Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Phil Hall, The Ash Bell


1. After Bashō

  To see a rice paddy    planted    with rice-planting songs
was the first elegance   on my journey


  I left the willow   So-So wrote under

through half of the sun   over fallow land   toward warm windows
  each step makes the earth boom   its guttural yodel in the old air

such toy arrogance


  Instead   I borrowed   at midnight   the scarecrow’s kimono
became a puddle drinker   with a side-road heart

  start with a tree   end with a hat


  Now sober 26 years
I own two pairs of sandals   & a hidden medallion

  bored by lightning
I watch fireflies   & am tipsy   as a boatman


The latest from Ontario gothic and Perth-based poet and editor Phil Hall is The Ash Bell (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw Press, 2022), a sequence of thirty numbered and extended meditations/poem-essays in a lyric structure as much adapted by him as established. Collected and compiled by innumerable fragments of conversation, reading, recollection and meditation, Hall’s lyric always gives the impression of being constantly in flux: reworked, rearranged and repurposed. Over the past twenty or so years, Hall’s collage-poems have become increasingly carefully and thoughtfully stitched-together, providing a casual, almost “aw, shucks” manner to an intricately-precise poetic and purposeful lyric. “A boy is peeing,” he writes, as part of “18 Verulam Revisited,” referencing the sequence that originally appeared as above/ground press chapbook, later part of his award-winning Killdeer (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011) [see my review of such here], “in a woodshed // & staring at a doe’s tongue    as it drips blood / she hangs    by her hind hooves    from the roof // her tail open    to write    north of anecdote [.]” Anyone familiar with Hall’s prior work will not only recognize familiar subjects in his work, but certain elements of call-back, as he thinks through his lyric across childhood abuse, Emily Carr’s artwork, conversations with Robert Kroetsch, parenting, correspondences, Charles Olson, the Rideau Canal Museum, photography, local history, memorials and multiple other threads. His lyric seems unique, in part, through the sheer amount of simultaneous conversations with other writers, artists and works that his poem-essays engage with, many of which are conversations that have been going on in his work for years.

The late Saskatchewan poet John Newlove once wrote that “the arrangement / is all,” a mantra that perfectly summed-up his own brand of meticulous placement, whereas Hall’s precision appears deliberately nebulous: a poem and a book arriving at a particular point through particular means, one that might even shift through the process of reading. It is one thing to build a strong foundation, but another thing entirely to construct one that holds together just as well, with an innate refusal to remain static. Across one hundred and forty pages of lyric heft, Hall’s The Ash Bell weaves in and through his reading, stories, interactions and queries, opening up a wide expanse of possibilities, seeking, at times, every direction simultaneously. “I am    gerund    at the lake    out the bathroom window,” he writes, to open “11 An Egregore,” “or I am   gerund   Kroetsch   at random   from Advice to My Friends [.]” Or, as a further part of the same poem offers:

               I thought I am    was aim
from outside    the door I slammed    sounded like doorlessness

my arrow    loosed    made home    a magnified name    on a map

  I insisted    I am out of here    but kept looking behind me
     long gone    an arrow

circling    Bobcaygeon    unable to land

  I see I have been woven in
or have woven myself in    by many awkward bows

  flight    is basketry

Monday, November 28, 2022

Sunday, November 27, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Manahil Bandukwala

Manahil Bandukwala is a writer and visual artist originally from Pakistan and now settled in Canada. She works as Coordinating Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine, and is Digital Content Editor for Canthius. She is a member of Ottawa-based collaborative writing group VII. Her debut poetry collection is MONUMENT (Brick Books).

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 first book, MONUMENT, is a collection of historical speculative poetry. It’s the first space I’ve actively started to think about my writing as speculative as a whole.

It’s a little too early to know how it “changed my life,” but I don’t doubt that it will be life changing. Publishing MONUMENT feels like the culmination of years of writing poetry, learning from other poets in my community, and coming into my own style.

2 - 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?

Since, MONUMENT, the concept of working on a “book” from the beginning has come up more and more. Individual poems always seem to be part of a larger “voice” or collection. Now, I’m trying to scale back and enjoy working on individual poems without any expectation of them ending up as some part of bigger project.

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

I have a lot of stage fright so public readings are incredibly scary. But at the same time, they’re so helpful in improving craft, working on musicality in poetry that’s difficult to see on the page, and in making my work reach audiences in the way I intend. They’re an obstacle, but one that is worthwhile to overcome.

4 - 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?

How do we survive in the current state of the world?

This was the first thing that came to my mind and I turn it over every day. I recently attended a talk between Matthew James Weigel and Omar Musa at the Toronto International Festival of Authors, where the moderator, Jennifer Alicia Murrin, asked about poetry’s place in politics. The conversation that emerged from that question speaks to the theoretical concerns of my own writing. Omar talked about how we end up either overstating or understating the power of poetry. But it does have a certain power.

Is poetry more powerful than other art forms? No, but it is the medium that we (to use the royal we here) have chosen to engage with the “big questions” that each of us carries.

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

Definitely essential. MONUMENT is the book it is thanks to my editor, Cecily Nicholson. Having feedback from an outside editor was instrumental in figuring out how to blend fact with poetry and how to find which parts were confusing. I 

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

Easy enough, because when one medium seems to dry up in inspiration, there’s something creative lying in another. Collaboration is the easiest to shift into, because suddenly the pressure to create something is lifted and it instead becomes about having fun with friends.  

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

Lately I’ve been learning not to panic when my writing gets stalled, and to trust that I will have things to write about. I tend to put the pen down and go wherever creativity wants me to go. Lately, that’s been felting tiny llamas from sheep wool and making raccoon linocuts.

8 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Baking bread.

9 - 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. Lately I’ve been writing a number of poems in response to Star Trek. This is a response to how the series predicted our future to look like versus how it’s currently going, which too often feels rather bleak.

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

This list is so long but the answer I always come back to is that my writer friends always inspire me. My partner Liam Burke, my friends in VII (Ellen Chang-Richardson, Chris Johnson, nina janedrystek, Helen Robertson, Margo LaPierre, and Conyer Clayton). natalie hanna, who is an inspiration to so many of us.

11 - 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?

Art museum or gallery curator.

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

Not to be cheesy with this answer, but Ottawa and the poetry community. I started seriously writing poetry because of the writers in Ottawa and at Carleton, and kept going because there was always something to keep going for.

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

Everything Everywhere All At Once. I cannot stress enough how life-changing this film is, and am grateful I got to experience it.

14 - What are you currently working on?

A collection of science fiction love-ish poems.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;