is, from the inside, with an active interest—as Gertrude Stein does in her recording of “Would He Like It if I Told Him:  A Portrait of Picasso.”  When the poet places her feelings outside the poem, attention immediately wavers, and the audience sends back signals of unease and impatience.

The success of Flarf, conceptual poetry, and Newlipo is due in large part to their perfect accessibility. Such works carry with them a clear announcement of what they are and what they are not; that is, their concept and form speak in advance of their words.  They declare:  (1) I’m a 900-page transcript of an issue of the New York Times; (2) a series of prose poems employing only the vowel “a,” “e,” “i,” “o,” or “u”; (3) a poem consisting entirely of language found online with search engines. Such works may seem easy, because you don’t have to read them very carefully to comprehend their value. However, virtuosity and craftsmanship still pertain in the case of Christian Bök’s Eunoia or Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge.  Flarf craftsmanship lies in the sculpting of tone, conceptualism in the crafting of concept.  When conceptualist Vanessa Place reads her book-length work consisting of the letter “u,” she gives up after 60 seconds, realizing that she, too, is bored by it.  Such conceptual works are never fulfilled by performance, but rather exhausted by it.  This doesn’t mean they are any less as conceptual works.  Better to hold the weighty book in your hand and muse silently on its material existence.

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?

I’m not after anything in my poems that I know how to name, theoretically or otherwise.  Nor do I have questions for the poem.  It raises its own questions.  We seem to be at a moment when the materialist motive is gaining ground and subjectivity is at low ebb.  Taking sides in that battle does tend to prepare the poem in advance by muting or enhancing irony and desire.  I believe that poetry will always remain more or less expressive at base. Finally there comes a parking lot so dark you have to whistle your way across it.

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 rise to political influence of the Mexican poet Javier Sicilia following the death of his son would never have occurred in the United States.  We say the right things privately, we give money to causes, but, intimidated by the Homeland Security act and the specter of disappearing into an offshore torture site, we fall silent.  When Maria Baranda, Eduardo Hurtado, David Huerta, and a dozen other poets of Mexico City announced a march to bring peace in the war on drugs, 40,000 people showed up in the Zocalo on three days’ notice.

I do believe that writers and intellectuals should have political influence, as happened when Robert Lowell, Bertrand Russell, and Norman Mailer headed the march on the Pentagon.  Perhaps the problem is that intellectuals have ceased being celebrities in the U.S.  Our most effective political philosophers seem to be George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie.  And there’s no Dick Cavett or David Susskind in the mass media to remind us how important our intellectual lives are.

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

There should be more editing rather than less.  When a chapter of my novel was published in The New Yorker, the editor changed nearly every sentence to suit the house style.  But I changed much of it back for the novel publication.  Rusty Morrison of Omnidawn is a good line by line editor and improved several passages in Poems in Spanish.  Usually there isn’t much in the way of content editing in poetry; it’s easier to eliminate the entire poem. 

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
You’re only as good as your last poem (Dean Faulwell).  Run straight to the heart of the battle as if already dead (The Book of the Samurai).  The greater the distance, the clearer the view (W. G. Sebald).  Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear. 

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

I’ve made several genre shifts from poetry:  writing three plays one summer in the 1970s; writing a novel in the 1980s (Saigon, Illinois, Vintage Contemporaries, 1988); writing critical prose in the 90s (Fables of Representation, University of Michigan Press, 2004); and translating Hölderlin, Nguyen Trai, and San Juan de la Cruz.  Each of the genre crossings was instructive to my poetry, but translation has had the greatest impact.  Prose doesn’t have much appeal for me right now.  I can’t imagine writing another novel, what a lot of work!  The poetry genre is the fairest of them all, but you would never know it by reading critical prose.  You have to stand in the mirror of a great poem.  

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?
If I’m on a writing project, writing begins the first thing after breakfast and continues until I have to eat lunch.  Then I work a little more, until around 2 p.m.  I’m happiest when I’m writing every day. 

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

I listen to recordings of poets reading their work or open a volume of Stevens or Vallejo. Lorine Niedecker and Stevie Smith are also very helpful. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Poison (Christian Dior). 

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?
Films are inspiring to me, also gallery visits, especially photography.  I rarely listen to music but love good classical music when I chance upon it. 

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

Italo Calvino, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Fernando Pessoa, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Traherne, and John Clare.

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

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?
It would be nice to run a small movie theater, where I’d have a small windowless office near the concession stand.  I enjoy physical tasks, so I might also have thrived as a welder or carpenter.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t think there was ever another option.  In the eighth grade, I wanted to be a scientist because Mr. Blazer, our science teacher, was a very nice man, wore well-tailored suits, and ran successful experiments.  My father used to speak of having a “calling” in the church.   I don’t think one calls on poetry; it appears to you one day on the street, both arms laced to the shoulder with wristwatches, whispering something you have to lean close to understand.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m not sure it’s a great book, but I loved Toy Medium:  Materialism and the Modern Lyric by Daniel Tiffany.  The most emotionally satisfying movie I’ve seen recently is the Japanese film, Departures (2008), about an out of work cellist who takes a job ceremonially dressing dead bodies, as is the custom, in view of the family. My favorite movie of all time is The Last Picture Show

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m between projects, so I’m tinkering with two completed manuscripts, “Gravity’s Children,” which I’ve already described, and “The Windows,” which consists of proceduralist works.  I’m supposed to be writing an introduction to my translation, with María Baranda, of the Poesías of San Juan de la Cruz, but I’m getting a slow start due to other tasks like teaching, editing New American Writing, judging poetry contexts, and writing a book of essays about the moral aspect of poetry.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair

Can you believe another small press fair has come and gone? If you need more, the fall edition of The Toronto Small Press Fair comes up on December 10 at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. Otherwise, you have to wait for spring. Can you wait that long?

Don’t forget the triple-launch on December first at the Carleton Tavern [details here], with Christine McNair launching a chapbook (see Cameron Anstee’s review on the ottawa poetry newsletter here), Matthew Firth launching a collection of short stories and Bardia Sinaee launching a chapbook as well. Might we see you?

Ottawa/Toronto ON: It was great to see Ottawa poet Nicholas Lea participate in the pre-fair reading, especially since he gave perhaps his finest reading so far, to launch the chapbook Actual Girl (Toronto ON: The Emergency Response Unit, 2011), following up his trade collection, Everything is movies (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2007). Quiet in the interim, Lea’s poems have deepened, lengthened, and developed a level of maturity. When I say quiet, I mean almost completely silent, with little released into the world in the four years since his trade book appeared, nary a poem appearing in an anthology or journal but for the rare one or two. Just where has he been?
Reading Fanny Howe

It's gotten to the point
where it isn't about an image
but the drug of its self.

Every calamity has
its certainty-music
and by contrast
its unreality.

It's true I've been wanting
to be someone at all.

Wires swing
like skipping ropes, but
I promise
it's not about images.

Sun in the haze
a milky bulb.
I promise.
Nicholas Lea has always been partial to the formalists, existing somewhere between lyric metaphor and more abstract surrealism. Imagine, if you will, somewhere in the scale from David O’Meara to Kevin Connolly to Stuart Ross. I admire his careful poems, quietly reworked as far away as possible before releasing them, carved and ready to an eagerly awaiting audience. The poems take as long as they take, I suppose.
Actual Girl
A vital flower winks
at the gawking boy
holding a candle popsicle.

This was no average savage
bicycle romp. We sat lipless
on a rock with ocean spiders.

I saw you renew,
watched you chew

the mush dark, you,
actual girl.
Ottawa ON: Pearl Pirie released In Air/Air Out: 21 Poets for the Guatemala Stove Project (phafours press, 2011), quietly edited and published by her as a fundraiser for a project that provides stoves for Guatemalan homes (one can find out more information, as well as donate directly at their website, www.guatemalastoveproject.org). A lovely small chapbook already going into a second printing, it is filled with new text and visuals by Amanda Earl, Allison Armstrong, Shai Ben-Shalom, James DeMers, Rick Kempa, Rhonda Melanson, Mike Montreuil, Nedjo Rogers, Luminita Suse, Robert Swereda, Danielle Susi, Kevin Spenst, Jade Scapillato, Monty Reid, My Name Is Scot, Adrienne Mercer, Phil Hall, Candra, Dawn Corrigan, Jeremy Colangelo and even myself.
Breathe In the Difference
Choose our brand of air. It’s the purest
and each canister lasts a guaranteed eight hours.
Don’t trust what our competitors say.
We begin with pristine elements. Our oxygen
is recovered from pockets in the last of the polar ice.
You don’t want to take any chances
when you’re on a road trip
protected from the choking multitudes only by
your thin membrane of bulletproof glass. (Nedjo Rogers)
Given that the chapbook was produced as a fundraiser for Guatemalan families to be able to breathe cleaner air, as opposed to fire-pits in their homes that filled their lungs and their rooms up with smoke, the “air” theme is quite interesting, a provides for an interesting grouping of poems. What might a group of writers do with such a similar theme or idea?
11. Denver – Mexico City

All air is hard air.

There’s a storm in the Gulf and another
winding itself up in the Pacific
and the continent is squeezed into a funnel
through which we all eventually disappear.

If you put the air into the machine
it will make you anything.

It will make you butterflies. (Monty Reid)

Ottawa ON: Odourless Press, as well as hosting a website of new and reprinted material (sometimes, unfortunately, without permission, which has got them into a speck of trouble), has edged into producing chapbooks, with sealed envelopes holding copies of Jeff Blackman’s Back To My Old Self (2011) and Bardia Sinaee’s Royal Jelly: five poems (2011). Both poets originally came out of CarletonUniversity’s In/Words magazine and press, an informal group that produce a journal, occasional chapbooks and a reading series, and a number of writers have come through their ranks, including Cameron Anstee, Ben Ladouceur, David Currie, jesslyn delia smith and plenty of others.
Progress
by fifty, I’ll be great” think myself a natural wonder waiting to be discovered or maybe win the lottery (everyone will eventually) or would I tend to keep my faith in the mirror, scale in proportion to the neighbours, avoid failure, those conversations

(never having been through revolution) a genuine surprise when the rally ends
the pals from the old neighbourhood get real quiet when the lyrics change the song

not what the earnest expect, like the wrongly imprisoned;
muster an excuse that rhymes with dupes

so sing a psalm: everyday I’ll make mistakes tomorrow I’ll make most of them
Ottawa writer Jeff Blackman edits/publishes the journal Moose and Pussy, and was recently the first runner-up for Carleton’s 2011 George Johnston Poetry Prize. His small leaflet/chapbook Back To My Old Self contains a small handful of uneven poems. There are some good moments here, including in the George Johnston-shortlisted “Mario in Koopaland circa Movember,” but are often obscured. His shorter-lined poems, perhaps the constraint of shorter lines themselves, provide more clarity, purpose and strike, such as the end of the poem “Single Player’s Revival,” that reads:
a bliss of gravity
against the centre
Iranian-born and Canadian-raised Bardia Sinaee, author of Royal Jelly: five poems and the broadsheet “Clearing Up the Question of It’s Doing By Us” (Moose and Pussy/In/Words, 2011) has started to have work appear in other venues as well, including Arc poetry magazine and PRISM International.
Four Ways to Eat Your Dandelion
1
Misanthropes, consider our public parks:
more trees than a hawk’s beard has feathers,
jogging paths to discover spandex
and revel in the names of dogs.

2
Protestors and false prophets may demonstrate
for themselves within the Free Speech Zone
between the waterfowl preserve
and the experimental farm.

3
From the roots up under marble shrines
for those late-onset philanthropists
whose descendants today fly coach
for our secular libraries and museums.

4
For representatives and councillors
at the municipal level, catered affairs
are encouraged, both for the local economy
and as a chance to compare spouses.
Sinaee’s poems are tight, compelling, carved monologues, and, like Blackman’s poems, far tighter when the lines are reigned in, such as in the three part “No Sparrow,” a poem that, by itself, is more than worth the price of admission. Composed, it says “1995: Tehran, Iran,” it begins with:
The prayer calls moaning from the minarets
follow us home from the video store, hanging

like clotheslines between the tenements. This
is how and when we see the thing

wiped on the asphalt: half its wing and the insides’
coral clockwork on the street. We are helplessly young

and the bird still breathing. We lay it by a tulip stem
on a bundle of your father’s briefs.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fence magazine, v 14 nos 1 & 2 (fall 2011)

TO ROBERT CREELEY

Creeley, I’m an
immigrant. I cannot
measure such

exactitude without falling
off a cliff. I partner
with dead socialists

and robbed fascists
every evening when
my teeth

ache and my knee
collapses. Creeley, I
wasn’t born in

some faddish manger
overseen by goatish
men in white

robes being muses
to my infant
screams. At times death

brings cartons of stolen
books in a cart
that runs over me in

my sleep. Creeley, I

have to pay my accounts,
I thrive on excess.

There is that lampless house.
The path unlit, and the pirate’s
sign swaying in the wind. (Anis Shivani)
Of all the pieces I might read in a month, or even in a year, there aren’t that many that cause me to pause, just short of breath, but somehow, Fence manages more than a few in every issue I’ve seen so far, including this short piece by Anis Shivani. There have probably been poems from and dedicated to/for Robert Creeley numbering into the hundreds, but somehow, Anis manages one with a delightfully charming freshness. There are a whole slew of pieces in this current issue that are worth mentioning, including pieces by Anthony Madrid, Adam Jordan and Jennifer C. Manion, and Ariana Reines’ “Baraka,” a long poem all in caps, reminiscent of angry, half-(or full-)mad paper scraps one usually finds on car windshields in urban centres. Covering five and a half pages, her poem begins:
I CAN’T WAIT FOR MEXICO TO CONQUER AMERICA

FOR THE FRENCH OF CANADA TO BUILD A RAFT ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN

I CAN’T WAIT FOR LASER SURGERY

I CAN’T WAIT TO VOMIT WHAT I JUST ATE AND SCALD THE PLACE WITH THE CUM ON IT

I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE SIGNING IN THE BLOOD, MY SIX WIVES AND SEVEN HUSBANDS, MY BROWN PIANO MY BLACK GUITAR MY ASHEN SKIRT AND HEAVY KNEES

I CAN’T WAIT TO QUIT THIS BROKEN HOME

I CAN’T WAIT TO QUIT THIS BROKEN HOME

I CAN’T WAIT TO QUIT THIS BROKEN HOME
An interesting counterpoint to this is a piece by Beth Murray, her “It Turned Out,” that exists as another list poem featuring repetition, writing:
It turned out that she was holding her son’s hand.

It turned out that her friends were surrounding her bed.

It turned out that her son called me after everyone left.

It turned out that I came in the middle of the night to meet her son.
The accumulations in both poems end up in staggering places, about as far apart as one could imagine, but using similar means in interesting ways. Are these pieces in the same issue, an accident, or something more deliberate by the editors? Without any kind of clue from the editors themselves, its impossible to know. Other highlights in the issue include a poem by Maxine Chernoff, and two wonderful short poems by Norma Cole that I would very much like to see more of. Are there any more?
APPROACH

by water in the glass bottom boat. As if seen through a cloud. Oil refinery across from flight path. Big white drums. Wall of mountains moving past not singing. Stringing shadows on the wall, floor, beyond even me as though it’s already been written. Red flowers on our left, his right, in the background, some apples and green grapes. “That’s not why you sent me here.” Compromising was called clearing one’s throat. Do they operate? Fish transforms itself in order to survive.
Fence magazine is consistently a delight, and one of but a handful of non-Canadian journals that appeal, but I wonder about the mix of “poems,” “fiction” and “other.” The list of “other” usually includes some particularly interesting non-fiction, something this issue hasn’t really included. Alex Carnevale’s “In The Aughts” is particularly compelling, an odd creative non-fiction memoir of a decade’s attention, but still, there was something I felt was missing. Some issues earlier, for example, there was a magnificent interview with Alice Notley I was quite taken with. Am I complaining for no reason, am I asking, perhaps, for too much?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

rob's chapbook, ,lake (&then&then, New Zealand) is now on-line as part of dusie kollektiv 5

My poetry chapbook , lake (poems skimming Lake Ontario, from my Toronto period), recently produced by Ross Brighton's &then&then in Christchurch, New Zealand, is now available on-line as a pdf, as part of Susana Gardner's dusie kollektiv 5, along with nearly one hundred other small self-published works.

Check out the link to my new chapbook here, and the entire series here. Thanks to Brighton and Gardner, both.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Nico Rogers

Nico Rogers is a storyteller and performance artist, and has appeared at writing and folk festivals across the country, as well as on TV and radio. He has taught writing and literature in post-secondary institutions in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Edmonton and now lives in Toronto, where he is working on a novel which will be a thematic continuation of his first trade poetry book, The Fetch (Brick Books, 2010).

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?


I don’t think a book changes a life; at least, that hasn’t been my case. When you finally publish one, you get to go on a book tour and you finally get to meet authors who’ve shared some of your experiences, and have had experiences that you want to hear about.

My most recent work doesn’t compare to my previous work. If it did, I’d have become bored with it a long time ago.

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

I came to poetry first because I was romantic.

I’ve had to turn to fiction to clear my throat.

Since then, I’ve started to trust my poetry again.

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 can’t answer any of these questions with clarity.

I just write and then I edit and then I write and then I edit.

Writing is a weather system. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it shines.

As for drafts: I consider everything a draft until the editor says: Okay. It’s done. Leave it alone. And then I need to move on to something else.

4 - Where does fiction or 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?


I try to work on a “book” from the beginning. Key word, “Try.”

Lately I’ve been researching mining and have found it compliments writing: Some veins are richer than others and offer considerable yields. Still, the short veins are worth mining. You never know what they might lead to. It doesn’t have to be a mother lode to be worth mining. In fact, most of the gold extracted in a mine is invisible gold, not the visible gold that non-miners think of when they imagine the underground.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I used to write for performance only. I have trouble justifying putting energy into that anymore, though I do enjoy reading in public. The shyness I have known as a writer comes from letting go of the page poem. To this day, I’m terrified of releasing a printed poem into the world. In fiction, I find comfort in knowing that the story owns the page, not the author; with poetry, or at least poetry that isn’t driven by narrative (unlike my writing in The Fetch, the proximity of the reader to my person has been too intense, and so I get shy. I hope that will change with time.

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?


All my concerns are very real (not theoretical!) I doubt that they are new or current; frankly, I hope they aren’t. I want them to be as ancient as the act of writing itself. I just want it to matter to whoever is reading it. That’s what I strive for, even though I know it’s impossible.

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 current role of the writer should be the same as always: to write, and to do the best job of it possible. I fundamentally hope that never changes. I don’t think any reader out there cares what an author has to say if it isn’t to do with writing, or something that they have written about. The first thing you are judged for is your writing. After that, you’re just another head talking.

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

I’ve only worked with a few editors, and they were essential to improving my writing.

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


Keep your head up.

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


It hasn’t been easy at all; each creates its own demands. Ultimately the question in all genres is the same and it’s twofold: Is this the right word, and if so, is it in the right place?

The appeal is simple: It keeps me writing.

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?


Lately I’ve been able to write full time. When this is possible, I do it seven days a week. Sometimes that means ten hours and other days it means six. When I find I’m really out of wind, I rest, but even when resting, I’m doing it to be productive—so it’s just part of the job. That said, when I have other responsibilities occupying my day, I don’t get much writing done. I’m an all or nothing personality.

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


I tell myself that my writing is never stalled. It sleeps, but sleep isn’t stalling. Using the term stalled imposes some kind of negative stress. As for inspiration, if I feel it is lacking, I am in need of a rest.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?


Wow, I truly wish I had an answer.

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?


All of the above, including everything that is without any kind of specific intention (including the crazy dance that the two barristas are doing at Transcend Café in Edmonton where I now answer this question.)

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


I used to have an answer for this. I don’t anymore. What I read, I read because it is satisfying. The recently read books on my coffee table are Lolita (which I didn’t like, much to my surprise), Saul Bellow’s novella The Actual (loved it!), Orham Pamuk’s The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist (extremely helpful), Roberto Bolaño’s The Amulet (I’d give my soul to Bolaño if it meant he could write another book), Muriel Barberry’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I felt ambivalent about at the start, then fell in love with, then finished in ambivalence). I’m now reading Gabrielle Roy’s Where Nests The Water Hen, and Anna Karenina (actually, that’s a lie. I just drive around with it on the dashboard of my truck.)

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


Fall in love with the woman I’ll marry and be with for the rest of my life so that we can have a garden and grow pumpkins that get the red ribbon at the fall fair.

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’d want to be an architect. But I would only want to design libraries. And they would be the world’s greatest libraries. They would windows that open and little hotel rooms that you can rent, allowing you to wander the place at night and meet other people among the stacks.

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


I don’t only write. I’m also a carpenter and I’ve taught post-secondary English. But I only do those things in order to writing, and because they are pleasurable (and sometimes almost as rewarding as writing.)

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


The Amulet (Bolaño) impressed me for its narrative fluidity.

I was blown away by Coming Home (a 1979 film by Hal Ashby) the other night and I can’t believe I had never seen it before.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A novel.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The wedding of Peter Valliere and Rebekah Kroetsch


Saturday night in Greely, we celebrated the wedding of my young cousin Peter (my cousin Patti’s eldest) to the very lovely Rebekah Kroetsch. It’s so good to have a family gathering of the extended Page clan (my mother’s family) without a death, or some other misery. This past February we had another gathering, Christine and I heading into Nepean to help celebrate Aunt Shirley’s eightieth birthday. It would be nice to have more. I think the only family gathering for the sake of itself in a few decades was back in 1997, and I couldn’t even be there for such. My six-year-old Kate in my stead, who later gave quite a compelling report on the day.

Aunt Pam (my mother’s remaining sister) officiated the small wedding, at a centre in Greely. After years of her husband Don (a retired minister) officiating family services, this was Pam’s fiftieth, she said, but the first for the family. Peter and Rebekah, both twenty-five, now own a house just underneath Barrhaven, right near where they work. Aunt Pam, who reminded Christine and I at least four or five times that she does weddings. She does weddings, you know. Wink.

Talking to Rebekah’s father, he said the original Bavarian Kroetsch clan (pronounced “Kretch,” as he said they also do) came to Canada through Ellis Island, up to Montreal and into Ontario in the early 1800s. He said they had seven sons, one of whom is their ancestor, and another, led to Bruce County, and then to Alberta, making Robert Kroetsch (with his anglicized pronounciation) a rather distant relative.

The name was unusual enough, I had to ask.

The tables at the reception were game-themed, and we sat at the chess table. Later on, I stole bills from the Monopoly table, other bills from the Life table. Small, coloured-paper scraps. At our particular table, Christine, myself, my sister with her husband Corey, our father and our cousin Kim, aunt of the groom. Instead of clinking glasses at the reception, we were to write out limericks for the new married couple to kiss, something that created a great deal of pressure and expectation at my particular table. There were one or two good ones, but I couldn’t get away without writing my own. Shouldn’t any art come out of a series of unusual challenges?
The wedding of young cousin Peter
Rebekah: good to finally meet her
I wish them the best
Good home and a nest
Enough children to fill up a theatre
I attempted a second, but it wasn’t as strong. I didn’t want to end up ruining a strong opening with a poor closing. Later, at the candy table (yes, I did actually fill the pockets of my suit jacket with candy; so what?) there were costumes as well, with a photographer. Before the photog appeared, I managed a couple of snaps of sister and girlfriend, playing with what hadn’t yet been discovered by too many others.

Good luck to Peter and Rebekah, wishing you many years of conjugal bliss and happy adventures.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

3 new above/ground press titles: Camille Martin, Ken Norris + Shannon Maguire

If Leaf, Then Arpeggio
by Camille Martin
$4

LOOKING INTO IT
by Ken Norris
$5

Vowel Wolves & Other Knots 

by Shannon Maguire
$4


To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 402 McLeod St #3, Ottawa ON K2P 1A6 or paypal (above, right)

a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each
www.abovegroundpress.blogspot.com

2012 subscriptions still available!

Forthcoming titles by: Rae Armantrout, Sarah Mangold, kemeny babineau, derek beaulieu, Kathryn MacLeod and a collaboration between Phil Hall and Andrew Burke, as well as new broadsheets by Jamie Bradley, Marilyn Irwin and Nick Ravo.

Also: congratulations to Phil Hall for winning the 2011 Governor General''s Award for Poetry for Killdeer (BookThug, 2011). One of the sections of such appeared as the chapbook Verulam (above/ground press, 2009). A few copies are still available, here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

ACSUS Conference, November 2011, Ottawa: Ten Canadian Novels You Should Be Teaching (and Reading): a collaborative paper between rob mclennan and Steven Hayward

On Thursday afternoon, I presented a co-written paper between myself and writer Steven Hayward at the Association of Canadian Studies in the United States’ bi-annual conference at Ottawa’s Westin Hotel. It was a strange event, one Hayward couldn’t attend himself due to other conflicts, corralling me into participation but two weeks prior. I was to present a paper while on a panel with another presenter, and moderate the whole; maybe we should, Hayward suggested, co-write the paper as well? I said sure, fine, okay. I haven’t much experience presenting papers, but for the paper I wrote on Camille Martin’s Sonnets for Margaret Christakos’ Influency a few months back [see the note I wrote on such here; and the paper itself], and a panel I moderated at a conference at Grant MacEwen College back in spring 2008, during my Alberta period.

The presentation went well enough, despite the small crowd [see them here, clapping: including Peter Midgley from the University of Alberta, and Cynthia Sugars from the University of Ottawa], despite a paper I didn’t feel entirely finished yet, despite the other presenter cancelling her appearance earlier in the day. Toni Holland, from the University of Alberta, was to present a paper on “US and Canadian Poets Laureate: A Literary and Cultural History.” I wanted to hear this paper for a number of reasons, not only for the fact that I’ve been arguing for years that Ottawa should bring back the position (we were, possibly, the first in Canada to host the position back in 1980, and are now possibly one of the rare few without) but for the fact that I was on the League of Canadian Poets national council when we first came up with the idea for a National Laureate and started pressuring the Federal Government.

Since announcing that I was presenting such a paper, more than a few have asked for my list (our lists), so I thought I should at least present those. We’re planning on cleaning up the paper for publication, so hopefully a larger version of such, including our explanations for our respective choices, for the sake of increased clarity, but for now, you get only the barest list. I’m shocked, one woman offered, that neither of you have Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro on your lists. Another asked, does Hayward teach his list in Colorado? It’s one thing to think a book great, but another to be able to teach it. A worthy point, and one I couldn’t answer. I’m interested to see where this conversation might further.

Steven Hayward’s list:
Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion.
Toews, Miriam. A Complicated Kindness.
Vanderhaeghe, Guy. A Good Man.
Chariandy, David. Soucouyant.
Ricci, Nino. Origin of Species..
Bezmozgis, David. Natasha and Other Stories.
Bellow, Saul. Herzog.
Eliott Clarke, George. Execution Poems.
Quarrington, Paul. Home Game.

rob mclennan’s list:
Dany Laferrière, How to Make Love to a Negro (without getting tired).
John Lavery, Sandra Beck.
Aritha van Herk, Restlessness.
André Alexis, Despair, And Other Stories of Ottawa.
Ken Sparling, Hush up and listen stinky poo butt.
Lisa Moore, February.
Thomas Wharton, Salamander.
Matthew Remski. Dying for Veronica.
Lynn Crosbie. Paul’s Case.
Marianne Apostolides’ Swim: a novel.
Martha Baillie, The Incident Report

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daniel Scott Tysdal's The Mourner's Book of Albums

PHOTO

In the last picture she smailed
she is naked. In return he sent a copy
of the Kama Sutra, pencilling
on the first blank page, “Here is the map
of that city we can never travel in
because our bodies together compose
in avenues and apartments, its flocks
and bright puddles. As these streets,
I hope, we will meet again
soon.” Once he went to the airport
with money for a ticket, prepared
to cross the ocean and surprise her
is her home, and he wonders if
she also dreams of a terminal
without passengers, schedules,
or planes, one holding nothing more
than suitcases, satchels, shoulder-strapped
backpacks crammed tight
in anticipation of all the lands
imagined but never departed for.
It is in this waiting we do not lift off from
where the last we see of love is the photo
of a pose we'll never again enframe
in our own naked poses, the life
we'll never grow quiet with, not in time
for the next uniting flash. (from “Desire, A Lyric Pornographologue of Autoerotic Haunts”)
Even with publications in journals across the country, there was something about former Saskatchewan poet (currently in Toronto) Daniel Scott Tysdal's first poetry collection, Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 2006) that came out of nowhere, receiving both the ReLit Award and the Anne Szumigalski Poetry Award. Not only out of nowhere, his first collection was a wild collage of poems, prose, visual poems and image, an eclectic and electric mix, even more unusual for the fact that it came out of Coteau, known for years for publishing poetry collections predominantly constructed out of (comparatively) relatively straight lyric narrative. Since then, Tysdal has released The Mourner's Book of Albums (Toronto ON: Tightrope Books, 2010), a collection that exists as a novel of sorts, or a scrapbook of the disappeared, mixing poem with prose with theory, writing poem-as-artifact, or even, art installation. Starting with a kidnapped boy, Tysdal's collection moves its way through the G20 riots in Toronto, the war in Afghanistan, and his best friend's suicide, moving through a book of loss, of losing, and what's already lost, before coming back to what remains, and what gets found. A rich, vibrant collection, so tight you could bounce a quarter off it, The Mourner's Book of Albums is impossible to compare, a mix of different forms and structures, managing mutability, confusion and play, all while master craftsman Tysdal keeps the book a complete and comprehensive unit.
ADDENDUM

A week before this book went to press, I spoke
to Dahlia's mom. I told her about the poems.
She asked me to include a story I'd never heard.
As a child, Dahlia nurtured obituaries in place
of pets. She fabricated death notices for birds
and beasts she never in the first place possessed
to lose. She invented a sophisticated cockatiel
who chirped her name when it was time
to rise for school, a border collie who saved her
from slipping through cracked sheets
of frozen water. As a favour to circling vultures,
and to expose the promiscuity of skins in their decay,
she pretended her imaginary dead pets
remained carcasses unburied at the edge
of the garden rather than buried bones,
the breadth of the backyard's burgeoning life
pierced with a stillness so singular it defied
what the siding and shingles asserted to be
the nascent relation of divided hides.
If lightning were to have struck her fantastical pile
of remains, she had known that none of the paws
and fins and wings decomposing into this dreary
chimera would have twitched awake, but in one obit
a newt taken too soon to the pile startled the sky
when parrying thunder slithered from its slender throat. (from “Desire, A Lyric Pornographologue of Autoerotic Haunts”)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

fwd: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers

RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers
Supported by

RBC Foundation

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS


A prize of $5,000 will be awarded to the best work of short fiction.
Two honourable mentions will each receive $1,000 prizes.

Applicants should submit 5 - 10 pages (up to 2,500 words) of previously unpublished fiction.

Submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter with the candidate’s name, address, email, telephone number, and details confirming their
eligibility, including age and previous publishing credit(s).

Manuscript pages should not include identifying information, and should be unstapled and consecutively numbered. Entries will not be returned.

By submitting to this award, candidates grant the Writers’ Trust of Canada permission to publish their work in print and digital formats. All rights reserved by the authors.

To be eligible candidates must be:
* A Canadian citizen or permanent resident
* Under the age of 35 as of the deadline date
* Unpublished in book form and without a book contract
* Previously published in an independently edited magazine or anthology

THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS JANUARY 30, 2012


Submissions should be sent to:

RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers
c/o The Writers' Trust of Canada
90 Richmond Street East, Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario, M5C 1P1

For further information contact:
416-504-8222 ext 242 or info@writerstrust.com

Friday, November 18, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Laura Lush

Laura Lush’s fourth collection of poetry, Carapace (Palimpsest Press, 2011) was just released this fall.  Her other collections of poetry include The First Day of Winter (Rondsdale Press, 2002), Fault Line (Vehicule Press, Signal Editions, 1987), and Hometown (Vehicule Press, Signal Editions, 1991).  She also has a collection of short stories, Going to the Zoo (Turnstone Press, 2002).  She lives in Guelph with her son, Jack, and teaches academic English and creative writing in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Good question.  My first book, Hometown (Vehicule Press, Signal Editions, 1991) was written mostly at the Banff Centre over three summers.  And some of the poems were written when I was a creative writing undergrad at York University between 1984-87.  So, I was very fortunate that my first attempt to publish a m.s. was successful.  I don’t think this is a very realistic experience for “new” or “emerging writers.”  In fact, finding a publisher for my most recent book, Carapace (Palimpsest Press, 2011) took over a year.  Also, my first book was nominated for a GG---and that scared the hell out of me.  I wasn’t ready.  Of course, I didn’t win.  And that has been a good thing.  I always have a great fondness for Hometown as the poems were about my childhood and my family.  The memories/images were very very raw.  My work today is a bit more removed.  There is more of a “buffer” between the narrator’s voice and the actual material.  And I think the work tries to grapple with more abstract/metaphysical complexities rather than just speak of past memories.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I had very little interest in poetry in high school.  I’m not sure why this was.  But shortly before I applied to the creative writing program at York, I went into see Don Coles, who, of course, is one of our best---if not best---modern Canadian poets.  Something in that initial conversation turned me towards poetry.  It was very very subtle, yet powerful enough to make me want to explore poetry further.

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’m the single mom of an 8-year-old boy, so starting anything always takes a colossal effort!  But having said that, once I have made my mind up---that is, once I have sat down in front of my laptop, then I’m off.  Things flow/fly pretty quickly as I know that I have to “seize the moment” so-to-speak.  And I would say that I’ve been writing long enough that, yes, first drafts are close or reasonably close to their final shape.  I never make “copious notes.”  Sometimes a thought or image will come to me when I’m on the TTC or walking down the street, and I have to stop to write it down.  I never go anywhere without a notepad and pen in my pocket.

4 - Where does fiction or 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?
Reading other poets’ work plays a HUGE part in getting me started.  There is no greater feeling, to me, than opening up someone’s book and being taken away into their particular way of rendering the world---their images, their thoughts.  And I’m terrible at writing longer pieces.  I just don’t have that kind of “breath.”  I have a short explosive kind of breath---but I wish I could write a poem that is longer than one page!

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
To be honest, no.  I have learned to like public readings, but it hasn’t been easy.  I remember my very first reading at an art centre in Charlottetown, and thank God I had a podium to stand behind, because my knees shook so badly, and I kept on looking up at the ceiling and not at the audience.  And I read very very fast.  Now, it’s okay.  I know what to do.  Read slowly.  Breathe.  Try to enjoy yourself.  Because my poems are so short, I find I do a lot of “in-between-talking” to the audience.  That’s important.  Background stories are always important, especially when you write such short pieces like I do.

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?
No theoretical concerns whatsoever.  I don’t know---maybe I should have!  When I write, I’m just trying to write about what it’s like to be human---and I know that sounds very very big---but that’s the way I see it.  And what I mean about being human includes the boring everyday moments as well.  I have never experienced war or lived in a place where I needed to fear for my life, so I am incapable about writing about such experiences.  So I end up writing about motherhood or getting older or riding on the subway.  Whatever seems to be preoccupying me at the particular stage in my life.  If I look back at my last two books (The First Day of Winter (2002, Ronsdale Press) and Carapace (Palimpsest Press, 2011), I’d say birth, death, and rebirth.  Not necessarily in that order, though.

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?
That’s a good question, rob.  And, yes, absolutely writers---all artists really---play an incredibly important role in larger culture.  People turn to books (and art) to have their questions answered, to feel that they are not alone, and to feel, perhaps, validated.  Again, I think all art reflects the human condition in some way, and, so, yes, writers have this “obligation”to talk to the world through words.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It’s always important to have another set of eyes---especially an experienced set of eyes—go over and edit your work.  I may not always agree with my editors, and in some cases, I have done what I wanted rather than what they have suggested.  And I’m okay with that, and I think a good editor will respect your decision to override them.  But you’d better be sure that you feel absolutely confident about your decision as editors are highly skilled in what they do.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be prepared to “let go of your jewels”---my late brother, Curt, said this to me.  He often edited my books and we would have wonderfully spirited arguments about this point.  I would often write a line or an image and think it was amazing, and he’d say, “No, no, Laura, it’s not working.  It’s too sentimental”  Or whatever.  So be prepared to “let go of your jewels.”  And ego!

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m mostly known as a poet, but I did write a collection of short stories, Going to the Zoo (Turnstone Press, 2002), and I absolutely loved the process of writing short fiction.  To me, it was so much fun and I got to use humour (which I rarely use in my poetry) and show a side of my personality which is really more in tune with who I really am.  My poetry tends to be a bit dark because I’m delving into parts of myself and psyche that I normally do not release in everyday discourse.  And it’s always an excellent idea to “stretch” yourself as a writer.  Try on a different genre.  See if it works for you.  There are a lot of parallels between short story writing and poetry (economy of words, structural pithiness, and so on).

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 am one of those undisciplined disciplined writers.  In other words, I don’t write every day and don’t feel I need to.  I might go weeks without writing something, and that’s okay with me.  I’m not obsessive about it.  The important thing is that I know, when the time is right, I’ll find my way back to my laptop.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I think I might have mentioned this earlier---in other writers’s works.  They have always been my greatest inspiration.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Hay.  And the smell of old wood.

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?
Definitely music.  I love singer songwriters such as Lucinda Williams, Gilllian Welch, and Steve Earle.  They are amazing story tellers.  I would love to be able to tell a story through music one day.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m doing a second M.A. (part time) in Curriculum, Learning, and Teaching at O.I.S.E.  The exciting thing about this M.A. is that my thesis will be an “arts-informed” one, where I will have the opportunity to represent my research data in the form of poems and short stories.  Of course, I am reading a lot of scholarly qualitative research papers at the moment, and am finding it extremely stimulating.

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

Like I said in question 14, write lyrics for a song.  I was fortunate enough to have one of my poems, “Marbles,” (included in Carapace) used for lyrics for a song composed by Austin composer Stephen Barber.  He is one of these incredibly innovative composers who often use poet’s lyrics for compositions.  I think he’s now composing songs using lyrics from the American poet Kim Christoff.

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’m going to sound like a broken record here!  A songwriter.  I also love film, and one day, it would be good to learn this craft.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It took me a long time to figure out what I was going to do.  I wondered around like a lot of young people, trying this and that, and living in different parts of Canada, and traveling all over the place.  I was going to be a copy writer or a journalist (I knew I always loved words).  Then everything changed when I started my creative writing/English degree at York in 1984.  I was 24 at that time, and a “mature” student.  Oh, to be that “mature” again!

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

I am in love with Cormac McCarthy, so I read just about everything he writes.  The Road was the last book I read, but I read it three times.  A good friend just gave me Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues yesterday.  And I’m also reading This is not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers.  I read American short story writer, Amy Hempel, over and over again.  And David Sedaris.  For film, I enjoyed Blue Valentine for its raw and real portrayal of the dissolution of a relationship. Oh and I saw Get Low last week.  Great performances by Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. However, I often return to such great film makers as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Tod Solondz.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a suite of poems connected to my M.A. thesis.  They are about the “death of the barn”---a kind of structural and rural domicide.  My parents just recently sold their farm in Owen Sound after 35 years.  They had two beautiful old bank barns, which the new owner immediately tore down after they bought the place.  Tragic.  Like cutting down a redwood.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;