Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ongoing notes: late October, 2012

We’re back from the honeymoon, but still in the midst of post-wedding/honeymoon glow. Or is that merely hangover? In any case, we both attempt to re-enter the world, whatever that might bring. There might be photos soon, but god knows when. We have over a thousand to sift through.

In case you didn’t see it, here’s a photo of our wedding cake: Christine’s Conflict on the one side, and my Glengarry on the other, brilliantly made by The Cake Whisperer. Pretty damned impressive. And yes, it was an actual, real cake (we finished the last of it the other night).

Disappointed to see that Snare Books is no longer living the life of an independent press (see Fiorentino's official statement here), becoming instead an imprint of Invisible Publishing. Disappointed, but better they remain in some form that produces books than disappears altogether. When they first started publishing, they were full of vim and noise, and produced some very worthy books. Long live Snare! And then, of course, that more recent news about Douglas & McIntyre...

Note the number of events on the immediate right, at the top: a couple of events through The Factory Reading Series (November 15 and November 16, as well as a December 15 event TBA and the annual Peter F Yacht Club Christmas party/reading/regatta on December 29) and the ottawa small press book fair, among other things. Keep an eye out, as there are most likely more events to come over the next couple of months. And did you see that two above/ground press titles made the bpNichol Chapbook Award shortlist...?

Montreal QC: In my hands recently comes another publication by Calgary’s NO Press, The Winnipeg Cold Storage Company by Montreal-based Jon Paul Fiorentino, released in an edition of 75 copies in August, 2012. In Fiorentino’s small offering, he continues his fascination with mythmaking and geography, working over, across and through his hometown of Winnipeg, as he does more specifically in the title poem:

The title of “Winnipeg Cold Storage Company” poses the question of collective memory and what it means to say that ‘things might be done with storage’? The problem of collective memory is thus immediately bound up with a question of performance. What does it mean for storage not only to store, but also in some sense to perform and, in particular, to perform what it stores?

In the colophon of the small book, he writes that “The text from ‘Winnipeg Cold Storage Company’ is appropriated and manipulated with the most love from Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performance by Judith Butler.” There are some intriguing visual pieces in the collection as well, and Fiorentino delights in playing with the modes and structures of others, including education and academia, but it’s the title poem that really stands out, and I’m curious to know how much he borrowed from the Judith Butler text. It makes me curious to see what and where these poems might appear next, and what kind of book-length work this work teases us for. Just where is Fiorentino going?

The question of whether citizenship requires the repression of Winnipeg is not new, but the recent efforts to regulate the self-storage of citizenship within Winnipeg repose this question in a different light. After all, Winnipeggers enjoy some of the rights and obligations of citizenship, but not all of them.

London ON: I’ve long been an admirer of the work of Colbourne, Ontario poet, visual artist and curator Gil McElroy, so am extremely pleased to see the chapbook Ordinary Time: The Merton Lake Propers (London ON: Baseline Press, 2012). As McElroy writes on the acknowledgments: “The Merton Lake poem sequence of Ordinary Time was inspired by the invitation of poet Dan Waber to participate in a project in which a number of writers were asked to create a daily journal entry for the month of November, 2012 which he then published on-line.” The poem itself, a series of excerpts from a much longer sequence, opens with two important pieces of information:

ORDINARY TIME—the parts of the liturgical year
that do not fall in one of the seasons of Advent,
Christmas, Lent, or Easter

PROPER—designating a service, psalm, lesson, etc.,
specially appointed for a particular day or season

For those unaware of McElroy’s writing, this small work ties immediately into his poetry collection, Ordinary Time (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2011), his fourth trade poetry collection, all of which have appeared with Vancouver’s Talonbooks. Time is an essential part of McElroy’s writing, ranging from the cosmic (including an astrological sense of asteroids, constellations and shooting starts) to more human considerations, such as his ongoing “Some Julian Days” sequence that use dates from the Julian Calendar. Time is what he centres the entirety of his work around, highlighting the mundane day to day as magical by turning it slightly, altering its perception.

Proper 30

Bar all terrible saints. Steep them in the storm. There will be a wind. There will be something marvellous half-buried in the south – & unexpected. There will be combat, after all. Ridge directions stare down at an even place & the dry moments forming there. Though out three simple glances. Was a bit dizzy at the bad taste left in my mouth. Thought them out again. Chewed them splendid. Then cut them back.

Rainy boots. Nothing thought of while some news resolved. Probably hopeless. Lively ideas feel me, of course. “Hope so,” I said at the end, so pious & anathema, me. It all strikes me dutiful & such. The morning is competent with sermons dug up for everything. All that, and no doubt then. One gets between symbols, & then kapow!

By night, of course. But enough light dawned. Brick winds large around everything. The road out of places. A couple of thousand snowy silences along the way talking.

The wilderness terribly becomes, now. Sick of it. Mornings I wake up of it. Heavy rain in back of it. It will be too late of it. The lake of of it. I did not return to the right, getting back of it. Each remembered dream let go of it. Really lamentable, but purely mechanical. The 20th century gone astray of it. Very, perhaps. I cannot be sure.

Edmonton AB: For some time now, Edmonton poet Douglas Barbour has been working a sequence of jazz-related poems under the title “Recording Dates” (including the poem “Jane Bunnett plays the Yardbird Suite,” produced as an above/ground press broadside back in September, 2002). Newly out from Jenna Butler’s Rubicon Press is Barbour’s chapbook Recording Dates (2012), a selection of some of these pieces.

October 9 & 10 1974:

Death comes in many guises, a black bird
and a white whale equally partake of the great,
the intense and final prayer,
flower of the atom, atomy of the flower.
Prayer is both response to and refusal of the
great journey now begun, whale and
bird both taking the shortest route possible to death.

Of all the books that Rubicon has produced over the past decade or so, this is easily the most attractive she’s produced, in production and design, and is worth picking up for that alone. As far as Barbour’s work, his poems have always had a quick sense of movement, riffing and bouncing from point to point, idea to idea, so the idea of “jazz poems” makes entirely too much sense. This is a fantastic little chapbook; I love the movement, the flow of the pieces, something Barbour has been exploring for quite some time, but somehow, never quite gets the credit or comprehension he deserves for it.

May 15 1953:

Perdido: memory gone. That’s how it works. You
salt the mind, still hoping for the real. They got
peanuts for the gig but you got the memory.
All the way back to 1953 and what
the hell happened that night. Those nights. There are some
things you only know by hearsay, yet it’s that story
you heard about ten years later & read about. Those few hours
are part of your memory now – as if you’d been there, listening.
Wee? No it was huge   cool or
hot it doesn’t matter, they tore the
house down for a small crowd soon to grow with telling.
A wonderful feeling, watching that white plastic wave & weave all
night long & the notes pour forth. Heaven-pointed trumpet, everyone
in synch: great music for the ages & you can still hear A Night in
Tunesia every time you place the disc just so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining?, Laura Broadbent


Your task is to smell the morning and there’s nothing wrong with what you’re wearing and your hair’s just fine so notice the wild staccato and sinew of sound from the loud to minute brush of dry grass there is no violence or distraction let’s say it’s lightly snowing and every snowflake has the power of an extraterrestrial crystal palace of monumental healing and light so who cares if your decisions have been correct. No you, no you, no you.


Now that Montreal publisher Snare Books hasbecome an imprint of Invisible Publishing [see Snare Books editor/publisher Jon Paul Fiorentino’s post on such here], it puts a different spin on Montreal writer Laura Broadbent’s first poetry title, Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining? (2012). Selected by Toronto poet Sachiko Murakami as winner of the sixth annual Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, Broadbent’s Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining? unfortunately holds the position of being the last independent title by SnareBooks. At least under Invisible, at least, the press will still exist, albeit in a different form, which is certainly preferable to the press disappearing entirely. Does anyone recall such Canadian presses as Ragweed Press, Gutter Press or Red Deer College Press (who produced the magnificent “writing west” series)? All gone, for many different reasons, well before their time.


She looked over to me looking at her and said I need a fire ceremony to burn all my old love letters. I told her that could be arranged. I told her I’ve burnt all the love letters I’ve ever received. Except for hers. Which will probably get burned one day too, she says. I told her, probably, but so will my corpse. She laughed without smiling. (“Men In Various States”)

Broadbent’s collection is constructed out of a series of section-suites, each stretched out across a series of single canvases that stitch together into a tight collection of lyric fragments. Composed in section-suites, the book includes “Between A and B” and “Culled,” the second of which appears to include the remainder of the collection, four smaller section-suites: “Suite 1,” “Suite 2,” “Suite 3” and “Men In Various States.” There is something about the sharpness of Broadbent’s lines that really appeal, and the range of styles that move throughout the collection, showing a larger, longer comprehension of the line, the sentence and the entire book, very much a single unit constructed out of pieces. Her work has a questioning certainty to it, one that asks as much as it gives. The last three sections of “Suite 3” read:

Art school students’ projects are parties.
Be on guard for the projects of art students.

Men like when my whole body
is ostensible.

Remembering things
is an invitation to drowning.

Monday, October 29, 2012

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Marci Nelligan

Marci Nelligan’s publications include Infinite Variations (Black Radish Books); chapbooks Dispatch (with Nicole Mauro), Specimen, and The Book of Knowledge, all from Dusie Press. In addition, she was the co-editor of an interdisciplinary book on Jane Jacobs, titled Intersection, from Chain Links Press. Her work has appeared in Jacket, the Denver Quarterly, The New Orleans Review, How2, and other journals. She was the 1999 recipient of Poets & Writers “Writers on Site” grant and has an MFA from Mills College in poetry. She teaches creative writing at Franklin & Marshall College and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two daughters.

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, which just came out, is messing with my head. Completion is interesting—it doesn’t neaten things up for me. Now I have a new set of worries—if the book accomplished what I wanted it to, what I’ll do next, who I forgot to mention in the acknowledgements, etc. So I suppose it’s changed my life in that it’s turned me into the female Woody Allen.

My most recent work is different than the immediately previous in that it’s looser and less constricted by form or structure. I’m able to meander and have a bit more fun as a result.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I think I’ve always had a weird poetic soundtrack in my head that probably has to do with an early overexposure to Mary Poppins and Johnny Cash. Poetry was a natural outgrowth of an innate desire I have to tell stories, to mediate my experience through language, but to do so in a slightly screwed up way.

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 really good at starting writing projects. I have numerous notebooks of failed attempts, forgotten strands, shards and crumbs. When I do actually complete a project, it tends to take a good long time, with numerous iterations, drafts, re-workings, etc.

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 go back and forth on this. Sometimes, an idea for a poem will come to me, and it’s just a one-off thing. At other times, as is the case with my book, a larger project comes to mind and the poems are in some way in service to that idea. I find myself being drawn lately to the book idea more frequently, but I think that’s situational in some respect. With two kids and little fixed writing time, I find I can come back to a project and work within its confines more reliably than I can pull a poem from the ether.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They’re sort of a psychological Red Bull. I’m true to the Irish stereotype in that I like to tell stories and joke around, and so I like the performative aspects of readings. I also really enjoy being among the oddballs who are devoted to poetry—it’s like being part of an ill-organized cult. In terms of the writing, readings usually push me back to the work, get me energized and ready to get down to business.

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?

Well, I find that many of the theoretical concerns that loom behind my writing change depending on what I’m thinking about or reading, or engaged in at the moment. But I’ve long been interested in the materiality of language and the mystery of it—the way it shifts in usage, the forces that cause these shifts, the way we all agree to language and then subvert it, but subvert it in shared ways, as well. And I’m interested in the issue of authorship, of ego, and interpretation. Who owns the text/who makes the text (reader/writer/both), what is the text? I like to play with these ideas by using Oulipian games and engaging with form. Sestinas are a favorite of mine. Constraints as a means of pushing myself away from the poems.

The questions I’m thinking about a good bit these days have to do with the sea change technology poses to writing, language, certainly publishing. There’s part of me that really resists this, and part of me that delights in it and embraces it as a natural evolution. I live in Amish Country, so there’s this strange way in which I can see the future and the past out of my window. I’m intrigued with blending these sensibilities somehow. I have this looming idea that Frankenstein, feminism, and the internet could all come together somehow for me. And there are some really cool things happening out there, like Oni Buchnan’s “Mandrake Vehicles” that are just stunning in their use of technology as a beauty machine for words. 

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think the writer’s role is to chew over the things that are most right and most wrong about our world, to use despair to fuel the engines of change and beauty to ignite the hope necessary to go on. To help make sense of the big confusing mess of it all, basically. And tap into the mysterious thing that happens when we construct the mirror of the poem.

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

I’ve been really lucky to have editors who are fellow writers I really respect, Cara Benson and Marthe Reed. And I’ve worked with Nicole Mauro on a bunch of collaborations. These experiences have been universally positive, and have helped me to understand my own writing better.

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

“Play over it,” by Art Pepper. He was an amazing saxophone player, whose career and everything else was devastated by an all-absorbing interest in heroin. He wrote a fascinating autobiography called Straight Life, which is where this quote comes from. He used it to remind himself to turn to the sax when problems arose, as a way of drowning out the bad, washing it all in the holy waters of his own music. I try to apply this to poetry—to force myself to turn to writing at times when the impulse is just the opposite.  I also find myself muttering this phrase on big hills when I’m cycling.

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

I’ve really enjoyed the collaborations I’ve done. I find that they spark new thought and get the neurons charged. I think the appeal is to have a creative conversation with someone, a sort of laboratory experiment of words that can be difficult and unexpected and shake you out of your own head a bit. 

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?

There is, sadly, no more typical day. I would love a typical day. I like to write every day at around the same time, and I’ve been shooting for that since our first daughter’s birth. But children have a way of turning your world upside down, particularly when paired with a job. So it’s been rough going. Lately, I’m trying to work while my older child is in school and my youngest is napping. This will all go to bits when the fall semester begins, but I’ll scrape away an hour here or there. I would write at night, but the baby’s up at about 4:30 a.m. and can’t be talked out of it. I’m trying to focus on the impermanence of it all and take solace in one solid sentence per week.

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

Anywhere and everywhere. I try to slow down and sort through my thoughts. What’s on my mind? What’s the current obsessive idea? What, if anything, can I make of it? And I think about what I’m filtering, either through my reading or the sort of ‘big broadcast’ from the outside world. I sift through it all to see if there are any shells in the sand.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Boiled lamb (my childhood home). Baking bread with undertones of black lab (my current home).

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?

Nature, visual arts, science, philosophy, memory, the great human circus. I think everything finds its way in, and I definitely seek out other influences to spark my work. My latest book, for instance, uses stolen text from the Old Testament and The Origin of the Species. I’ve written a bunch of poems about art. Whatever’s at hand.

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

There are writers who were in various ways formative and gave me the idea that language could be this entirely unique, insane form. They’re kind of like deities. Herman Melville, Jack Spicer, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, William Faulkner.

Writers who remind me of what’s possible, beyond but also through words. John Banville, David Foster Wallace, Cole Swensen, Brenda Shaughnessy, Theresa Cha, W.S. Sebald, Bernadette Mayer, Virginia Woolf, Lydia Davis.

Writers who crack me up. Frank O’Hara, Charles Dickens, Tobias Woolf, Russell Edson, Lorrie Moore.

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

Go to India with my daughters. Bike through the Netherlands, take a ferry, then bike through Ireland. Look up my grandmother’s childhood haunts in Scotland.

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 often think I’d be a great mailman, because I love to walk and I love mail. I’m also great with dogs, so I think I could overcome certain obstacles inherent in the position. Or I could be a dog trainer. Or I would like to invent things.

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

I ask myself that all the time, because Jesus this is hard sometimes. Why not a stockbroker or phlebotomist? I don’t know. It’s like a strange drive, perhaps like a migratory instinct.

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

I have to confess that I just finished Seabiscuit, my guilty pleasure summer read. Unbelievably captivating. Now I want a horse. But before that, Are you my mother? by Allison Bechtel. Last great film. Oh man. I have a five year-old and a one year-old, and we live in a region greatly influenced by Christian austerity. The pickings are slim, and we keep falling asleep while watching NetFlix. But I did sneak out for a movie night at a local café: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I’d forgotten how great it was. And now I can hold my own in verbal spats with my kids.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m headlong into a project that may or may not work out (please see question 3 above), about the current state of the female body versus the conservative right in America. It relies on quotes from various women, the writings of famous misogynists, old medical texts and my own words. So far, it’s feeling deliciously retaliatory.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Aufgabe 11

What am I doing—catless—here,
level-headed and certain,
without cause to judge?
What am I doing without my own face,
without either feet or staggering? Who is it that seeks me out
and doesn’t discover my telephone on its tiny coffee table?
    I am but scarcely
the description of someone that knows me,
an identity card that has cast off first one foot
and then the other
and who will sleep until it is far too early.

(My flesh does not know of flesh. The saliva
coagulates and, oh, once again it is mid-afternoon
and the rain has not arrived.)

What time will I be born, that I don’t remember the light?
What time will I be dead, that my hands don’t hurt? (“Untitled,” Rafael Menjivar Ochoa, trans. Emily Abendroth)

I recently received a copy of the eleventh annual Aufgabe, a journal produced out of Brooklyn, New York through Litmus Press, and edited by an editorial board of E.Tracy Grinnell, Julian Talamentez Brolaski, erica kaufman, Jen Hofer and Canadian poet Nathanaël. Along with their usual generous amount of poetry and “essays, notes, reviews,” this issue features a section of Salvadoran poetry, guest edited by Christian Nagler, including translations from the Spanish by Emily Abendroth, Karen Lepri, Christian Nagler, Jocelyn Saidenberg and Brian Whitener. In Nagler’s lengthy introduction to the section on Salvadoran poetry, he writes:

‘The quest for identity’ is a concept that perhaps signifies anachronistically in the intellectual climate of North America, where a ‘post-identity’ discourse provides some semblance of a contemporary mood, even if is not embraced or fully elaborated. We—some of us—are perhaps experiencing a milder form of what Huezo-Mixco cites as the presiding trend of the 1970s and 80s in El Salvador, when the “collision of social movements with entrenched power tend[ed] to displace identity issues.” In his lecture, Huezo-Mixco tracks the continued vitality of the concept of identity with regards to mass-events that have served to vitally confuse the idea of interior and exterior, namely a thirty year mass migration that now locates a quarter to a third of Salvadoran citizens outside the national borders. At the end of his lecture, Huezo-Mixco, arrives at a provocative conclusion that the younger generation of writers “re-creates the catastrophe of a fragmented and impoverished society.” It’s a gernation that does not write with “any enthusiasm for the political gains wrested from one of the bloodiest periods in Latin America.”

I’m impressed that a journal would so heavily and regularly be involved with translation, interested in engaging with other poetries, poetics and cultures, and in seeing the differences of subject matter, cadence and the line, as the issue features not only the special section but translated works within the section of general works. Some of the highlights of the issue include works by Noah Eli Gordon and j/j hastain, as well as Mathieu Bergeron (translated by Nathanaël). The pieces by Gordon are from a work-in-progress I’ve seen sections from before, his “The Problem,” which feature drawings by Sommer Browning. Given the drawings appear to be tailor-made for the work, one can only hope that a trade edition of the finished work might also include drawings?

What is to be done? A note on a page torn from a notebook says: a note in a defused cage. Further along, as a matter of fact, the grey skeleton of a human cage: a whole series of sawed, twisted bars. At the back, in the hay, as they say, lies a page torn from a notebook. From here, it is impossible to read it, but the repeated patterns trick the field: we are holding the page in our hand, we have already, necessarily, entered. On the front, we read: Turn the page; on the back: Turn around. Do you follow me? (“The Unformed Suite,” Mathieu Bergeron)

From the previous issue [see my review of such here] to this current one, there seems an entire different flavour, a different cadence of the works presented, and I’m uncertain if this is accident of submissions or a deliberate attempt to shape different issues (or if the difference is entirely in my own mind). 

Still, a particularly interesting feature of the current issue is an essay by Ariel Goldberg, “Selections from The Estrangement Principle: A Poetic Criticism,” which questions a number of different directions of art and writing, in regards to definition, self-definition and the question of “queer,” writing “NPR tells the news with clips from an old interview, with no mention Ryan is a lesbian. If there is nothing about being a dyke in her poetry then should the word lesbian be uttered? Is Kay Ryan making history as the first out lesbian Poet Laureate with a Pulitzer Prize, or is this actively not being treated as history?” The piece continues:

The term “queer art” is both persisting and failing at a rapid pace, and for multiple reasons. Mostly the anti-definition catchall capability of the word “queer” sets the stage. For instance, I am resistant to a dead on defining of the word. Different queernesses float up here, and more specific identifiers inside of the “LGBTQ” acronym come in to sharper focus. I am working backwards, piecing together scraps. There is a sort of pact, in the word queer, anyway, to resist the task of definition. I am identifying with it, but also varying from it, throwing back to lesbian, or dyke. I pluck and examine. I am inconsistent. As important as it is to identify a gender or sexuality, so is it to name my race, my white privilege. My excellent education privilege. Being Jewish, whatever that means. The identifiers don’t exactly end. Being gender queer or a dyke or both collapses in this long exhale where it’s not important that I know the answer to a question someone is always asking.