Monday, May 31, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Aaron Tucker

Aaron Tucker has had poems and reviews published in magazines across Canada and is currently working on a poetry project tentatively titled apartments, a portion of which was published by the Emergency Response Unit as a chapbook (recently shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award), and above/ground press. He also edits and contributes to the online review site He teaches and writes in Toronto.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life?
It hasn’t really changed anything. It’s really nice to be able to hand my work to people and have them read it and discuss it with me but I’m always writing and publishing. I will say though that Leigh and Andrew made apartments a beautiful text – the cover, the interior and layout; it’s stunning.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
For a long time I wrote mainly fiction but over the last few years I’ve found myself writing more and more poetry and non-fiction (essays and reviews) mostly because I’ve felt more of a connection with poetry books I’ve read. I wrote apartments because I wanted to write like Lisa Robertson and Nathalie Stephens and talk about similar ideas surrounding cities and space that they were.

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’ve a relatively slow writer – I usually spend a lot of time reading and researching first, batting ideas around in my head. I surround myself with others’ books. Once I read enough to define a goal (or a question I want to answer) then I try and write something everyday; a lot of that “everyday-writing” is translation of notes and a lot of it is garbage that ultimately gets chucked.

4 - Where does a (poem or piece 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?
Similar answer to the one above. I really like the idea of the long work; the book that I always come back to is The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. I love the collaging of different forms and mediums and try to replicate that in my own work. Stuart Ross reopened the discussion of the long poem and while I agree with him in terms of “projects” becoming grant-bait, the books I love the most are connected, each poem in conversation, even narrative, with the other.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are very necessary. They provide the space for conversation to begin collaborations and relationships.

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?
The question I began apartments with was “How do people live in cities and not go crazy?” Growing up in very rural B.C. and then moving to Toronto, I was struck by how little space and language is afforded to individuals. I wondered how I would keep living in the city and still maintain a vocabulary that was uncorrupted by ubiquitous advertising, how I could carve out a gap to make a home when so many of the living spaces look the same and encroach on each other. On one hand there is something crushing and constant about this pressure but on the other, now that I’ve been here for 3+ years, I’ve realized these concerns and questions are also what makes me adore the city.

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?
Big question. Not sure what “writer” means – Writer of what? Where? I suppose I always tell my students to observe and from those observations, make an argument.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
An outside editor is essential. At least half of what I write the first time through is trash and I really value the people who have looked through my work and given me feedback. I’m such a sloppy first draft person that most of my time is spent in editing.

I would like to see more carefully and slowly edited books in Canada –as a reviewer, there is almost too much being published in Canada. This is causing houses, because they want funding, to spread their resources thinner and thinner and publish more and more. A book should probably take a year or so just in the editing process.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don’t stop ‘till you get enough.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I see the two working hand in hand, especially with apartments and my newest work. I look at engaging poetry as making an argument both in form and content. I try to keep this in mind when I review books; to me, it’s less important whether I like a book or not (who cares what I think?) but rather how well did the book accomplish its goals. In this way, I find it useful in my own writing to always keep questions at the forefront and strive to answer them poetically.

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 try to read more than I write. I’ll usually spend most of my time writing looking at my notes and surrounding myself with other peoples’ books. From this initial cobbling, I try to read each poem out loud and edit, edit, edit.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
With this last work I just went outside with my Ipod and walked. The energy of certain streets in Toronto is revitalizing; I love Kensington on Pedestrian Sunday.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Cow shit. Every once and while it strikes me as a strange that if I was born and raised in Toronto I probably wouldn’t have seen a cow in a field more than 5 times.

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?
For apartments it was obviously architecture. I am less interested in actual buildings and more in how buildings mesh (or don’t mesh) together – architecture as context. The large gesture like the addition to the ROM or rebuilding of the AGO is interesting but ultimately those are landmarks. To me, it’s kind of silly that Toronto’s downtown core is built largely around a mall; I like wandering the side streets around Dundas Square ignoring the Eaton Center.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The list is very very long and I mentioned a number already. Additionally: Margaret Christakos, angela rawlings, Jordan Scott, Charles Olsen, Gertrude Stein, Rem Koolhaas, Jane Jacobs etc etc etc.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I have zero musical ability though I’m constantly listening to music. With that in mind I would like to be able to play “Mr. Green Genes.”

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?
I love teaching and I’m really happy I get to do that. Barring that, maybe a hand model.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Probably the Hardy Boys, then Fear Street & R.L. Stine, then Stephen King. I devoured books when I was young and it just seemed obvious that I would try and write my own. In the third grade our teacher made us keep journals and I turned mine into a 9 volume terror ride. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep – I re-read this recently. Stunning and weird. Movie: I saw Brazil a few nights ago. Also stunning and weird. 

20 - What are you currently working on?
A prose poetry project called under. I’m channelling my inner street preacher and describing the horrors of deep sea creatures.

Friday, May 28, 2010

rob mclennan interviewed by David Kosub on editing poetry anthologies;

May 26, 2010; This is an interview done with me a few days ago by David Kosub on editing poetry anthologies, used as part of a piece he posted yesterday at his Speaking at Poems, using (I would presume as well) interviews with Marilyn Bowering and Todd Swift.

1/ In Side/lines: A New Canadian Poetics you say "If there are theories of a national literature, they exist on a par with theories of Canadian nationalism, where any point of view is said to be given equal weight." Michael Barnholden, managing editor of West Coast Line and Publisher of LINEbooks says you're arguing for blissfully "agenda-free" writing here. Is that the case?

Well, possibly less a matter of "free" than "reduced," I suppose. One gets tired of the politicing that goes on between writers, of poets who won't even acknowledge other poets at readings because they embrace what they consider to be conflicting poetics. There's something really unfortunate about that kind of attitude. There are things I've learned from reading derek beaulieu and George Bowering, and other things I've learned from David Donnell and David McGimpsey, Susan Briante, John Thompson and Stephen Brockwell. Picasso revitalized visual art by bringing in other elements from, among other sites, African art; why would I want to reduce my options for influence before I'm even out the gate?

I understand the importance of groupings; sometimes it's the only way to help one's own sense of writing develop, form and advance, but to argue one agenda over the other... What's the difference between that and arguing that one's own religion is the best, and the rest are irrelevant? It's arrogant. There are many things to learn from many camps; saying that, I obviously have my personal preferences.

2/ Barnholden also said of Side/lines that it pointed "to poetry and poetics as nothing more than a "sideline," something to "occupy your leisure time when you are not performing wage slavery in the global emporium down on the corner." Fair comment? Over the top? What was your main intent?

That sounded like Barnholden simply trying to find something to argue with. My main intent in that anthology was exploring different voices of Canadian writing that never make it into the mainstream, so my intent was "outside of the immediate mainstream of Canadian poetry." There's such a rich wealth of different kinds of writing in Canada, and it seems enormously frustrating that most journals and media seem to focus their attention on the metaphor-driven narrative lyric. I wanted a national conversation to exist as well on these other voices that deserved attention, voices from different corners that (I was told later on) weren't really aware of each other, including Rob Budde, Stan Rogal, Anne Stone, Margaret Christakos and Jason Le Heup.

3/ What are anthologies good for anyway? as an academic tool? a tool for broadening poetry's audience? Or do they merely serve a pragmatic purpose to get out new or previously unpublished work?

Honestly, it depends on the boundaries of the anthology. I think an anthology can serve many functions at the same time. Most of what I've worked as an editor of anthologies has been to add to, to enrich the conversation of literature as opposed to replace anything. I adhere to Kroetsch's idea that literature is a conversation. But if the same voices are constantly talking, how far can the conversation go? Side/lines was a direct result of my seeing a new edition of Margaret Atwood's Survival published in 1996 or so, without even an update of "books by the same author." This was a book considered skewered when it originally appeared, and I could only presume that it was reissued (still littering Canadian used bookstores across the country) for the sake of the foreign market. I wanted another point of view out there as to what Canadian writing could be, and what the conversations and considerations of some other voices were.

4/ How do you feel about themed anthologies or ones that focus on gender, culture, or particular region of a country. Do these impede the capturing of good poetry?

I have no problem with any of these, as long as none of them are specifically seen as the be-all,
end-all. I sometimes have trouble with too many women-centred anthologies, only because the same generation's male writers don't seem to be given the same attention. There was a magnificent anthology recently of women's poetry and poetics with Coach House Books that is essential reading, but part of me wondered, why can't Stan Rogal be treated this well? Or Stephen Cain? No matter what one tries to do as catch-up, it leaves someone out. I suppose that's inevitable.

And I must say, I've always been a fan of regional anthologies. Chicago had an amazing poetry anthology a couple of years back, and the Saskatchewan one published by Hagios Press was another high point. It's always good to see what other areas are doing.

5/ A key question that came up in the comments section of last week's post had to do with how much we can or should expect of anthology editors in terms of "knowing the field." How far should an editor go in trying to represent the array of tastes that are out there? Are the sheer numbers of poets writing today a major challenge?

Again, it depends on the purposes of the anthology. I took issue with the two Breathing Fire anthologies done by Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier in my essay "The Trouble With Normal" mainly through their introduction that claimed a collection of poetry predominantly by former writing students of theirs writing metaphor-driven lyric narrative was "representative" of the "best Canadian poetry" written by poets in this country under the age of thirty. It wasn't, and to claim such is divisive, and offensive to those who happen to have interests that don't coincide with theirs. Had they not said such, the writing within might have been read with less rancor, but again, might not have received as much attention. When I've done the "decalogue" anthologies, I've tried to balance ten voices of writers I think are doing interesting work, not claiming "best" or anything like that. I think it's the best based on my interest, my knowledge, etcetera, but the whole nature of doing any anthology is leaving someone out, and I can't claim that my point of view is the only one there is. Here are ten writers doing work really worth reading. Readers are allowed to disagree.

Al Moritz doing his Best Canadian Poetry volume was also riddled with problems. It should have been called "Best Canadian metaphor-driven lyric narrative Poetry." To say otherwise is completely misunderstanding the art as a whole.

When Sina Queyras did her anthology of Canadian poetry for that New York publisher, it was, from a Canadian's point of view, all over the place, but was built as a sampler, in many ways, of Canadian poetry for an American audience, after years of her being asked the question, what's worth reading in Canadian poetry? Hers had no agenda apart from simply different writers, different voices, she thought worth reading; and hopefully, the book was a starting point for many readers to further explore.

6/ A related question pertain to a common complaint I hear about anthologies, that they purport to speak for the whole - or as one of my readers put it a tag-team of lyric, narrative and formal poets offering up a very narrow serving of poetry which ignores the long poem, ignores the avant garde, while simultaneously construed by editors as indicative of a national poetry. Fair comment? 

I think a reader should be careful not too read too deeply into intent that might not actually be there. Introductions are important to see what the editor's intent for the collection is. Some books make claims that seem ridiculous, and bring all the work inside down (such as Starnino's claims in The New Canon; why does he insist that his point of view is the only worthy one?), and others don't. With every introduction, a grain of salt. Hell, just read the work.

7/ How important is it to provide a statement on poetics at the front end of an anthology? Gary Geddes says it helps teachers and students understand more of the poetic process and the kind of aesthetic issues that poets find important. Do you agree? Do some editors over-reach in assessing the impact of their anthology?

Well, Geddes has been decades deliberately building mass market poetry anthologies for university courses, so his comments are fair, but not all books are made for those purposes. Does the reader or writer inside the industry, inside books, for decades, really go through those "teaching aides" with the same fine-tooth? Perhaps not.

8/ Anthologies are viewed by many poets as the ultimate validation of their careers, and some poets, even well established mid-career poets, agonize when they're ignored by anthologists. How seriously should they take this?

Well, writing is a lonely business, with few acknowledgments, but writers need to find their own footings, their own confidence, and not rely on outside forces to arbitrarily give purpose to what it is that they do. It's enough to drive one mad, otherwise, waiting. Books are books. Some very important writers have never set foot in an anthology, and some forever-minor poets can run off lists of books they've been in until the cows come home. Poets agonize, writers agonize. Everybody complains, and no one likes to be left out. I've been left out of a wide array of poetry anthologies, from the two Breathing Fires to the myriad of Breathing Fire follow-ups and responses. I try to only complain to a small parcel of friends about that, now. I know Henry Beissel is still annoyed he was left out of a Penguin anthology of Canadian poetry by, I think Louis Dudek, back in 1958?

9/ What are you working on currently?

I'm currently trying to get a number of projects prepared for Chaudiere Books, including a selected poems by prairie poet Andrew Suknaski, a first trade collection by Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie, and an anthology of non-fiction pieces by writers on Glengarry County. In my own work, I'm polishing up a poetry collection or two, and trying to finish two major writing project by the end of this year—a third novel, and my Toronto creative non-fiction work, "Sleeping in Toronto."

10/ Finally, rob, my questions obviously aren't exhaustive, but I always ask the people I've interviewed if there's anything I've missed? Any issue you feel needs airing or perspective that is wanting?

Nothing specific. Thanks!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

rob mclennan + Andy Weaver at the TREE Reading Series, June 8;

Toronto poet Andy Weaver and Ottawa writer rob mclennan feature at the TREE Reading Series, Ottawa on June 8th; 8pm, the library (2nd floor) of the Arts Court Building; the reading will start with a short open set, a 20 minute reading by rob + 20 by Andy, concluding with a short q+a between them (allowing for audience questions, if any). admission free.

I might possibly only be reading works-in-progress, including my (potential) third novel, and a suite of poems on Lake Ontario.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Andrew Kaufman

Andrew Kaufman[photo Lee Towndrow]'s critically acclaimed first book, All My Friends Are Superheroes, was a cult hit and has been translated into six languages. His new novel is The Waterproof Bible, just out with Random House. Kaufman is also an accomplished screenwriter and has completed a Director's Residency at the Canadian Film Centre. He lives in Toronto with his wife and their two children.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
When Coach House Books published All My Friends Are Superheroes the biggest change for me was that I didn't have to be ashamed of my literary desires anymore: I came out of the closet as a writer! The down side of that was how painful it made writing, The Waterproof Bible. All of a sudden I felt all these expectations, most of which were self imposed, that since I was running around calling myself a writer, I'd better prove it. It gave me a pretty bad case of performance anxiety – one of the many reasons it took me seven years to finish it.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I can't write a poem, a good one anyway, to save my life but I love story and the stories that I like the best are pretty mythic, so that narrowed the field to fiction. I just think there are truths that can't be captured by non-fiction – the angst of having a crappy job can't really be captured with empirical, fact-based details as well as it can be by a story with the plot-line of … guy wakes up in the morning and he's turned into a giant bug.

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've had stories where the whole thing comes in two hours and others that are sitting in a rarely opened folder on my hard-drive because I don't know how it ends. It varies wildly. But as for writing it down, I do a really slap-dash, horribly written, first draft to get an idea of the characters and the plot, which will take a couple months. Then I'll take a couple years to make it readable. That's the hard part for me.

4 - Where does 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?

It's either an idea – what if there was someone who projected his or her emotions? Or I see a single moment, which makes we wonder what happened before and what happens next – for The Waterproof Bible I saw a tall, green-skinned woman with gills in her neck stealing a car in the Ultramart parking garage in Halifax.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love them! I spend all day writing for readers that are completely imaginary. Every time I do a reading and people show up, and they seem to have read and enjoyed the book, it seems too good to be true.

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 usually write to figure something out, but I'm usually not sure what the question is until pretty late in the process. With The Waterproof Bible it was pretty obvious that I was working something through with religion but I didn't realize that it was about faith, specifically the question of whether what you believe has to be true or whether you just really have to believe it, until the fourth draft. Right now I'm working with family, and how personality is constructed and influenced and inherited from family, but I can't be any more specific than that. Not yet anyway…

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, and be careful of the mess because I'm about to put my heart on my sleeve, but it's a writers job to take human experience and turn it into story. Over the years writers have told these stories in different mediums: oral culture, on stage, in books and now through film and television. In the literary world there's kind of a feeling that you're supposed to look down on screenwriters and TV writers, that they're lesser beasts, but really those are the people writing the most important stories of the day. More people worked through 9/11 by watching Lost then they did by reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Updikes Terrorist combined. I think the role of the writer today is as important as it's always been, but the real influence lies in the film and television world. I mean, it's still all about books for me – that's my favorite medium, but I don't believe that majority of the culture shares that view.

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

I would be nothing without an editor. I am someone who needs an external perspective or, quite simply, I would embarrass myself.

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

Spend as much money as you can on shoes – it's more comfortable, better for your feet, and people, whether consciously or not, determine your social status by judging your shoes.

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

Once that you accept that every medium is different and that being a good prose writer in no way means you'll be a good television writer or screenwriter, or radio producer – and you're willing to learn the skills needed to make things work in each different medium, moving between mediums and genres isn't hard at all.

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?

It begins by trying to convince my son that it's not morning yet and that he should go back to bed. After I accept failure at that, my wife and I get our two kids fed and out the door to school. From there it's pretty open. The first four hours of the day are the most productive for me. From 10 – 2 is focused on whatever project is currently top of the pile, and then the rest of the day is making notes, emails, and all the business things that pop up. Although, procrastination is definitely part of the process …

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

Rock and roll!

13 - What was your most recent Halloween costume?

I put on a pair of platform shoes and went as 'taller.'

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?

A lot of my influences are from film and music and art; Coen Brothers movies, indie bands like Wolf Parade or Band of Horses, and painters/illustrators like Marcel Dzama. Of course part of this is just me trying to be cool and different – my writing would be nowhere without the influences of Aimee Bender, Chris Adrian and George Saunders.

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

Right now I can't stop reading, and rereading anything by Chris Adrian. His writing is perfect, almost depressingly, perfect. It

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

I've always wanted to go see Walter De Maria's Lighting Field.

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?

If I could have been anything, I'd love to have been something manly. Like a racecar driver or a test pilot. But maybe this is just the consequence of sitting alone in a room all day, typing. If I were actually behind the wheel of complex machinery, inches away from death at every turn, I'd probably long to be in a room, by myself, typing.

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

My mother was a librarian and my father was an accountant – I grew up in a family where we wrote everything down.

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

Box of Matches – Nicholson Baker (how does he make boring so interesting?) and, well, I have two kids under four so getting to movies doesn't happen all that often, although I'm pretty addicted to HBO's Nurse Jackie right now.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm working on a novel in the three-generations-of-eccentric-family genre. It's called The Stoneroses. Or maybe the Atwoods? The Underwoods? The Epiphanies? I'm not sure yet …

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Susan Briscoe

Susan Briscoe’s first book of poetry, The Crow’s Vow, was published by Signal Editions in 2010. Her work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Event, The Antigonish Review, Matrix, CV2, Books in Canada, and The Danforth Review. She has an MA from Concordia and sometimes teaches creative writing. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and she has won the Lina Chartrand Award for an emerging poet. She lives in Sutton, Quebec and in Montreal, where she was born.

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 just came out, and I was asked by somebody who knows me too well if now I’d finally get over my imposter syndrome—I think I just may. So far I’m surprised and touched: I really didn’t expect so much positive attention, especially from friends and family, who seem so pleased for me. Most importantly, it’s encouraging. It’s taken me so long to get this book out (over thirty years if I count since first realising I might be compelled to write), and writing without regular, significant validation is miserably hard. But suddenly having my work out there –a few people have even read it!– is also a little disconcerting.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I tried poetry first because I was more afraid to fail at fiction. I grew up reading novels rather than poetry, so I’d never really imagined myself as a poet. But then poems seemed to require so much less of a commitment than novels, at least initially, and I lacked confidence. Now that I’m trying to write short stories, however, I’m not so sure I was meant to write fiction after all; I’m having an awful lot of trouble with plot, which I was allowed to neglect in verse.

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?
My stories usually start from what I call a germ, the seed of an idea, and those sprout up as readily as weeds. The long, hard part is figuring out how to cultivate them into some sort of acceptable form, like a tidy shrub rather than vines sprawling all over the place. For poetry I could switch metaphors and say my process is more sculptural. My first drafts are crude things, like small lumps of clay. Then I do lots of carving away, add a few little bits, carve away some more, and polish, polish. I let them sit, and then go at it again. This can go on for years. I just hope the final piece has a more elegant form and interesting texture than that initial lump.

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?
This first book began several years ago with an assignment. I was taking the late Rob Allen’s long poem workshop at Concordia, which terrified me because I’d only ever written short, discrete lyrics. Now I had to write something new, and it had to be long. I’d been keeping a morning journal for a few years, so I went back through that desperately looking for ideas. I pulled out a few observations that seemed possibly poem-worthy –so few in all those pages– and tried literally cutting and pasting those into ghazal-inspired pieces (we’d looked at John Thompson during that workshop). I managed to produce a short cycle of poems for the course. But then that cycle continued to evolve for me in form (something between ghazals and sonnets, perhaps) and subject, and after adding to it for a couple of years its true theme emerged, finally becoming something I could imagine as a book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I couldn’t say that readings are a part of my creative process, though they can serve very well as a final editing step: all those flaws exposed in the most glaring light. Ultimately, I write poetry more for the page than for performance, even though I pay a lot of attention to sound. Partly this is because I’m more visually oriented, partly because I’ve never been comfortable performing. I sometimes even get stage fright, which is a horrible experience. I’m trying now to figure out how to enjoy reading in public. Or at least make it less painful.

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 sure I’m really concerned with theory when I’m writing, though I absolutely loved studying literary theory when I was doing my MA. I still fantasise about doing a PhD in something obscure and theoretical.

With this book and with my thesis, I was exploring the narrative potential of the lyric sequence, so I was asking how I could tell a story with poetry. Probably wasn’t the best idea. The practical question I’m constantly asking myself is what words I can cut out while retaining meaning, though perhaps I should ask myself why I’m so concerned with concision. Then there are questions particular to each piece of writing. I think we’re all –writers and readers– looking to literature for answers to the questions that trouble us in life: how can I be loved; how can I love another; how do we negotiate power dynamics; how do we survive loss and cope with disappointment; how can we be understood; how do we really communicate; how can we change; what’s the point. Questions like that.

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?
Well, I suppose there are different possible roles: to entertain, to instruct, to preach; to reflect a culture (whether real, imaginary, or historical), to develop literary culture... But ultimately, I think the role of the writer has always been to tell stories, regardless of genre. This is sort of what I was getting at above. Human beings seem to have a very deep need for stories; we use them for imagining the things we hope for or fear, for imagining the experiences of others, for imagining the implications of our choices and values as individuals and as a society. We look for these stories everywhere, all the time: in the news, in movies, gossip, reality shows, YouTube, sports, status updates, history, and literature. In literature we have the greatest possible imaginative and expressive range for telling these stories, so we can go further and deeper in these explorations, which is very important, especially in a world of so many possibilities and such uncertain future.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve had mixed experiences working with editors. Difficult can be good: I’ve worked with both Pasha Malla and Carmine Starnino recently on different projects, and both pushed me to take my work further than I thought I could. I’m really grateful they did, and that they had faith I could go further, even though the lazy part of me was resentful. Also, it’s impossible for me to be objective about my work, so another perspective, preferably a professional one, is absolutely necessary. But not all editors are gifted, and I’ve had one unpleasant experience working with an editor who just didn’t have an affinity for the project. That can be an especially tricky situation for a writer who isn’t established enough to feel secure refusing inappropriate edits.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
To stop thinking about writing and just write.

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?
When I started writing this book, I was getting up at about five a.m. to write most mornings, because I was too busy the rest of the day. But I hate not getting enough sleep. Now I have fewer outside commitments, so I try to get to a café right after dropping my kids off at school, where I write for 2-3 hours. I try to pretend that I can’t access the internet while I’m there. If I have more time later in the day, which isn’t likely, I’ll work on some other aspect of the job: correspondence, reading, research, preparing submissions, promotion, etc.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If I get stuck, which just means I have a particularly tough problem to solve, I usually switch to another project, since I’m always working on several different things at various stages of development. Unfortunately, it can take a long time before I gather up the courage to get back to that tough problem, which is why I have so many unfinished projects. That’s when deadlines are useful.

For generating new ideas, forward movement –walking, running, cycling, driving in the country– often works for me. Knitting is good too.

12 - What do you really want?
I want us to stop destroying nature.

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?
Nature was my primary source of inspiration for this book. Many of the poems were written while I looked out the window at my garden and the mountains beyond as the sun rose. Each moment was so amazingly different. Also, during one period of my work on this book I was listening to a lot of Erik Satie, which convinced me of the beauty of a very spare –though somehow still complex– approach to art, and of the thrill of unexpected associations. Normally, though, I’m careful about music because it has such a powerful effect on my mood. I also love and need visual art, but it inspires me to make art rather than write, so I have to limit that too.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I have a particular passion for contemporary Canadian literature. For the past couple of years I’ve been reading mostly short fiction, and I so admire the density of that form at its best. I’ve almost given up on novels, though I read so many wonderful ones when I was young and had time. When my children were little I’d just get too frustrated at the interruptions, and now novels seem to contain so much filler compared to short stories. I guess I’ve lost patience. I’m especially ashamed to admit that I don’t read a lot of poetry. I take it only in very small bits, sometimes not even the whole poem.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a really good story.

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’ve studied fine arts as well as literature, and always feel torn between the studio and the writing desk. I also really regret not pursuing contemporary dance when I was younger. Actually, all fields of creative endeavour appeal to me. Probably film would be ideal, since it can combine writing, movement, visuals, and music—except that I’m terrible with technology and equipment, like cameras. I probably would have been happiest as a potter. Realistically, if I weren’t writing I would be teaching, which I actually do when I need income.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, it wasn’t the money. When I was still a kid and had just declared that I wanted to be a writer, somebody who had my best interests at heart told me that writers lead unhappy lives of hard work, poverty, and rejection—which is apparently true enough. I was broken-hearted, but being a reasonable child had to consider other career options. And there were all sorts of vocations that did attract to me. I really wanted to change the world, but I also liked the ideas of being a ballet dancer, a musician, a nun, a therapist, a soldier, an academic, the full-time mother of five children, a pagan pastor, a flower farmer—the list goes on, never in a very practical direction. My mother was especially disappointed when I decided not to go to law school. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to commit to any of those things, because secretly I never stopped wanting to write. I tricked myself into it by figuring that writing would at least allow me to imagine living all those alternate lives, doing all those fascinating things. Though for some reason, none of my characters ever have interesting or lucrative occupations –an awful lot of them are single moms– so that hasn’t quite panned out.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been on an Alice Munro binge for a while, though I couldn’t name a favourite collection. They’re all so humbling. It’s hard for me to name the last great film; I don’t have time to watch very many, and I usually go for funny, quirky films that will hopefully surprise me, rather than impress me with greatness. Though last year I watched a bunch of Bergman films again. If I went by number of viewings rather than actual greatness (however that might be defined), I’d have to say The Princess Bride. It still makes me laugh.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a bunch of short stories. Very challenging for me, but exciting.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pac Man, Ms. (a very short story)

First introduced in 1981, Ms. Pac-Man a year younger than counterpart, distinguished by pink apex bow. Long rumoured as husband-and-wife, one can presume that might make her Mrs. Pac-Man, instead. With more complex screens and player difficulty, what if she less a result of Adam’s one rib than a reversal of American duo The White Stripes? They told us the siblings Meg and Jack White once married, but now we know different. When you work together long enough, everyone presumes. There is the war, and then there is the war, tag-team rat-racing ghosts, alternately chasing, and chased. After thirty years working the family business, are Mr. And Ms. Pac-Man quietly, happily, married to others?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

fwd: Jason Camlot's Ticker Text Project

You are invited to submit to the Ticker Text project

Submit an entry and become a contributor to this digital poetry installation.

historical and new media as literary constraint

an Espace recherche project created for Congress 2010 at Concordia University
28 May-4 June 2010

curated by Jason Camlot, Department of English
in collaboration with CEREV lab 6½

This project addresses the production and dissemination of new creative writing in relation to informing features of the historical stock ticker—text in motion, instantaneous telecommunication (transmitting messages across a distance), periodic updates and “telegraphic” brevity.

The Ticker Text Project is open for business. Here is how it works:

Content is being collected using a Twitter-like website interface that allows users to enter texts of 140 characters or less, including spaces. We’ve represented the shape of a horizontal piece of tape that does not allow for lineation (line breaks), paragraphs, or any tiered interruption of the text entered. Normal punctuation symbols are permitted.

Contributions will be gathered from anyone who submits a poem.

To contribute, one need only log in, compose a ticker text within the frame of the composition box, and submit it. As of May 28th, your text will be reviewed by a project moderator, authorized, then relayed to the digital LED ticker in the Molson Building atrium, for all to see. During Congress, this screening process will happen quickly.

The only formal constraint (apart from those of the interface itself) is that, in the spirit of Edison’s original Universal Stock Ticker system, every ticker text submission must in some way contain a mixture of letters and numbers. Thus, your poem or story can include numerals interspersed with the words. It can make reference to numbers, count things, evaluate experiences numerically. Or it can engage with this conceptual constraint in any other way you might dream up.

Share an experience, tell someone you love them, go public, pose a question, create something exquisite…write some poems for the Ticker Text Project!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Christophe Casamassima on Furniture Press

1 – When did Furniture Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Furniture Press began publishing chapbooks, pamphlets and poetry-related ephemera in 2003 with the pressing of the first issue of Ambit: Journal of Poetry & Poetics, which included work by mostly friends.

My initial goals were developed out of a distaste for what some might call a lack of plurality in the business and teaching of poetry. It was a grand illusion, of course, for me, that poetry could only be taught (and understood, whatever that means!) by professionals and scholars who read and studied the major poets and the canon. Then I met Kevin Varrone and Pattie McCarthy. They introduced me (in word and in life) to poets like Cole Swensen, Clark Coolidge, Heather Ramsdell, Gregg Biglieri, Barbara Cole, Aaron Keily, Rod Smith, and Mark Wallace. The illusion disappeared. I understood that poetry was manifold, manifest, plural, eternally evolving—not on the page, where the canon is conceived, but in the dialogues between poets and their audience, between people and their lot, power structures and privileges. Of course, it also had to do with my love of language games and irony, but that is a personal aesthetic. In truth, it was the similarities of my and others’ aesthetics and practices that enticed me to begin publishing: as a dialogue between what can be said, how it is said, and how it can be disseminated to the world. I wanted to introduce the world, those like me who understood nothing of the plurality of the practice, that poetry was possibility.

Learning—not to sound trite, but learning is a continuum of praxis and terror: we try, we fail, we adapt, we fail with flair. That is poetry. I have learned to read (into) poetry as the ecstatic peace that language exhibits because it knows (it does, and that is the irony, the punch line) that it is never going to be successful in communicating an absolute. It entices us with the possibility, but then pulls away as we get closer.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I hope I spelled that out above. Sheer anxiety. The endless expressivity of failure and its derivatives. 1+1=3.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

There are two responsibilities that the small press adheres to: the distribution and promotion of works from a marginalized community of poets and writers, and the dissolution of the privileges of trite, academic, status quo works of art that define great literature by standards of commodity and profit. This is another reason why I started Furniture Press. I was (still am) interested in publishing great works of unknown art that have gone by the wayside of big publishers, that will never stand the chance of reaching the canon because it cannot turn a profit, a profit for someone who does not practice the art him/herself. We don’t necessarily “sell” books and make a profit. Instead, we publish books in small runs, and distribute them, trade them, give them away. Money comes in, yes, but only enough to sustain our operation. Small press is about zeroing out by zeroing in.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

In current years our sensibilities have shifted in the direction of intertextuality and appropriation. Granted, poetry is first and foremost an intertext, that which is informed by more than just language and human expression. It takes into account its surroundings, be it culture, politics, art, biology, etc. But appropriation: I don’t see many publishers who have invested so much time into releasing works of art that are a result of other texts, that work through other texts, whose object relies on the existence of other texts. In some cases I translate this as a critique: since there is no much information out there already, why bother creating more? Why not use what there is (plunder, appropriate, borrow, steal, etc.) and compose with the fragments? See? I say compose rather than write. Collage? Granted, these new works of art ARE more information. But it is this tuning that redeems not only the possibility of poetry, but its sustainability. I believe this is eco-poetics: not about a physical environment, but its dissolution and reintegration, a s text and nothing more.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new publications out into the world?

The most effective way, and I can’t stress this enough, is by treating the object like a gift, to be given away without exchange, without the hope of ever generating revenue beyond what is necessary for its dissemination. Once it becomes a commodity, the object is made secondary to its output, and it is no longer poetry.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

I am an avid collaborator. When a writer sends me work, I choose the writer as a co-editor. I do not like to impose a vision upon a work of art. This could only mean one thing: the press defines the image of the book, its content, its author, so that the logo becomes obese, possessive, enduring, and the work of art becomes branded. On the contrary: the individual works of art define a press, so that the image of the press is a reflection of the works of art that make up the press, a collage, so to speak, which constantly adds new pieces to its ever-evolving canvas. The writer has just as much say in the final object as an editor.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

For pamphlets and chapbooks, 50 to 100 copies. For full-length collections, between 100 and 200 copies. This is more about sustainability than turning a profit. Small runs guarantee that we know exactly who our books are going to. Yes, this sounds at first like an exclusionary tactic—that the press decides who can and can’t own our books. No. Our small runs go straight into the hands of the people with which we have fostered relationships, who care in the work enough to engage both the writers and the editors. We hate that so many readers create a distance between themselves, a press and their writers. If we are to achieve plurality, if we are to sustain a perpetual dialogue, if we are to foster engagement with the possibility of nurturing future poets…

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

The press dissolved for a few years, between 2005 and 2009. It consisted of myself, as editor and bookmaker, and an art director, who handled all facets of the visual aspects of a book. But in the past two years I have been collaborating with a friend, Douglas Mowbray, who edits and publishes twentythreebooks. He is not an editor, so to speak, more like a professional collaborator, on events, strategic planning, distribution, promotion, building a library of independent books, etc. I have recently been blessed with the artistic merits of Jodi Hoover, a printmaker and designer, who will, starting with Jennifer Hill’s “Fragmentirety,” take on all the responsibilities of book design. It’s true that I like working alone. It prevents too much confusion in the production process. But I don’t treat it like a business, where a hierarchy exists. I trust the aesthetics and expertise of all those who are, or ever were involved with the press, because this too means that the press is a representation, not only of its writers, but its collaborators.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

It hasn’t. The opposite is true, though. It is my writing that influences my editorial decisions. When I write, I think in terms of the larger project: the book. When I choose works for Furniture Press, I ask myself, “Is this project a series of disparate poems? Or is this a unifying gesture? How prevalent is the slow easing out of thinking in this work?” I like to evidence thinking through a problem. These are the works that fascinate me. This is how I write and publish.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

I did this in the beginning, publish my own work under Furniture Press. It was natural: my aesthetics and publishing principles were in sync. But now I create chapbooks and pamphlets without any connection to a press. Instead, I make each one an art object: I use random cuts of unused paper, cardstock, inks, etc. and build a house around a text that somehow embodied the purpose and ideas in the text. I also see this as practice in book-making. Instead of experimenting with styles, fonts, binding techniques, I practice with my own texts. The result is both a self-published object and a model/blueprint for some future project.

11 – How do you see the press evolving?

We have recently introduced full-length texts to our catalogue, published as trade paperback books. I decided to forego the idea that smaller is purer. It’s great to work with a small constituency of writers and readers, but we also owe it to our writers by promoting and distributing their work to a wider, more geographically diverse audience. At first we published books, art objects, in which we dressed a text in a unique costume that suited its aesthetics and poetics. But in order to live up to the efforts to make works part of the plurality, it is also necessary to represent and promote our writers as extensively as possible.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

One accomplishment I can completely say I am proud of… bringing together people who, in other circumstances, would never have met, would never had collaborated outside of the press, would never have developed relationships as an extension of the press’ objectives. In other words, living the goals and objectives we set up in 2003. The biggest frustration, I think, is the lack of time and energy some of us have succumbed to because we cannot make this our full-time project. Distribution, of course, is difficult because we cannot travel and promote the books in person. But this is also a blessing, when the time creeps in and books are made and projects are finalized, events have been planned, relationships forged…

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

I did not have models to copy or steal ideas from. The best help I ever received was from David Kirchenbaum, who taught me about the tools of handmade books: the saddle stapler, the bone folder, the paper cutter. Everything I did in the beginning was by pure intuition and imagination.

14 – How does Furniture Press engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see your books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

In all honesty, I have somewhat distanced myself from succumbing to the pressures of locality. I am totally invested in publishing and promoting works that transcend space, locale, environment. My aesthetics regard one center: the total and complete manufacture of works that develop from close readings and relationships with text. Our immediate literary community: I think this is an odd circumstance for us. It is anyone, any text, that is made available to us, from which we may begin seeking new texts, new dialogues. I assume you’re reading into the paradox here: how does one foster human relationships or community when the community is secondary to the work of art? That’s just it. Community is not locale; it is common investment, interest. This transcends human relationships by making human relationships not based in mutual aid, but mutual critique. When our fight is common, when our cause is common, our goals are common. Communit, then, is extra-human, a work of the mind, an extension of the human, the text.

I struggle with the distinctions of art and life, that both are one and the same, because we’re missing a very important aspect of this dichotomy: the spirit. Not religion, so to speak, but the individual him or herself. Most times I feel like the community subsumes or absorbs the individual and the individual must conform to the standards of a particular community. To stress once again our objective: the show the spirit of a collective known as Furniture Press by stressing the parts and not the whole.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Important is not the right word. Crucial. Essential. This is where dialogue begins. This is the human face of art making. This proves that publisher, writer and audience are not disparate entities but a network, an infrastructure of life and art and spirit. Take one away, and it is no longer a functioning organism. That’s the word: organism. I dreamed recently of an organ that was also an organism. It is itself because it is everything else.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

The internet plays a positive role because it is faster than print media. I use the internet to search for new journals, new writers, events, ideas, by slowly filtering the overload from the unique. But it is also more confusing and convoluted. This is why I try not to rely too heavily on promoting our catalogue using the internet. I’d rather seek an audience at readings, events, conferences. One must play the internet by knowing what one seeks.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

I don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it. If I held fast to an exclusive editorial stance or aesthetic, I would publish the same texts over and over again. I like to be surprised. I think all editors want to be surprised. This is a secret all writers should know when shopping for a press: surprise your editor.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

Our first full-length title, Emily Carr’s Directions for Flying, won the 2009 Furniture Press Poetry Prize. This title is special, obviously, because it is our first full-length collection and our first paperback collection. Most importantly, though, it is this title that won my heart when working through the prize submissions. It works more wholly and deeply, and across a wider span of writers and texts than anything I have seen previously come my way. IT is both expansive and detailed, and the narrative is clear, cohesive and engaging. This is the work I aspire for. This is the work that defines our poetics.

Our second “new” book is Chris McCreary’s Undone: A Fakebook. Emily openly appropriates texts, strategies and stances, but Chris’ work infiltrates and critiques (as well as appropriates) popular culture and mannerisms. One is a result of the perils of domesticity; the other, the over-domestication of culture. I published Chris’ work in the second volume of Ambit: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics, and was impressed with his knowledge of music and literature, but more enthralled with the unique way his poems became lyrics to the music that gets stuck in our heads when we don’t want it. He plays upon this, finding crevices of kitsch to elaborate on the futility of branding. His is a music of the misheard, the second-take, that makes us aware that even the obvious, the granted, holds mysteries.

In the future, we’ll be publishing M. Magnus’ Heraclitean Pride, out third full-length book. M and I share a fascination with classical texts. But where I merely bring to life the gestures of ancient rhetorics and styles with playful language, M adjusts our ears and our sensibilities to the tune of centuries past by blurring the lines between critique, philosophy, theatre, music and investigation. His book is a re-tuning of Heraclitus’ fragments for modern ears, tracking back to make us understand the work as inevitable and perpetual flux. Ultimately, modern and classical ears are one and the same, except that modern ears do not have the “attention span” or the patience for slow observation. In the end, his work has no end, like Finnegan’s Wake. It brings us into the middle, because it is middle, it is all genres and histories and legends carried by the winds.