Friday, November 17, 2017

Shannon Bramer, precious energy

            after Emily Dickinson

My life stood in corners until
you made us a new home
for playing. At first
I called you owner. You
scolded and commanded me
to be a real friend.
You took me to your room.
You took me to the woods.
You taught me to hunt
soft animals and turn all rabbits
into small coats for our cold hands.
Now I’m so obedient. I smile for you.
I guard your sleeping head.
We share a pillow. Your enemies
are mine. I had none before.
Even a flower
I could hurt now, for you.

Toronto poet Shannon Bramer’s latest trade poetry collection is precious energy (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2017), and is her fourth collection overall, as well as her first in over a decade. Through her assemblage of short lyric narratives, it is lovely to be reminded of what first struck me about her poems in the first place—back to the poems in her first collection, suitcases and other poems (Toronto ON: Exile Editions, 1999)—the ways in which she writes with such intimacy, and deliberate smallness, in a collection that includes breastfeeding, weddings, birds, collaboration, children, mothers, dreams and cancer.

There has always been an unusual quality to Bramer’s poems, one that isn’t easy to describe, whether part dream, part fairy-tale or simply the haze of parental exhaustion. Perhaps the closest answer is, in fact, all of the above, articulating the sharp clarity of a dream that begins to fade as soon as it gains its focus. Who else could write a triptych of poems on towels? As her poem “Precious Energy: A Triptych” includes: “My towels, on the other hand, look like the towels / of someone who has given up. […] I’d rather buy some expensive wine / and drink that and forget about whatever it is I think / I might want.” Her poems are elusive, yet grounded, achieving a kind of magical state that exists between the familiar elements of the domestic blended with the dreamy electricity and dark spaces of fairytales. As she writes in the poem “The Land of Thieves”: “Children steal the bodies / of their mothers; marriages steal doors and closets. A new love / will steal from an old one, the way a cat eats birds, without remorse / or self-consciousness. The story steals the poem.”


I get on an empty bus and the woman driving the bus

is Anne Carson. She winks at me

when I board so I sit up at the front

to watch her drive.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Natalie Shapero, Hard Child

You Look Like I Feel

Dirt on my chin and I wonder: Am I already
in the ground? Like a toy turned real, I cannot shed
the sense that I have died. The German word

for heaven’s the same

as the German word for sky. On hearing a cruel
prince was in danger, I prayed for him to thrive,
not for his own sake, but for the concubines,

sure to end up buried

along. To my real face, a man once crowed
I RUINED YOU, and though he did, the joke’s
on him: he ruined me only for this world,

and this world is not long

for itself. The earth, that ever-loving
but distrustful kin, keeps leaving us just a little
pocket money when it dies, never the land—

I’m quite struck by many of the poems in Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero’s latest poetry title, Hard Child (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Pres, 2017), a follow-up to her first collection, No Object (Saturnalia, 2013). Predominantly composed as a collection of short, first-person lyrics, there is a performative element to Shapero’s poems, composed as a combination of lyric essay and monologue, each of which are delivered with force, whether a push or a punch. As she writes to open the poem “Mostly I Don’t Want to Have a Son—”: “too many fears. What if he knows the ancients / believed more boys than girls were born in wartime, / to account for casualties in battle, leave / the world in balance?” Shapero’s poems speak of and through an enduring humanity, including death, trauma, shootings, dying, New York in the 80s, religion and those particularly dark days that infect so much else, such as the poem “Seven Wounds in Two People,” that begins: “How Dallas, the name of Dallas, the whole / of Dallas seemed to be tainted after the shooting. // WHAT A BLACK EYE FOR THE CITY, NO ONE / WILL GO THERE.” And yet, it is through that lens of humanity that this wouldn’t be classified as a collection of dark poems, but poems attempting to wade forward, through that dark into the other side, while even acknowledging that the fabled other side might not exist.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Arisa White

Cave Canem graduate fellow Arisa White [photo credit: Nye' Lyn Tho] received her MFA from UMass, Amherst, and is the author of Black Pearl, Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. Her recent collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing that Happened was a nominee for the 29th Lambda Literary Award and the chapbook Fishing Walking” and Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. As the creator of the Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates cultural events and artistic collaborations that center narratives of queer people of color. She serves on the board of directors for Nomadic Press and is a faculty advisor at Goddard College.

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, Hurrah’s Nest, brings attention to familial traumas and silences; I learned to write from a critically affirming place with that collection. To look critically with love and that then allows for some kind of release to happen, healing to occur. My most recent collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, doesn’t feel different—it’s base is the same; I’m allowing some things to take center stage. You’re the Most centers queer black female experiences and the forthcoming chapbook “Fish Walking” and Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife is quite playful with language. It’s surreal and spiritual. I’ve challenged myself to not rely so much on the metaphor—there’s an unmasking I’m doing, which feels vulnerable, however, now, I’m imagining that all things co-exist in my reality, all ways of experiencing a moment.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry is closest to my way of speaking and being in the world. We are such a perfect match—that poetic eye/I is present in my prose and dramatic writing.

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?
Starting is easy; it’s finishing that’s the challenge. Often I need to go away on retreat to truly finish a project—to get into it and notice the absences, the places where it doesn’t cohere. I need uninterrupted time to relate to it.

My first drafts, that is what I transcribe from the notebook to the screen, come out looking nearly close to its final shape. In my notebook, I’m working out the emotional truth of the poem and whether what it’s communicating is in alignment with my intentions—or sometimes I’m so surprised by what comes out that the poem shifts me.

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 have an idea, but first the idea has to make its presence felt in my body before I’m moved to bring it to the page. Sometimes the idea can remain in the head, and I’ll make a note of it. But when my whole body concedes, it’s writing time. Maybe I’m often cross-training—writing individual pieces as they come and writing poems specific to book-length projects.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings and reading my work. When working on a project, and when the poems have stabilized themselves, I’ll bring them to the public. Reading to an audience is so much different than reading aloud to yourself, in your familiar rooms—the work has a chance to bounce off other bodies, take up a different space. It is then that I’m able to experience the work as its own distinct presence. I recognize where it is strong and the areas that need development.  

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?
Is there a water style? An earth style? I’m considering how the elements can be a way to craft the poem.

What is a queer black female aesthetic? How does it feel when I write out of queerness or blackness? Sometimes the two feel the same. My female body is a constant—it informs my everything. How my body is labeled (by force or by choice) is variable.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
            The role of the writer is to shake us free from master(ing) narratives.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
When an editor is good, she is essential. My editor/publisher Kate Angus was an extraordinary person to work with on my latest collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. Her comments and suggestions for reordering the poems revealed gaps in the emotional arc of the collection. She edits with an understanding of how I like to use language and as a result, the language has extra pop.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Follow your obsessions, the things that catch and hold your attention. And I find this especially helpful on those days when I’m wondering, What do I write?

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
In the past 10 years, I have relied on The Daily Grind (TDG) to give routine to my writing. TDG operates online and each month you sign up and are assigned a group of writers to send work to each day. When signing up, you select if you want to be in a group working on New Poetry, New Prose, Revised & New Poetry, and my favorite is Manic Mixture. There is no commenting on each other’s work. You are showing up each day, sharing writing that you are capable of completing within that 24 hours. Why I like Manic Mixture is because, as my life has broadened as a writer—in addition to writing poetry, I’m writing plays, essays, course descriptions, interview responses, etc.— I don’t need to separate how writing shows up in my life. It is actively a part of who I am.

These past two months, I’ve been beginning my day with meditation. I then check emails, especially on the weekdays, and make a to-do list of the top things I need to get done for the day. Usually, writing comes in the evening, 4-8pm. Weekends, I wake up, meditate, read, and do some writing, but I allow myself to be chill about it, especially if I don’t have any deadlines to meet.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I return to books and art. I return to life, to the people in the streets and bars, to my friends, to the shit going on in the world, to the sun on my face, instead of the glow of a screen. I go for a walk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Egyptian Musk reminds me of my mother, and mothballs remind me of my grandmother.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All things influence my work—my experience of the world (word) is relational, so my work arises from the intersection of all things.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I read a healthy amount of theory, cultural studies, spiritual and metaphysical texts, and enjoy my fair share of popular culture. Poetry is the way I synthesize my various encounters in the world—and I like to imagine myself as the point in which all those encounters intersect.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to live in another country for more than a year. I love the experience of being in another culture, in another consciousness. The world becomes so much larger than where I claim citizenship. I get to step out of the echo chamber of my country, its pathologies, and learn to relate to my body outside of the national discourses that serve to limit how I access and actualize my humanity.

16 - 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?
Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done if not this. I’m very sure I would have been in the arts—maybe a professionally trained dancer. However, I have always wanted to come up with the names for nail polishes and lipsticks.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
            Desire—if my heart isn’t in it, it’s not worth my energy.

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

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a children’s book in verse, which I am co-authoring with Laura Atkins. The book is about Bridget “Biddy” Mason who was enslaved, starting in Georgia, and with her Mormon master, walked to Utah then California where she petitioned for her freedom. Later she became a philanthropist and wealthy landowner in Los Angeles. Slated for publication in early 2019, this is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series, published by Hey Day Books.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Kate Siklosi and Dani Spinosa on Gap Riot Press

Gap Riot Press is a Toronto-based feminist micro-press publishing the best avant-garde, experimental, and visual poetry with a focus on femme, queer, and poc poets.

Kate Siklosi, founding editor

Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. She holds a PhD in English Literature but has defenestrated from the academic ivory tower in search of warmer climes. She is a writer by day and a poet by night. Her first chapbook – a collection of really neat letraset poems – is coming out with above/ground press this spring. She is currently working on a manuscript of experimental petro-poetry, Love Songs for Hibernia.

Dani Spinosa, founding editor

Dani Spinosa is a poet of digital and print media, an on-again-off-again precarious professor, and the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory. Her first chapbook, Glosas for Tired Eyes, was published in 2017 with No Press and her first scholarly manuscript, Anarchists in the Academy: Machines and Free Readers in Experimental Poetry is forthcoming from University of Alberta Press (Spring 2018).

Stace Schmidt, Illustration and Design

1 – When did Gap Riot Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
It all happened so fast! We started discussing having our own small press in June of this year. We started the real work in July and printed our first chapbook in August. We’re only four months in, so our goals remain the same - we want to publish great works of experimental poetry with a focus on underrepresented voices.

Through the process, we’ve learned that you have to have fun with it all, or it’s not worth it. Yes, we have our axes to grind in terms of who gets published, and who gets to have a hand in publishing. But there’s joy in the disruption, and fundamentally, we’re here because we love poetry, we love experimenting, and we love the community that ties it all together.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
The idea for a small press came out of our commonly-felt need for a more diverse landscape in poetic publication, especially in the area of experimental writing.
Being academics and poets ourselves, we wanted to get our hands dirty in the production of experimental poetry and provide a space for underrepresented voices to come together in a collective and work collaboratively.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
For us, small publishing will always, and must always, be a political act of communal resistance. In the literary climate today, with the powerhouse university and commercial presses gatekeeping so much of our “culture,” small press publishing offers a means of disrupting the status quo. As classically trained anarchists, we believe that as artists and thinkers, we have what Robert Duncan calls a “response-ability” to the world and the conditions that shape it. For us, this means taking active part in the production of literary culture to open spaces of exchange and communication.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
We are the first collectively women-run chapbook press focusing on experimental poetry in Canada. We also uniquely engage our authors in the design and format of our chapbooks.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Ye olde two feet and a heartbeat: distribute them to yr friends, yr lovers, yr mothers, yr lover’s mothers. Go to literary events and trade with others. We are also closely involved with Toronto’s Meet the Presses collective, and we’re set to sell our Fall 2017 catalogue at this year’s Indie Literary Market.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It depends on the writer, and their comfort level with us experimenting alongside them. For instance, for our chapbook with Adeena Karasick, Salome: Woman of Valor, she was very open to us editing her work and even adding a creative touch. There is a visual poem contained in the chapbook that Kate photoshopped to include a blood splatter, and she loved it!

So, we try to be light on the edits because it is poetry, after all, but depending on who we’re dealing with, we might get more or less creative with our own editorial interventions...we are, after all, a collective!

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Two of our chapbooks are based off of performances--Pricila Uppal’s What Linda Said and Adeena Karasick’s Salome: Woman of Valor--so these have been/will be sold at their respective performances. We are attending the Meet the Presses Indie Lit market happening in Toronto on November 18, 2017, so we will be selling our books there. We will also be introducing a reading series where we will have a book & merch table set up.
Our usual print runs are set at 50, but because we have gotten some more established writers on our roster, we have been running 100-print runs for some of our books that we know will likely sell more widely.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Gap Riot has two editors--Kate Siklosi and Dani Spinosa--and because we are each other’s life-giving ride-or-dies, we get shit done together in a very harmonious way. So that’s a huge benefit. Because we both work full time, we have found it a bit more tricky to manage all the tasks of running a small press, but we work together so organically that we are able to get everything done and divvy up the tasks. We also work with a fantastic graphic designer, Stace Schmidt, who we send our ideas for covers to and she magically creates the most beautiful designs. So far, we have found that working collaboratively has brought out some of our best editorial work, and it also helps a lot to have other brilliant women reinforce your ideas.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Kate - for me, it has completely complemented my own writing process in such a beautiful and unexpected way. I spent a long time writing (forgive me, navel-gazing) academic prose while my creative work kept secret on the shelves. Having finished my PhD, and having started a press, it has gotten me so much more creatively involved with other writers, other presses--a whole community of writers and thinkers has opened up and it’s been the most fulfilling work of my writing life so far!

Dani - for me, I have been paying a lot more attention to design and aesthetics. Being on the designing and typesetting end of a book has made me start to think more and more about line length, book shape and size, and other design matters. It’s also pushed me into writing more visual and concrete poetry and thinking more about the material conditions of my poetic product. Plus, I’m much better at Photoshop and InDesign, now.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
We think it gets down to the mandate and reach of your press--for us, we wanted to open up a space for underrepresented voices to come to the fore in experimental poetry, so it wasn’t part of our purpose to publish our own work. But, you do you! We’re not against it--it just isn’t part of our current publishing model.  We also recognize the cultural capital that comes with the PhD and how those silly letters help us get published, so we don’t really feel as though we need to do the work of amplifying our own voices.

11– How do you see Gap Riot Press evolving?
As part of our mandate, we want Gap Riot Press to be more than a press--we want it to be a moving project that disrupts the status quo of publishing in Canada. So, beginning in late fall or early winter of this year, we’re organizing a regular reading series for our authors and others to come together to share their work in an inclusive and supportive environment. Also, because we’re aware that there is much to be done in terms of diversifying not only who gets read but who produces literary works, we are looking to begin a funded program for underrepresented editors to take workshops, and edit a series for us, in order to gain some experience in small publishing. Not a mentorship, but a mutual exchange of ideas, best practices, and creative imaginings.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
We’re most proud of the fact that we began a small press within one month of actually conceiving of one! It all happened so fast, but so organically. We’re also proud to be completely women-run, and to be publishing experimental poetry primarily by women and other underrepresented folks. We don’t just publish women--we’ll have some men in there--but we have made opening spaces for needed voices in conversation the focus of our work.

Because we’re only 4 months in, it’s hard to imagine what people have overlooked because there hasn’t been much time for them to overlook! One thing that stands out, maybe, is the fact that we have this political bent about our work -- we’ve written about it in our two-part series for Hook & Eye (here and here). Some people may think that we just have axes to grind. We know that we do this work because experimental poetry took our hearts long ago--but why not fuck some shit up while we’re at it?!

Will you believe us if we say there hasn’t been much frustration yet? We’re waiting for it, but it hasn’t showed its shady face yet. It’s a lot of work, for sure, but we like the work. A lot.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
When we were starting out, we crowd-sourced a lot of our learning from fellow small-presses including Desert Pets Press, Apt.9 Press, and words(on)pages. These and many other poets and publishers have been so helpful and generous as we’re starting out that it’s really affirmed for us the need for sharing and communal exchange in the literary community.

14– How does Gap Riot Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Gap Riot Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Again, as a press, before you can begin to engage with community on a large scale, you need books! So we’ve spent the last 4 months getting our fall lineup together so we can begin to thread the works we produce into our vision of a poetic community. As we speak, we’re working out the details for our reading series, which will hopefully encourage people to join our collective and create a sense of community beyond the cardstock and spine.

We see Gap Riot engaging with all journals and presses who deal with poetry, but also who deal in literature writ large. But, to name a few: your above/ground press, derek beaulieu’s No Press, as well as Toronto-based presses like Desert Pets Press and Junction Books. We can’t underestimate the value of these conversations. It’s what we’re all here to do, no? To engage, to inspire, to communicate with each other, and support our collective work as small presses.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Beginning in the late fall / early winter, we will be holding a regular reading series for our authors and others to come together to share their work. We also plan to hold a press launch every 4 or 5 chapbooks that we produce to showcase our authors’ work.

For us, public readings and events are imperative to small press production--not only in terms of establishing and growing a community of writers, but also in terms of getting people aware of your press and the work that is coming out. Sometimes, small poetry communities can be quite exclusive and intimidating to join and participate in; we want to change that by putting both established, emerging, and curious authors together in conversation not only through the works we produce, but also through the public readings we put on.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We have a website, and we plan to open an online shoppe soon to sell our chapbooks. We also find social media exposure to be key in getting our work out in the world and getting submissions from diverse communities. For now, we aren’t making electronic copies of our chapbooks. For the most part, we feel like poetry is available all over the place on the internet, and while we love that end of things, we’re more interesting in creating beautiful, unique material books. Will so much poetry available for free online, there’s no other reason to print a book except to make it beautiful, unique, and special.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes, we absolutely take submissions! Guidelines are on our website ( We aren’t looking for traditional lyric poetry. We aren’t looking for carefully crafted sonnets. We aren’t looking for white-dude nature poems. We want things that experiment, disrupt, set on fire.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Adeena Karasick’s Salome: Woman of Valor is a feminist revisioning of the myth of Salome, the “dangerous seductress” from the New Testament who infamously demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Karasick’s characteristic effusive poetic style--her experiments with form, typography, and space, alongside what she calls the “explosive intensity of TEXTATIC desire”--comes together in this work to put a spin on a classic patriarchal tale with a feminist Jewish twist.

Canisia Lubrin’s augur is a gorgeous experimental collection that repeats and folds in on itself to attack archival structures and to explore the potentials of language to explore the relationship between politics and the physical world. Lubrin constructs a lineage of poets who did similar work, building off of poetry by Dionne Brand and Derek Walcott, and presents a new and beautiful speaking voice.

Margaret Christakos’s Social Medea vs Virtual Medusa careens and spreads all over the page, which is why we opted to print it in half-legal rather than our typical half-letter format. Christakos’s long lines and characteristic disruptive syntax revisits the mythological figures of Medea and Medusa as victims turned villains. The book is filled with abject images and body horror that revive these figures, and a second-wave feminist body politic, and considers how those bodies work in a world steeped in technology.