Friday, March 31, 2017

m a n y _ g e n d e r e d _ m o t h e r s : f o u r _ r e c e n t _ e s s a y s

many gendered mothers is a project on literary influence featuring short essays by writers (of any/all genders) on the women, femme, trans, and non-binary writers who have influenced them, as a direct or indirect literary forebear.

This project is directly inspired by the American website Literary Mothers, created by editor Nadxieli Nieto and managing editor Nina Puro. While we hope that Literary Mothers might eventually return to posting new pieces, our site was created as an extension and furthering of their project (in homage, if you will), and not meant as any kind of replacement.

We've now twelve essays posted! Our most recent include:
Robin Richardson on Anne Frank

Elee Kraljii Gardiner on Betsy Warland

Jane Eaton Hamilton on Ntozake Shange

Jennifer LoveGrove on Libby Scheier

Please check out our submissions page for more information.

Forthcoming essays include: Doyali Islam on Sylvia Legris, Adrienne Gruber on Brecken Hancock, Dorothy Palmer on Stella Young, Ian Whistle on Judith Copithorne, Dawn Promislow on Nadine Gordimer and A.H. Reaume on Virginia Woolf.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Ryan Eckes

Ryan Eckes is a poet who lives in South Philadelphia. His books include Valu-Plus and Old News (Furniture Press 2014, 2011). You can read some of his poems in Tripwire, The Brooklyn Rail, Slow Poetry in America Newsletter, Supplement, Public Pool, Whirlwind and on his blog. He is the recipient of a 2016 Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

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?
Writing Old News, my first book, was my first experience working on a book as a single work—that is, as a project rather than a collection of discrete poems. The book wound up as a record of thinking through a place and time, and it changed the way I think about poetry. The practice of pushing questions raised by one poem into the next, and then further and further, letting myself get lost, so that I really get somewhere, in my mind and in the story, was a new thing. The writing of each book changes me in some way. I also feel myself age through each one—this is certainly true of the manuscript I just finished, General Motors, which took three and a half years.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to fiction first, in college. I took a course my freshman year called “Existentialism in Literature”, then started taking creative writing workshops, fiction and nonfiction. In my last year, out of curiosity, I took a few poetry classes, lit and writing, and was converted to the dark side. I owe a lot to these teachers: Jeffrey Nealon, Ken Rumble, and CS Giscombe.

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?
In general, I am slow. A teacher once pointed out to me that I “like to ruminate.”

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?
Since writing Old News, I’ve worked book by book. I begin with some framework, though the restraints are usually fluid and I don’t always know where I’m going. I let the act of composition determine the shape of the thing.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes. I love doing readings. Really that’s the whole point. As I’m working on a poem, I read it out loud to myself over and over until it hits.

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?
How do you write something that someone will feel? What words, in what arrangement, will connect the people sitting together in a room? What will let us think together?

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 whose work matters to me question the way things are and make me think or feel something deeply. There are many roles but one obvious one is to write the truth. Right now, truth feels like a snare drum synced with a fist to a nazi’s face.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve never had an official editor, but feedback in whatever form is useful.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
If you’re lost in a forest and have no idea which way to go, go for it straight ahead because it’s not likely to be any worse than anything else. That’s Descartes, via David Antin. Also: live variously.

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?
I’m currently on a Pew fellowship, so it looks like this: coffee first, then the news, then emails. Then some pacing. Then I sit down, look at what I wrote yesterday and continue or re-write or veer in another direction. Generally I split the day between writing and reading (mostly poetry and history) in my apartment, and sitting there thinking why I feel the way I do, how strange it is to be a living thing in the world. I try to take one long walk a day to air the brain out, let things in, meet a friend for coffee or beer.

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

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Haha! I don’t know.

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?
Conversations with friends and strangers. And music and art. I’m very lucky to have a brilliant musician for a brother who keeps me in the loop on new music. I try to get out to see as much art as possible.

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

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to fall in love inside socialism. I would like to start a newspaper with likeminded people. I would like to become fluent in Spanish and translate poems. I would like to write an ongoing poem that answers this question.

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?
This question reminds me of a poem from The Book of Frank by CAConrad in which the host of a party asks everyone where they’d prefer to have cancer if they had to have cancer . . . I think all of the millionaires and billionaires should work for the rest of us. I just worked as a union organizer for a couple of years and I could’ve continued down that path; maybe I’ll return. I was committed to it but the lack of time to write was eating my soul. I’ve also enjoyed teaching but again, same problem.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Something I don’t yet understand.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was Certain Magical Acts by Alice Notley. The last great film I watched was Harlan County, USA by Barbara Kopple.

19 - What are you currently working on?
The manuscript I just finished is called General Motors. It’s about labor and public and private transportation and love. It’s too early to say what’s next.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mathias Svalina, The Wine-Dark Sea


Memory draws back
dialing lips.
These unreal

reasons to write,
to say, straight true.

It is already a month
since I left
the hospital.

Like everything in letters
there is a little
& a ligature.

The seventy-six poems that make up Denver, Colorado poet and editor Mathias Svalina’s fifth poetry collection, The Wine-Dark Sea (Portland OR: Sidebrow Books, 2016), are each no longer than a page, and hold the same title as the collection (which makes the table of contents, listing every one of the seventy-six same-titled poems and their corresponding pages absurdly entertaining). The poems in The Wine-Dark Sea explore a rather dense and occasionally dark, surreal and abstract lyric, one that is reminiscent at times of the work of Paris, Ontario poet Nelson Ball (or certain poems by Stuart Ross), for their density and meditative tone. There is almost a zen quality in some of these pieces, as he writes: “Each day emerges / in apprise. // No one / can be / companion— // the grass // purely / containment.” There is something fantastic in the way Svalina composes so many poems under the same title. One could argue it would be relatively easy to compose one poem under such a title, or even a couple, but seventy-six poems with similar tone and structure without lapsing into repetition or mediocrity is simply stellar. It makes me curious to know if he composed more than he required and cut down, or simply worked like hell on every single piece, carving and cobbling lyric fragments together into these smart, well-crafted and incredibly powerful poems. The Wine-Dark Sea is sharp as hell, and a marvellous achievement.


Wet bodies
in the sun.

I need new songs
to bite this lip off

to find the more
fragile lip.

I can only

the song always on

the radio,
the radio

always on.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Queen Mob's Teahouse : Jaimie Gusman interviews Timothy Dyke

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the twenty-fourth interview is now online: Jaimie Gusman interviews Timothy Dyke (turning the tables on their prior interview). Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevostan interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimoran interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollarian interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Franka conversation between Vanesa Pacheco and T.A. Noonan, "On Translation and Erasure," existing as an extension of Jessica Smith's The Women in Visual Poetry: The Bechdel Test, produced via Essay PressFive questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker about Antígona González by David Buuck (translated by John Pluecker),"overflow: poetry, performance, technology, ancestry": kaie kellough in correspondence with Eric Schmaltz, and Mary Kasimor's interview with George FarrahBrad Casey interviewed byEmilie LafleurDavid Buuck interviews John Chávez about Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing and an interview with Abraham Adams by Ben FamaTender and Tough: Letters as Questions as Letters: Cheena Marie Lo, Tessa Micaela and Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Kristjana Gunnars’ interview with Thistledown Press author Anne Campbell, Timothy Dyke’s interview with Hawai’i poet Jaimie Gusman, Hailey Higdon's interview with Joanne Kyger.and Stephanie Kaylor's interview with Kenyatta JP Garcia.

Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse includeGeoffrey YoungClaire Freeman-Fawcett on Spread LetterStephanie Bolster on Three Bloody WordsClaire Farley on CanthiusDale Smith on Slow Poetry in AmericaAllison GreenMeredith QuartermainAndy WeaverN.W Lea and Rachel Loden.

If you are interested in sending a pitch for an interview my way, check out my "about submissions" write-up at Queen Mob's; you can contact me via rob_mclennan (at)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Aisha Sasha John, I have to live.

I had a vision now.
It wasn’t a vision.
A man in a striped shirt stood in a line.
His hair looked like yours
So I thought of you.
Fuck I prolly should’ve messaged you back
After I asked for and you sent me that photo
Of your baby. (“Today I could aspire but I want to nap”)

Toronto poet, choreographer and performer Aisha Sasha John’s third poetry collection is the absolutely thrilling I have to live. (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2017), a book-length suite of lyric poems running lengthwise across the entire stretch of being, exploring the physical, the sexual and the spiritual. Composed as a poetic diary, I have to live. is an incredibly sensual and deeply personal book, and sketches out across titles such as “Something softens me,” “I sleep in a room.” and “When I leave here I don’t know where I am.” to “What’s the big fucking deal about,” “The landlord said he lost his phone.” and “How much of your body is your head.” There is something memoir-ish, even “confessional” in her first-person poems, carved as a combination between lyric essay, storytelling and myth. “I am low and found; I am high and found.” she writes at one point. In another part of the collection, she adds: “If I’m wrong / If I’m wrong – who gives a fuck? // I have to live.”

Oh I feel great.
And jealous.
Ya I feel grealous.
I have ten minutes.
Today I want clarity.
I understand the next book cover
To be my tiny little ear so
If you want more instruction, note:
I already told you
To lie on the ground or
Sit on it.
It can’t be
Saturday morning
All the time. (“Happy Cup”)

The poems in this collection revel in the phrase and fragment, held together as a single, extended book-length declaration of story, personality and theatre; a declaration of standing firm, resisting when required, and being attentive to whatever might come. This is an open-hearted, no bullshit collection of hefty, articulate, funny and sensual poems. One of the more striking poems in the collection, originally published in The Capilano Review, is the sequence “In August I visited my Gran.” that includes:

On the television
A woman carves from a stack of rice krispie squares
Human breasts.

I feed cut watermelon to my grandmother.

I am low and found; I am high and found.
When I read that part to my mom over the phone she
Cries. It’s sad
She says.

I put my ticket there on her Visa.

The next day my cousin sends me a message.
I read the message.
Then what I do is call my mother.
Now you don’t have any more grandparents!