Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Spotlight series #39 : Frances Boyle

The thirty-ninth 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 fiction writer Frances Boyle [photo credit: Stephen Brockwell].

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 and Lawrence, Kansas poet Megan Kaminski.

The whole series can be found online here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ongoing notes: dusie kollektiv 9: gillian parrish + Carrie Hunter

St. Charles MO: From poet gillian parrish comes cold spell (April 2019), a project, she writes, that began “in January 2015 shelved until January 2019, as other projects kept the roof overhead, as all the while life for our kin in the arctic keeps declining. The work was taken up again in answer to a call from DUSIE for chapbooks by Counter-Desecration anthology contributors written in honor of editor Marthe Reed and her call for work that acknowledges that ‘there is no safe distance,’ work that lives ‘somewhere inbetween self and other, near and distant, paradoxical poles resolving moment-to-moment… Meeting place.’” cold spell focuses its gaze on the north, on the chaos of climate change on the landscape and the wildlife, writing diminishing fragments and a staccato pulse along the path, writing out what has already been lost and what will soon also be lost: “come muskox come / with your curved horns / goat-hooved / nimble come singing / the old cold songs / pack back the ice / press it back in place / cool the world [.]”

Yellow eye for summer, blue for winter. To see at the end of the spectrum, sight sliding into scent. You scry in ultraviolet light; wolf piss and wolf fur, the filigreed lichen named for you, filling the forest floor, ghost corals, branching antlers, luminescent heedless one. Teach us to see in the dark. Knee-clicker, river-runner. You make the track, you are the map, become the drum. Teach us to be eaten. How the body is an offering. Snow-shveler. Forager. How will you feed through the ice? For we’ve made the rain start falling at the wrong time. A bad rain falling like glass. Far-ranger. Fog-bringer. Our old seers climbed the sky inside your skin. Become the drum to stop our dreaming. Trail-maker. Watcher. At the limits of our vision.

San Francisco CA: From Californian poet Carrie Hunter comes The Hyperobjective Marthe Reed (April 2019), a collection of exploratory lyric collages shaped as a single, chapbook-length poem. Throughout the collection, she weaves in a myriad of quotes from John Ashbery’s FLOW CHART: A Poem (Knopf, 1991), as well as from Marthe Reed’s essay, threading a series of observations and questions on mythology, ecology, memory and meaning. Ashbery’s FLOW CHART is constructed as an accumulation, what the Los Angeles Times referred to as “a book-length poem of more than 5,000 long Ashberian lines, which makes it one of the longest poems ever written by an American poet. All of the qualities of Ashbery’s recent poetry are here in amplitude or excess, depending on your point of view.” Hunter extracts from Ashbery’s excess to move in a multitude of directions simultaneously, while pushing a thesis built on accumulation and collage, utilizing as springboard into, around and through her own thoughts on human responsibilities to and around climate disaster. “Who survives is no better than who does not;,” she writes, “it’s just incidental.” Hunter’s is a large canvas here, and I would be curious to know if this project is self-contained in this form, or might become larger (it certainly has that potential). To end the poem “Like Hebe to the Rainbow’s Gauzy Showers,” she writes:

The “wildflowers in the wallpaper.” Taking it more internal than is meant. Not wildflower wallpaper, but a hybrid form of two thing which would never be hybridized.

The Yellow Wallpaper palimpsested over Ashbery’s wildflowers.

“Presto, no one was there.”

Memory of the ecosystem (genitive) collides
with lacunae of the individual.

Another empty room.
What Joan said too.
Ornery purgative exodus.
The father, and disobediences.
An injunction, chamois costume,
what about when it’s really too late.

Monday, July 15, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Pamela Hart

PAMELA HART is author of the award-winning collection, MOTHERS OVER NANGARHAR, published by Sarabande Books. She  is writer-in-residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she manages and teaches an arts-in-education program. She received the Brian Turner Literary Arts Prize in poetry in 2016. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship as well as a fellowship from the SUNY Purchase College Writers Center. Toadlily Press published her chapbook, The End of the Body. She is a teaching artist in the schools and lives in North Salem, New York. She is a poetry editor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and for As You Were: The Military Review.

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 chapbook, published many years ago, changed my life because it meant that my work could find readers, that the conversations I’d been having in my head could be in dialogue with others. My new book is different in that it’s a full book. And it’s focused on ideas of war and family so quite different from my chapbook. I think the poems are more assured.

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

I come to poetry by way of journalism. I was a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for many years. I tried my hand at fiction but have trouble with plot. Poetry feels akin to journalism in its compression of language and its observational stance.

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?

All of the above!

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 like working on projects so poems that circle a topic or form help me focus my zig-zag mind. Sometimes, poems start as prose poem creatures.  Lately I’ve been writing long poems to strive for endurance. To try to sustain an idea or image, to explore and play with complication in a fractalistic kind of way, if that makes sense.

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

Public readings don’t factor into my process. I don’t mind them, but I don’t see them as informing the writing. Recently, however, I had the chance to attend a book club where the members had all read my book. To meet readers in such an intimate way. To hear them explain their responses. To read some poems in someone’s home. This was intense and very moving.

 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 do think about how description can become a mode of comprehension, a way to look closely, to think carefully and critically about the subject or topic of the poem. 

I have tried to consider questions at the outset, but often I lose track or get distracted. I don’t really consider my writing metaphysical, or even lyrical, but more documentary.

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 about the work of artiststo help make sense of these charged timesthe daily events that are ordinary or elevated—so that we might see again and then remember going forward.

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

Because of my background in journalism, where words are not so precious, I’m comfortable with editors. The relationship between writer and a good editor can be difficult, but it is essential!

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

I like this quote from the artist Jasper Johns: “Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that.”

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?

Generative writing happens best in the early pre-dawn hours, with revision taking place at other times. A routine has been helpful to me. Especially as I move between writing and teaching and the rest of my life. But there are times when it’s harder to maintain that routine.

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

I run and take walks to help clear the brain. I like to do something called walking writing – where I talk into my phone, which takes dictation of the stream of sentences. Also reading.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

There are a few – fresh cut hay. Privet in July. Low tide in September.

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?

All of the above. I work at an art museum so visual art plays a big part of my teaching and thinking. But I like to fold in other areas of expression and learning such as dance, science, anthropology.

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

Writers like C.D. Wright have been important. Virginia Woolf. Jorie Graham. Tyehimba Jess. Jake Adam York and Phil Metres. So much great stuff happening in poetry now.

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

Translate a book poetry from a country such as Mongolia or Afghanistan. I’d love to travel to Afghanistan and hope for a time when that country can experience extended peace.

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?

Sculptor or painter.  Maybe documentary film maker.

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

For as long as I can remember I named myself a writer, even when I likely didn’t know what it meant.

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

I loved Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic.  Captain Marvel…I’m not well grounded in film.

19 - What are you currently working on?

A collection of poems tentatively titled The Brain Project that looks at how the brain breaks as well as works, and the impact of brain trauma on family/country/culture.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair (part three,

Windsor/Toronto ON: I’m very taken—charmed, even—by the seventeen-poem sequence TEST CENTRE (Windsor ON: Zed Press, 2019), a chapbook by the collaborative MA│DE. As the author biography attests:

MA│DE is a collaborative gesture, a unity of two voices fused into a poetic third. It is the name given to the joint authorship of Toronto-based creators Mark Laliberte and Jade Wallace, artists whose active solo practices differ quite radically from one another. MA│DE’s collaborative writing formalizes a process that began as an extended conversation between two people newly discovering one another. over a number of months, the pair messaged, texted, emailed, telephoned, conversed in person, left links on social media for the other to find, and mailed letters; their long, exploratory conversations opened up a language-space all their own.

With each poem, in the table of contents, named after a particular test—running from the Apgar Test and Bechdel Test to the Turning Test, Emergency Broadcast System and Rorschach Test—the poems in the body of the collection appear with number only, allowing for a smooth flow of sequence, even as an accumulation of self-contained pockets. As the third poem reads:

If coal is white / are some books black / words
cut with a knife / flow up a hill / as avalanches
do indeed descend mountains / and illiterate men
read romances for the Devens Literacy test

Kingston ON: Anyone paying attention to Michael e. Casteels’ Puddles of Sky Press will be well aware of his occasional illiterature, a journal of small poems. The latest issue is “eight and a half” (June 2019), edited and beautifully hand-printed (hand-stamped) by Casteels in an edition of one hundred and twenty-two copies, it includes wee poems by Kemeny Babineau, David Alexander, Cameron Anstee, Justin Patrick, Angeline Schellenberg, Conor Barnes and Charlotte Jung. His publications are very graceful, understated and carefully put together. You should be paying attention.

A narrow bridge
in the middle of the nigt
fanged (Conor Barnes)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Susan Lewis, ZOOM

All Signs

pointed to the same confusion. On the second Monday the third person persevered. Tiny toes like exclamation points, daffodils, or doubts. While the mistress of ceremonies sobbed off the opportunity to introduce her own death. Chanting, mutinous, the girls in our hearts danced on pins & needles, stalking expired goals. Souled like dreaming dogs: backwards sever, forward fever. Naysayers said their. Bed-layers lied. Mixed wintry standards dropped precipitously on the embryonic future poking its head from the earth’s gut, while the spicy amongst us inverted our convolutions to the nth degree. Out-rhymed, intellect ceded the probabilistic navigation to instinct & its moody henchmen. Lolling yet again on shaky ground, the middle deliquesced to flab & folded.

As I published one of the poems from this manuscript in the “Tuesday poem” series at dusie, I was curious to see how the full-length collection, New York City poet Susan Lewis’s latest, ZOOM (Washington DC: The Word Works, 2018), would turn out. Winner of the Washington Prize, and her tenth title and fourth full-length poetry title to date, ZOOM is constructed as a suite of stand-alone prose poem squares organized in three sections, titled in reverse numerical order: “3rd,” “2nd” and “1st.” Through fifty-six single-stanza poems, the title seems to suggest the speed of her lyric, as each poem is produced in a sweeping, stream-of-consciousness rush. Her poems each exist as a singular, ongoing thought, contained in the lyric until it runs out of breath (I would be curious to hear how she might read such aloud), but cohere as a unit through their structural and tonal echoes, some of which I found a bit too similar, at times. Still, the poems in ZOOM explore anxiety around contemporary conditions, from a crumbling infrastructure, political hackery and climate collapse, and the speed at which everything seems to be closing in on a potential end. In a recent interview around the collection for The Friday Influence, conducted by José Angel Araguz, she responds:

The origins of this collection go back to my years-long interest in the prose poem, combined with another interest of mine, which happened to develop at the same time: in poetry as play – which is not, in my mind, inconsistent with addressing dark or serious concerns. One of the things I find interesting is how much play the prose poem allows! I’m drawn to the paradox of this form: poetry that is not lineated, that is, does not advertise itself as poetry. I love the tension this holds – the demand that the reader look beyond the obvious, and engage with what might make poetry be poetry. (A question I think is more important than any particular answer one might suggest). Writing prose poems has only deepened my love for the form: the concentrated punch of a discrete bloc of words floating in a white page; the implication that substantial things come in small packages; the impression these blocs give, of density and compression; the focused attention they ask of the reader.

However, I did not set out, ab initio, to write a book-length project, or suite. It was interesting: after writing some number of what I thought of as free-standing poems, their common concerns started to become apparent, and began guiding the development and features of the rest of the poems in the book. Some of these preoccupations are packed into the title, with its nod towards film technique, as well as velocity. Organized around the substantive and aesthetic potency of point of view, the poems in Zoom borrow from film technique to ‘zoom in’ from the objective/long shot/third person, to the medium shot/second person, to the subjective/close up/first person. All engage the ramifications of subjectivity via bricolage, parataxis, polysemy, and compression. I think of the collection as adding up to a kind of status report for our moment in this world, in which the frame narrows along with the point of view, from the global to the local to the individual. Especially concerned with the need for, and failure of, empathy and decency, as well as with how we perceive and communicate, these poems also amount to a progress report on the state of language itself. The consensus among these poems is that we’re zooming – if not to our doom, than to the brink, where we might still be able to stop ourselves from irreparably despoiling our psyches and our planet.