Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Katie Naughton, The Real Ethereal


the question of address (elegy: apartment)

with you I have reached
the limits of reason with you
described the trajectory
you had two chairs and mine
was never close enough
at breakfast I want to you
close to you be to you
I tell you everything I see
the kitchen every day I map
my heart the morning for you
the cat circles us lies in the sun
the large room at the top
of the old house
everything I said to you failed
it my self and the limits
of what I could know I felt

Following chapbooks through above/ground press and Dancing Girl Press [see my review of such here] (the second of which is folded into this current work) comes Brooklyn, New York-based poet and editor Katie Naughton’s full-length poetry debut, The Real Ethereal (Fort Collins CO: Delete Press, 2024). Set in four sections of staggered, staccato lyrics—“day book,” “hour song,” “the question of address” and “the real ethereal”—Naughton examines fragments, frictions and accumulations, allowing individual points and posits to gather, cluster and group into larger structures that reveal themselves slowly, as the forest through the trees. There is something of the collection that offers itself as a single through-line, a single, extended thought or lyric sentence that runs the length and breadth of it, from one moment unto the next. “the billowing bright day is gone we did not / have the money to keep it,” she writes, as part of the opening section-sequence “day book,” “the picture taken / upstairs the light and heat coming through / the window then the house / torn down the waste mass / of drywall plaster and beams that was the most / money I ever knew and so much [.]” The accumulations are layered, and propulsive: one line and then another in sequence.

I would presume that Naughton would be well aware of the implications of composing such an opening sequence, especially writing from Buffalo (where she has been a doctoral candidate in the Poetics program, only recently relocating to Brooklyn), as an echo of the late Robert Creeley’s infamous A Day Book (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972). While it has been more than fifty years since the publication of that particular work, Creeley’s shadow looms large across contemporary poetics, after all, and nowhere more than Buffalo, where he taught for thirty-seven years as Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetics, from 1966 to 2003. “the image world shimmers in our neighbor’s windows / the vacant house,” she writes, “and who left it / pink hearts and red a sugar crystal glitter / in winter [.]”

Naughton begins this collection with her “day book” poems, suggesting a movement through time, but the poems of The Real Ethereal hold to an immediacy, a perpetual moment across the American present through parsed and penetrating short-form lengths. “morning takes me take the street traffics / daily time through me though morning,” she writes, to open “my love in strange places,” the poem that begins the second section, “comes already strange and I leave / the choirs of history and their small bells [.]” Her lyrics really do propel with their expansiveness, their ongoingness, offering a simultaneous, infinite and open-ended present. “dawn is not mine day still breaks yellow,” begins the poem “warming ending what it may you persist.” Naughton seeks questions of elegy and address, between what is real and what is less than, and what makes the difference, striding the line between concrete and abstract. She seeks questions around the complexities of ethics vs. capitalism, and what can be held, or held against; seeking answers to how not only to be present, but to somehow survive. As part of the sequence “a second singing,” set in the final section, reads:

Some days are my inheritance
gray and November I want
to see out of them and also
to be inside them though
the endless dissipation the body
turning to heat to waste pass
or spend a life its imagined
or remembered textures. So most time
stopped to remember happens
in an empty room with the internet
the flat word of the screen
standing in for some other place
where something happens. The
news is who stays poor in
the necessary rooms waiting
for dinner. I’m in some threshold
looking through two doors.
The rooms are empty but feel
like weight   like world.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Britta Badour, Wires That Sputter: Poems


: Hurricanes :

better not come home

bend all the ways I howl          or be cut
out                   baby photos

            don’t dare

                        who would


drop this whip? heat? help?
                                                what help

I’m only just now going through Wires That Sputter: Poems (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2023), the full-length debut by the award-winning Toronto-based artist, public speaker and poet Britta Badour (a performer otherwise known as Britta B.). I get books in the mail nearly every day, and it took nearly a year to realize that McClelland and Stewart hadn’t actually sent along the spring 2023 list (which is why I’m so late), so this title only landed quite recently. There is such a wonderful sense of performative expansiveness to these pieces, poems composed through a blend of pattern, rhythm, confident gesture and deep sense of the personal. She writes with a sense of loss and of heart; an open-hearted intimacy, whether writing on family, politics or culture. “In May, if asked,” she writes, as part of “: If His Mama :,” “I would’ve said you’ll either have hurricanes / or become one.” These poems are performative, declarative and substantive, offering a deep sense of storytelling and rhythm, as well as a deep moral foundation, one that holds through and despite all as an anchor against any storm. “here we are bewildering,” she writes, as part of “: Letters to Miranda :,” “our single mothers’ make-believe, we sisters / here we are dancing to Boys II Men / here were are maybe four and six and Miranda is leaving / I repeat the alphabet for twenty years [.]”

Monday, July 15, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Patrick Grace

Patrick Grace is an author and teacher from Vancouver, BC. His poems have been published widely in Canadian literary magazines, including Best Canadian Poetry, EVENT, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, and Prairie Fire. He is the author of two chapbooks: a blurred wind swirls back for you (Turret House Press, 2023), and Dastardly (Anstruther Press, 2021). His debut poetry collection, Deviant (University of Alberta Press, 2024), explores intimacy and fear within gay relationships. He moonlights as the managing editor of Plenitude Magazine. Follow him @thepoetpatrick.

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 debut poetry collection Deviant takes pieces from my two previous chapbooks, a blurred wind swirls back for you and Dastardly. I like to think of them as singles released before the full album. The theme of male intimacy—in all its ups and downs—runs through all three.

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

I didn’t. I wrote fiction first, long before poetry. Fan fiction as a kid, short stories as an adult. I wrote some cool stories in workshops with Lee Henderson and Lorna Jackson at UVic. I still want to do something with them, someday, rewrite them and send them out. Poetry sort of took over and wouldn’t let me look back.

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 poem notes on my phone and when there’s a good number, I transfer them to my computer, tidy up the possibles and leave the weak ones. Then I hash out the possibles and create longer pieces, sometimes break them up into two or three poems. Some first drafts feel magical and so I leave them alone; poems like “The Calling” and “soft stalker,” both in Deviant, came out near untouchable in the very first draft. I didn’t have to do much with them. Others have been sitting on my hard drive for years that I still don’t know what to do with.

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?

A poem begins with a memory or a feeling, translated into a single line. I pick out uncommon words that I like using in poems, or motifs that I find myself returning to (fire, light/dark, voices), and write a few more lines. It’s a balance of concrete images and clarity, wisdom. As a manuscript, I always knew Deviant would focus on queer love and intimacy, the fear that often comes with it, but there were a handful of short pieces that didn’t quite fit, so we removed them. I’m very happy with the final product in its cohesiveness.

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

It’s important for authors to get out there and showcase their work. Writing is a lonely process, even when you’re sharing ideas by email or chatting on social media. It’s still just you and your phone, you and your computer. With Deviant’s publication, I’ve done a handful of readings, both online and in the real world, and I’m learning to enjoy them more. I’m quite a shy person so having a room full of people staring at you can be nerve wracking, but then I remember they’re all there for me, to hear my stories, my experiences.

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 want to document parts of my life before I’m too old to remember.

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

I enjoy it, but I don’t think it’s always necessary. Everyone has a different opinion, style, mood. You’ll never please everyone. It’s a careful game, sharing your poems with another. Editors for publishing houses are a different story—if you want your collection published, that is.

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

The standard: don’t stop writing. Write every day, as much as you can. It’s simple but easy to forget, and sometimes the weeks turn into months and you haven’t written anything! Take it seriously and make time, even if it means passing on your favourite Netflix series after dinner.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Surprise question! It would have to be red roses, or concord grapes, or blackberries. All of these grew around our house in Vancouver.

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?

Nature does it for me. I go jogging in a nearby park several times a week, and it’s here that words, lines, ideas come to me as I’m covered in sweat and circling the paths.

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

My pillars are W.S. Merwin and Anne Carson. I come back to them often. Carson in particular does neat things with dialogue, asking questions in poetry. It grounds me in my own work.

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

Start a chapbook publishing company. Or swim with dolphins.

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?

As a kid I dreamed of being a translator. It was a romanticized career that I didn’t know much about. In my mind, I imagined Gandalf poring over old texts in spooky libraries. The real thing is much more boring, underpaid, and not well recognized.

My other dream career was a marine biologist. Again, swimming with dolphins.

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

It wouldn’t leave me alone! Write write write, my mind chants at me. My full-time job is a teacher, and I also work part-time in the literary publishing world. It’s a nice balance so I don’t go nuts feeling guilty for not writing all the time.

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

As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross will always be one of the greatest books. When it comes to movies, I like them thoughtfully scary—M3GAN was a good one.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Poems about my childhood home. The house itself was big, old, and sometimes scary. We got broken into one night while everyone slept. Most of my writing lately is about that. Since the death of my mother a few months ago, I’ve also been writing about her condition and the dismal state of care homes. And, here and there, queer love poems, always love poems.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;