Sunday, January 26, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Martin Corless-Smith


Martin Corless-Smith was born and raised in Worcestershire, England. He studied as a painter and a poet. His books include Odious Horizons: Some Versions of Horace (Miami University Press, 2019), The Fool & The Bee (Shearsman, UK, 2019), and a novel This Fatal Looking Glass (SplitLevel Texts). A collection of essays, The Poet's Tomb is forthcoming from Parlor Press in 2020. He lives and teaches in Boise, Idaho.

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 was a bit of a fluke (Of Piscator, U of Georgia Press). I sent it off very quickly after pulling together recent things. It had a certain whimsy about it. I suppose it got me the job I still have, so in that way it made me employable. I was of course pleased to get a book out, enjoyed the object, liked being able to give it to friends, family and poets. Actually I think what struck me most when I saw the book was that it takes some distance to read one’s own work. I think my most recent collection of poems, The Fool & The Bee (Shearsman) is more like it than anything in between, a gap of 20 years or more. It seems part of the same journey. Maybe I like Of Piscator most in some ways, because it never expected an audience.

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

I think poetry seemed more capable of directly engaging with emotions and thoughts: vague shapes and colours that needed some kind of immediate evocation. I never particularly worried about what genre it was. It was surrogate for painting.

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?

How long is a piece of string? My novel, which died many times on the table, took 7 years to put in a nearly satisfactory shape. Some books have taken only a year. My first efforts are almost always finished drafts. If they are not what I need then I don’t use them, but I tend to write the poem out in one go, even if it is a very long one. I will change places where I can’t follow my own initial attempts, but I don’t just get rid of weird and awkward moments. I very rarely make big edits. I write them by hand, which maybe gives me time to feel the poem happening the way I want it to. And if I feel they have hit on something then they shape the book they are in. I’d say 35% of my poems don’t survive to a public viewing, even if I like them as poems. It just depends what they are doing and if I feel I need that in the book. Sometimes poems find a purpose decades later.

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’m always writing, or making notes or letting my mind wander towards a phrase or an idea or a galvanizing feeling. Books are the most common arrival point, a way of putting together and moving on (though often I don’t go very far).

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

I am almost always happy to read, though I prefer to keep it short and sweet. I’ve been at too many readings where the poet ruins any sense of connection by simply going on too long. Once in a blue moon I’m sad and there seems no point in it, or in anything, but thankfully that is rare.

I will say I nearly always feel the audience isn’t there for my work in particular, more to support poetry or taking a class or being good citizens, so I often feel, especially in America, that my work is hard for them to hear. My language can be dense and the ideas difficult or opaque, so there isn’t always that easy payoff some readings give the “ahhing” and “sighing” audience. I also don’t want to explain or anecdotalise, so it isn’t always the love fest! I’m not interested in selling myself or my work to anyone, so I suppose I just hope they like it, but people very rarely come up to me after a reading and say anything, so who knows what they are thinking. They are probably thinking about getting a drink or catching a bus! I do sometimes wonder why I do it. It’s not for any obvious gratification.

That said, I write with sound as an important engine, a central element in my poems, so it is good to have to perform that.

Honestly it feels like I’m a chef and I put my heart and soul into preparing the food and I want it to be loved and consumed, and even if sometimes going out into the dining area is kind of fun and exciting, in the end it’s not really my business. No one wants a chef breathing down their neck when they are trying to taste a dish.

I would be fine never to read again, or to read more than I do. I have thought, when reading from The Fool and the Bee of dressing up in clown make-up, but I suspect I’d never want to take it off!

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 don’t separate theoretical concerns from emotional ones, or formal or spiritual ones. To me, the fact of being cuts through everything, and so my work wants to be as much about philosophy as it is about sex or sparrows. I’m very much interested in poetics and in thinking about how poems are part of the way of shaping thought and being.

Right now I want poetry to offer an alternative to capitalism! I feel poetry has a wonderful ambivalent place where it both ignored/ridiculed and somewhat held in esteem (probably this is a residual cultural effect). The fact that there is really little direct financial gain is part of that ambivalence as well.

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?

Writing is an essential part of culture/history/society/selfhood. We wouldn’t have a sense of culture without it. Nor who we are, and what love is, what loss is, what being is. Culture today (in the bits I mostly attend) has crawled into a terrible corner where materialism and blind accumulation, even with the truth of the emptiness of that accumulation spelled large in our faces, has replaced almost even the possibility of any alternative. It’s not just that we are shallow money grabbing assholes, it’s that we can’t really think of another way to be. Writers have to be able to write new ways of being alive to remind us of our humanity, of love, of the free gifts of being.

All epochs shift and crumble, all world-views are in flux, and poems are one thing that tells us where we are in the process.

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

I did a few books with Fence, and Rebecca Wolff was really a great person to interact with. She’s very smart, and a terrific poet herself, and we’ve known each other for years, but most of all she is honest, and cannot not be, it seems. So she’s an ideal reader. She never badgered but had great questions. I don’t recall if she ever convinced me to change anything. Mostly she just wanted to know what I thought was going on. Keith Tuma was a microscopic editor to my recent Horace collection. Very handy! But in general my work is not a collaboration until it gets out of my hands and into the hands of an unknown reader. And then who knows…

I’ve had one or two good friends over the years who have read things: Cathy Wagner, Alan Halsey (also a publisher of my work), Dan Beachy-Quick, but again, did I ever change anything because they felt I should…maybe I did? I had some good teachers who read my work and took it seriously which was really important to me: Jorie Graham, Marvin Bell, Donald Revell…without their input I don’t know where I’d be, even if I fought against direct influence and suggestions, the support was vital.

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

I wish I could remember.

When I was a student at Iowa, my work was getting very dark and Marvin Bell told me I had a choice to change my direction, which I did. He didn’t want me to conflate creativity with darkness, and risk unearthing some of the potential dangers that that might. It was kind and true.

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?

I read too much shitty news. So I try to get away to my studio where I don’t have the internet. I teach, so reading is around what I am teaching. I’m lucky, very lucky, because I make up classes, and am allowed to, around topics I want to think about. So I might theme a class on Beauty, or the Soul and read a range of books about that. My writing and painting and teaching are all of a piece.

I write all the time. I have a notebook or two on the go all the time (some pocket notebooks in various jackets). Then, when they are full or I feel I have gone on a while I type them into the computer. I wait to see if a book is happening.

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

I don’t worry about not writing. If I don’t write for a while then so much the better for everyone else!

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Roast chicken. Fresh line-dried laundry. The leafy mulchy earth in old deciduous woods.

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?

Comes from anywhere you are paying attention.

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

I’d never have thought to write without reading other writers of course. So many of them are dear companions. Of our contemporaries I always wait excitedly to see what Alice Notley has just made, or Lisa Robertson, or Alan Halsey, a few others. But there are always new surprises. There are wonderful presses like Canarium, Ugly Duckling and The Song Cave that keep bringing great things into the world.

Of poets from the past, Petrarch, Leopardi, Keats, Wordsworth, Herrick, Donne …makes me sound like a stuffy old white dude…huh. Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector, Aime Cesaire, W.G. Sebald, Vallejo, Pessoa, Trakl, Beckett …I read lots of other genres, and am always excited when Giorgio Agamben has another book translated, though they mostly prove the same points over again through a slightly different metaphors or subjects, they are brilliant reminders and filled with lovely moments and helpful formulations.


I read fiction because I don’t like TV very much very often. I feel annoyed by the silliness of much TV. Some is great of course, but not enough to keep me busy. And I can’t watch TV during daylight hours. I also never listen to podcasts, I just don’t want a voice talking at me during the day. I seem to read a lot of great fiction by young women these days.

Relationships and Nature (birds especially) are always very present in my life and in my work.

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

So much. Live by the sea for an extended period. Live in another country. See India. See my son happily through college, out into the world. Maybe get rid of all of my things. Paint the interior of an atheist chapel. Die well.

If you mean as a writer, probably a short book of philosophy.

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?

I’d have been a painter. I still might, I have a studio and I paint 3 or 4 days a week. I don’t like to sell them which is an issue. I might have to start. I was a gardener during my summers when an undergraduate, I could have stood doing that.

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

I finished a graduate degree in painting in the States and moved back to London with no money and no materials. I had no studio…poetry was the closest thing I could do to painting without a studio.  

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

Well I’m teaching the last two chapters of The Prelude tonight, but I suspect you mean which great book did I last read for the first time…

Recent WTF in translation: Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street
Recent Poetry in new translation: Surrender to Night: Collected poems of Georg Trakl
Contemporary Art Theory: Cesar Aira’s On Contemporary Art
Contemporary Philosophy/Theory: Giorgio Agamben’s Creation and Anarchy

It could have been an entirely different list. These are just very recent. Last two months?

Film: Roma

19 - What are you currently working on?

A book of prose pieces about the disintegration of selfhood. I have a book of essays coming out soon, The Poet’s Tomb (Parlor Press), so I am picking out the weeds. A large oil painting of what appears to be a Victorian factory.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Ongoing notes: late January, 2020: Machado, Tyc



Charlottesville VA: Aditi Machado’s latest is the chapbook-length poem Rhapsody (2020), beautifully produced by hand by Brian Teare’s Albion Books, as the second title in series seven. Currently the Visiting Poet-in-Residence at Washington University in Saint Louis, Machado [see her ’12 or 20 questions’ interview here] is the author of the poetry collections Some Beheadings (Nightboat Books, 2017) [see my review of such here] and the forthcoming Emporium (Nightboat Books, 2020), as well as a translation from the French of Farid Tali’s novella Prosopopoeia (Action Books, 2016).

Let us exercise our vocal cords.
Let us draw them out
limbs.




Let us say there is always a longer or shorter
tress, always congruities, blissful, bitter
rhythms, sprung onions splitting, violins in
harmony that is harmonic, chaos that is chaotic,
in sense that is sensible, in here it inheres, out there
rapid rabbits. Let us labor under these notions
as under the cantus planus factory whine.




Let us stumble around, humming, stumbling, humming.




Then something in the shape of leaves,
something in the touching of ‘red.’

The poem Rhapsody explores a wonderfully playful, thoughtful and sing-song meditation on flora, fauna, myths and ordinary speech through the lyric, and the lyric fragment, in a way she describes certain poems from her debut collection in “A conversation between  poet-grammarians” with Serena Chopra published at Jacket2: “the subject feeling itself out in language.” What I have been enjoying about this small poem, this small collection, is exactly that: how she slowly draws out her thoughts, and her sentences, one thought immediately following another. At times, she moves in different directions, but ever forward, as she writes: “Some systems proffer / all vowels alliterate and in all / prose a prosody.” The effect is stunning. Machado’s canvas is large, and complex, and I could easily see this as part of a larger book-length structure, whether set within the context of other poems, or, itself, as a book-length “Rhapsody.”

Brooklyn NY: Lately I’ve been going through two different titles by Brooklyn, New York poet and artist Cat Tyc, her CONSUMES ME (Brooklyn NY: Belladonna*, 2017), produced as #222 in the Belladonna* Chaplet Series, and I Am Because My Little Dog Knows Me (b l u s h, November 2019). I’m fascinated by Tyc’s sweeps of lyric prose, existing somewhere in an odd space between fiction and poetry, documentary and memoir. Unlike Machado, Tyc’s narrative sweeps aren’t propelled via the intricately-linked fragment but an extended rush of accumulated sentences.

That word, imagination, always connects me to the naïve, so I think this is why my first draft of an animal came out kind of cartoonish. Like a street artist drawing at a tourist attraction.

I imagined a cat of human size wearing a button down shirt, gingham, and khaki pants. A belt and the shirt tucked in like a very old man.

So, that is exactly who I meet when I finish climbing down the hole but we both know that it is not right. He is not the animal I am looking for.

He tells me, “I am only a figment of your imagination.” Then looks down at himself, shrugs and said, “Not bad.”

Then he led me down a hallway where behind every corner was a dog.

Every dog I ever cared for when I used to work as a dog walker.

And then there is the door at the end of the corridor and I know before I open it that I will see my dog, Thurston.

But this feels too obvious. (I Am Because My Little Dog Knows Me)



Friday, January 24, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Kloepfer


David Kloepfer lives in Burnaby, B.C. His first novel Cheap Thrills (Vancouver: Now or Never Publishing, 2019) was released on October 15th. He is at work on a second, third, and fourth novel.

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

I’d say the only thing it really changed is deepening my appreciation for my friends and family, who have been tremendously supportive and excited for me. My most recent work, being what I’m working on now, not Cheap Thrills, I think is quite different. I think it’s more spare and I’m using humour a little less.

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

I don’t know. I tried my hand at poetry a few times when I was younger, but fiction and novels have always been what I wanted to do. I wrote most of a novel in high school. Thankfully, it and the poetry died with some hard drive or other many years ago. What I was reading was novels, so that’s what I wanted to write.

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?

To start doesn’t take very long. On the plane to and from Europe recently, and in a few evenings on my vacation there, I wrote the germ and first few chapters of another book. Now, there’s two other novels I have to finish writing before getting to that one, so starting obviously starting isn’t the problem.

The process is slow for me. The first draft is really uneven. Some chapters will be nearly wholly formed, while others aren’t much more than word salad that I’m lucky to save a sentence or two from. I look at the final product as whittling down mounds and mounds of raw material.

4 - Where does a 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?

I’m working on a book from the very beginning. Cheap Thrills started with a character, another book I’m working on started with a setting, yet another I’m working on again started with a character, and the one I germinated the seed of on that plane ride started with a setting and concept. So I guess there’s no one way to start.

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

Well I’ve yet to do one so I can’t really say. I can’t see myself enjoying it. I don’t want to hear myself read. Poetry readings make sense to me, fiction readings do not. I zoned out at the handful of prose readings I’ve attended. I’d rather just read the thing.

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’m not smart enough to answer many questions. I look at my writing as a way of asking them, or perhaps expanding on questions that already exist. The current questions are probably the same as they’ve ever been: the big why, the big how. I certainly can’t answer those.

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?

Thankfully a little bit of good journalism still exists, and those are the answer-finders, and thank you to them. I’m not that, but that is certainly a role, and an important one. As above, I try to think of myself as a question asker. Primarily, though, I think my role as a fiction writer is to entertain.

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

This novel, Cheap Thrills, did not receive substantive editing from the publisher. They are a very small publisher. They essentially copy edited my book and went with what I had. The novel had earlier editorial feedback, as a draft was done when I was enrolled at Humber. That was challenging, and rewarding. I think such editing is probably essential. There was something liberating (and terrifying) about going to print with a book that was essentially entirely mine (it’s a substantially different book than it wasat Humber).

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

Just puke garbage on the page and form into something useful later. I still have to force myself to do that when I don’t feel like I have anything to say or am stuck in a draft.

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?

On working days, I’ll get in an hour of writing after dinner as often as possible. On my days off, I get up, walk the dog, then sit down for lunch. Often I’ll get some exercise or do chores, then get back at it for a few hours.

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

Other books. Reading seems to get the motor going, pretty much immediately sometimes. If I’m not quite settled enough to write, I’ll read for a half an hour, and the flow of the words and sentences will act as a catalyst, hopefully.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Tomato sauce cooking on the stove.

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?

Movies, perhaps too much. Video games now also. Nature certainly, living in B.C. But that books come from books is entirely correct, at least if they’re any good.

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

Well, there’s an endless list, but for Cheap Thrills in particular it was Donald Westlake, Charles Willeford, and Paul Quarrington. The first two made me want to write a crime novel, the second two made me want it to be funny.

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

Write more.

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?

Well I pay my bills working in a library, which is good work. If it hadn’t been for that I’d probably be working in a factory. I think I’d like to be a very good cook, but working in a kitchen sounds harder than I’m willing to put up with.

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

Compulsion, which I hear commonly. But I think I decided to be compelled to do it. I mean, who’s making me, really?

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

Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun was the last piece of fiction I’ve been totally engrossed by, and that was earlier this year. I’m watching less and less film the older I get. I think Lost City of Z was the last movie I saw that’s really stuck with me.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Three different novels! If I get stuck on one, I move on to one of the others for a while, generally, but now I’m at the point where I need to plough through to the end of the one I’m currently working on so I can get it ready for the submission process.