Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bhanu Kapil, entre-Ban


Stop counting to 57. Part of the count is your own premature demise. Your, you. Is the third person about trauma, about narrative being the thing “that has already happened.” (M.) I am 48 years old. If my hair and body glow in the sun, then it is also true that I don’t think I am a poet anymore. Perhaps I am not interested, as I once was, in the life of the poet. Balcony life: sex with white poets, coffee by the window. The fetish of the gel tip pen or the pencil carved to a chalky point. It’s why I prefer the notes, but the politics of the notes are too expansive. Non-verbal experiences don’t lodge easily: there. Social life in the continental U.S., where I live, or Delhi, where another life awaits, glimmering, steaming off, is not accounted for: here. Racism and misogyny appear nowhere in my complex note-taking method, for example. Where did they go?


A stain blooms on the sidewalk, in city after city, for example. A pavonine sheen in its slick. We gasp to see it, the rainbow, then retrain our feelings on the spot.
We look away.

A while back, Vallum magazine, as part of their Vallum Chapbook Series, released Colorado poet Bhanu Kapil’s latest title, the chapbook entre-Ban (Montreal QC: Vallum Chapbook Series No. 23, 2017). According to the back cover, “entre-Ban is a collection of notes taken by Bhanu Kapil during the writing of her 2015 book, Ban en Banlieue. Inside are deletions, dedications, invitations, the smell of burnt hair, caves, violence.” The idea of notes responding to one’s own writing as a writing project is one I’ve been long fascinated by, and is comparable to Leonard Cohen’s own Death of a Lady’s Man (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 1978) or Ken Norris’ THE COMMENTARIES (above/ground press, 1999). As she writes to open the title poem: “To be entre-Ban is to be ‘Ban-like.’” Her author bio, also, offers that “Her current long-term projects include a re-writing [emptying out] of ‘Ban’—of which a succession of mutations and deletions are included in this chapbook.” I’m fascinated by the way her prose flows across a poetic non-fiction landscape, writing out a series of details, sketches, reading notes and personal details that map out an incredible system of connections, contusions, considerations and consequences.

Given I’ve not yet read Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue (Nightboat Books), something I clearly need to rectify (despite having her name on my radar for some time, this is actually the first title of hers I’ve seen), meaning I can only see this work as entirely self-contained. The effect of her writing is absolutely fascinating, writing on a series of dislocations, including being an immigrant and the child of immigrants, racism, colonialism and travel, as well as a series of personal details, shifting from the global to the intimate in quick succession. As the fourth section of the poem “57 Deletions [Mutations] for Ban [4]:” writes:

Something yellow next to the glass. A raised boundary of earth. Ban has left her house and run. Through the streets to get here. A mere ten minutes away. Where the rain has begun to fall lightly, like icy sugar, through the branches and leaves. And it’s here that Ban lies down, neglected, but also alert, grasping something, the changing light, like a vine. Or an antique rose. Descending, she’s also tasting. Out slips her lime green tongue. This, for example, is the wet, silky, tamper-proof smell of smoke that Ban has carried into the forest. In the folds and creases of her creamy skin, the smoke sets. I note her dangerous expression and also her uniform, which is pink and white in summer, and maroon come the Autumn term.

Monday, August 20, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carolyn Zaikowski

Carolyn Zaikowski is the author of the hybrid novels In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016) and A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013). Her fiction, poetry, and essays have been published widely, in such publications as The Washington Post, Denver Quarterly, The Rumpus, Entropy Magazine, Everyday Feminism, PANK, and Dusie. She lives and teaches in Massachusetts.   

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The act of holding my first book in my hand challenged a lot of self-doubts, at least for a few hours. Both books are pretty dark, fragmented, and hybrid-ish, but the first has the skeleton of a more recognizable narrative. The second is quite chaotic and, well, I sort of call it a novel to be annoying or subversive. Novel means “new” and I believe we need new types of textual bodies that attempt to mirror the experiences of bodies in society, particularly traumatized ones. Such bodies rarely inhabit a space that is linear or easy to comprehend.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I sort of just came to all words at the same time. I wrote and read in different genres going back to when I learned how to write and read. Words are my faithful buddy, just in general.  

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?
The first draft of my second book, In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse, vomited itself out of me within the span of a few months, almost entirely in notebooks. My first book, A Child Is Being Killed, was a much longer process, and was directly informed by my studies/work in the field of trauma. My current unpublished novel is a much more traditional, linear fiction narrative and it tells a story that I’ve been repeatedly rewriting from scratch for maybe 15 years.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?
It shows up and asks me to write it, and to just to start somewhere, anywhere, and it asks me to pay attention.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don’t always mind being in front of a crowd, but I don’t think readings should be an expectation. Some writers frankly aren’t good at it, and why should they be? Their expertise is writing, not performance. Writing happens on a page, I like reading it on a page, and I don’t always get a lot out of hearing others read because I have a hard time processing auditory info. I’ll still happily show up to support readers.

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?
What is trauma? What are bodies? Does anyone, any human or nonhuman, have a linear, clear body? How does that reality shake hands with the reality of constructing a book/text? What does it mean to be personally or socially or spiritually shattered—or not shattered? What are the different roles of both linear versus fragmented texts? Do we all have a basic core neurosis that forms our personal selves and the selves of our texts? When it comes to getting ourselves to not be such dicks, does art play a role?

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?
Shaman? Witness? Ego? Overcomer of ego? Sacred and/or profane guide? Compassionate contrarian? Truth speaker? Liar? Purposeful failure? Lover? Friend? Decoder ring? Scientist of the mind/heart? Anarchist? Animal? Fool? Someone who dies and lives repeatedly, for various reasons? I recently read poet Yi Sang’s quote, “I believe that humans should be plants.” That seems about right.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It obviously can be hard, but I’m unsure how it’s possible for writers—at least those who publish—to have polished pieces if they don’t get outside feedback. Writing happens when we’re absorbed in our own minds, which necessarily leads to blind spots, because we can’t ever fully see ourselves. At the same time, I really reject some of the things that are common in the (relatively new, yet somehow taken for granted) MFA workshop culture.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Well, on his deathbed the Buddha said to be your own lamp, to light your own path to liberation. And Thich Nhat Hanh says that when you eat an orange, be aware that you’re eating an orange.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to poetry to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
I just like words. I’m not very worried about genre. I just trust whatever the words seem to want. I try as hard as I can to tune into that, and to notice when I’m hyper-identifying as a Certain Type of Writer. As a result, I’ve written poetry, fiction of all lengths, essays, articles/editorials, journals, picture poems, lyrics/music, hybrid work, instructions, incantations, fake interviews, Likert scales. This seems postmodern and maybe pretentious, but it’s something writers have been doing since the beginning of writing. One of the first written forms was basically a fiction poem, the epic poem. Or look at the educational chunks about sewers in Les Misérables that divert from fiction elements, or all the sprawling scientific guides that chop up Moby Dick. It’s worth considering why we casually think of those as pure novels. For some mind-blowing—I mean absolutely bonkers—texts that don’t fit into simple genres, read Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666) and Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book (990). This relative inattention to literary containers—that’s not something critical theorists and hipsters thought up.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I often doubt it when people claim they have one of those writer’s life routines you see in a Buzzfeed list. The expectation messes with people’s heads and discourages socially underprivileged people. The privilege needed to write every day is an elephant in the room. Writing routines, at least as they’re usually discussed, arguably have a connection to the psychology of capitalism. Writing is your job and your hyper-individualist identity; you only earn your title if you’re a Type A worker bee. If you’re not somehow strong-arming yourself into making a product, fire yourself. And, wouldn’t you know it, this is usually only something you can achieve if you have no kids, no sicknesses, no need for a full-time job or the decompression that requires, no social structures of gender or race stacked against your finances, psyche, or safety. I see so many of my students and friends get lost in some version of all this.

I go for months without writing. I’m 35 and have been writing since I was 5 and have become comfortable with the idea that writing is a part of how my life operates and that I’ll always come back to it. In those months, seeds are planted and growing. Space is being taken to let the overcrowded brain-rooms breathe. When I force ideas, they come out lopsided. I think of this metaphor used by Buddhist teachers of a plant that’s being neurotically watched and overwatered and dug up and replanted to see if the roots are okay. I’m convinced there’s a subconscious aspect to most good writing that requires patience and self-compassion, and that ignoring this leads to writer’s block, self-hate, and writing that doesn’t fulfill its potential.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I’ll read a lot or work on submissions. I meditate, which helps loosen my mind/heart and water seeds. But, as in #11, I usually don’t feel moved to always remind myself that I’m definitely a writer or to prematurely rip ideas from their wombs.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The tiny scent of those weird gray dusts from lottery scratch tickets, cat litter/fur/food, hummus, grass, dirt, tomato sauce. 

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?
Bjork, music in general, the dharma, friends, personality typology, the cosmos/star-related things, all animals.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Kathy Acker, Selah Saterstrom, Bhanu Kapil, Claudia Rankine, Renee Gladman, Virginia Woolf, Kenneth Patchen, Toni Morrison, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Molly Gaudry, Claire Donato, Elena Ferrante, Clarice Lispector, Walt Whitman, Akilah Oliver, Kafka. My close writer friends Ben Hersey and Kate Senecal. Dystopia. Dharma texts. Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is, to me, an example of a perfect narrative. And the author most responsible for changing my life is Judy Blume, including that when I was 11 I wrote her a letter and she wrote me back.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to see the aurora borealis and also start a revolution where I turn everybody vegan.

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 wanted to be a psychologist; that’s what I originally studied. I think seriously about someday becoming a death doula and am currently in the process of becoming a hospice volunteer. But in some ways, these are the same as being a writer.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Intuition, not knowing really how else to successfully navigate existence, having an almost torturously spinning linguistic brain whether I like it or not, etc.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great film was undoubtedly The Florida Project. Please, please watch it. For books, the prose in Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi completely blew me away. Other amazing recent encounters include Silk Flowers by Meghan Lamb, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, and Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently in the process of acquiring an agent for my newest novel. I also have a poetry manuscript in progress which sort of revolves around things like incantations, repetitive secular prayers, and secret cosmic instructions.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Headlight anthology 20 + 21

[   :   ]

You take the clothes that are left:
two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts,
a jumper, underwear, socks.
You fold each item, then press them
into a bag.
You go to the bathroom,
take a fresh towel and a bar of soap.
The towel is white, the soap amber.
It smells medicinal.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor.

It is eleven pm.
You pick up the car keys. (Lars Horn)

I’ve finally managed to secure copies of the two most recent editions of headlight anthology, an “annual, student-run graduate journal” produced by Montreal’s Concordia University, through their English Department. If you follow my reviews at all, you most likely already know that headlight is one of a small handful of annuals I follow [see my prior headlight review here], all of which emerge from schools with engaged creative writing departments, including SUNY-Buffalo’s P-QUEUE (see my review of the latest here), or Ryerson University’s White Wall Review. Given that Concordia has long had a strong Creative Writing Department, one would think that the anthology would be given more promotional heft from the institution (or even the community, really), as an advertisement for what they are attempting to accomplish.

The twentieth annual edition of headlight includes an array of poetry, fiction and artwork (including a stunning visual, “Under Moonlight,” by Katrina Piacek) by a plethora of emerging writers, including Madeleine McDonald, Melanie Power, Nicola Sibthorpe, Eileen Holowka, Matteo Clambella, Madelaine Caritas Longman and Jessica Bebenek (the only name within that I’m already familiar with), among others. There are some really interesting pieces in this issue, such as Eileen Holowka’s powerful and evocative “Excerpts from the narrative game circuits,” that includes:

everyone always says water tastes like nothing, but the taste of nothing changes between cities. in winnipeg, the water tasted like snow, in montreal, like rain. in new york, like the steam rising out of the sewers. i take all of these flavours in, try to discern what home tastes like.
            i have become a connoisseur of nothing.

The latest volume, subtitled “Interruptions,” is the twenty-first, and the foreword by Editor-in-Chief Emily Crompton and Managing Editor Penelope Kerr is fascinating for its response to a growing series of stories over at Concordia University of multiple examples of sexual misconduct and a general toxic environment throughout the department. Citing allegations and stories told by Mike Spry, Emma Healey, Heather O’Neill and Stephen Henighan, they write from what might seem, to some, the centre of a storm: “To the people who have experienced these awful and quiet tragedies: we see you, and your experiences are valid.”

Headlight has celebrated, supported, and brought artists together for more than twenty years, but we feel it is especially important to acknowledge community now, in the face of crisis. We would like to reaffirm our commitment to change, especially for those of our readers and contributors who are Concordia students. It is through these disturbances that we are reminded to do better and be better for each other.

“Interruptions” includes contributions from Hugh Deasy, Michael D’Itri, Miles Forrester, Ann Kruzelecky, Chloe Levman-Dolgin, Marlene Oeffinger, Marianne Paquette, Fawn Parker, Alexei Perry Cox, Sabina Reeves and Olivia Wood. Highlights to this volume include the exhaltations of Michael D’Itri’s “STOP,” and the rush of Fawn Parker’s “CRISIS STATE” (you did pick up her 2015 title from Metatron, yes?), that includes:

The closing of the skin draping over the thick boiled white the liquid retained in the membrane the shine of the wetness on the thick white plush the prevention of the sour yellow leak with the redraping of the skin the liquid information the information parts the sorting and ordering of the shifting shapes the difference between the sour yellow hitting the conglomerate  !  and the projected throatpit wolliness in the tented cavern recreate it in this one specific way

If previous editionso of headlight are any indication, there are names in these issues you will most likely see again, so I would recommend you pay attention.