Tuesday, September 17, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Scott Nolan

Scott Nolan [photo credit: Mike Latschislaw] is a songwriter, poet, multi instrumentalist from Winnipeg, Manitoba Treaty One Territory. His songs have been recorded by Hayes Carll, Mary Gauthier, Watermelon Slim, and Corin Raymond among others. He has recently produced albums for William Prince, Lynne Hanson, and Watermelon Slim.

In January 2015 he started writing poetry, approximately three weeks after his 40th birthday. The plan was to replace smoking cigarettes with walking eight to ten kilometres a day. He is a songwriter by trade and often discovered melodies and rhythms in the shuffling of his feet. He spends most of his time thinking about words, music, and language. Nolan found myself writing short poems based on people and places in his neighbourhood, trying to capture a bit of what was happening around him.

An older cousin of his discovered a gift and passion for poetry while serving time in Folsom State Prison. He was an early influence on him, sending books and letters from prison and encouraging the younger Nolan to read and write as often as possible. This relationship was the subject of a documentary last year called Visiting Day, produced for the CBC by filmmaker Charles Konowal. He was invited to perform and host writing workshops in the very same prison library his cousin wrote to him from all those years ago.

The late Winnipeg poet Patrick O’Connell was also a dear friend and mentor. Patrick is one of his favourite contemporary Canadian poets. His was a lyrical style that had a strong impact on his early songwriting. One of the many benefits of working in the arts community in Winnipeg is the quality of work of his peers. It’s consistently encouraging and inspiring. After more than a decade of relentless touring, he decided to take a year or so away from the road to collaborate, produce records, and enjoy his life in Winnipeg. A play was produced through Manitoba Theatre Projects based on the nine albums he has released since 2003. The play, I Dream of Diesel, enjoyed a two week run of sold-out shows and critical praise from both the community and critics.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
This is my first book so while I don’t have anything to compare it to directly is has certainly changed my life. The poems started coming to me while walking, as I was dealing with tobacco withdrawal. The added gift of creativity while aiming for a healthier lifestyle was incredibly encouraging. The practice has taught me to stay available to ideas all the time.

2 - How did you come to songwriting first, as opposed to, say, poetry, fiction or non-fiction?
I suppose I just started writing, whether it was songs or adolescent angst masquerading as poetry I’m not entirely sure, however this when on for many years before it yielded any legitimate results. I followed Samuel Beckett model, “try again, fail better.”

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 write everyday, even just small edits, I just keep a steady practice. There is always something that requires attention. I have creative bursts where inspiration runs high, but I work just as consistently when it’s low. Here I follow Chuck Close’s example. “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

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?
Poetry is still a new practice for me so I have no frame of reference just yet. Most of the poems in my book were typed into my phone, like quick snapshots from around the neighbourhood. I did have a sense of the primary theme and almost all the poems made the collection.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

As a performing songwriter I’ve begun reciting short poems throughout my sets. I’ve written a new collection of songs that are connected to the poems and work well together. Reading without musical accompaniment is still new for me but I enjoy it. The voice can add a lot depending on the material.

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?
So far it feels like I’m taking some inventory or perhaps leaving a trail for myself. A lot of the poems are an appreciation of nature, and the life affirming peace that may be found there.

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 authenticity is mandatory, speaking clearly and truthfully while saying something about the era we live in here. Does the work deserve to outlive us, does it offer something genuine, that’s a good goal I think.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I was lucky here, Catherine Hunter graciously offered me some notes and my brilliant wife Rachael Searle applied them for me. I struggled in school and didn’t graduate high school so my punctuation and grammar isn’t perfect. The editor was primarily focused on sequencing and breaking the poems into sections.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
If you can hum it, you can play it is the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. It’s changed everything for me.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (songwriting to poetry)? What do you see as the appeal?
Patrick Nolan and Patrick O’Connell we’re both poets who had an influence on me as I began writing songs in earnest. I tend not to edit as much with poems but rather keep them intact as they arrive. Trying to capture a moment the way you might with a photo or painting. What do I see around me, how does it make me feel, how something smells or the light versus shadow. Trying to share imagery while still leaving space.

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 try to write in the early part of the day, motion helps so I’m usually walking within a few hours of rising.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Nature is always inspiring, and four distinct seasons doesn’t hurt either. I simply just stay available to ideas all the time, there are no holidays from being present.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Lilac trees

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?
Art comes from life, no one has bettered Mother Nature’s work from what I’ve experienced.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There is some incredible poetry to be found within the prison system, I try to stay in touch whenever possible. It’s a way forward for many, for my late cousin, at the end of violence was poetry.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’ve resisted working overseas all these years, even passing up wonderful opportunities. I wanted some mileage on me before I crossed the ocean. I’ve wanted to be ready.

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?
My first job after my paper route was working with my late grandfather as an associate private investigator, when I was eleven . I would love to go back to my roots.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think I’ve just always been doing it, making up stories, I’m a professional exaggerator.

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

Catherine Hunter’s After Light.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m meeting my father later this week in Toronto’s “Cabbagetown.” I have a feeling I’ll be writing about the old neighbourhood and my family.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;


Monday, September 16, 2019

Renee Angle, WoO



Their division into tribes. Their worship of Jehovah. Their notion of a theocracy. Their belief in the ministration of angels. Their language and dialects. Their manner of counting time. Their prophets and high priests. Their festivals, fasts, and religious rites. Their daily sacrifice. Their ablutions and anointings. Their laws of uncleanness. Their abstinence from unclean things. Their marriages, divorces, and punishments of adultery. Their several punishments. Their cities of refuge. Their purification and preparatory ceremonies. Their ornaments. Their manner of curing the sick. Their burial of their dead. Their mourning for their dead. Their raising seed to a deceased brother. Their change of names adapted to their circumstances and times. Their own traditions.

I’m late to the game, but fascinated by Renee Angle’s hybrid debut, WoO (Letter Machine Editions, 2016), a book that moves through the legacy, myths and half-truths of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. Combining blends of the outer edges of the prose poem, Angle’s WoO writes and overwrites histories, stories and mythologies, opening the first paragraph of the book’s “PREFACE” with:

I am the bastard great-great-great grandchild of Joseph Smith, in search of a textline, not a bloodline. I affirm the manner in which durability and transience are imposed upon the world of objects. My dedication is no longer comprised of belief, redemption, conversation, fact. I dream of becoming anonymous, the ELECTRIC LIBRARY set past and future.

The book blends facts and fiction, prose and poem in such a way that it does emerge as an entirely separate animal, composing a composition on composing a book on, around and through Joseph Smith, and the difficult line that often exists between science and faith: “What happens when you hand your relics over to science, and, what if science doesn’t want your saints?”

In an interview with Angle on Under a Warm Green Linden (posted July 21, 2016), interviewer Christopher Nelson begins with the acknowledgment that the title is “an abbreviation of Werke ohne Opuszahl, which you explain is ‘used to denote musical compositions surviving only as fragments.’”

Nelson: Because Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church, is central to WoO, reading it as a seduction—a kind of persuasion—was meaningful for me. But we will talk more about Joseph Smith later.

One of the things I love about WoO is its formal variety, how many different shapes the poems and prose take on the page. There’s prose poetry, rhyming couplets, a question-and-answer motif, and these lovely little “box poems,” where the text is a two-inch square. What were your intentions in presenting your ideas in so many varieties, and how did you know which forms to use for any given part?

Angle: A lot of WoO is collage work, so some of the forms suggested themselves because of the methods I was using to generate them. The rhyming couplets, for example, are found pieces that I collaged together using a rhyme scheme as a constraint. To choose the texts for WoO, I looked at books that scholars think Joseph Smith had in his library or books he read over the course of his life. All of the little box poems were translations that I made using a Hebrew grammar primer Joseph Smith used to learn Hebrew to read The Bible. And some of the poems were generated as my own meditations on certain subjects, and those take a looser, prose-poem form.

I am very interested in formal range, as a device. I’m reminded of seeing a retrospective of Gerhard Richter when I was in graduate school. His work was very meaningful for me, and I was struck by these abstract expressionist paintings that he paired with photorealistic portraits of his daughter and others. So I had that in mind as something that I was aiming for.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Bola Opaleke


Bola Opaleke is a Nigerian-Canadian poet. His first poetry collection was published in 2012. A Pushcart Prize Nominee, Bola's poetry has appeared in many international publications, both in print and online. He lives in Manitoba with his young family. Find out more at www.bolaopaleke.com

How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

The book changed my life in the sense that it brought some new attention to my work, and by doing so made even more people show interest in my craft. Since my last published book, I have met and been inspired by a whole lot of brilliant writers and mentors.

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I embraced poetry very early in life, even when I hardly knew what ‘poetry’ was. In nursery rhymes I was always thrilled by the choice of words and their musical tunes. I saw how poets talk about different things in different ways, so unlike how everyone else talked about those things, and I wanted to do the same thing.

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?

It is “all of the above”. Sometimes works come together quickly, other times they come slow. The most important thing for me is the completeness of it. If I feel like it’s the sixth day of the creation then I take the seventh off. Job done. But that often takes a while. Mostly, there’s always room for revision.

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?

My work does not follow a particular order. Sometimes it begins from the end actually. Other times I work my way upward. A poem, for me, could start with a line or a brilliant quote from someone. It could be something I just heard on the news or saw in a movie.

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Yes. I enjoy doing readings, but I have not been doing a lot of them because of my day job. Writing should be a fulltime job and I just don’t have that luxury at this time. Public reading helps develop a writer’s performance skill. It is great.

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?

Most of my writing attempts to respond to political and socio-economic questions. We can have an argument about the man being a reflection of his own shadow and see how some people would say it is a mis-statement. You’ll always find conversations in my work. Because sometimes the question is actually the answer, and that is the beauty of poetry.

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 have always been some sort of prophets. The origin of all written arts is in the prophetics. Without a voice reminding all about what was and what might be, there is no chance for what is already is. A writer’s role is to question the questions, show the incompleteness of complete answers. They call what is not as though it was. In a writer, you will find a god, a prophet and a king. I was having a conversation about writers with a sociologist and she asked “you say god, prophet and king, what about a slave?” I told her, a slave is no slave if they can find a pen. A slave with a pen is a king.

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

I have not worked with a lot of editors. But my experience with the ones I have worked with has been great. Yes. I think working with an outside editor is essential - could be difficult, but essential.

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

You don’t know what you’re doing until you know what you’re doing. As an emerging writer I give myself this advice all the time. Sometimes you look at someone’s work (established writer) and think, “How is this a brilliant piece?” An established writer did not just wake up one day and become established. I’m sure you can fill in the gap.

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 have absolutely no writing routine. None! Maybe I will one day, but right now, I’m working on becoming a writer.

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

When I’m stalled, I just walk away. Get on with my life. I really don’t walk around with the idea that I have to write anything. For me, the urgency and necessity must be present. We have millions of writers around the world. There is a tendency to think that someone has already written or is writing what you’re trying to write. The difference is the substance of its being; the urgency in your own voice. I am always willing to wait for that voice.

What fragrance reminds you of home?

When I am around trees, alone. Maybe walking in the woods outside the city. It often brings back the memory of the past. The scents of nostalgia.

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?

Yes. Nature for sure. I just mentioned the trees. Also, movies and music. But books mostly.

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

I watch movies a lot. Epic movies mostly. I love anything that takes me on a journey into the past.

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

Hmmm. Well, there are few. But a very important one is to plant a thousand trees.

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?

If not a writer, I would be a potter.

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

Well, it is cheap. All I need is a pen and a paper (which I don’t even have to buy). Coming from a place where everything is monetized; where voices are vetted; where a protest is met with stiff punishment, trust me, writing is cheap.

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

Last book? The African Child by Camara Laye. I would be reading Jericho Brown’s The Tradition next. And film? Hmm. A Few Good Men. Just can’t get it out of my head!

What are you currently working on?

I am in the process of completing my new book. I have a few publishers/editors already waiting to read it, so there is the extra challenge to make it “not a disappointment”.


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Jill Magi, SPEECH



Is this version of city
to cross your outpost

a light blue gauze
a desert skin

a thick grey fog
a south side a redline

                is your outpost this
comfort version

your heart tent
your lopsided outpost

a crowded kitchen
a blocked window

blocked by too many beds
stacked for rent

is your north
crossing your south (“Outpost/_____”)

American poet and visual artist Jill Magi’s latest is the book-length SPEECH (Brooklyn NY: Nightboat Books, 2019), following Threads (Futurepoem Books, 2007), Torchwood (Shearsman Books, 2008), Cadastral Map (Shearsman Books, 2011), SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse Dossier Series, 2011), Pageviews/Innervisions: A Textimage Theory and Curriculum (Moving Furniture Press/Rattapallax, 2014) and LABOR (Nightboat Books, 2014). In “An Interview with Jill Magi and Pierre Depaz, Author and Programmer of SIGN CLIMACTERIC,” conducted by Brandon Krieg and posted at NANO: North American Notes Online, December 2018, Magi references the book, then still forthcoming:

I thought about a section in my manuscript SPEECH—forthcoming from Nightboat in 2019—about “the climacteric,” which refers to menopause in women, and in botany, refers to a stage when a fruit has finished growing but the ripening is completed on the vine. If you look up climacteric, you’ll see that the menopause version of the meaning is lack, death, decay, and symptoms. But the botany meaning is positive! There are all sorts of interesting things going on with cellular respiration at that stage in ripening.

About two years ago menopause became visible in my life, and I was floored by the onset of hot flashes—by how little I knew about it and by the bind I found myself in: taking hormone supplements could cure the hot flashes, but HRT (hormone replacement therapy) has also been linked to cancer. I decided to sweat it out.

The poems in SPEECH see the narrator walking around her city, akin to Vancouver poet Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2005), walking and meditating on space, thinking and geography, but Magi also moves through ideas of boundaries, borders and the citizen, writing: “where impossible citizen / does not stop walking but // folds impossible glimpses / inside // not fully seen speaking / here joins the unfolding // pushing air up out / through enormous fans” (“Outpost/_____”). There are comparisons, also, to be made to Erín Moure’s ‘citizen’ trilogy, as Magi writes: “impossible citizen lands // a job in a place eaten up by / origins” (“Outpost/_____”).

Through ten extended sequence-sections—“Introduction / She went out for bread,” “Outpost/_____,” “Sign Climacteric,” “Various East Various South,” “Until she hosts,” “Some Various West,” “This steep repeat —,” “Now words float down. See the gentle of that.,” “Post-Script / A Third Space” and “Painting a bibliography”—Magi walks and absorbs, articulates and advocates. Magi writes on the refugee (from the domestic homeless to the stateless migrant), the climate crises, the subject of freedom and nationalism, western relationships with developing nations, the destructive myopics of capitalism, and the existential void it creates; she writes of the citizen, and the responsibilities that should come automatically with living in the world, from concerns ranging from the local to the global, crossing thresholds and boundaries and borders. “who is deported or shot / for roads for mining // as inroads come / hailed as progress // for hauling off the wealth / as a presidential visit // in whose ski / has the developing // world arrived—” (“Some Various West”). The poems reach through conflict, crises and trauma for solutions but hold no solutions but the obvious, that we should be better to each other, and for each other. Why aren’t more readers listening?

fold safety back
into the search for a system

where a study is not a singular pose
as it feels for the roots that make
a self a city a country sink
under the great spine of democracy
the great glow of a crown

SPEECH a lake of lack
of desert valve
of the haves and not—
(“Various East Various South”)