Friday, August 19, 2022

Best of the Sucks: High-Octane Poetix from the Legendary Toad Suck Review, ed. Mark Spitzer



Convicted of fucking in Greenwich

when she sat, only inwardly mutinous,

by Henry’s side three miles distant,

it should come as no surprise that Anne,

now relieved of physical limits, flickers

wickless in a coach drawn by headless

horses all the way to Blickling even

as she skims towerwards on Thames,

skips poltergeist in shoe shop on day

of execution. Every year since 1538,

she’s frissoned as if by magic sword

trick. Now many queens, more fertile

than Henry could ever need, she flirts

in empty bonnet. Skirts, once garnet,

are blood clot, even looser than accused

in places she’d never been. (Brenda Mann Hammack)

Recently, a copy of the anthology Best of the Sucks: High-Octane Poetix from the Legendary Toad Suck Review (Cheshire MA: MadHat Press, 2022), edited by writer and translator Mark Spitzer, an anthology pulled from the six volumes of the annual Toad Suck Review (2009-2015). As Spitzer offers in his “FROM THE TOADSTOOL: PREFACE TO A NEW TOAD ERA”:

Back in 2008 I was an assistant professor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas where my dean desired a national literary journal for the college. So I went to him and proposed publishing a print version of an already established literary journal that was only online at the time. Having worked as an editor of Exquisite Corpse for nearly a decade, and knowing that I could coordinate a deal between my university and said journal’s ed in chief, I threw in the incentive of writing a proposal for an MFA program in creative writing which the dean also wanted. Then Whamo! It was on.


Hence, we settled on the title of Toad Suck Review, named for the region of Central Arkansas where UCA is located. And so “The Transitional Issue” exploded on the scene. Toad Suck Review #1 included work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, CD Wright, Xaviera Hollander, Jacques Prévet, Lyn Lifshin, Kevin Brockmeier, David Gessner, Davis Schneiderman and an electric, eclectic host of other vibrant voices. We debuted our “High-Octane Poetics” section along with fiction and nonfiction, but we also focused on literary translation, Arkansas-specific authors, environmental literature, artwork, reviews and critical/scholarly work. And as all this went on, we held bandfest fundraisers, sponsored readings, had a presence at national conferences and created a major buzz.

Anyone who knows me already knows I’m a big fan of these sorts of archival projects, from the ongoing interviews I’ve been doing with current and former editors/publishers of small press and journals to the fact that I’m currently building the latest ‘best of’ anthology of above/ground press, covering the press’ third decade of publication. There is something of this currently anthology that reminds me of The Angel Hair Anthology (New York NY: Granary Books, 2001), edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, a book that covered a period of Angel Hair magazine and books produced between 1966 and 1978: with the arrival of each anthology on my doorstep, they each provided me an introduction to an entire range of publishing (albeit with scores of familiar names) I hadn’t been aware of. I don’t think it unreasonable to have not heard of either, as few copies of either Angel Hair nor Toad Suck Review most likely managed to make their way north of the border. The two hundred-plus pages of the anthology give a sense of both the locality and the urgency of the journal, working to reach beyond the borders of their immediate to connect a community of writing and writers well beyond into other parts of the country. There’s a vibrancy to the poets, from early work to the late Matthew Henriksen (a poet who died earlier this year, obviously after the book had gone through production) and Jericho Brown to local favourites such as Michael Anania, CD Wright, Jack Collom and Frank Stanford, and American poets well-established by that point, including Ed Sanders, Anne Waldman and Lew Welch (the book does seem to be particularly male-heavy, which is worth noting). There are places where the design of the collection does seem a bit compact, a bit squished, but there is something, also, of the assemblage akin to collage, seeming all over the place—poems and  prose to interviews and essays—suggesting the journal existed in much the same manner, offering a kind of curated literary catch-all, with no one contributor lifted higher than any other, and there’s something energizing in that, something purely democratic. The anthology includes mounds of poetry from an array of poets both new and established, an essay by Amiri Baraka, “WHY MOST POETRY IS SO BORING AGAIN,” Lew Welch’s ‘LANGUAGE IS SPEECH,” as well as interviews with Anne Waldman, Davis Schneiderman, Jericho Brown and CD Wright. This collection offers a rather intriguing portrait of a period of time in American poetry, as seen and curated from Arkansas, a geography not as much on the radar as perhaps it should be. As Wright’s interview ends:

Fayetteville was a place with its moment. There was more than a critical mass of artists from different media living there in the early seventies. We were all burning, none more brightly than Frank Stanford. We were all holdovers from the struggles of Civil Rights, Vietnam War; emerging partisans of the Women’s Movement. Making a little art in the Ozarks, yeah, that seemed like a fertile and protected setting. Reagan was temporarily confined to California. We had all graduated from our at least attended the University of Arkansas. The town was inexpensive and cohesive. The death of Frank Stanford should not be designated the only catalyst for that diaspora, but his tragic early death was a strong, painful signal that our time there was up. Many of us moved to the cities—New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles were the primary urban destinations. A few hardy artists stayed on and succeeded in making an independent creative living, but the rest of us had to find another way forward. College towns have that in common. They shed their former students. This one bound us together for longer than many, but it was just not large enough to employ artists in any special numbers. But among the artists I most admire, Fayetteville is where they were conentrated then.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Derek Beaulieu, Surface Tension


At its core, Surface Tension holds a series of delicate, balanced poems, each symmetrical, palindromic, and made by hand using Letraset. A graphic designer’s tool, Letraset – which standardized typefaces across advertising platforms in an idealistic, 1950s/60s aesthetic of sales copy and purchasing power – foregrounds a clean design; a logical, controllable narrative of graphic beauty and heroic lyricism.

Much contemporary poetry arose from that mandate, but we can swerve the beauty away from the sales pitch.

Surface Tension creates landscapes from the remnants of advertising (Letraset, for instance, is now mostly used by scrapbookers and hobbyists), a pastoral space of deep ink-pools where even the language itself is an oily sheen on the surface of writing. (“MADGE, YOU’RE SOAKING IN IT”)

The latest from Alberta poet, editor, critic, publisher and visual artist Derek Beaulieu is Surface Tension (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), an assemblage of morphed text-as-image that examine how language, meaning and letterforms are shaped, playing with the pure image of letterforms, continuing a structural thread he’s been exploring in his work for years via Lettraset. Surface Tension also marks his return to publishing with Toronto’s Coach House, who produced his full-length debut, with wax, back in 2003, having published since with numerous publishers including Talonbooks, The Mercury Press and Guillemot Press.

Titled Surface Tension, Beaulieu references the physical point where liquid shrinks and reshapes into the minimum surface, offering not simply metaphor but description of how poetic form is and can be shaped, offering a sequence of visual sequences, each composed as a succession of text-forms in sequence, some of which move from the recognizable into purely abstract, but every bit of the sequence intact. The visual sequences are interspersed with prose poems that serve as essay-sketches around the project and its applications, as the piece “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT,” opens: “The poems are further manipulated using photocopiers to become liquid and languid, troubling poetic logic, perfection, and power narratives, they flow and gather, drip and congeal, sliding off the page.” The prose poems serve, almost, as accumulative essays, offering single-sentence mantras that serve as poetic statements, which themselves form larger essay-shapes through their collection. In the same piece, further on, he writes:

When most of the language we consume is non-poetic, should poetry not attempt to poetically intervene within these spaces that are not traditionally poetic?

Poetry is not the beautiful expression of emotive truths; it is the archaeological rearrangement of the remains of an ancient civilization.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Trynne Delaney

Trynne Delaney (b 1996) is a writer currently based in Tiohtiàh:ke (Montreal). They hold a Master of Arts in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Calgary. Their work appears in The Puritan, CV2, Carte Blanche, GUTS, WATCH YOUR HEAD, and the League of Canadian Poets’ chapbook These Lands: a collection of voices by Black Poets in Canada edited by Chelene Knight. In their spare time they like to garden. They grew up in the Maritimes. the half-drowned is their first book.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book the half-drowned will be releasing a week after I wrote this in June 2022. I’m not sure how it will change my life once it’s out in the world. Writing it certainly changed my life—I have relationships to texts and people that I know I wouldn’t have without the work that went into this book.

Working on it has been one of the most rigorous processes of my life. It’s taught me a lot about what my own needs are as a writer. For example: I need to have a space dedicated to my writing outside of my house. I didn’t realize how much I was writing outside of my house before covid hit in cafes, parks, libraries, busses… about a year ago I managed to find a studio space. I’m super grateful for it.

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

I think I came to poetry simultaneously with other forms of writing. The first time I remember really connecting to a poem was with Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, the version illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat—ironically, life does frighten me very much. But the first time I think I understood how versatile poetry can be was in an American Lit course. I chose to write an essay on Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and it was like I’d unlocked a portal to another dimension. In terms of my work, most of it is hybrid form – I don’t think of poetry as separate from fiction or non-fiction or even other more visual genres like graphic novels or film/tv.

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 don’t know! I think of all of my projects as having been started from birth. In general, everything takes longer than expected for me, I am trying not to fight that so much anymore.

I took a lot of notes for the half-drowned. It’s the first time I’ve approached work through a lot of research. Most of the research was at the intersection of histories of Black Loyalist populations and personal experience/connection to those histories.

Writing only works for me if I’m hyperfocused in a quiet environment, or occasionally with background noise. For the half-drowned I listened to a lot of ocean wave white noise while I was writing so that the rhythm could imbue itself into me. When I can get to that state where I’m in a flow, often what I write will be a good skeleton of the final product. I tend to edit my poetic work very heavily as I write. I prefer to write by hand because I find it hard to read and connect with writing on a screen so I will make a first draft on paper then transcribe my work to the computer as part of the editing process.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction 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?

Most of my work begins with walking or journaling. When I have an idea that I feel good about I will commit to it and make a book. With individual poems I think of each one as a little book! If I publish a full book of poetry that’s longer than my little chapbook death of the author one day, I want it to be thought out and well conceptualized.

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

Public readings were an essential part of my creative process pre-covid. I feel nervous about submitting anything for publication that I haven’t read in public yet. They were also the place where I learned to have more confidence and push my limits—for a while I was using readings as a form of exposure therapy for social phobia which was an interesting experience—I learned a lot about generosity and humour from that period. I really feel like those readings made me into the writer I am today.

During the pandemic I’ve found it pretty difficult to engage online because the screen makes me feel lonely and outside community. I’ve been so drained and working on more fiction work that I haven’t been as present.

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 think a big concern behind my writing is how to find community and love in the ways that we need, especially for oppressed groups. Like, beyond chosen family, how do we build a world that is predicated on caring for and supporting the people and environments around us? How do we become a part of without being apart from our needs?

I’m also interested in mythologies of the Black Atlantic.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Hmmm this is a tough one. I wonder what is meant by The Writer. Some people are writing, some people are writers… I don’t know if I would define myself exclusively as a writer, though that has been a powerful word to claim at some points and made me feel more “professional.”

For a long time I thought the role of writing in society was social change. I think that can be the case, but isn’t necessarily. I think more often writers are simply documenting the movement of time, not necessarily linearly. Capturing an emotional process that reaches with tentacles and sometimes touches people.

I don’t know! Think it depends on the writer!

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

I usually like working with an outside editor. It’s helpful to have a glimpse into how others are reading my work. In my opinion it’s impossible to write anything without collaboration. Sometimes your environment is your editor, which really brings another meaning to an “outside” editor. Other times, it’s just someone who is good at reading. When editing is done well it really enhances the work and the writer’s voice. I’ve learned maybe the most from editors.

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


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

They don’t feel totally separate for me; they slip into each other easily. The appeal of poetry is more emotional and personal. I like that poetry doesn’t need a plot. Plots are very challenging and detail oriented and when I am writing I feel like I am transcribing a dream, so I’m not overly concerned with consistency, which means for prose fiction I have to go back and do a lot of reworking of the plot after it’s written. In the future if I write a book with a plot I will probably try to plan it out more! I prefer writing characters and emotional/natural landscapes.

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?

I don’t keep a routine… yet. I work full time during the day and have a chronic illness so I write when I am able to, usually in the evenings. If I’m lucky I get a good mid-morning writing session on the weekend after lounging around and sipping on tea or coffee.

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

Walking. Or back to the water.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Frying onions and garlic.

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?

Music is a huge influence on me! I grew up playing music – cello – and when I was getting into poetry, rap and folk played a huge role in how I engaged with crafting before I really knew what to look for in written poetry.

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

Audre Lorde’s work came at a pivotal point in my life. Her essays recontextualized my life.

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

I want to write for TV at some point in the future. Good scripts are full of poetry.

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?

In an ideal world I would be a gardener. I think that’s my true purpose.

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

I don’t think it’s opposed for me, it’s just the one I’m public about. I want to try many more art forms in my life! One other one I like a lot is collage.

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

This may seem out of left field but I recently watched Scream 1, 2, and 3 and there is a lot to be critiqued with them, especially in their racial politics, but I had a really good time watching them and I thought the way that they made fun of the horror genre while also showing the ways that trauma always comes back for ya was surprisingly a lot more thoughtful than I expected.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m working on resting! That’s my big theme this year. It’s not something I am very good at yet but it’s something I’ve been forced to do more recently so I’m trying to find ways of slowing down and making sure I’m giving my body what it wants and needs and seeing how poetry might sow itself into this new, quieter life.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;