Sunday, April 23, 2017

Canthius #3 : winter 2017

Title Poem

I regard this poem, this article online, this music video
from the sidelines of my eyes, an unconscious kind

of integration into rationality like swallowing spirits
that disseminates vertically through the chest

instead of in a straight line down the throat. It’s strange
how the fundamental procedure of naming

insinuates itself into literature w the necessity to title.
Poem titles are harder than book titles for the direct

engagement with a smaller amount of text.
Obvious/what’s the connection/strong/descriptive

a prefix of rank implicating social standing or still-standing
water releases an offensive smell. Manuscript is ms.

is a title without marital status. Assignation affixed
to the cover points to the book’s number one verse,

what happens under the covers, this poem is sir,
dr. missus ma’am, but mostly none of the above. (Klara du Plessis)

After going through the third issue of the semi-annual Canthius: feminism and literary arts (winter 2017), edited by Claire Farley and Cira Nickel [see my interview with Claire Farley on Canthius at Queen Mob’s Teahouse], I think that this might be their strongest issue to-date, featuring new writing by Amanda Earl, Doyali Islam, Ariel Dawn, Lisa Richter, Nicole Brewer, Klara du Plessis, Hoa Nguyen, Laura Ritland, Vivian Zenari and Nancy Lee, with artwork by Tafui, as well as a short interview with the artist on her work. Given their journal tag-line, “feminism and literary arts,” the editors have set themselves an ambitious goal for wide-ranging study, and it has been interesting to watch how the journal showcases their explorations into and furthering of feminism through something as straightforward and potentially complicated as producing a semi-annual poetry journal. As Farley and Nickel write in their “A letter from the editors”:

For us, the difference between capitalism and community, between products and ideas. Feminism is about pay equity, access to affordable childcare, improving transgender health care, showing solidarity with all systematically marginalized groups. But it’s also about ideas. In the saturated publishing market, how can we treat women’s ideas with dignity and not as products? The difference between so-called political feminism and marketplace feminism seems to mirror that between communal goals and individual success. A handful of successful women and trans writers doesn’t itself make gender equity. Spaces where a broad range of ideas and expressions are valued and celebrated just might though. Feminist attitudes in this issue treat poetry’s capacity to engage the always-already political. Hoa Nguyen’s work, for example, often treats domestic and political space as one and the same. Amanda Earl’s poem address city planning and the legacy of Jane Jacobs by questioning the very coherence of subjectivity in place. Klara du Plessis dissects categorization by asking, “how the fundamental procedure of naming / insinuates itself into literature w the necessity title.” In shifting our gaze from consumer choice to aesthetic inquiry, how can our ideas give shape to meaningful exchange?

Part of the strength of Canthius is its attentiveness to both the formal lyric and the experimental, and all spaces around and in-between, side-stepping any sense of aesthetic-as-limitation. Canthius is a journal open to content, conversation and collusion, seeking out what might not have been considered, otherwise. There really is some amazing work in this issue, from Amanda Earl’s city-poems, “Grace,” to Klara du Plessis sharp and precise lyric narratives and Doyali Islam’s powerful asides to Nicole Brewer’s expansive staccato-lyric “It Started With the Socks” (perhaps the first I’ve seen of her work, actually). Toronto poet Hoa Nguyen’s work, obviously, is simply magical for its lyric flow and focus on smallness, writing “A place of purple of / Lip balm / Empty breath spray [.]” As well, I’m intrigued by the introduction to work by Ariel Dawn, poetry by fiction writer Nancy Lee and even Brewer, whom I’ve been aware of for some time but hadn’t yet seen the work of. There is an awful lot here to take in, and wonderfully so.

White Meadows

For awhile my love and I live in the valley, basement with the old bed, wardrobe, lace drapes. We wander the white meadows. Barbed wire stretches forest to farm. Near the ditch something wheeled and wooden: a boy told my parents what happened there and then no one believed it, not even the boy. In the valley of lilies. They caught me playing under a pillow; denying it, I was forced to walk the room with my undone zipper. In the valley of secrets, Mother sculpted a dead lover: meticulous bone, muscle, curve of torso. Father hid magazines in his files. Once, in the sea chest, he found my diary. Burned, he said, then pretended he said nothing. Between the hedgerows and the garden a graveyard for cats. My cat died the day I had a medical procedure (what they call it there). Where it is darkest there is a hole in barbed wire. In the forest a car with white flowers around the wings. We sit inside and kiss. It snows. Deep in the valley. The snow spirals and whirls, so the world is raised, it is erased, a postcard, a landscape; this way we live. (Ariel Dawn)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure, edited by Shannon Maguire

The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary

Later you realize it is a poem about being born, the smell of the fur is your mother birthing you & your hair is wet not slicked back but from the wetness of womb, the fur coat the hugest fur of your mother the cunt of your mother from which you have emerged & you cower in this smell. The fur coat the sex of women reduced to decoration, & the womb the place of birth becomes the church in which you are standing, the womb reduced to decoration, where women are decoration, where the failure of decoration is the humiliation of women, to wear these coats, these emblems of their own bodies, in church on Sunday, children beside them. The church now the place of birth & rebirth, they say redemption, everyone knows what this signifies & the mother is trying to pay attention, all the mothers, my mother, & we are children, I am children, a child with wet hair cowlick slicked down perfect, no humiliation, the site still charged with the smell of the river, the coat smell of the river, smell of the birth canal, caught in the drown-set is to be stopped from being born, is to be clenched in the water unable to breathe or see the night sky, the coyohts calling me upward, as if in these circumstances, so small beside my mother, I could be born now, but cannot, can I, because we are inside this hugest womb which has already denied us, in which we are decoration, in which men wear dresses & do the cooking, & the slicked hair is not the wet hair of birth but the hair of decoration, as if I could be born now, I am born, my snout warm smelling the wet earth of my mother’s fur (WSW (West South West))

I’m amazed and thrilled to finally see a copy of Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure, edited by poet and critic Shannon Maguire (Middletown CT: Wesleyan, 2017). Planetary Noise manages the seemingly impossible task of articulating and selecting from Moure’s sixteen trade poetry collections, as well as from a collaborative work and a selection of translations, to create a remarkably coherent whole. Editor Shannon Maguire has done an incredibly thorough job of putting together an impressive volume of Moure’s work, along with an equally impressive critical introduction to the context of Moure and her expansive, playful and voluminous writing/translation practice(s), including an array of details that add enormous amounts of information to Moure’s ongoing work. Moure’s early engagements with the ‘work poets’ of Vancouver—including Tom Wayman, Zoë Landale, Kate Braid, Phil Hall, Calvin Wharton and others—for example, is well known, but did you also know that she was briefly a student of Pat Lowther? Her introduction illuminates, as well as shines. As Maguire’s essay, “Erín Moure: Poetry as Planetary Noise,” opens:

Erín Moure is one of English North America’s most prolific and daring contemporary poets. Her work in and among languages has altered the conditions of possibility for poets of several generations—myself included. With her ear tilted close to the noise floor, Moure listens for patterns arising from contemporary Englishes and from “minor” languages such as Galician, and shifts language structures away from commerce so as to hear other possibilities, other tensions. In so doing, subjectivity, justice, and politics can be considered anew. Moure’s work is transnational in scope; her lines transit from one articulated locality to arrive at or include another. Her poems attend, in various registers, to bodily capacities and fragilities as much as to the operations of power. Moure’s poetry travels joyously through noise, and sometimes even as noise, via various channels and contexts, refusing absorption. For Moure, “Poetry is a limit case of language; it’s language brought to its limits (which are usually in our own heads) where its workings are strained and its sinews are visible, and where its relationship with bodies and time and space can crack open” (Montreal Review of Books). Facing a Moure poem as a reader, I appreciate the disquieting rhythms, sudden symmetries, outlandish puns, and general pleasure caused by roiling syntax and audacious neologisms. Even without knowing the majority of the languages that Moure draws on, I am compelled by the sounds and echoes that her poems amplify, and the patterns of letters and words that they make visible on the page.

Not that this is the first ‘selected poems’ volume Moure’s work has seen; there was The Green Word: Selected Poems 1973-1992 (Toronto ON: Oxford University Press, 1994), a volume produced as part of their short-lived series of selected poems. The Green Word had its appeals, but in the end, the forum was far too thin to contain the multitudes of Moure’s writing, and simply felt random in its selection, and even comprehension. One of the real gifts of Planetary Noise is in how Maguire seems to understand the multiple arcs of Moure’s writing, evidenced by how she arranges the sections, understanding how, with the publication of her WSW (West South West) in 1989, Moure’s books began to group; it was another decade or so before readers began to understand how Moure was beginning to compose trilogies of poetry titles, but the comprehension of her work opens the realization of how her books really began to interact with each other in serious and sustained ways. Maguire groups the collection as: “EARLY SIGNALS (First Cycle): Empire, York Street (1979), Wanted Alive (1983), Domestic Fuel (1985) and Furious (1988); “CIVIC SIGNALS (A Noise Cycle)”: WSW (West South West) (1989) and Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love (1992); “NOISE RISES (Citizen Trilogy + Pillage Laud)”: Search Procedures (1996), A Frame of The Book / The Frame of A Book (1999), O Cidadán (2002) and Pillage Laud (1999, 2011); “ATURUXOS CALADOS (Galician Cycle)”: Little Theatres (2005) and O Cadioro (2007); “RESONANT IMPOSTERS”: Oana Avasilichioaei and Erín Moure’s Expeditions of a Chimæra (2009); “AN ABSOLUTE CLAMOROUS DIN (Ukrainian Cycle)”: OResplandor (2010), The Unmemntioable (2012) and Kapusta (2015); and “POLYRESONANCES (Transborder Noise)”; from Incession (an echolation of Chus Pato’s Secession, 2014) and “Works of Other Poets in Moure Translation,” including Chus Pato (Galicia), Andrés Ajens (Chile), Wilson Bueno (Brazil), Nicole Brossard (Québec), Emma Villazón (Bolivia), Rosalía de Castro (Galicia) and Fernando Pessoa (Portugal).


I ll never master the art of poetry. I
have these words: sadness and tears!

I m not going to put them into lines for
you. Or ask for death. Or tell you

I suffer endlessly, courting

Sadness and tears!

[807] #864
Dom Johanne Meendiz de Breteyros (O Cadioro)

Apart from simply getting some out-of-print work back into the world, far too many volumes of ‘selected poems’ add little to nothing to the conversation of the author and their work, and can simply be skipped over if you’ve all the books the new volume selects from (I suspect this is why so many volumes include “new poems”). Volumes of selected poems without introductions to provide even the bare minimum elements of context are even less compelling (something I’ve been complaining about for years). I mention all of this to really make the point that Planetary Noise is no mere ‘selected poems’ in the traditional way (the introduction alone, for example, is worthy of stand-alone publication), and the real gift of this volume is in what Maguire and Moure have shaped together: how both editor and author have collaborated to produce a volume that can enrich even the deepest reader of Moure’s work. As well as the introduction, the nearly two hundred page volume even includes a detailed bibliography and further reading list. I don’t think it would be difficult to suggest that this is one of the most impressive volumes of ‘selected poems’ I’ve seen to date. Moure’s work is one of deep listening, and Maguire manages to hear it all. As Moure writes in the essay “Emit,” included as a beautiful post-script:

If poetry is a gesture that opens, and opens to listening, then how a poet listens is more important than who a poet “is.”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Keegan Lester, this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it

if comets raining overhead. if we turn into a museum for the living before
the big one hits. if language, an improbable opponent to gravity & stars,
came up with new names for gravity & stars, what force could trick a river
north, but the dreams of those who fear sleeping through this version of
the world. if against better judgement we went out at night, run like roman
candles against the wick of sky. if they find us in the riverbank. if our
hearts in our stomachs, a pile of stones, tell them to tie my shoes together.
tell them to throw them over a power line of rusty apricot; silkscreen t-
shirts with our likeness; tell them to inspire bedtime stories in the foreheads
of small children; tell my children to go out at night & sing.

Winner of the 2016 Slope Editions Book Prize, as selected by Mary Ruefle, is New York/West Virginia poet Keegan Lester’s first collection of poems, this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it (Greenfield MA: Slope Editions, 2017). Constructed out of a series of untitled “ghost notes,” along with a short three-poem “Coda,” Lester’s this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it is composed as a kind of lyric sketchbook, a catch-all of sorts, giving the impression that everything has been included in this collection, yet everything fits. As he writes: “now that we know we’re average. there are / no special snowflakes. we’ve become what / we’ve watched from afar. we’ve become / the photos we orchestrate into meaning.” There is an enormous amount happening in these poems, an enormous amount packed into a book writing on such small, seemingly mundane considerations, such as falling in love, being alive, watching television and considerations of the domestic and day-to-day. He makes the daily come alive and appear beautiful, precisely because, as we all know, it is.

My only real complaint about this book, which is beautifully designed, I might add, is that the type is so damned small. Why is the type so damned small?

i don’t want to be saved
by my lover, my lover says to me

with her eyes closed
on a park bench,

& the al pastor is a little too chewy

& our stomachs turn u into less sexy versions of ourselves
in our heads, but we are old now anyways.

sexy is relative. we are like two thirteen-year-olds at a dance on opposite sides of the room,
waiting to make a move & our eyes meet during that country grammar song

& nelly’s syntax makes us believe
in what entire flocks of seagulls can be capable of,

miles from a beach.

every time a person takes a selfie,
a piece of them dies.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Aoife's first birthday was on Sunday : and, Christine returns to work today,

We had a weekend away with father in law, which included Easter and Aoife's first birthday! Gadzooks. Remember how long ago when Rose turned one?

And: Christine returns to work today, after her maternity leave, so if you're expecting anything from me, expect it to take a bit more time. Rose is still in preschool until the end of June, but I'm now full-time with both girls for, like, forever. I suspect a bit more activity/chaos than the end of the prior maternity leave, given we've two now, and they've (of course) opposite schedules, but I'm sure I'll figure it out after a while.

Tea? You should come over for tea. That would work. What do your mornings and/or later afternoons look like?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Huebert

David Huebert is the author of the poetry collection We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class (Guernica 2015) and the chapbook Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow 2016), co-authored with Andy Verboom. His work has won the 2016 CBC Short Story Prize and the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize and appeared in magazines such as enRoute, EVENT, Prairie Fire, The Puritan, and The Walrus. David's book of short stories, Peninsula Sinking, is forthcoming from Biblioasis

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, a poetry collection called We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class (Guernica 2015), changed my life most substantially in the experience of writing it. This was during a time when I was just getting brave enough to give myself permission to write creatively and to try, however faultily, to Be a Writer. For me, there’s a way in which the poems in the book tell that story (don’t worry—this writerly genealogy shouldn’t transmit to the reader).

My more recent poetry is massively different in that it is much more formally conscious and draws as little as possible on my own lived experience. Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow 2016), the chapbook I co-wrote with Andy Verboom, is a strange, sustained experiment in the misheard lyric. My recent fiction is different in that it is, I hope, getting better while dredging the same thematic bathymetries.   

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry and fiction at roughly the same time, but I received a bit more early recognition with my poetry (i.e. people would occasionally publish it). The fiction was brewing. 

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 recently read that 85% of writing is pre-writing, which sounds right to me. But much of my pre-writing time is spent foolishly pretending I’m producing good material. The other 15% is editing. When I’m writing prose I keep a file of “deleted sections” that usually ends up being at least as long as the piece itself.

I’m currently thinking towards a novel, and I’ve realized there’s a risk of spending months and months planning something and then when you actually try to write it there will be a frenzied wave and you will be a miniscule surfer simply struggling to hold on.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I’m trying to work on working on a book from the very beginning. With stories, I’ll hear some anecdote or news story and it will right away strike me as Fiction Material. I’ll enter it in the back of my notebook in the “story ideas” section, then eventually get to it or not. Poems usually begin aurally, with a line. The line usually circles around an idea- or emotion-cluster that’s been occupying brain space for some time. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like going to readings more than doing them. There are a lot of events in London and the scene is pretty small, so I often feel like I’m in people’s faces too much. I don’t love schmoozing, or seeming like an overconfident asshole. I also don’t like to reveal the inner narcissist that lurks within all writers and is particularly Gollumesque in me. I do think readings are important for building community, and I’m super lucky that we have a robust and flourishing community of writers here in London.  

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 have a lot of theoretical concerns; most of them circle around human/animal/mechanical interaction (posthuman theorists like Dominic Pettman and Donna Haraway are some of my more charismatic and well-known guides). I’m also interested in how literary form relates to “organic” life. But I’m not trying to answer any questions—that’s not the point of literature for me. I’m trying, if anything, to feel alongside some questions I find compelling.

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 should offer new ways of encountering what we’ve known all along.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. Good writing is always a conversation. Good editors help to elevate that conversation. Bad editors often inadvertently turn out to be good editors because asking questions of your work will always help the work.

9- What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
 “Writing a novel is like building a chicken coop in a hurricane.” –William Faulkner

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I move between genres out of desperation. I like to have multiple projects going on, and sometimes I just like to finish something. Moving between genres can be a way of skirting what you’re supposed to do (as I write this interview, I “should” be working on a book review). But this is also a form of what my good friend and writing comrade Aaron Kreuter calls “productive procrastination.”

Collaboration is a bit of a different thing. That’s Andy Verboom’s fault. It’s good to have an ear you trust close by.

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?
This is boring so I’ll be quick: I wake up around 8 a.m. and write until around 1 p.m. Afternoons are for reading, emails, submissions, and other writerly housekeeping stuff.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I get my inspiration in my off hours, and when I’m writing I write. For me, the best way to get going is to read over yesterday’s work. Research can help as well.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Saltwater and marine life. The sweaty waft of donairs.   

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I grew up adoring sci-fi movies and listening to Prince, David Bowie, T. Rex, Alice Cooper, and (yes, I admit it) Green Day. The movies taught me about story and the kind of aesthetics I liked. The music taught me about rhythm, melody, and figurative language—Prince and his “pocket full of horses.” It’s taken me a while to realize how formative these early influences were. 

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Homer’s Odyssey was my first great ocean-myth. Dante’s Inferno was my first great underworld. It remains surprising how richly these works continue to inform the David Huebert imaginary. Reading them at 19 was invaluable in the way it shaped my world.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to learn to sail, play the piano, and speak French fluently.

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 would love to be a biologist like Hal Whitehead, sailing out among the whales.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Apology letters got me out of trouble and my grade 2 teacher, Mrs. Coutreau, really liked my first story, “Big Beard Ben.”

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

20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel about oil, a PhD dissertation, and a poetry collection called Alkaline Purr.