Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Small Press Market (part three,

[this is what Gary Barwin looks like while reading the latest chapbook by MLA Chernoff] 

See my first post on what I collected at the fair, here; and my second post here. And I am totally going to keep pushing these two other upcoming fairs: Meet the Presses in Toronto on November 16th and the 25th anniversary event for our own ottawa small press book fair on November 23rd (and pre-fair reading the night prior). I will see you at one of these events, at least, right? I mean: how can you resist such small press marvelousness?

Toronto ON: I’m intrigued by the earnestness and the directness of the lyric narratives that make up Toronto poet and editor Terese Mason Pierre’s debut chapbook, Surface Area (Anstruther Press, 2019). There is a meditative calm in Pierre’s lyrics, one that is inquisitive, careful and considered, such as the poem “Cold Feet,” that begins: “Three in the morning, I am / awake under cloth and commitment [.]” Her poems work to articulate and unpack complicated emotions, whether the small moments of awareness before a partner wakes, or in the midst of family during a funeral. As she writes to end the poem “Swell”: “I’m learning to like when my hair / gets in my eyes when our skin // swells. I’m trying to be a person / who can be built from sand.”


You know where you’re going,
but this city is unfamiliar to me.

Every story you tell has its own
highways and cul-de-sacs,

leading to laughs you cut short,
a brief peer over the hedge

to the green on the other side,
or a welcome overstayed

on purpose. It is irrational
to envy the time before I existed.

In the attic of your childhood home,
I see you in the orange glow

of a lack of someone to please.
I put my hand over yours

as you hold a photo. I do not
recognize any of the thousand words.

Peterborough/Toronto ON: Subtitled “found poetry constructed from psychic scam junk mail addressed to previous tenants” is Peterborough poet and fiction writer Katherine Heigh’s latest, the chapbook To the People Who used to Live Here (Gap Riot Press, 2019). The author of the chapbook PTBO NSA (Peterborough ON: bird, buried press, 2019) [see my review of such here], Heigh has now produced two chapbooks constructed out of found materials, shifting and collaging, although this particular project feels less a straightforward “found” than her debut; perhaps this assemblage is more prompted and propelled by found materials than specifically constructed by them. Either way, the poems are curious short bursts of lyric narrative—with intriguing line breaks and cadence—that explore how one finds place in the world. Her rhythms are hypnotic, and her short narratives are fascinating. I would be interested to see how these poems, structurally, differ from her short prose.

Grandmother Moon Calls

She is offering all this to you, a Golden Legacy
intended for you. Providence has replied to

resurrection of the ancestral.
It’s quite natural. Please receive what must be
            long to you.
Going to bathe in an ocean of multiple and
            infinite joys
isn’t that life-changing. Your name appeared in
            the last lunar phase.

Say goodbye to your desires.
At the end of this, you can no longer be a

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Vincent Pagé

Vincent Pagé has had work published in Prism, Geist, The Malahat Review, Metatron, Event, The Puritan, and Vallum, among other journals. His first book is This is the Emergency Present, with Coach House Books. He was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2015. He lives in Toronto.

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?

I’ve been working on this book for the last 7 years, so I guess the biggest way having it published has changed my life is the fact that it's no longer in my life. Or isn’t the focus of it at least. Every line or idea or concept that came to mind would always be positioned towards the book and whether or not it could live there. And now that it’s finally printed and that I don’t have any other projects on the go, I can feel its absence as something that was moving or growing or shifting. 

Most of my previous works (two chapbooks, publications here and there) are included in this collection, so its more composed of them than compared to them. 

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

I didn’t come to poetry first. I started out writing truly terrible short stories for a number of years before I read a Jim Harrison poem and thought “that’s closer to what I want”. 

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?

A good portion of the book and the chapbooks I have published have had conceptual frameworks. Once those are set up or uncovered, the writing actually happens quite fast to fill in the conceptual space I made for the work. Then I edit and work on the poems over and over until someone finally publishes them and they’re out of my hands. I’d say the oldest poems in this book have been read and rewritten and edited around a hundred times and look nothing like they did when they were first written. 

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?

Poems for me all start from a single line that pops in my head from just wandering around doing nothing. It’s rare that I’ll sit and think “write” and then come up with anything good. I’ll have a line in my head that is interesting, either phonetically or conceptually, then I’ll write around that line trying to uncover what the rest of the poem has to say. If the line can’t kind of create a poem from itself, it tends to find a home in a new poem later on down the road. 

With this book (and most firsts) it’s a kind of hodgepodge of work. There are themes that were teased out by careful editing by Karen Solie that then spurred some serious cutting of poems, but I never set out with a grand theme in mind or the goal of necessarily putting everything I wrote into a book. 
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

They’re neither part of or counter to the creative process. I’d say they’re absent really from the actual process of writing for me. I enjoy readings enough but have been told I need to work on my small talk. 

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 never set out writing with any clearly defined theoretical concerns driving the content of what comes out. I’m less trying to answer questions and more trying to ask them as the poems come, but it would be crazy to say that my work necessarily is asking any of the “Big” questions, or anything more than the concern of what am I going to make for dinner tonight, and how am I going to figure out something for dinner tomorrow, and how will I spend a lifetime sorting out what to eat for dinner. 

I certainly think there are some poets writing books that are asking incredibly important questions about our culture, our time and place, our society and how we relate to one another. I just don’t think this book should necessarily be positioned as one of them.

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 mean, this is a question that probably has many books and essays written about it and I don’t think I’m the person to or have the capacity to articulate the right answer, but I do think the writer has a place. And I think all I can say is that writing and books are a space for one human to reach out to another, and if that reaching out is in any way meaningful to anyone then there’s a place. 

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

I worked with three editors. One was a detriment and the others were Alana Wilcox and Karen Solie, who only helped to make this book what it is. I could barely tell what I was saying through all of the poems, but Karen could sense it and really pushed and cared and I have her to thank for how solid it feels in my hands. 

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

That writing a poem is more of an uncovering of something than a creating something. I think it was Dean Young. I think the metaphor was about slowly digging up and brushing off a dinosaur fossil. 

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?

My writing routine has shifted monthly ever since I started. Sometimes I write all day, sometimes just in the morning, and more recently, no writing at all. 

I do find that when I’m reading more poetry I’m writing more poetry. That’s probably the only constant. 

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

Poetry mostly. But recently I’ve found that one of my greatest founts for creativity are those AI bots that try adapting the english language and creating things completely on their own, like baking recipes or film scripts. It feels like a child learning to speak and it breaks the linear way I think with language. I find the mental space that exists after reading goop from a robot opens up some new ways of interacting with language. 

There’s also a recent post I saw on Instagram where someone took Smash Mouth’s “All Star” lyrics and translated them into Aramaic using an online translator, and then back into English the same way, and it really is more interesting than anything I’ve read recently. 

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Lavender and musky closets. 

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?

I really think if you’re a poet, everything influences the work. But the poetry I tend to like these days is less influenced by things like *Nature or *Music or *High Art but more influenced by how shitty the TTC is, or how Instagram is sucking our brains out of our eyes or how an experience on a dating app can be both the most gratifying and loneliest thing in the city. 

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

Ayahuasca, make a million dollars, spend a million dollars, build a boat, do my taxes from last year, write a second book, turn seventy, meet a celebrity and pretend I don’t know who they are, start a fire by rubbing a stick into another stick, read everything Mary Ruefle has ever written, write to Mary Ruefle, tell someone how I really feel, finish answering 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?

I don’t know many writers where writing is their “occupation”. If I had to choose another hobby or creative practice that I’d have committed the 10,000 hours to it might have been furniture building. I can’t imagine how satisfying it must be to sit in a chair that you’ve hewn from lumber and carved and cut and fitted perfectly for yourself or someone you care about. 

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

At first it was to be famous, because at first I was young and stupid. And then it just became a necessity, like writing my thoughts were the next logical step to thinking them. 

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

Vincent Colistro’s chapbook Mountain Fountain Font that came out with Odourless Press this year is easily the most fun thing I’ve read other than AI baking recipes.

19 - What are you currently working on?


Monday, November 11, 2019

Ongoing notes, mid-November, 2019: Don McKay + Diane Schoemperlen

[what the children and I looked like, at least last week; as always, note the 1998 Bay Photo Studio glossy on my office wall, when eldest daughter Kate and I had professional photos done]

Normally (or at least, the past few years) I would post something referencing one of my mother’s relatives, a number of whom were involved in military service (her paternal uncle, her maternal grandfather and a number of his brothers-in-law, as well as his father-in-law), but the hard drive with all of those pictures and scans are inaccessible right now. You can see links to previous acknowledgments with some of these people here. Even without a new post, I remember them, still.

Kingston ON: I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to receive copies from publisher Maureen Scott Harris of the small chapbooks of lectures from Queen’s University’s Page Lecture. Originally founded by then-writer-in-residence Phil Hall, the annual series acknowledges the now-late Kingston poet and journalist Joanne Page, and Play and Work in the Work of Joanne Page by poet, editor and critic Don McKay (A Fieldnotes Chapbook, 2019) is the ninth lecture in this annual series, “delivered on October 23, 2018 in Watson Hall, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario [see my review of the prior publication here]. As Harris writes as part of her introduction, both to the publication and to the public lecture:

McKay’s poems and essays are about us and our complicated relationship with the larger living world we inhabit, the need to learn where and how we fit within it. What it means to be human, how to trim our sense of ourselves to an appropriate scale. He offers us moments of encounter and exchange, dizzying openings into larger understanding, and stunned celebration and grieving. Names and naming, making, birds, rocks and stones, engines, wonder, paradox are abundant in his thinking and writing. Have I mentioned his apt and antic acrobatics, clownish leaps and tumbles, the wonderful jokes that animate the poems? His wit is a corrective to the high seriousness of Romanticism and our enthrallment with the world as site and occasion for attending to our own sensations, emotions, and reactions. Let’s try to see the thing itself, he says. We might approach tree, bird, rock with courtesy, introduce ourselves to them, and listen for what or how they might speak back.

I find it interesting that throughout the lectures in this series, McKay took it upon himself to focus on the work of Joanne Page herself, she for whom the series was named [see my 2015 obituary for her here; my review of her third collection, Watermarks, here]. It seems to be an entirely McKay approach, as well, getting to the heart of what most others may have overlooked: a Joanne Page lecture actually on Joanne Page—and a delightful and playful essay, at that. As McKay writes towards the beginning of his lecture:

            What possessed me to pursue this road scarcely ever taken? In part I was moved by a wish to emphasize the efficacy of poetry, through its capacity for redress, to use Seamus Heaney’s term. I knew that I would find no better vehicle to convey this point than the works of Joanne Page. This wish was partnered with another—perhaps its twin—to buck a current trend emphasizing poetry’s supposed uselessness. Joanne Page’s poetry, while frequently playful and even mischievous, does not aspire to what Heaney calls “the glissando of postmodernism.” It occupies, believes in, and exploits gravity, and perhaps nowhere more effectively than when it’s having fun. So, giving work the last word serves to underscore a point Joanne’s writing exemplifies: poetry matters.

This lecture series is always uniquely compelling. Now that they’re nearing a decade of lectures and subsequent publications, might there be a larger published collection of essays for a wider distribution and readership?

Windsor ON: The first title in the chapbook series “Writers at Rest: Authors on Their Pastimes & Hobbies” produced through Woodbridge Farm Books [see their “12 or 20 (small press) questions” interview here] is Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s One Thing Leads To Another: On Collage (2017), a marvelous short essay on her ongoing work with collage, and the blending of visuals and text in both her artworks and writing. As she writes towards the beginning of the essay:

            From the beginning of my writing career, my fascination with the intersection of the written word and visual images has persisted. My first book, Double Exposures, published in 1984, was a fictional story I wrote to accompany a series of forty-eight old family photographs. These were rescued from my ferocious mother, who had threatened to throw them away. From a photo of my father and his friend looking like cool gangsters in the forties, to one of my young and beautiful mother posing in a barnyard with one white chicken and a hoe, to a nudie shot of myself as a big-eyed baby on my stomach on a towel on the kitchen table, the photos appear on the verso (or left side) of each two-page spread, with the accompanying story on the recto (or right). They face each other but do not intersect or overlap. They interact without touching, separate but still creating connections and echoes in both directions. I did not realize it at the time, but this book was my first step on a long and winding exploration of the symbiotic relationship between text and image.

One thing leads to another. slowly.

Through fourteen trade books that include works of short fiction, novels and creative non-fiction, Schoemperlen has explored an interesting line between collage and creation, and writing and visuals, able to employ an intriguing array of strategies equally in both forms, and overlapping, blending and colliding the two when required, making her one of the most vibrant prose writers in the country. For some time now, as well [see my 2016 interview with Schoemperlen for Ploughshares here], I’ve considered her to be a rare small press author (in terms of vibrancy, language and experimentation) able to publish with larger, more mainstream presses, so it is fascinating to see her write on some of how she builds both writing and visual art, and the relationship she sees between the two. Further on in the same piece, she writes:

I am composing this essay one piece at a time, as if it were a collage. One thing leads to another – for reasons that aren’t always clear and don’t need to be. Decades ago, I read somewhere that asking a writer to explain how she did it is like asking a centipede how it manages to walk with all those legs. After being thus questioned, the centipede was never able to move again. The same could be said of making collage. I worry about this.

Please don’t ask me what it means. I might say I don’t know.

I begin a new collage with hope and curiosity, eager to embark on a spontaneous sequence of discovery. As a person who has always liked to have a goal, a plan, or, at the very least, a detailed to-do list, I find this exhilarating and liberating. I enjoy making collages so much that often it feels like a guilty pleasure.
            Let’s face it. Sometimes writing is hard. Sometimes it makes me want to fling myself into the pit of despair. Gertrude Stein, in How to Write, said, “I return to sentences as a refreshment.” I would say the same about collage: I return to collage as a refreshment. Sometimes I return to collage as a relief. A collage has never kept me awake all the night. A collage has never made me want to bang my head against the wall. A collage has never ever made me want to tear my hair out. For this I am thankful. I have to admit I am rather fond of my hair.

Other works in the series, which connect to their ongoing writing retreats and residencies, include Dani Couture’s A River in a Drought Is Still a River: On Not Running and Alix Hawley’s Your Eye: On Photography.