Monday, April 22, 2024

Alice Notley, Being Reflected Upon

 

Teach them how to love       why should anyone care
Why should anyone anything

 

I told her ‘I’m frightened’      it was 2:40 a.m.
so we took a walk in the dark this was a dream
when I was little I would wake up scared too
in the next dream no one signed up for my class at Naropa
I am 71 years old teach them how to love
would you take that class what would I say
it has to do with … no filters
why would there be is there anything
Love’s the only thing I can find what is it it
is the holding together I can’t locate a different
thing why do you call it that       No Christian I
heard them singing Jesu meines Lebens Leben
a year ago the soprano wore a green taffeta dress
luxury of love sensations not ready-made
in that Protestant church near the Louvre
the pleasure of a thing is love of it the luxe
caring for others or all else is that to be?
so if you in your poem combine that with a modicum
of dross why dross I like the word
I think you should write a poem about tiny atoms of the
self I said no I didn’t wicked loving lies
I have nothing to tell anymore I’ve been on the Cross
a lot lately in an effort to keep space and time con-
nected where I am which might be everywhere
I don’t want you to fall apart I love you
what shall we do

Having published multiple book-length epics over the past decade-plus (although I see through her “Also by Alice Notley” list at the offset that I’m clearly behind on even her recent collections), I’m intrigued by the structural counterpoint of American poet Alice Notley’s latest, Being Reflected Upon (Penguin Poets, 2024), a collection subtitled “(a memoir of 17 years, 2000-2017).” As her opening “Preface” offers:

I was trying to find out if anything had happened between 2000 and 2017, it was 2017 and I had just finished treatment for my first breast cancer. Did the fact of the cancer have any significance? and something must have happened at some point during those years. I had been sitting in Paris alone since Doug Oliver died in April of the big millennial year—what had been going on? An expanse of timelessness. But importantly it wasn’t a chronology, it was actual time, one thing all together. Incidents I remembered emerged on top of those of previous “times”—it was stacked time; friends and relations died and I grieved having know them for so “long,” I would get seriously ill, or someone would, was that it, and there was the newsworthy, and I wrote a lot of books. It doesn’t matter when except inside the one thought of it. I became more obvious to myself, I discovered I was an unabashed location of unreported events of the Spirit, or Timelessness, the real name of Consciousness. I tried to let as many people as possible into my mind. I changed the past the present and future by blending them. I became the one who held things together as they, the things, kept their motions going, being reflected upon me.

Set in a kind of conversational lyric, Notley’s narratives work a strong storytelling impulse across fragmented threads, one that thrives on weaving, meandering and asides while still managing to maintain a book-length through-line. Her reflections blend memories, observations and dream-sequences. “what memory are you trying to recover,” she writes, as part of the poem “What is a Thing,” “not re-upholster [.]” Composed akin to a memoir-in-pieces, the flow of her gestures employ a rush and a push, offering a first-person lyric flow that speaks to and through itself. The opening of the poem “POEM,” for example, that reads: “It doesn’t matter if a poem is clear or not / hard or not       It’s basic and ongoing creation / of the universe in terms of its particles as I speak / it the poem       If you’re reading it you hear me too [.]” Notley has long been a poet utilizing the book as her unit of composition, but it is curious to see the shift of her working that same structure through the accumulation of individual, self-contained poems, a structure that harkens back to a far earlier works in her publishing history (a particular favourite of mine is her 1985 title Margaret & Dusty, for example, a book that used to be housed at the Ottawa Public Library, now disappeared from their catalogue). The epic, one might suppose, of small moments, individual pages.

The poems across Being Reflected Upon write in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner, writing on her late husband, Doug Oliver, or of Ted Berrigan; of encountering Jimi Hendrix, or of a sequence of dreams, threading through her observations with as much weight as events that occurred during wakefulness. In this same direction, there’s even the occasional abstract around thinking and thought that reminds of Canadian poet Pearl Pirie, the opening of Notley’s “Everywhere” that exists in a curious parallel: “That my mind didn’t belong to my head as con- / tainer as if it could be so localized / but was everywhere or anywhere obviously [.]” In certain ways, Notley’s reflections both reflect on her recollections, her stories, but on the nature itself of recollection; how stories happen and are told, and retold; how stories and observances are relayed, and how these stories connect and even wrap around each other. “though your consciousness is somehow the judge already,” she writes, as part of the poem “Before the Cognitive Organization of Matter,” “things I’ve said for the last seven years events of my / life the earth is so used      and nothing can be new but / the Mojave had remained primal you could get lost in / a few square miles of it, know what I mean? / And die of exposure why not I had a friend (not Greg) who did / had accidentally shot and killed someone and in guilt / went out in summer away from town to sit // in full lotus position until he died they found him that / way my brother told me [.]” The poems here are fascinating for their layers around thinking and structure, with a richness quickly felt but allowing time, and rereading, to further and fully absorb. And of course, Notley does know how to tell a good, if occasionally indirect, story. Or, as the poem “What is ‘Conscious’” ends:

Let it all happen collapse and fly out of your-
selves the only sticking together’s of the mole-
cules of soul to tell each other we ex-

ist that’s all the universe is vanity

Sunday, April 21, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna Lee-Popham

Anna Lee-Popham is a poet, writer, and editor in Tkaronto (Toronto). She holds an MFA Creative Writing from the University of Guelph, and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate, where she received the Janice Colbert Poetry Award. Her writing has been first runner-up in PRISM international’s Pacific Poetry Prize, shortlisted for The Fiddlehead Creative Nonfiction Contest and Room's Poetry Contest, and longlisted for the CBC nonfiction prize, and has been published or is forthcoming in Arc, Brick, Canthius, Riddle Fence, and Room, as well as Autostraddle and Lingue e Linguaggi. Her debut poetry collection, Empires of the Everyday, was published by McClelland & Stewart in Spring 2024.

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

Some of my earlier work struggled to see beyond my own life. Yet I'm interested in the ways that poetry opens writers and readers out into the world. In my collection that is about to be published, Empires of the Everyday, I had a thrill of a time with an "I" that was clearly not “I, Anna” – and that landed me in a poetic voice that carried its own weight, its own toner, cadence, its own severity. This was not a conscious construct, but rather the space that opened up to write into. It’s an approach that learned from the path forged by many other writers.

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

Like many, I wrote poetry as a child – on some days, remnants of a poem I wrote as a younger person (about not being able to sleep? not counting sheep?) linger in my mind. I wrote poetry, or parts of writing that had tones of poetry, in books that I kept hidden for much of my life.

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?

Many notes, much reading, then more notes, then being out in the world, then noting that too, and back to reading. I am not sure I feel clear about when any particular project starts. While I remember a specific moment when I knew that Empires of the Everyday had taken on a shape –  laying in bed with my partner, discussing the voice of the "I",  the key questions, the piece was interested in exploring, and a clicking into a shape that seemed to be happening  – I feel that certainly these questions, possibly even the shape, were likely things I had been mulling about for years, living in the world we live in, as I do, with the relationships and interactions I get to have.

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?

With Empires of the Everyday, I knew it was poems that were all circulating a common project – though it took a moment, and prompting by others who were reading the poems, for me to understand it as a book. I am drawn to the expansiveness of a linked collection of poems, or a long poem. Bernadette Mayer, discussing the sonnet form, wrote “How serious notorious and public a form to think you could find the solution to a problem or an ending to an observation in one brief moment” – and this resonates with me. When I have tried to write poems that attempt to show a significant insight within the limits of a single poem, they have, in my experience, often fallen flat. This may, in part, be because for me any one thing, any one experience, always seems to hold complexity, often seems to open out to more nuance and intrigue. In this I feel in conversation with Grace Paley's writing about her relationships with her husbands. She writes "Either [of my husbands] has enough character for a whole life, which as it turns out is really not such a long time. You couldn't exhaust either man's qualities or get under the rock of his reasons in one short life." For me, this perspective extends beyond any individual or relationship to our broader world – in that it is not possible to get under the rock of the reasons of so much in our broader world, but I'm sure interested in peaking in. In this also, I am much more interested in questions than in answers – the questioning work that poetry can do, to open out more specific questions, to try "to find better questions to ask," as Canisia Lubrin discusses here.

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

I'm currently in the process – meaning today, this week, as I write – of Empires of the Everyday being released. Yesterday, a friend texted saying that she'd received a notification that the book is available for pick up from her local bookstore, although the publication date isn't for a few days, and so I'm in that process of having something that was written alone, shared with a few people, then a few more, then supported heavily through editing, design, and all, by the phenomenal and generous team of more people at M&S – having this book suddenly emerge out to the broader world. Public readings can feel similar, that glorious experience of a thing emerging into the world. I appreciate how something through which I am attempting to engage with the world, then gets to engage with the world itself, though I don't crave the attention on oneself that a public reading requires.

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 wrote Empires of the Everyday sparked most actively by an incident in February 2021 when the city of Toronto started to demolish plywood structures that had been built in local parks. The structures had been built in response to the chronic issue of lack of affordable housing in Toronto and the acute issues of winter in Toronto (as night time temperatures frequently reached below -10’C) and rampant cases of COVID in homeless shelters.

When the mainstream media reported on this, they focused on the safety concerns the city cited for tearing down the shelters. But, from what I read in mainstream news, there was much they left out: experiences of violence towards houseless people by police, the disproportionately impacts of houselessness on communities of color and Indigenous communities, or the ongoing history of colonialism and imperialism in the city of Toronto, including the questionable legality of the Toronto Purchase Treaty between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit, in the late 1700s or the fact that in 2010, the Government of Canada settled the Toronto Purchase Claim and the Brant Tract Claim for compensation of $145 million. There was certainly no mention of the history of slavery in the city of Toronto.

There was no reason for me to be surprised by the way the media reported on this incident, or by the city’s response. But this incident and the offhand, cool, distanced, piecemeal, uncontextualized reporting hooked me.

I became curious about what a tool might look like that would communicate this history, this context, link back to what the present is built upon. I began to wonder about how AI technology might act as a sort of translator of the news. What would the relationship be between the AI technology and the human? What would it be fed so that an analysis would be brought forward that could help develop an understanding? What form would the communication take? What would be its limitations? Why use AI technology for such a process?

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?

I certainly come after – meaning I attempt to follow — Dionne Brand's framing in An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading that "the role of the writer… is to narrate [one's] own consciousness." Adrienne Rich has also informed my understanding of the role of poetry. In a conversation with Claudia Rankine, Rich explained: “In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing — disturb us, embolden us out of resignation.”

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

Essential. I haven't found the process difficult as of yet, though importantly humbling.

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

I was reading through some other interviews by other writers on this blog, and Canisia's response to this resonated with me: "Be careful not to burn out."

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?

There is no typical right now. I'm currently teaching and finding it quite expansive in terms of the time that I can put into preparing for each class. On an ideal day I write in the morning before my home, even the city, and certainly email, wake up. On an ideal day, I wake to a quiet house and write for a few hours, likely starting around 5am.

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

I always turn to the world, wherever the writing is at. Sometimes that's a walk or bike around the city, to the Don River, or to Lake Ontario, or it's turning on the news, or going to a space where people are wrestling with similar questions as I'm trying to hold in the writing — a community event, a podcast, a rally.

12 – What fragrance reminds you of home?

Sheets dried in the sun.

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?

Certainly all you've said – and really anything I can take in: an interaction on the streetcar, flora and fauna in the city and outside of it, a picture my brother recently sent of the northern lights, people, …

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

Dionne Brand, Canisia Lubrin, Christina Sharpe, Cornelius Eady, Don Mee Choi, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, M. NourbeSe Philip, Aimé Césaire, Robyn Maynard, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Edward Said, Mosab Abu Toha, C.L.R. James, Italo Calvino, Chinua Achebe, Muriel Rukeyser, Sonia Sanchez, Claire Schwartz, Solmaz Sharif, Rita Wong, Gwendolyn Brooks, Natalie Diaz, Kaie Kellough, Yoko Ogawa, Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, Jordan Abel, Alycia Pirmohamed, Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Gayatri Spivak, Walter Benjamin, W.E.B DuBois, the list goes on and grows frequently.

15 – What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?

Hmm, write this next book. Get outside today to play in the snow…. Live in a social world that isn't predicated on violence. You know, simple things.

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 child, I dreamed of being a dancer. I loved the motion, and moments when I could feel the rhythm of a thing, and experimenting with the limits of what my body could and couldn't do, but I didn't love the idea of people watching me. Sometimes I can feel the ways that writing is an extension of those same interests.

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

Writing is where I come to try to understand the world. Writing is where I come to try to engage in — as Dionne Brand noted in a phenomenal talk "Writing Against Tyranny and Toward Liberation — "reflecting, intuiting, making sense of, and undoing the times we live in.”

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

The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa, certainly, certainly, certainly. A great book I am currently  reading is Landbridge, by Y-Dang Troeug, The film 7 Prisoners. So many more.

19 - What are you currently working on?

My current project, titled In the Hours After, follows an event I attended in Montreal, fifteen years ago, where a Longshore worker active in the South African anti-apartheid struggle discussed the movement's limitations: he believed that because they did not fully believe in their success, they failed to imagine the day after they won. As a result, they weren’t prepared for the liberatory potential after the fall of the apartheid regime — a message I've heard echoed by leaders and elders throughout my involvement in social movements over the past dozen years in Canada and the US.

In the Hours After takes up this order — to imagine a liberatory future — by building from Empires of the Everyday, which examines how the imagination of Empire that has led to the current crises is both ever-present and at times operates invisibly. The “I” of the poems in Empires of the Everyday is the voice of a piece of AI machine technology that is fed news and spits out poetry to translate life in the city into a less linear — and more comprehensive — language. That collection concludes by exploring possible endings, most of which are dire. In the Hours After examines what is next beyond these dire endings, with a focus on the liberatory.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Spotlight series #96 : Monica Mody

The ninety-sixth in my monthly "spotlight" series, each featuring a different poet with a short statement and a new poem or two, is now online, featuring California-based poet, scholar and educator Monica Mody.

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, Mendocino County writer, librarian, and a visual artist Melissa Eleftherion, Ottawa poet and editor Sarah MacDonell, Montreal poet Simina Banu, Canadian-born UK-based artist, writer, and practice-led researcher J. R. Carpenter, Toronto poet MLA Chernoff, Boise, Idaho poet and critic Martin Corless-Smith, Canadian poet and fiction writer Erin Emily Ann Vance, Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi, Fredericton poet Matthew Gwathmey, Canadian poet Peter Jaeger, Birmingham, Alabama poet and editor Alina Stefanescu, Waterloo, Ontario poet Chris Banks, Chicago poet and editor Carrie Olivia Adams, Vancouver poet and editor Danielle Lafrance, Toronto-based poet and literary critic Dale Martin Smith, American poet, scholar and book-maker Genevieve Kaplan, Toronto-based poet, editor and critic ryan fitzpatrick, American poet and editor Carleen Tibbetts, British Columbia poet nathan dueck, Tiohtiá:ke-based sick slick, poet/critic em/ilie kneifel, writer, translator and lecturer Mark Tardi, New Mexico poet Kōan Anne Brink, Winnipeg poet, editor and critic Melanie Dennis Unrau, Vancouver poet, editor and critic Stephen Collis, poet and social justice coach Aja Couchois Duncan, Colorado poet Sara Renee Marshall, Toronto writer Bahar Orang, Ottawa writer Matthew Firth, Victoria poet Saba Pakdel, Winnipeg poet Julian Day, Ottawa poet, writer and performer nina jane drystek, Comox BC poet Jamie Sharpe, Canadian visual artist and poet Laura Kerr, Quebec City-area poet and translator Simon Brown, Ottawa poet Jennifer Baker, Rwandese Canadian Brooklyn-based writer Victoria Mbabazi, Nova Scotia-based poet and facilitator Nanci Lee, Irish-American poet Nathanael O'Reilly, Canadian poet Tom Prime, Regina-based poet and translator Jérôme Melançon, New York-based poet Emmalea Russo, Toronto-based poet, editor and critic Eric Schmaltz, San Francisco poet Maw Shein Win, Toronto-based writer, playwright and editor Daniel Sarah Karasik, Ottawa poet and editor Dessa Bayrock, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia poet Alice Burdick, poet, writer and editor Jade Wallace, San Francisco-based poet Jennifer Hasegawa, California poet Kyla Houbolt, Toronto poet and editor Emma Rhodes, Canadian-in-Iowa writer Jon Cone and Edmonton/Sicily-based poet, educator, translator, researcher, editor and publisher Adriana Oniță.
 
The whole series can be found online here.

Friday, April 19, 2024

ANYWORD: A FESTSCHRIFT FOR PHIL HALL, eds. Mark Goldstein and Jaclyn Piudik

 

It must be noted that Hall is one of the most widely and deeply read people I know. Years after he won the Governor General’s Award, he told me that, “It’s very, very difficult to recognize a good work.” Moreover, Hall has a Master’s degree which he completed at the University of Windsor in the 1970s. No small feat, considering Hall was the first person in his family to finish high school. When I asked Hall why he didn’t pursue a PhD (which he’d considered) he said, “Because I didn’t want it to dry me out.”

The idea for this Festschrift was inspired in 2021 by the publishing efforts of the inimitable polymath Nick Drumbolis and his remarkable imprint LETTERS. And though this Festschrift is a gathering of writings for Hall as he turns 70, it is not a birthday party. It is an opportunity to give thanks for the years of steady friendship, mentorship, and work that he has provided. (Mark Goldstein, “Preface”)

I’m not usually in the habit of reviewing a collection I have work in, but recently a Canadian contemporary said they didn’t know what a “festschrift” was, so thought that prompt enough to discuss the recent ANYWORD: A FESTSCHRIFT FOR PHIL HALL, eds. Mark Goldstein and Jaclyn Piudik (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw Press, 2024). Unlike the more formal essay series produced by, say, Guernica Editions (another essential grouping of responses), the literary festschrift allows for more of a range of responses-as-celebration, from the critical to the creative and all between, from essays and interviews to small memoir pieces, poems and photographs.

Festschrifts produced by a trade publisher do occasionally (very occasionally) emerge, but over the past few decades in Canadian writing, at least, it had been the journals doing the bulk of this kind of work, with a variety of special issues through The Capilano Review focusing on works by Robin Blaser, George Stanley [see my review of such here], Sharon Thesen [see my review of such here] and George Bowering, among others, or Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory (1965-2013), a journal that included special festschrift issues on bpNichol, Steve McCaffery [see my review of such here], Barbara Godard [see my review of such here] and Ray Ellenwood, not to mention a variety of other journals over the years that have less frequently featured special issues on particular writers, whether Arc Poetry Magazine on Erín Moure, Prairie Fire on Dennis Cooley or The Chicago Review on Lisa Robertson [see my review of such here], etcetera. Given how far the festschrift seems to have fallen by the wayside (mainly through a slow decrease of proper publisher funding and that 1990s drop-off in library funding, which reduced their purchasing power), I began producing a series of similar chapbook-sized festschrift publications during the Covid-era through above/ground press (I thought the Covid period could use some increased positive)—the “Report from the Society” series—with more than a dozen published volumes to-date, which also includes one on the work of Phil Hall (a reworked version of Susan Gillis’ piece from mine appears in this current collection).

There might be those who recall A Trip Around McFadden (Toronto ON: The Front Press/Proper Tales Press, 2010), the festschrift produced by Stuart Ross and Jim Smith to celebrate David W. McFadden’s 70th birthday, or the combined four hundredth issue of 1cent/thirteenth issue of news notes that jwcurry produced on the work of Judith Copithorne (“for Judith with love”) [see my review of such here], but how many might recall Raging Like a Fire: A Celebration of Irving Layton (Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 1993), the festschrift edited by Henry Beissel and Joy Bennett? There are probably others, naturally, that I’m either unaware of, or simply can’t recall at the moment, but either way, there simply aren’t as many out there as should be. Volumes such as these are important parts of literary conversation and acknowledgement (as are volumes of selected poems, something that occurs far less since the Governor General’s Award declared them ineligible for consideration back in the late 1990s), none of which is occurring nearly enough, so a volume on award-winning Perth, Ontario poet, critic, editor, mentor and teacher Phil Hall, especially one so brilliantly and thoroughly done, becomes an essential commodity.

In many ways, one can’t get much better than the short essay “Landscapes,” by Br. Lawrence Morey, a contributor who lives as a Trappist monk at the monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky, that opens: “I first became aware of Phil Hall’s existence when I was in grade 9 and he was in grade 10. I had taken out the book Cariboo Horses by Al Purdy from the school library, which I loved. Those were the days in which you would write your name in the back of the book on a small, pasted-in form, along with the due date, which corresponded to a card in the librarian’s files. In front of my name on the form, I saw the name Phil Hall. I knew Phil to see him, but didn’t dare approach him, since I was a mere 9th grader and he lived at the exalted level of the 10th grade.” This particular perspective on Hall’s ongoing work is wonderful (and Morey’s biographical detail, itself, provides a curious insight into Hall’s Gethsemani sequence), as Morey writes, later on:

            Though poetry is Phil’s main medium, he also loves to make quirky sculptures out of found objects, bottle caps, paperclips, and other things. Like the work of Kurt Schwitters, his sculptures grow like living creatures. His journals are a mixture of writing, drawing, and pasted words and images. I think this reflects his working methods beautifully. In everything he does, he takes disparate pieces of things, letters, words, phrases, sequences, and molds them into something new, something surprising and revelatory.

Over the past decade, Toronto poet, editor, critic, publisher and book designer Mark Goldstein has evolved into one of Hall’s most thoroughly-considered supporters and critics, having now produced three full-length collections by Hall through his Beautiful Outlaw Press—Toward a Blacker Ardour (2021), The Ash Bell (2022) and Vallejo’s Marrow (2024)—as well as a chapbook (Essay on Legend, 2014) and postcard (Rampant, 2022) in small editions. Produced and co-edited by Goldstein, ANYWORD: A FESTSCHRIFT FOR PHIL HALL may be wonderfully expansive and even exhaustive, but it should be noted that his own contributions include the essay “A Maker’s Dozen: from Eighteen Poems to Killdeer,” a whopping sixty-six page essay that examines, as he writes at the offset, “Phil Hall’s published body of work from 1973 to 2011. With a focus on form (as well as syntax and subject), I will investigate Hall’s line through thirteen trade editions and how it changed over the nearly forty-year span since he first saw his work published.” Living writers, especially those still active and engaged, are rarely provided such thorough, thoughtful examination, and Goldstein should be commended for not only this piece, but his ongoing critical work, which itself is provided not nearly as much attention as it deserves [see my review of his 2021 Part Thief, Part Carpenter: SELECTED POETRY, ESSAYS, AND INTERVIEWS ON APPROPRIATION AND TRANSLATION, produced through Beautiful Outlaw as well, here]. As Goldstein writes as part of his lengthy essay:

            To be clear, by employing the term poetic form, I am pointing to the structural and organizational patterns of a poem, including its (subtle or more obvious) rhyme scheme, meter, stanza structure, lineation, sentence structure, and other elements that shape its overall configuration and design on the page. In light of free verse, poetic form has played a significant role in the development of contemporary poetry, as poets like Hall have experimented with new forms and pushed the boundaries of traditional structures to create highly readable yet neoteric and innovative styles of writing.
            As I’ll show in this essay, Hall’s sense of form was first influenced by both traditional and modern forms of poetry found within the canon, and later it was increasingly written in concert and conversation with contemporary and postmodern poetry itself. Hall is a careful reader of all types of poetry (and literature) and has thought deeply about form. He has considered his own use of free verse and, rather than adhering to accepted rules or anti-rules of meter and rhyme – whether outmoded or contemporary – he has, over time, experimented with myriad structures and patterns in his poetic line. This has likely afforded Hall a greater flexibility in expressing his ideas and emotions in poetry. This has also pushed him to develop new poetic forms of his own design, as well adapt or redeploy older ones – such as the prose poem and the haibun – to his own unique use. Moreover, Hall has slowly gravitated toward an expansive use of his own idiosyncratic forms and sub-forms which are drawn from the dictates and necessities of his own poetry’s deployment.
            Against a more prescribed approach to form, Hall has said, “What are we making? Sausage?”

At more than three hundred pages and twenty-six contributors, ANYWORD: A FESTSCHRIFT FOR PHIL HALL includes poems, essays, reminiscences and interviews by George Bowering, Erín Moure, Don McKay, Sandra Ridley, George Stanley, Steven Ross Smith, Tom Dilworth, Cameron Anstee, Br. Lawrence Morey, Mark Goldstein, Susan Gillis, myself, luke hathaway, Nicole Markotić, Fred Wah, Louis Cabri, Karl Jirgens, Arthur Craven, Chris Turnbull, Ali Blythe, John Steffler, Pearl Pirie, Donald Winkler, Ronna Bloom, Andrew Vaisius and Angela Carr, as well as an array of photographs of Hall over the years—including an early 1980s photo at Michael McNamara’s apartment on page 272 where he looks the spitting image of a late 2000’s former Ottawa poet Jesse Patrick Ferguson—and a healthy bibliography of Hall’s published work. The responses run the gamut from the personal to the intimate to the critical and the celebratory (with most incorporating most if not all of those features), many of which I’m still working my slow way through reading [the video of the zoom-launch for the collection, which included readings by Hall, Moure, Blythe, Ridley and myself, is now online]. As Angela Carr writes to introduce the first of two interviews she conducted with Hall: “Phil Hall is to poetry in Canada what style is to reason.” The essay by Pearl Pirie is easily the strongest critical work I’ve seen by her to date, and both Moure and Blythe offer pieces that delight in their scale and intimate scope. The collected pieces offer such appreciation and delight, attempting to share or discern the shapes of how Hall reacts, presents and writes, and both the generosity and curiosity of a writer decades-deep into an appreciation of how the poem moves, or might move, or could move. It becomes hard to highlight much in this collection without wanting to reproduce whole pages, which I won’t do here, but I shall leave the last words to Hall himself, out of one of those interviews conducted by Angela Carr, where he speaks of the late Stan Dragland in such a way that it could be applied to Hall and his work, as well:

It is a style (one thing reminds me of another) that can easily go wrong. If a writer seems to be padding, if a writer seems to be flailing or name-dropping, if the examples seem too carefully or metaphorically fetched. But Stan makes in his essays each step of his argument seem inevitable, so that we say, “Of course!” Then, at the end of an essay by him there’s that feeling of having participated in a dance – & having gotten somewhere unexpected, wider.

It has a lot to do with texture. And character. And with a widening of community. During the time I knew Stan, from 1984 until this year, he moved toward an on-rush of critical herding & gathering that can be breathtaking to read. Breathtaking in its humility & faith. He had a deep faith in us. He believed that we, his friends, were worth it – worth every quirky added bit – and worth every word.