author biography ; extended biography ; author page

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rereading Sheila Watson and Elizabeth Smart at the Garneau Pub, Edmonton


[I originally presented this piece as a talk at the ottawa international writers festival in April, 2008, and it soon after appeared online at The Danforth Review. Considering the journal is no longer online, and with Smart’s 100th birthday coming up next year, I thought this was worth repeating.]

In the winter, on very cold days, you can see her small figure, wrapped up in a huge, yellowish fur coat of indeterminate ancestry, walking across the snow-covered campus of the University of Alberta. She seems vulnerable, fragile almost. A strong gust of wind might blow her away. But that’s an illusion. The small figure creates a space of its own, asserts itself, and yet seems an integral part of the landscape. So also in her house, where she and Wilfred have created spaces in which both, strong individuals, can function separately and together. Paintings, pieces of pottery, Eskimo carvings, Indian masks create the stillness in which these two figures move.
            Henry Kreisel, “Sheila Watson in Edmonton”

I’m already off-topic, wanting to talk about two essential novels but already outside, wandering the dusty grey streets of the Alberta capital. How is it my day-to-day experience of Edmonton, after my first three months, became immersed in Sheila Watson and Elizabeth Smart? How is it that the ghosts that haunt my wandering the city streets became women writers from away who, for whatever reason, ended up being known, forgotten and known again for writing they had done so much earlier? Two women, too, who might have wanted more from themselves than these singular novels, each producing a lyrical prose masterpiece, but somehow the rest of their writing lives could never get out from under the shadow of their earlier, and difficult, pieces. For west coast Watson, it was her novel of the British Columbia interior, The Double Hook (1959), and for Smart, Ottawa born and bred, it was By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945). For either writers, it wouldn’t be until the 1960s and even later that they would develop a reputation at all, and by then they held a near-cult status. In the end, how did either of them relate to the city of Edmonton? In the end, does it even matter when reading their books?

                In the folds of the hills

            under Coyote’s eye

                        lived

            the old lady, mother of William
                    of James and of Greta

            lived James and Greta
            lived William and Ara his wife
            lived the Widow Wagner
            the Widow’s girl Lenhen
            the Widow’s boy
            lived Felix Prosper and Angel
            lived Theophil
            and Kip


                        until one morning in July

Sitting in the Garneau Pub on 109th Street in the Strathcona neighbourhood, in part of what once called “new Edmonton” until the forced amalgamation in 1904 with downtown, the sports bar with three televisions on sports, often two on one game, and part of the geography Edmonton author Todd Babiak wrote about in his third novel, The Garneau Block (2007). In a review of the book the Globe and Mail, Cynthia MacDonald opened her commentary with:

The city of Edmonton has received harsh treatment from many of the famous writers who've passed through it. Mordecai Richler called it "Canada's boiler room." Margaret Atwood offered her opinion in poetic form: "only more/ nothing than I've ever seen." Passing through some 25 years ago, Jan Morris was even more blunt. "The longer I stayed in the place," she wrote, "the more I wondered why on earth anyone would want to live there." It made her think of Beirut.

But still, these are novels started, finished and published well before either author had even arrived in this highway boom town. “When and where does a book begin?” It’s one of the lines friend, critic and later biographer of Sheila Watson, F.T. Flahtiff, wrote in the first line of his afterward to the paperback edition of The Double Hook. As Watson herself wrote of her character Ara, “It’s not for fish she fishes […].” When I was seventeen years old, one of the books that the eventual mother of my child would hand me to read was a copy of Sheila Watson’s infamous novel, The Double Hook, a small edition published by McClelland and Stewart as a New Canadian Library paperback. The first part of his introduction reads:

            When and where does a book begin?
On its first page, of course, with each reader and each new reading; with its recovery – or its discovery: here and everywhere, now and always.

Reading coyote and the interior of British Columbia, when I initially read Watson’s first published novel, I missed completely the murder on the first page, enjoying but not understanding what it was I was taking in. By page fifty or so, seeing the mention of Mrs. Potter’s death, I had to return to the first page, to read over again what I had missed. When the hell did that happen? Where or how does a book begin? From the wheres and the when of biography, Watson’s life when the construction of the book would have started, or very simply from the opening line of the first part, “In the folds of the hills // under coyote’s eye…” Or this section, beginning at the bottom of the same paperback page, that reads:

Still the old lady fished. If the reeds had dried up and the banks folded and crumbled down she would have fished still. If God had come into the valley, come holding out the long finger of salvation, moaning in the darkness, thundering down the gap at the lake head, skimming across the water, drying up the blue signature like blotting-paper, asking where, asking why, defying an answer, she would have thrown her line against the rebuke; she would have caught a piece of mud and looked it over; she would have drawn a line with the barb when the fire of righteousness baked the bottom.

What brought me back to Watson, and Smart as well, was as much geographical as anything else, my nine months in Edmonton at the University of Alberta, where Sheila Watson taught from 1961 until retiring in 1975; how could I not see her in my future, taking copies of what little I had with me west? Another part of my return, a hopeful return to fiction, with two incomplete novels that had been set aside for eighteen months while I completed a number of other projects, including a few editorial projects, a collection of literary essays and a travel book about Ottawa. By the time Watson got to Edmonton, she was still writing, but somehow nearly done; she was nearly done but for pieces in the journal she’d founded, White Pelican. What effect did Edmonton have? Edmonton, where after some twenty years of marriage, the first house she and her husband, Wilfred Watson, owned, just west of the campus, on Windsor Road. Edmonton, where she taught for fourteen years, and oversaw more theses than anyone else on faculty.

What are you saying? Greta asked. You don’t even know. You don’t know a thing. You don’t know what a person knows. You don’t know what a person feels. You’ve burned and spilled enough oil to light up the whole country, she said. It’s easy enough to see if you make a bonfire and walk around in the light of it.

In the Garneau neighbourhood of Strathcona, one of the neighbourhoods Watson would have known, just the other side of the campus from the house where they lived in Windsor, at 8918 Windsor Road. Part of the appeal of Watson, is the internalization of region, of place; not the problem of place but taking it deeper. Given that Watson sent a draft to University of Alberta professor Frederick M. Salter, an early champion of the novel while still in manuscript, it seems appropriate that her writing desk sits in the reading room named for him at the University of Alberta. How does one book or one author or a series of same hold on so to the imagination?

Elizabeth Smart, born in Ottawa to a prominent family, is known predominantly for the heartbreaking lyric prose of her By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, originally published in England in 1945. Her infamous first novel was misunderstood, dismissed and unseen by readers in her home country, and finally went out of print for twenty years, only to be rediscovered in the 1960s in a reissue finally available to Canadian audiences (it, along with a later title, The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals, remain in print). No matter what else she wrote or produced throughout the rest of her life (she began publishing again after decades of silence in the late 1970s), it’s for her first novel she’s known, both for the writing itself, and the situation of what the novel came out of, namely the doomed love affair she had with the married British poet George Barker, with whom she had four children, and received not a speck of support (he eventually had fifteen children with five different women, and never, through the process, left his wife). For Elizabeth Smart, it is very easy to let her work be overshadowed by her biography, but to hear the prose of her heart does away with all else, just as much as it reinforces, as the beginning of the final chapter, part ten, begins:

            By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept:
I will not be placated by the mechanical motions of existence, nor find consolation in the solicitude of waiters who notice my devastated face. Sleep tries to seduce me by promising a more reasonable tomorrow. But I will not be betrayed by such a Judas of fallacy: it betrays everyone: it leads them into death. Everyone acquiesces: everyone compromises.
They say, As we grow older we embrace resignation.
But O, they totter into it blind and unprotesting. And from their sin, the sin of accepting such a pimp to death, there is no redemption. It is the sin of damnation.

It certainly didn’t help that her mother her harshest critic, interfering whenever she could, from as far a distance as possible, including having all the copies of the 1945 edition of her novel that made it into Canada seized and destroyed, with the help of family friend Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. Even when the novel was subsequently reprinted, her mother only responded with a similar ugliness. But still, Smart’s return to Canada in 1982 to become writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta (at the invitation of the previous writer-in-residence, poet Patrick Lane), was frought with its own peril, including the fact that it was mere months after the death of Smart’s youngest daughter, Rose, from an overdose, as author Kim Echlin writes in her magnificent Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity (2004):

In 1982, a few months after Rose died, Elizabeth returned to Canada for the last time. She went to Edmonton as a writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta and then stayed on in Toronto for a second year, spending time reacquainting herself with the country of her birth. Although she met Alice Van Wart, who edited her final prose collections and her journals, Elizabeth found Canada “stifling” and was generally disillusioned with the “poor caged Canadians.” She found nothing in Canada worth staying for, and finally returned to her family, The Dell, and Soho.

What is it about these solitary, determined women that appeals so? What is it about those solitary masterpieces of lyric prose, pared down to the bone? When I walk the cold, winter streets of Garneau, I don’t think of Robert Kroetsch writing wild horses loose across the High Level Bridge in The Studhorse Man or even any part of Todd Babiak’s Garneau Block, but instead the reams of unwritten between two women who gave their time to Edmonton and the University of Alberta very close to each other but not meeting there, as Watson was long gone by the time Smart arrived in 1982. Recounting the Toronto introduction of Watson and Smart in his biography of Sheila Watson, F.T. Flahiff writes:

I remember on one of her last visits—in the summer of 1983—she [Watson] read at Harbourfront in connection with the publication of an anthology of Canadian literature edited by Donna Bennett and Russell Brown. It was an afternoon reading followed by a reception, and I remember that Sheila read “Antigone,” and P.K. Page, who also read, said to Sheila that she would have given all her own work to have written “Antigone.” After the readings, as we drank wine and ate cheese among large cardboard advertisements for the anthology, Elizabeth Smart, accompanied by an Antigone-like granddaughter, made her determined way to Sheila—they had never met—and attempted to kneel in homage before her. Sheila was startled and perplexed, as were bpNichol and Philip Marchand who were talking with her at the time. bp fell back, taking one of the advertisements with him. I remember Sheila and I remember Elizabeth Smart’s determination and her grand-daughter’s poise in the midst of this slapstick and strangely moving scene.

For both novels, there is the lyric as opposed to a more straightforward line. For Watson, it was the passionate stripped down matter-of-fact prose writing the trickster Coyote, and a prose later emulated by writers such as Ondaatje, Bowering and even Elizabeth Smart herself. For Smart, it was the heartbreaking and classically dense prose of lyric heartbreak that fish-hooked her insides out of her, and a novel that competes only with British writer Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey as the book most quoted in song lyrics by pop singer Morrissey, former front-man of The Smiths. How does a book by an Ottawa-born former socialite become such an influence? But I will leave the last words to Smart herself, from an earlier part of her novel:

And so, returning to Canada through the fall sunshine, I look homeward now and melt, for though I am crowned and anointed with love and have obtained from life all I asked, what am I as I enter my parents’ house but another prodigal daughter? I see their faces at which I shall never be free to look dispassionately. They gaze out of the window with eyes harassed by what they continually fear they see, like premature ghosts, straggling homeward over the plain.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Maria Damon

Maria Damon is the author of The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Literature and Postliterary America: From Bagel Shop Jazz to Micropoetries and the chapbook meshwards; the co-author (with mIEKAL aND) of Literature Nation, Eros/ion, and pleasureTEXTpossession; and the co-editor (with Ira Livingston) of Poetry and Cultural Studies: A Reader.

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, Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry, changed my life in very pragmatic terms. Although I didn’t think of it as such at the time–for me it was a soul effort–, it was essentially a “tenure book,” so it secured my employment situation, which is extremely important especially given the difficult economic situation in the US right now.  It also opened me up to a whole community of writers and scholars who read the book and saw me as part of their discourse community; I met, most memorably, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman and Barrett Watten, Alan Golding, and Hank Lazer all at the same conference. I thought that Language poets would hate my work because it was so identitarian, but they were very receptive and kind, and some of these relationships have lasted many years. Charles introduced me to the Poetics List, which was very lively in the mid-1990s, and from there I met and ended up collaborating with a number of poets who now comprise my community.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Through rhythm, and through the daily recitation of the 23rd psalm in grade school before prayer was banned in the public schools. In the third grade every morning we would be asked to lay our heads on our desks while the teacher recited the psalm and we followed as best we could. It was a respite from the constant anxiety of interacting with other kids, an opportunity for contemplation and enjoyment of language.

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?
That’s a hard q to answer. Writing projects often start at someone’s instigation: an invitation to collaborate, for example, or an invitation to contribute to a volume or journal.  My writing has become far more interactive and participatory than it was when I first started writing. Initially I would write in response to a text; now it is more often in response to a person.

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?
I often have ideas for books that do not materialize as books. I write short pieces that are thematically overlapping and then string them together as books, blogs, etc.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I get very shy about readings, because I am not always sure I have material to read. Right now I’m doing cross-stitch visual poetry, which can’t simply be read at readings. I need projection capabilities, which often isn’t available.

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?
In my scholarly work I am interested in expanding definitions of poetry, in individual eccentric or “outsider” poets and hence in outsider poetics, ethnographies of poetry and poetry communities, etc.

In my poetry I like to play with others. I suppose that’s a politics and a set of questions, but if, to paraphrase Frank O’Hara, you don’t go on your nerve, i.e. go forward somewhat instinctually, something will be lost. I don’t think it possible to “overthink” scholarly enterprises, but I do think it’s possible to kill the creative process with too much tinkering. I guess I’m guilty of “using” poetry as an escape hatch, then.

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?
Impossible to answer. The writer should use her imagination to the fullest extent possible, with the impossible belief (not hope) that it may be of some social use.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It doesn’t come up very often.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Enjoy your breath.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Difficult to maintain equal interest in both concurrently; I tend to work in cycles. At the moment I’m drifting away from an investment in my own powers of critical analysis. Much of what I sought to accomplish–a paradigm shift in poetry scholarship–has been accomplished, so that I am not burning with that mission any more. I like to make things now, and trust others to carry forward the mission to democratize poetry and poetics.

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 wish I had one! I begin by making coffee, then retiring to the study to catch up on email and social media. Then I turn to the tasks of the day. Often “my own work” gets pushed to the edges due to the obligations of teaching and participating in institutional life.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I bounce off extant texts. I’ll do a homophonous translation, or a rewriting of someone’s algorithmic spewings. I’ve done a whole book of rewritings of Finnish poet-composer Jukka-Pekka Kervinen’s algorithmic “poems” that he posts on the Wryting and Theory listserv.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? 
The mixture of sea air and roses on Cape Cod.

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?
Mostly books or shorter pieces of writing.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Jean Genet, Gertrude Stein, Will Alexander, Thich Nhat Hanh, Edmond Jabès, Ntozake Shange, Facebook. I used to like to read mystical work like Julian of Norwich and The Cloud of Unknowing. Dante. St. Augustine.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Bungie cord jumping, snowboarding, singing in public (after much practice), overcoming all kinds of fears and inhibitions.  I wanted to have a house made of jewels, but after mIEKAL aND and I published Literature Nation online, I felt that I had accomplished that.

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?

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

I think loneliness, initially, as a kid. The need to talk to someone who wouldn’t judge or push back, i.e. nobody. My version of the invisible friend. I kept extensive journals. Now I don’t write in journals so much any more. As I say, it’s more interactive now. I even prefer to do my cross-stitch visual poems in public settings–conferences, meetings, parties, etc., where I can be interacting with others while still creating something.  Also, the household of my childhood was filled with verbal whimsy: no pun went unpinned, the cornier the better. So playing with sound through language is a natural fit. At the same time, it was the great novels of interiority (Bronte, Dostoyevski, Genet) that moved me.

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

Book: Will Alexander’s Sunrise in Armageddon. Film: In spite of some corniness in the sound elements (voice over, music, etc.), Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, in 3D, was astounding.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A series of handwoven scarves with Stooges song titles etc. on them for members of Iggy and the Stooges band and fan community. Black cotton with red cotton embroidery thread. I’m working on a proposal for a book on Stooges’ fan culture and the “glories of failure.”

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Christine McNair and rob mclennan at The Dusty Owl Reading Series, July 15, 2012: the pre-wedding reading!

The pre-wedding reading!


Christine McNair and rob mclennan read together at The Dusty Owl Reading Series on Sunday, July 15, 2012, 3:00 PM, at their regular, monthly home at The Elmdale House, 1084 Wellington St. W, Ottawa.


The Dusty Owl Reading Series includes an open set and featured reader(s). Free admission.

Christine McNair has been published in Descant, CV2, Prairie Fire, Arc, ditchpoetry.com, Poetry is Dead, ottawater, the Bywords Quarterly Journal, and sundry other places. She won second prize (poetry) in the Atlantic Canadian Writing Competition, an honourable mention in the Eden Mills Literary Competition and was shortlisted for the 2011 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her first book, Conflict, appeared with BookThug in May, 2012, and a chapbook, Notes from a cartywheel, appeared in 2011 with AngelHousePress. She works as a book doctor in Ottawa.

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009), as well as the travel volume, Ottawa: The Unknown City (2008). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

Christine and rob will each be reading individual sets, and then a combined set, premiering a collaborative work-in-progress manuscript of poems. And don't forget the SOCIAL on June 21!

http://halvard-johnson.blogspot.com/2011/11/photo-of-christine-by-rob-photo-of-rob.html

http://www.openbookontario.com/news/sainte_ad%C3%A8le_redux

http://southerlyjournal.com.au/2011/11/28/collaboration-best-with-a-little-stir/

[rob and Christine also read in St. Catharine's on June 15]

Dusty Owl Reading Series Coordinator:
Steven Zytveld (613) 230-7710

Media Coordinator:
Catherine MacDonald-Zytveld (613)-230-7710
or media@dustyowl.com

http://www.dustyowl.com/

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

12 or 20 (second series) with Julie Carr

Julie Carr is the author of four books of poetry, most recently 100 Notes on Violence and Sarah-Of fragments and Lines. RAG is forthcoming from Omindawn. Surface Tension: Ruptural Time and the Poetics of Desire in Late Victorian Poetry is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive. She is the co-publisher of Counterpath Press, helps to run Counterpath bookstore/performance space/gallery in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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 simply helped confirm for me that writing was a real path for me to follow. I pretty much already knew that, but it would be a lie to say that having a book didn’t make a difference. It did. The publication of any book helps free me to write the next one. It allows me to see what I’ve done, to evaluate it from something of a distance, and thus it provides the impetus to do something new, something else or more.

I think there’s a pretty consistent thread connecting all my books. I’m always interested in experimenting with form – line, sentence, page, with the idea of what makes a book. I’m also never straying very far from the daily, from the lived experience that actually informs my writing, even as I draw from all kinds of other sources: texts, films, information of all kinds – in creating books.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I read poetry when I was a child. Emily Dickinson, anthologies of “children’s verse,” the Bible, W.S. Merwin, Denise Levertov. These writers were in the house because my mother liked poetry, and so I read them when I was very young.

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 always writing. I don’t think there are clear starting points for my projects. Rather, the project begins to assert itself out of the writing I am already doing. I write every day and I always revise as I work and then constantly after the thing begins to take shape. Sometimes a page might look very much the way it did when it first appeared on my screen, sometimes it looks nothing like it. It varies very much.

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?
I never think of writing “poems.” I write and I make pages or pieces or chunks of writing of various lengths. I call them poems because that’s what they most look like and because I love poets and want to be among them. But I don’t say to myself, I am writing a poem. I just write and things take whatever shape or form seems appropriate to the rhythm or music I am hearing.  However, I do write books and I do think about the book pretty early on. At some point I’ll look at a bunch of writing and I’ll say, yes, this is a book. And I’ll give it a title and begin to write towards that book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love giving readings. It’s a huge part of what I do. It’s in some ways the main thing for me. The reading is where I learn the most about the work. I used to be a dancer, so reading is my way of actually embodying the work and letting the work have its way with me. I make the most amazing connections with people through giving readings. It’s a deeply intimate experience – when it goes well.

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?
Of course I have theoretical concerns! All writing has theoretical concerns. Some of my questions (though I don’t know that I’m trying to answer them as much as enliven them): what is a person? what is intimacy? what are our responsibilities toward one another? what is love? how and why do we hurt one another (collectively as well as personally)? what visions of utopia might we harbor and how might we activate them? what, in other words, is hope? what the fuck is wrong with the Republican party? what the fuck is wrong with America? how can writing engage all of the above and also ask questions about the spirit, also care about the soul?

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?
Writers, like all artists, are the culture.

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

I love conversations with other writers. All my editors have also been writers and I respect them very much. I’ve never minded hearing other people’s ideas and I’ve often adopted them. It’s fun.

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

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I guess it’s not “easy” – but no writing is easy. I write critical prose because I’m interested in poetry and in saying things about it. I’m interested in its histories and its ethical and formal engagements. I love the work of the people I write about and I want to understand why I love it. It’s a way to become friends with the work on a deeper level than otherwise possible. I have no mission – I’m not trying to convert others (except in that I want everyone to read poetry). But I want to engage and so I do.

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 wake up at 5 or 5:30. I make coffee and talk to my husband. I start writing by 6 at the latest, usually earlier. I get my daughters up at 7:30. After all the kids are at school I sit at my desk and work all morning. And then in the afternoon, I’m pretty much being a mother. That’s when I’m not teaching. When I’m teaching, just slide that into the schedule on teaching days.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I hate to say this, but my writing does not get stalled.

However, I get inspiration from reading other writers and from looking at art. Also from listening. And from being with my children. From caring about their lives. I also get inspiration from conversations with other writers – from paying attention to them.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The ocean (sob).

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?
The newspaper. Visual art of all kinds: video, photography, painting, installation. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past two or three years and wherever I am I try to go to the museums. I love going to museums alone. I write in museums. I take a lot of notes on the art I’m looking at. I also care a lot about dance, though I don’t get to see enough of it.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
In no particular order: Gerard Manley Hopkins. Emily Dickinson. Vallejo. Dante Rossetti. Lisa Robertson. Inger Christensen. Nate Mackey. Tomaz Salamun. Apollinaire. Claudia Rankine. C.D. Wright. Lyn Hejinian. And all the writers we have published or will soon publish including (but not limited to):

Laynie Browne, Andrew Zawacki, Andrew Joron, Brian Henry, giovanni singleton, Jackson MacLow, Rodrigo Toscano, Ronaldo Wilson, Jonathan Stalling, Mathew Cooperman, Christine Hume, Suzanne Doppelt, Rene Char, etc.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Spain. Climb a fourteener with my husband. Run a marathon with my daughter. Live by the ocean. Write a novel.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I was already a dancer, which is the one I would pick. I wish I could have been a theoretical physicist.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
My mother told me I was a poet before I could write. I doubt there was a choice in it.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Lisa Robertson’s Nilling. Does Mad Men count? Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

20 - What are you currently working on?
It’s called Real Life and it will take me three years to complete.

Also, a new translation (with Jennifer Pap) of Apollinaire’s Alcools.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, May 25, 2012

new from above/ground press: new titles by Robert Manery and Robert Hogg


Richter-Rauzer Variations
Robert Manery
$4

from Lamentations
Robert Hogg
$4

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
May 2012
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

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 at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Marcus McCann, The Hard Return



He’s suspended in a porno of oppositions,

his particles part, the pause’s bowed drywall takes bets
on the boxing match of spent jerk vs. Zappa plunge.

And caught in pestle and grist, hassle and pest,

you – wimp, worrywart, Pythagorean pilot of plan B,
oh, you bookish pansy – wait for the unclenching whup,

for his frame to tap the coup he’s singing. (“Scene in Which a Neighbour Tries to Jump / from Your Window onto His Own Roof”)

Over the months since his first trade collection, Soft Where (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2009), former Ottawa poet Marcus McCann’s gymnastic poems have become nearly bulletproof, composing lines one can bounce both quarter or a round off. His second collection, The Hard Return (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2012), one of the final season of Paul Vermeersch’s tenure as poetry editor (before heading off to Wolsak & Wynn) writes of dislocation and location, writing the tension between a series of opposite positions. The density of McCann’s lines are incredibly packed, and move at lightspeed, nearly light-headedly so.

Prayer
To be read aloud in unison

Non-proprietary methods of composition:
collaboration, enmeshment, mutually assured
instruction, Hail Mary, heightened sense of self.
Shoulder to shoulder, odd phalanx of bowled-over
lover-friends-lovers. Cosmic spirals of communication,
retuning, junk talk, yammer, here is a voice
and we are using it.

Here is a voice and we are using it.
Loose, jangly, not-quite-unison,
Discording. Us in a nighttime parking lot,
song-spilled, gin-singed, stab-slatted, yonder-longing
sketching on the side of a convenience store
that we are rattled. We use our hands sparingly.

Rickety wicker of our common selves.
Brittle, inhibited, possessive, jealousy ours,
especially. Us or a common alternative supplied.
Our shares in publicly traded company
indeterminate and valuable. Pleasingly left
guessing in the futures market.

In The Hard Return, McCann writes poems that pilfer and magpie from just about everything that surrounds, reshaping them into his own fantastic entities, and include commentary and critique on human interactions as well as the failure and confusion of those interactions. His poems are nearly those of Montreal poet Jon Paul Fiorentino’s, but with a denser line and far less pessimism. This is no Alpha or Beta Male but an eye that rakes and rages, processes swirling with comprehension. One of the threads through the collection is the critique somehow in the titles alone, a series of poems that lift lines from other sources [see Cameron Anstee’s review/commentary on the same here], his “Twenty-Two Toronto Poets Wake up on the / Bathroom Floor and Discuss Their Hangover,” “Twenty-Two BC Poets Use Orgasm As a / Metaphor for Belonging,” and “Twenty-Two Ottawa Poets Fail to Agree about / the Morning” (all of which list in the colophon the poems and poets borrowed from for each piece, in order of appearance). The Toronto poem begins:

It is spring over the porcelain bowl
and needs total silence. It carries you

hacking the day into shape on the phone, there is still no
water and erotics
to show I was prepared to die. Here, orange
stares at the grief-plunge.

I call myself every bad word I know.

How does he manage to boil so much down into such small spaces? He even includes a poem for leaving Ottawa for Toronto, “Town in a Long Day of Leaving,” the title poem to a small chapbook originally self-produced in a give-away run around the time he left. A great believer in the power of chapbooks, a number of these poems appeared previously in various chapbooks, including the works Heteroskeptical (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2007), Town in a Long Day of Leaving (Ottawa ON: The Onion Union, 2009; above/ground press, 2009) and The Glass Jaw (The Onion Union, 2010), but a handful of the chapbooks he’s produced over the years. You know there’ll be more.

Poem for a Precious Chapbook
If spine is sheep, a fold
is a fold.

If spine is a wallet, fold
is a billfold

If spine is gimme one good reason, fold
is twofold.

If spine is a puzzle, fold
is baffled.

If spine is smothering grandma with a pillow, fold
is her, muffled.

If spine is a whip and harness, fold
is a blindfold.