Friday, December 13, 2019

(another) very short story;

As part of the final scene of Mary Tyler Moore’s classic, namesake sitcom, her character, Mary Richards, should have returned to the streets of Minneapolis and recovered her hat. It was a very fine hat.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Meet the Presses’ Indie Market (part five,

[Stuart Ross at his two-cornered Proper Tales Press + Anvil Press tables, being both "ace" and "trendy"]

Hamilton/London ON: It would seem that, furthering the work they accomplished in their recently-published collaborative trade poetry collection, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here], Gary Barwin and Tom Prime are still pushing ahead with their collaborative efforts, with the chapbooks Throat Fixtures {an Almanack of Dazzle} (2019) and Birds are the birthmarks of flight: A Manifesto. (2019), both appearing from Barwin’s serif of nottingham. These two chapbooks, each constructed as a single poem-sequence, both read as very different in tone and flavour from Barwin and Prime’s collaborative full-length work, and I’d be curious to hear how their process of writing collaboratively may have evolved since those first few poems, and even up to and beyond that first, full-length collection. What is curious, as well, each poem/chapbook suggest the possibility of the opening sections of much larger, longer manuscripts, although they could both, just as easily, be part of an eventual single collection. The first chapbook, Throat Fixtures {an Almanack of Dazzle}, is composed as a prose-quartet of short pieces, each of which opens with an image (assembled, in part, via collage), and seems to pilfer an antiquated language, allowing it a certain kind of tone, a certain kind of lyrical heft. As the second section, “{Sec2ndo},” opens:

I DO NOT DISDAIN but I dowel. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Certes, most Reapers receive so much plimsoll tiptapping on the mortal floor as may make worthy the gaseous (0.934%—9340 ppmv) tincture of their perusal, if not too greatcoat or too busy mandraking their small lease. The confrontation concerning the imbroglio of what is here offered to their burdened lexical centipedes; and if the last prove too severe, as I have often been torrid with lichens of a wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, a neophyte serving all centipedes equally and on murders of cloud. The Reaper will append the simplest conversation in line as the greengrocer’s to one both laminate and profound.

While the first chapbook has a weight to it, the second, Birds are the birthmarks of flight: A Manifesto., feels lighter in tone; but still holds the attention as both a real and faux-manifesto, as the writing both illuminates and obscures the writing even as it floats through and across a delightful surrealism. As the first section reads:

All birds must wear smoke and be bleak after no more than 12 cloud deadlines. This reinforces their humor and gives them comedy wings in a soft land where the impression of flight is diminished. Younger woodlands need to use 10 birds to process the childminding of eggs wrapped in balaclavas of shadow. This reminds us of the ongoing process where the sky is a cleft oyster, the moon a fluke pearl, and which focuses on the cleaving palate of the watershed and blotch from blotch, blotch from blotch, blotch from blotch. Since the 1970s the feathered truth of a billion birds has disappeared. This is also a start.

London ON: London, Ontario poet Emily Lu’s chapbook debut is Night Leaves Nothing New (Baseline Press, 2019), a collection of eleven poems that appear, on first glance, to be relatively straightforward lyric poems, but are anything but. I am finding myself very taken with Lu’s line breaks, the bends in her narrative through-lines and thought, and her attention to small details. These poems really are delightful, and I am happily startled by them. What else can I tell you?


This ending between your arms & drowning.
Its shape & contour seeping through the train
platform. Don’t worry, I was dreaming
into public. The dream expanding empty
city corridors. Passenger-side, I encountered
ten thousand refracting fish & their march through
stale houses. I was Typhlosion running

naked through an early season. Peach petals
in your hair last February while we skated
on domed lake-ice trembling
for fear of overstep & no bystanders
& dying. Don’t worry. A thorough kiss
still contains loneliness. A love
creasing, another mountainline.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Astra Papachristodoulou

Astra Papachristodoulou is a PhD student at the University of Surrey with focus in the experimental tradition across poetry, visual art and performance. She has given individual, collaborative, and interactive readings at a range of events in Slovenia, Vienna, Greece and the UK, including the European Poetry Festival and IGNOR Festival. Astra's work has been exhibited at the National Poetry Library and the Poetry Café, and she is the author of several pamphlets including Stargazing (Guillemot Press, 2019).

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?

My little chapbook Almost a Nightmare was my first proper publication - it was produced by Sampson Low in 2017. The poetry still reflects some of the work that I produce now. Some of the poetry that I wrote before this book was pure evil so I’m glad that I started publishing in print when my poetic voice was more defined. Almost a Nightmare is a small thing but it made me want more - the satisfaction of seeing my work in tangible form was a cloud-9 kind of feeling. Since then, every book has been special for me in its own way. Publishing is a bit like a good addiction, I say.

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

It all came naturally, really. Perhaps, the fact that English is not my mother tongue and that poetry can be abstract and fragmented, provided a safe space for me to explore things, if that makes sense.

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?

New projects tend to develop pretty quickly - almost immediately after an idea has popped to my mind. I always get the initial rush that comes with an idea, and try to materialise it before my interest goes away. There have been projects that haven’t made it to the end – but not many. I don’t tend to dwell too much in drafts, as I trust my initial instincts and want my works to have a spontaneous essence - not sure how well I communicate this to the reader, but that’s how I work at least. 

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 think it depends on your definition of a poem. My definition is pretty broad, so a poem for me exists here, there & everywhere. I like narratives and my page/object poems unfold into sequences one way or another.

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

Some of my poems exist in different forms simultaneously – often in performance, page and object/visual form. I don’t like to just read poems, so performances have really helped me develop and think outside the box.

I used to be very nervous of reading in public, but grew to really enjoy it. Performance is an important aspect of my work nowadays.

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?

Questions of technology vs poetry, human vs human, human vs nature, technology vs nature, human vs space & more.

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?

It’s hard to think of poets in response to larger culture due to the fact that poetry communities are so close-knit, in London at least. It’s unusual to stumble upon people who read poetry (particularly experimental) who aren’t poets themselves, publishers, academics etc. Poetry can be therapeutic, thought provoking and/or entertaining to a non-poet, so perhaps the role of the poet is to introduce poetry to new audiences in order to expand and maintain the poetry ecosystem.

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

I think that it depends on the project, although an editor can sharpen up a work and be this second pair of eyes that a book needs. I’ve been lucky so far with my editors – amongst them Luke Thompson and Paul Hawkins who were a joy to work with!

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

No money, no honey.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to visual art to performance)? What do you see as the appeal?

I’m quite happy for my work to exist in different forms or somewhere in between mediums. As well as a poet, I consider myself an artist, so I enjoy playing around and trying new things. It’s been easy for me to exist in between things – it’s the magic of experimental poetry. It has no boundaries.

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?

At the moment, I am studying for a PhD on a full-time basis while working at The Poetry Society and WhyNow magazine, so time is pretty limited for writing outside my PhD project. I write & brainstorm on my hour-long commute to London, before bed, during lunch break, in the shower, weekends – any chance I get. But sometimes, you just need to lay back and watch Forensic Files (at least that’s what I do to relax).

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

The fear of every writer. When this happens, I tend to flick through poetry books that I like and note down phrases with a good resonance for my taste. I re-arrange these phrases and replace some of the words – to get my own rhythm going (in ideal scenarios). For object poems, I visit charity shops to find unusual and affordable objects that I could turn into poems. The toy section is usually the goldmine corner.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The smell of leather - 100%. My dad owed a fur shop for most of his life. He was a single parent and I would spend hours of my day at his shop amongst fur & leather jackets. I would try to describe the scent, but all that comes to mind is dad.

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?

Literally everything can influence my work – from visual art to crime documentaries and the universe.

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

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

I would like to own a little exhibition venue. Maybe one day, eh?

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 would either like to be a judge or a forensic investigator.

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

I honestly don’t know – somehow poetry as a medium works well with my nature. It has no limits and I love it.

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

Best book was Katie Paterson’s A Place That Exists Only in Moonlight – its cover is printed with cosmic dust, which says it all. Last great film was Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, which I watched at Steven J Fowler’s book launch at the Cinema Museum in London two weeks ago.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a pamphlet that will be out by Hesterglock Press in December 2019. I’m also curating a couple of exhibitions – the closest one is themed around The Yellow Book and is taking place at the Westminster Reference Library from the 1st to the 27th November. Lots of exciting things ahead.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Forty Proper Tales : celebrating 40 years of Stuart Ross' Proper Tales Press

In case you haven’t seen, I’ve been curating the Forty Proper Tales blog, posting essays celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press, founded way back in 1979! So far, the blog includes celebratory essays by a variety of friends (most of whom have also been Proper Tales Press authors), including Amelia Does, Cameron Anstee, Clint Burnham, Dag T. Straumsvåg, Dale Tracy, Derek Beaulieu, Gary Barwin, George Bowering, Heather Birrell, Hugh Thomas, Jason Heroux, John M. Bennett, Lance La Rocque, Lillian Necakov, Mark Laba, Michael Boyce, Michael Dennis, rob mclennan and Tom Prime. With (hopefully) more to come!

Monday, December 09, 2019

Spotlight series #44 : Sarah MacDonell

The forty-fourth in my monthly "spotlight" series, each featuring a different poet with a short statement and a new poem or two, is now online, featuring Ottawa poet and editor Sarah MacDonell.

The first eleven in the series were attached to the Drunken Boat blog, and the series has so far featured poets including Seattle, Washington poet Sarah Mangold, Colborne, Ontario poet Gil McElroy, Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Ottawa poet Jason Christie, Montreal poet and performer Kaie Kellough, Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, American poet Elizabeth Robinson, American poet Jennifer Kronovet, Ottawa poet Michael Dennis, Vancouver poet Sonnet L’Abbé, Montreal writer Sarah Burgoyne, Fredericton poet Joe Blades, American poet Genève Chao, Northampton MA poet Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer from Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1 territory) poet, critic and editor Joshua Whitehead, American expat/Barcelona poet, editor and publisher Edward Smallfield, Kentucky poet Amelia Martens, Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie, Burlington, Ontario poet Sacha Archer, Washington DC poet Buck Downs, Toronto poet Shannon Bramer, Vancouver poet and editor Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Vancouver poet Geoffrey Nilson, Oakland, California poets and editors Rusty Morrison and Jamie Townsend, Ottawa poet and editor Manahil Bandukwala, Toronto poet and editor Dani Spinosa, Kingston writer and editor Trish Salah, Calgary poet, editor and publisher Kyle Flemmer, Vancouver poet Adrienne Gruber, California poet and editor Susanne Dyckman, Brooklyn poet-filmmaker Stephanie Gray, Vernon, BC poet Kerry Gilbert, South Carolina poet and translator Lindsay Turner, Vancouver poet and editor Adèle Barclay, Thorold, Ontario poet Franco Cortese, Ottawa poet Conyer Clayton, Lawrence, Kansas poet Megan Kaminski, Ottawa poet and fiction writer Frances Boyle, Ithica, NY poet, editor and publisher Marty Cain, New York City poet Amanda Deutch, Iranian-born and Toronto-based writer/translator Khashayar Mohammadi and Mendocino County writer, librarian, and a visual artist Melissa Eleftherion.

The whole series can be found online here.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

the ottawa small press book fair (part two,

[jwcurry's Room 302 Books table]

Ottawa ON: I’m charmed by the array of small mini-chapbooks that Dessa Bayrock produces through her post ghost press, with some of her most recent offerings including the wishing well: a suite of found poems (2019) by Rose Hunter, brilliant blooming voices (2019) by mj santiago, Monster (Girl) Theory (2019) by Kanika Lawton, and Blessing (2019) by Victoria Nugent (and did you see they now also have poetry socks?). Producing more chapbooks over the course of a year than most, post ghost press focuses, it would seem, pretty heavily (but not exclusively) upon emerging authors (which is often the case with such enterprises; working to support and produce writing and writers not necessarily being supported otherwise). There is an energy to these small publications that is quite charming, from the DIY cut-up design to the confidence that only comes through from emerging authors. As Kanika Lawton writes in her small chapbook/sequence:

I am good enough to bring to your mother’s house.
I will eat from her china plates and wipe off the crumbs.
I will be the perfect false-daughter.

I am bad enough to show to your friends.
Don’t act so shocked. You know I only look innocent.
I promise I’ll only break your neck with my teeth.

Some of the strongest poems of this assemblage comes from mj santiago; for example, “Anything that emerges from my body / becomes my responsibility / the moment it is visible,” is just stellar. One can see the emergence of something working its way up to some very fine sharpness:

my mom says, this is how we die

For the fourth night in a row
I vomit overcooked meat onto the floor.
It does not slip out easily while I sleep
but is hacked out onto the tile
surrounded by my history made tangible
Through the lining of my esophagus.
Anything that emerges from my body
becomes my responsibility
the moment it is visible.
I dream all of the ways
I will clean up after fate.

Ottawa ON: I’ve been very impressed with the quality and attention of the literary and community work that Canthius journal has been doing over the past few years, whether in print, online (such as Manahil Bandukwala’s recent interview with Baseline Press editor/publisher Karen Schindler) or as part of one of their expansive multi-city launch parties. Managing editor/founder Claire Farley, with a recently-shifted assemblage of writers and editors in the editorial collective, have been working on their semi-annual “feminism and literary arts” journal long enough, now, to have released their seventh issue, featuring the work of Pearl Pirie, Sanna Wani, Jade Wallace, Terese Pierre, Kirby, M. Brett Gaffney, Annick MacAskill, Melanie Power, Kari Teicher, Sanchari Sur, Margaret Christakos, Émilie Kneifel, Karen Schindler, Jane Shi, Barâa Arar, Allie Duff, Natalia Orasani and Jesse Holth, as well as artwork by (and accompanying interview with) Rowan Red Sky. While I am familiar with more than half the names here, I am intrigued to be introduced to the luscious and powerful prose of Émilie Kneifel, such as the second half of the poem “Sharing Again,” that reads:

hanging silence, not even bye. you sit on his bed which holds in a breath. it collapses toward you; it tumbles him down. he of the drowsy hands, dulled-out reaching, pulls you to the peak of him. he clasps your head with the whole of his hand, your hair his veil, rumbling like a rock bed because you unleashed your old braids. he says i’m sorry like he always does like he always sleeps closest to the ground. which is its own kind of pattern. you nod, nod, nod. the dog tucks into the statue that still isn’t yours and you saddle your hand on him because he is just good. pungent as colour. your dad thumbs your steep face. arcs the crag of your nose. like a worry stone. says. “my pounpoun” (your oldest nickname. butchered french) “always so joyful on the outside, always so— thoughtful. on the inside.” he rustles your hair as your head accrues all the room’s static. “so many thoughts.” so he can see the roiling. “i wish i knew what they were” is what he mouths as you think it.

Part of the appeal of Canthius, apart from simply being a journal of some strong writing, is akin to what I mentioned in my notes on post ghost press: their continuing engagement with the work of emerging writers, and there are an enormous amount of writers from across Canada (and, occasionally, beyond) coming up that Canthius has been publishing and championing. The strength of Canthius comes from their ability to provide space for an array of literary voices, moving from the performance lyric to short bursts of prose to the boundaries of language poetry, holding their interest across a range of narratives and narrative lines, as Kari Teicher writes to open her poem “i told raw. –”:

he asks me for a story.

I can tell him anything, new or old
with Easter candy, we lie naked
feet-up, feet-down
and I tell him about the first grade

when Miss Moss sent me
to the principal,
made me show how I twisted
my shirt around, made my
tank top
into a
how to explain

Shania Twain is your idol.

Keep in mind, also, that this is one of the journals affected by Doug Ford’s government deciding to cut a section of funding to the Ontario Arts Council, which left Canthius without necessary funds to continue publishing, so I will suggest that, yes, you should totally subscribe.