Friday, September 30, 2011

Eleven Eleven: A Journal of Literature and Art, issue 11

Kin to water, kin to stone—Lord
let time take its stone that my heart is
set, stonesmall
& in your hands:
tidy, almost nothing
lunar module, light square
Lord I pray up.
What is it with your white hands?
[the storm & storm, the hand of God]


Yea we go down. We go eat
the bay like soup. Vulture eggs:
goat teeth: every word
in the mouth of God, bay of God.
Every word on the stoop of forgiveness.
We have a dog. God we dogforge
soft rock and mud. On the brink
of eating catfish & cormorants. Eating
horsehair & butter. The fruit
that has been set out by god
to eat
to eat
to be done (Dawn Pendergast, “Prayers for the Personal”)
I don't usually like to talk about issues of journals my own work is in (feels harder to put aside bias; you know I already love the issue), but it sure was nice to receive the most recent volume of San Francisco journal Eleven Eleven: A Journal of Literature and Art, their (what else?) eleventh issue, dated 2011. At nearly three hundred pages, it's certainly a deal for only a ten-spot, and always good to see new work by favourites and familiar names, whether worthy Canadians or those names I've been introduced to through other means such as Dusie, including Forrest Gander, Dawn Pendergast, Susan M. Schultz, Mary Ruefle, Rusty Morrison, Meredith Quartermain, Sarah Anne Cox, Trish Salah and Rachel Zolf, and seemingly dozens of other names I hadn't heard of before. As well, some of the artwork featured is quite stellar, most notably Dennis Johnson's “Haven on Earth,” or Jody Alexander's “Sedimental , No. 7,” which really needs to be seen.

At the cemetery, the luster of my trying, the shine

of effort is extinguished. Beneath it—
not dark, not raw or cold—only this going forward

without a skin of expectation
to enforce a border
between the living and the dead.

Wild grasses beyond the cemetery fence,
cut grass around my shoes—
in every blade a sky falling
and earth rising up to meet it. (Rusty Morrison, “Necessities & Inventions”)
Featuring poetry, prose, interviews, essays, reviews and visual art, the issue is a wealth of information, yet a couple of pieces frustrate, including Marissa Bell Toffoli's interview with Paul Harding, which seems to presume the reader's previous knowledge on Harding. Why isn't there any sort of biographical information, at least, presented to introduce the interview? I have no idea who Paul Harding is; an introduction would have been nice.

Who gives up on kingdoms?
even after feats of magic and awe striking deeds
oath breakers shake the pillars
deceit breeds deceit
two daughters cut up their father
and drop him into a pot
a mercy killing
the children bloodied yet whole
fly off to other plots their names
their poisons unknown
expatiation equation
yielding 40 days,
300 days, in exile
for x and y axis plotted
they sing here on the turn of the year
at one time they were innocent (Sarah Anne Cox, “from Medea”)
What really appeals about this journal is the wild mix of styles, of genres, of writers, from those that stellar-shine, to other pieces that don't quite strike these eyes the same way. There is much to admire in this issue, this journal. Why hadn't I been paying attention before?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Ana Božičević

Ana Božičević came from Croatia to New York and wrote Stars of the Night Commute, a 2010 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She works & studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where she helped found the Annual Chapbook Festival and Lost&Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. A new chapbook, War on a Lunchbreak, is out in Fall 2011 from Belladonna*. For more, visit

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 Stars of the Night Commute was picked up by Tarpaulin Sky Press, I felt the meaning of the word “debut.” The book formalized my relationship with poetry in America, I sang out, I was here. Since that channel between me & America opened, I became obsessed with writing a more public poetry. I had been reading lots of funny, brilliant, private, idiosyncratic work that felt like it had sort of given up on the possibility of the political lyric, on poetry that is public by virtue of something more than its arty nature (in that art belongs to everyone). I would read poems and think, this is great, but what does it mean? And even worse: what does this do? I asked it of my own poems all the time. I was told these were unsubtle questions. Démodé. I get meta – I love chaos too, and I do think refusal can be noble – but it just wasn’t doing it for me. I wondered if there was maybe something wrong with me.

I was in this world, my polis, and things are bad in the polis. I don’t want to be prescriptive about others’ poems, but I sure as hell expect the world of mine. The world just flooded in. Poets tell me they’re scared of writing “bad political poems,” by which they mean poems that just tell things, without a slant. So I had to do it well; I set out to write poems that want to change the world, both complex and simple enough, which do not bore, wipe tears with funny query, unafraid of being beautiful or filthy sometimes – in other words, unafraid of defining essences to stand on. I just finished my second manuscript and I am excited. It feels like news. It’s called Rise in the Fall.

Now I’m ready to write something completely different again.

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

I write what I hear, which is most often poetry, and lately, essays, argumentative sentences, manifestos. I don’t really hear fiction, but then I haven’t really been listening for it.

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 write very slowly and very sporadically. Can’t force it, grab it when I hear it. I never know what’s going to come out, and after every poem it feels like I’ll never write another one again. I’m definitely not in control. Lines appear just before sleep, in the middle of the night. Some things seem important, essential when I write them down, and the next day they’re dead in the water; some things unexpectedly explode out and are great. I’m trying to lighten up about it all. It’s maddening to be so hung up on something you can so little control. Like love, I guess.

4 - Where does poetry 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?
In the past I’ve written sequences of poems, but in this new ms there is no sequence, each poem is its own grand thing. I deliberately kept the idea for the new book in my blind spot for a while, so I was aware of it but never looked it in the face, because I didn’t want to have a conscious project. Each poem had to appear out of chaos and earn its keep. When I was close to the end, I brought the “idea of the book” out of its hidey hole and quickly arranged the manuscript according to it. And that was that.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy them. Eileen Myles said something great about readings: people come there to be uplifted in the sense of disappearing, taking off—people want to be beamed up. And I try to do that. I truly hate boring poetry readings and so I give it my all. I love it when the text and voice erase all of us there like a wash of light.

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?
There are many questions. For example the (deceptively) material – war, bombs, Bin Laden, dying for art, selling out, working poets, porn, death, woman/queer, femininity in life and poetry, marriage, philosophy, ocean life, l’art pour l’artism, the color green. Perhaps the most important poem in this new ms is one that will soon come out in Fence, an elegy to a friend who was killed in Croatia a long time ago. An important issue in the world of American poetry is the issue of class, eminently visible to me everywhere I look – there’s not enough critical discussion of the economy of poetry beyond the fake standoffs of the “real deal” poet (the definition of whom keeps shifting) VS poet-worker or -academic or whatever. There’s not enough discussion of economy period, even as it tanks around us. Also race, something I am trying to learn to talk about since, not having grown up in the US, I am only learning to navigate it. And, of course, the questions of canon, creativity & concept (another fake dualism par excellence), production... Yeah, write into all this and write good poems, and I will give you the key to the kingdom.

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?
We’re coasting along on this joyful tide of pop culture – shouldn’t we be inventing our own culture? I’m thinking on how to be public without playing a role in Culture INC or hopping on whatever zeitgeisty consumerist rainbow is whizzing by. Everyone is fretting about their Twitter presences or whatever. What? Right now, for example, there are protests on Wall Street that our major media are not covering at all—and poets have began to speak out, attend the demonstration, organize. This is something I’ve been hoping to see for a long time. For me, to write is no longer enough: I have to speak out. Do you?

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I don’t have much experience with it. I’d welcome such engagement.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
To strive for clarity in my obliquity (Tom Sleigh). And to shine alone in the sunrise toward which I lend no part (WCW). I took the latter to be an address to the immigrant in the English language sky.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m still thinking about genre, let me get back to you on that. I don’t really believe in it, yet I write it. I definitely feel a difference when a poem is coming on. It’s like No.1 and No.2. May I leave you with that image.

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 wake up at 8, let the dogs out, read on the train to Manhattan, work 10-6. After work I take classes or teach, read on the train home, have very late dinner with Amy and fall asleep. Just before I drift, lines start going through my head and so I stir and I write them down. This is usually after midnight. I write them down in the dark.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I translate. It must be what actors feel: how tiresome always to be the same person!—and they have a way out. Translation is a similar escape from me-ness. It’s like free poetry. And of course I have some books I go to, talismans, the re-reading of which brings the sap up. These are different for everyone. For me it’s a bunch of Russians mostly, Marina Tsvetaeva & co, then Bruno Shultz, Diane di Prima, Heraclitus. Some ancient Herman Hesse book I read in high school. That sort of thing. So, I go to things that take me away from myself, or deeper into me. Either way, I escape the surface tension.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pine needles & burning wood. This is the smell of the ur-home. I’m not a cosmopolitan, in that I am not sophisticated; sometimes I succumb to the brute rites of nostalgia, sometimes I feel that every place is my home. Amy says, they burn wood everywhere.

This interview is a whole lot of “I”s, all to say: thank you.

12 or 20 (second series) questions:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

little red leaves textile editions: Sarah Mangold, Jimmy Lo + Mairéad Byrne

From Dawn Pendergast's Little Red Leaves in Texas come three more from her “textile editions” series, the chapbooks An Antenna Called the Body by Sarah Mangold, A Reduction by Jimmy Lo, and Lucky by Mairéad Byrne. With previous chapbooks by Beverly Dahlen and Jamie Townsend, the website writes of the series:
We love chapbooks and poets. We love little ones, little known. We love things that fit into trouser pockets. We love small pages, plush covers, uneven stitches and folds.

A project of little red leaves, the textile series takes the hand out of “hand-sewn chapbooks.” It’s real work in the age of mechanical reproduction. It’s the little sewing machine that could. It’s ironed and folded and sewn and pulled and the threads stick out.

All textile series chapbooks are 5.5″ by 4.25″ with fabric covers scavenged from old curtains, bedsheets and other textile remnants. We consider it a micro-revolution. A call to action against staples, tape and glue. Coming at you em-dashed, a little wrinkled, and needlessly obscure.
The author of the poetry collections Household Mechanics (New Issues, 2002) and the forthcoming Giraffes of Devotion (i.e. Press), Edmonds, Washington poet Sarah Mangold edited the print journal Bird Dog (2000-2009), and currently co-edits, with Maryrose Larkin, FLASH + CARD, “a chapbook and ephemera press.” Her An Antenna Called the Body, “lovingly sewn with a smattering of textile remnants,” is a mix of short poems and prose-poems writing the place where human and machine meet, in poems such as “Electrical Theories of Femininity,” “Every Man a Signal Tower” and “The Study of Individual Points.” With her references to the century before last, I wonder, is this a matter of steampunk concerns lightly disguised as lyric/language poetry?
An Antenna Called the Body

Around 1900 love's wholeness disintegrates. Where eyes had always seen only poetic wing mechanization takes control. Literal airships watching the paddle-streamer wheel. Their central nervous system always preceded them. Lethal bird flights. Mechanization takes commmand. Metaphysics of the heart. Everything from sound to light is a wave. Priest and victim of the apparatus. Perfectly alphabetized female readers.
What I love here is her language, the way her prose wraps around itself, in an unusual mix of thick and specific abstract, sweeping across the page. It makes me want to see what else she is doing, has done.
The Machine has not Destroyed the Promise

Around 1800, the costumed nightmare on the sofa. Dead brides and mountaineers. For me they are grammatical. Frontier cleaners. A circle of tickets this freckled body. But I should be untrue to science loitering among its wayside flowers. Pulled out and shut up like a telescope. Let us try to tell a story devoid of alphabetic redundancies. Immortality in technical positivity. If motion caused a disagreement of any kind we are regarding the same universe but have arranged it in different spaces. That is to be the understanding between us. Shall we set forth?
I'm intrigued by Atlanta, Georgia poet Jimmy Lo, a writer I hadn't previously heard of. His chapbook, the long poem A Reduction, is sprinkled with “microscopic images of mustard seeds, onions skins, twigs, banana stalk, tumeric, wildflower, string, and other items,” and, as the acknowledgments also tells, “lovingly sewn with recycled bedsheets and shower curtains.” The poem begins:
I wish to be microscopic. Not invisible, that, but microscopic—and anonymous, among the worms' paths and their soft castings, to be heading into the mite, their kin, next of their kin miles no meaning. Two dimensions.
This is an interesting and endearing prose-poem/essay on metaphysics, writing the small, smaller and smallest moments in prose. I'm intrigued by the smallness, and the thoughtful quick movements disguised as a single gesture, wondering where this poet might end up, where he might even go next. I'm intrigued by the smallness, but to Lo I would suggest, to explore other avenues of smallness, you should consider the poems of Nelson Ball and Mark Truscott, exploring smallnessess from entirely different angles, or the prose-poetry of Richard Froude.
The politics of the body would sing its injustice. Though it would smile too, it would smile on the great verve of its invective.
Mairéad Byrne [see her 12 or 20 questions here], an Irish ex-pat living in the United States, is the author of four previous collections, from Nelson & The Hurubury Bird (Wild Honey Press, 2003), Talk Poetry (Miami University Press, 2007), SOS Poetry (/ubu editions, 2007) and The Best of (What's Left of) Heaven (Publishing Genius, 2010), as well as “a host of chapbooks,” including this newest, Lucky, “lovingly sewn using recycled textile remains.” In what little I've seen of Byrne's previous work, she favours the prose-poem, exploring images and ideas in longer (often single-paragraph) pieces that remind slightly of the fictions of British Columbia author M.A.C. Farrant, or Hamilton, Ontario writer Gary Barwin. There are some strange and compelling surreal moments in these pieces, whether the first two pieces centred around centipedes, or writing her eyes falling out on the streets of Providence. How would you feel if your eyes were to fall out?

If you have an old house and it's not up to par with the houses of your friends and colleagues and you have been in it long enough to fix it up but you haven't fixed it up because you have no money or aren't able or just didn't get round to it yet but can't use the excuse of having just moved in anymore because you're in the house seven years and people don't invite you to dinner anymore because you never invite them back and anyway you feel bashful about accepting an invitation for the 4th or 5th time and want to, you know, start inviting people round yourself but don't want to expose the shortcomings of your living situation I have the solution for you: Floodlights! You can rent them fairly cheap or even invest in a set of your own if you intend to have a lot of dinner parties. You have to have high ceilings of course—did I mention I have an old house? Once installed you just blast that dinner table with 5,000 lumens and believe me, no-one's going to be commenting on the state of your house. It's like that Edgar Allen Poe story “The Purloined Letter”: You blind with light. The trick is, of course, to rein it in. You have to control the projection. You want the dining room ablaze but everything outside that shining space sheathed in velvety dark. You do not want the dust bunnies in the corner of the living-room—or on the corner of the living room of your neighbour across the street—to jump into horrifying relief. It's extremely atmospheric as you can imagine. Your guests will feel like film stars. And there are other benefits. It's not that you don't have furniture—it's that you moved it to make room for the lights. It's not that you don't have rugs—it's that you didn't want them torn up by the great claw feet of the floods so you rolled them away. And if your guests do stumble out of the magic circle to go to the bathroom or explore the territory, their retinas will be too dazzled to see anything but whirling disks and orbs. They'll have to feel their way with their hands and when they return the food on their plate will look too real for words. Not only have you restored appetite to the realm of personal responsibility where it rightly belongs you have also more or less determined the topic of conversation for the evening, that is if people can bear to look each other in the eye long enough to talk. You can also rent searchlights with high intensity beams each one of which has over six hundred million candlepower so your guests can easily find your house without GPS or Mapquest—the good old-fashioned way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

new above/ground press chapbooks by Thomas, mclennan, Folsom, Cooley and Ackerson-Kiely, + 2012 subscriptions now available!

Opening the Dictionary
by Hugh Thomas
see link here

The underside of the line,
by rob mclennan
see link here

by Eric Folsom
see link here

have you learned / nothing kroetsch
three poems
by Dennis Cooley
see link here

A Book About a Candle Burning in a Shed

by Paige Ackerson-Kiely
see link here

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
September 2011
a/g subscribers receive complimentary copies
check for regular notices

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 402 McLeod St #3, Ottawa ON K2P 1A6 or paypal at

2012 subscriptions now available!

The 2012 above/ground press subscription is now available. $50 for everything above/ground press produces sent to your mailbox.

And be sure to check out the above/ground press group on facebook, including The Factory Reading Series (celebrating 20 years in January 2012) events at The Carleton Tavern.


with other recent and forthcoming above/ground publications by: Camille Martin, Robert Kroetsch, Ben Ladouceur, rob mclennan, Ken Norris, Michael Blouin, Christine McNair, derek beaulieu, kemeny babineau, Ross Brighton, Marilyn Irwin, Shannon Maguire + plenty of others.

give $50 to rob mclennan, or mail:
c/o 402 McLeod Street #3, Ottawa Ontario Canada K2P 1A6
regular notices are also sent out through an email list of Ottawa-area literary events. to get on the list, email me at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lea Graham, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You

Crush for a Once Sestina

O these sestinas jest / they cleave the hopsack
with know-how to browbeat
the latchkey / the tell-alls

Crochet the septums / & pub-crawl
scrawl the ample, outspread broad
crusade these wattles

Persuade rucksacks / squeegee the scatback
They nickname dead seas, nutgalls / A-frame us
in cul-de-sacs (our nodding gimcracks)
free-fall Rockaway / flank the zodiac, Mumbai

But for seawalls / & razorbacks
they could parboil chick-peas / go tenure-track
draft umiaks / counter-claim catcalls

O lawdy Miss Maudy! / is this the Tao
of Arnault Daniel? / or envois
up in the Armagnac?

Shellac the plimsolls! / confit the nightshade!
These sestinas / swaybacked
Neanderthals & coryphées
stink of menthol, meatballs / they deliquiesce
they merengue

We will stop
& smell / the sumac
yoke with them
After years of waiting, American poet Lea Graham, originally from Northwest Arkansas and now living and teaching in Poughkeepsie, New York, is now the published author of a first trade collection of poetry, her Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (Reston VA: No Tell Books, 2011), following her chapbook Calendar Girls (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2006). I have to admit, I'm not entirely a fan of the book's title, unclear why the change from the working title, “Crushes,” considering how the book works through the double-meaning of “Crush” in so many of them poems, including “Crush #90,” “A Crush in Dream Time,” “Crush from Ottawa,” “A Crush for Us All Back Then,” “Crush #40,” “Crush Starting with a Line by Jack Gilbert,” “Crush #28” and “Crushed in Poughkeepsie Time.” 

This is certainly a book of crushes, a collection, compiled and sorted and accumulated over a long period, including “Crush for a Once Sestina,” a wonderful response to Vancouver/Toronto poet Fenn Stewart'sThis used to be a sestina,” produced as a broadside by above/ground press.

Wine has no rudder & so we drink
vodka tonics, watch motions of this bay:

Current's brow, contracts moustache
to collar, radial. A face buried just

above the occipital bone, breathes
salt, summer hay, a small nest & respite

from cold in the 18th hour. We
fidget rough sheets, a dry heat. I story

sex with other men to stop from—
Built as a mix of “crush” poems, ranging crushes over time, the book holds together through a mix of styles, with cut lines and line-breaks, other poems as longer stretches of prose-poem, riding the variety itself that coheres the collection. Graham has some wonderful turns, some fantastic short pieces, accumulative poems and short sequences, but there is just something about her short prose-poems that have the potential to really transcend, and where, most often, the eye can't help but hold, for a moment or two. Crushed, one might say, beneath the weight.
Bridge Jumping/ W4M/ Poughkeepsie
(The Walkway)

You smelled of burning maps, smirked as to let slip the dogs of war. Not the stale slate windbreaker & steel-cut oats above the Hudson. I was whistling “Wake Up, Little Suzie” & wearing a huipil. Your crow's feet, tasseographical signs for journey of hindrance, diploma. The conversation went like giraffes fighting: How do you behead a poem like a horse? Why is the “ch” silent in “chthonic”? I refused your urge to push the mental health button, see what might appear: pair of falcons, oil cymes between trains, a child in a tiara. I told you the death rate was 1180 for every 1200 jumps, including Kid Courage. I told you in Hong Kong it's the most popular form. You said falling from this height blows your clothes off, denies the senses. You wondered what happened to the 20 who got away? Cross-winds, a unicycle & my Mets cap divided factors. But I keep thinking of you like Colomb & Williams thought of Wayne C. Booth, writing his voice into the third edition of The Craft of Research years after he died. I imagine you might fish endangered sturgeon & dream of Guernica on Thursdays. If so, write to me. We could go to sea in a sieve, double the blind, buck your tiger, bell my cat, leap this dark—

Saturday, September 24, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Rusty Priske

Rusty Priske is a poet and a writer. He has been the Slam Master for Capital Slam (one of the most successful and longest running slams in Canada) since 2008 as well as doing the same job for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in 2010. He has a published collection of poems called Rusty Priske: Trapeze Artist, as well as appearing on seven CDs and two chapbooks. He has performed from Halifax to Victoria and has represented Ottawa and Capital Slam at the National Slam Championships four times in five years.

Rusty is a member of the poetry troupes, The Copper Conundrum and The Colossus, and is a former member of the acclaimed troupe, The Recipe.

He currently writes for the Legend of the Five Rings game line and formerly for the Warlord: Saga of the Storm game line from AEG.

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

Well, I still don’t have my own, full-length CD. I have plans, but plans are just plans. The first time I appeared on a CD however, was Live at Capital Slam 2007 and that was pretty exciting. Change my life? Not really, but the difference between my life over the past five years – my creative life anyway – is quite marked. If anyone told me five years ago that people would be able to quote some of my own lines back to me or request specific poems or even recognize me on the street, I would have said they were crazy.

I still need a day job, though, and I am still hoping for a Canada Council grant so I can get that CD project off the ground.

I finally have my own book. Rusty Priske: Trapeze Artist is available from me or at

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

I didn’t, actually. When I was young I wanted to be a writer…but mostly, I wanted to write comic books. These days Brian Michael Bendis has what I thought of as my dream job. Even when I got back to writing as an adult, it was writing fiction and world building for the gaming world. It wasn’t until my wife Ruthanne told me she wanted to go a show called Capital Slam that I was exposed to spoken word. I wrote my first piece the next day and made the Capital Slam Team a year later. With my other writing job having very constricting creative limitations, spoken word was, for me, a place where I could stretch my wings and write stuff that explored who I was and how I saw the world.

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 write quite a lot. I rarely (but not never) write something that I don’t finish… but that doesn’t make it all good. I write quickly, but I don’t start until it has been rolling around in my head for a while, so that is a little misleading. I usually don’t edit the written portion, but I do edit while I am memorizing a piece for performance. That is where I let my writing  evolve into something that sounds more natural… or at least I attempt to.

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 single large project, such as a full cd, from the very beginning?

I don’t normally work on ‘projects’. I work on poems. When I put the book together or make plans for the CD, it is a collection rather than a pre-planned whole. That is changing, however, as I have just announced a new project called The Duncameron. I’ll talk more about that, but it is a large project. A VERY large project, in fact.

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

Well, my work is meant to be performed, rather than read, so the ‘true’ form is what you get when you see me on stage, whether at a Slam or other performance. I don’t consider those ‘readings’, though. That isn’t to say I don’t do readings. One of my weaknesses is that I do not have a strong memory, so there are times when I am asked to perform and rather than doing one of the two or three poems I have ready at any given time I will pull out my book and read a piece. It takes a little away from the performance, but it allows me to share a wider range of material.

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 always have concerns with my work. Some of it is intensely personal, some of it is political… or ‘social’. I have run into problems recently where I have been told that I shouldn’t be writing about certain subjects because it is observational rather than personal. I don’t buy that. I am going to write about things that interest me, or bother me, or infuriate me, or… whatever.

Now, if you mean, do I have concerns WITH my writing… certainly. I wish my writing was more technically strong at times, but I am who I am, and that where my writing comes from.

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 don’t think of the role of a writer as much as I think about the role of an artist. I think an artist needs to hold a mirror up… ugh, what a cliché. True though. People don’t always see the big picture… or little picture… or anything outside their self-driven world view. I am not saying that an artist is any different but when each shares their art among themselves and the wider public, people can start to pull those different views into a collage of life.

I have had conversations with people that I realized could NEVER advance (the conversations, that is) because we had such wildly disparate views on the world. How can you come to a consensus with someone who considers ‘it says in the bible’ to be a definitive argument when you do not believe that the bible is any more than a book? How can you come to an understanding with someone who says ‘the economy is the most important…blah blah blah’ when you see the economy as a tool rather than the frame… anyway. Yeah, I get political sometimes

Artists can show people different points of view – let people ponder different ideas or help them cement ideas they already have.

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

As a poet I have no editor. Sometimes that shows (for the worse). That doesn’t mean I never have outside input. I usually read my poems to my wife as soon as I write them and that will sometimes turn into very specific criticism that can improve my work. She made the poem ‘Tricks’ a lot better, for example. Earlier this year she helped me see that a poem I was working on was actually two poems.

I do have an editor for my fiction work and it is painful at times… but still essential.

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

Just start.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between solo and collaborative works? What do you see as the appeal?

I have no idea how to create collaborative art. I have done it, but I still don’t know how to do it. The first step appears to be to team up with people who are smarter and more talented than you are and let them tell you what to do.

When I was the alternate with the Capital Slam Team in 2009, I got to see a group of poets create things that went to a whole other level by making them collaborative. Those poets are now The Recipe – one of the most renowned groups of spoken word artists in the country.

I do some collaborative work with the Copper Conundrum (Kevin Matthews, Danielle K.L. Gregoire and myself), but up until now it has mostly been arranging solo pieces for two or three voices.

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 have no routine when it comes to poetry. I have a notebook where I jot down basic ideas. Later I will slosh those around in my head until I feel like I can write it. Most of my writing happens at my cubicle desk on breaks at work. I wish I could say that I write in a perfect space for nurturing my creative process or the like… but nope.

My typical day has very little to do with the creative process. The poetry doesn’t pay the bills – my government 9 to 5 life does that. I have great respect for those (like yourself) that have the ability to live off their art.

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

My first stop when I feel the need to write and have nothing handy is my notebook where I jot down single lines – or even just a couple words – that are mental hooks for pieces. I have notes in my book that have been there for years, and sometimes that hook is all I need to get writing. My fairly recent piece ‘Trapeze Artist’ came from a Bob Dylan quote I found back in 2006. They do not always evolve in the form they started. My piece ‘FN’ started as an anti-gun piece that was going to touch on how guns affect different lives. It ended up being about the practice of indoctrinating violence in children.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Hmmm… that isn’t a major theme for me. I can’t really think of anything.

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?

Dipping back into the cliché bag, everything is inspiration. I am a big fan of music and draw from it a lot. A poem I mentioned earlier, ‘Tricks’, grew out of a single line from a song by The Hold Steady. I have a whole novel I would like to write that grew out of a Dave Matthews Band song, of all things, and I have an idea for a movie that came from a song by a local Victoria, B.C. band called Shillelagh.

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

I draw from my peers a lot. Anyone who heard my early work could likely see how much I was initially influenced by Kevin Matthews. Since I run the Capital Slam competitions, I get to listen to poems by a wide variety of people and all of them influence me in some way or another. Some days I wish I could be half the writer that Amal El-Mohtar is.

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

I want to make my CD, ‘Why Art?’ I have it planned out. I have guest artists lined up. I am ready to do it… but my vision is currently out of my financial scope.

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?

When people ask me what I do, my answer is writer and poet. When they ask what I do ‘for a living’, the answer is Business Process Modeler for the federal government. I know which one I prefer.

I wish I had studied math in school instead of commerce. It still plays to my skills without venturing into a field that I have no real interest.

Not exactly a creative focused answer, eh? Well, that’s what happens when you don’t rediscover your creative side until you are well into your thirties.

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

I needed a creative outlet and writing was the one that worked. A simplistic answer, but that is the best I can come up with.

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

The last book I read that I was really impressed by was The Book of Dave by Will Self. The last book I read at all was non-fiction: Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race and Baseball History by Jules Tygiel. The last poetry book was Leaving Rio by Kathryn Hogan.

The last great film would have been… maybe The Road. I mostly watch films for pure entertainment, but I wouldn’t call the last bunch of films I saw great.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am always writing for slams, and writing for Legend of the Five Rings, but my new project that I am excited about is called The Duncameron. It is a project based on a project based on a challenge.

The short version is that there was a challenge thrown down at the Austin Poetry Slam to do as many poems in a row as possible while slamming without repeating any. The idea was to keep things fresh and interesting, always bringing new material. A poet named Big Poppa E threw this open to the wider slam community and some poets in Vancouver took up the challenge.

As they were doing this, one poet named Duncan Shields started listing his poems by title on the Vancouver Poetry House message board to track his progress.

Now I have never met Duncan. I know of him and I suppose the reverse is true, but I have never seen him perform. I became fascinated with this list of poem titles and started imagining what I would do with the different ideas.

Finally, I made myself a challenge. If Duncan could get his list to 100 poems (which was his goal), I would start writing poems with the same titles, having no idea if they matched his in theme, form, whatever. Some of the titles have given me some great ideas. Others will be more of a challenge (‘Two Girls, One Cup’? Really?)

He made his goal. Now it is my turn.

I have cleared this with Duncan and I am starting The Duncameron. (I was a literature major once upon a time…)

I have crazy visions of shared books and the like, but first comes the work. The first poem on the list and the one that is currently sloshing around in my head is called ‘Beverage Lids’. Watch for it!

12 or 20 (second series) questions:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Juliana Spahr, Well then there now

Things should be said more largely than the personal way.
Things are larger than the personal way of telling.
Intimate confession is a project.
Confession's structured plan of percents and regulations.

When the amounts of blood are considered.
When the strength, the quantities, of blood are regarded.
When blood is thought as meaning.
An intimate confession.

Blood is a force, a house.
And the difference between those that took and those that remained.
As the qualities of blood are considered remains undocumentable.
As the qualities of blood are considered remains unquantifiable.

For we are located with some and not with others for this is intimate.
We are situated with some and not with one against confession. (“Sonnets”)
One of the finest poetry collections I've read in some time, Juliana Spahr's Well then there now (Jaffrey NH: David R. Godine / A Black Sparrow Book, 2011) is listed as “her fourth book of poetry.” With numerous small and smaller publications over the years, this might be her fourth trade collection, but I won't argue over such details. The very attractive Well then there now is a collection of eight poem/sections, a number of which have appeared in journals or as separate publications: “Some of We and the Land / That Was Never Ours,” “Sonnets,” “Dole Street,” “Things of Each Possible Relation / Hashing Against One Another,” “Unnamed Dragonfly Species,” “2199 Kalia Road,” “Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache” and “The Incinerator.”

Throughout her works, most notably Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), there exists an argument about Hawai'i and the considerations of public/private spaces, as does this new work, composed in part during her years spent teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (1997-2003) before returning to the mainland to teach at Oakland, California's Mills College. On the other hand, there is also the appearance of Spahr's constant motion, the rhythmic chanting, an accumulative poetic seen previously, and most obviously, in both Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You and her breathtaking 9-11 collection, This Connection of Everyone With Lungs (University of California Press, 2005). Spahr's poetry collections are very much conceived as extended, single projects, running from Response (Sun & Moon Press, 1996; reissued as a free pdf by ubu editions/) to Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You to This Connection of Everyone With Lungs. Part of the appeal of this new collection is the length and the breadth of it, perhaps the largest and most all-encompassing of her collections to date, bringing in elements of all that she has previously published. Each of her eight poem/sections work their way to a singular whole, questioning the way we live, questioning the way we consider land ownership and the shortsighted descruction of the environment, and questioning the way communication can clarify as well as confuse.

I tried to think some about public and private in this essay. But I could come up with nothing profound to say about it. It is obvious that private interests are always encroaching on public ones and that tourism just makes this worse. Then tourism combined with colonialism is a lethal stew.

Public Access Shoreline Hawai'i vs. Hawai'i County Planning Commission, 1995 WL 515898 protects indiginous Hawaiians' traditional and customary rights of access to gether plants, harvest trees, and take game. In this decision the court said about the balance between the rights of private landowners and the rights of persons exercising traditional Hawaiian culture that “the western concept of exclusivity is not universally applicable in Hawai'i.”

These rights, however, are constantly eroded by property owners who restrict physical access by fencing in areas, closing roads, diverting water, not providing parking spaces, etc. A 1997 attempt by state legislators to regulate the law provoked large protests and was not passed. This was a victory.

But there is nothing really left to gather in Waikīkī. It is rare to see an endemic or indiginous plant. There are very few fish near its shores. (“2199 Kalia Road”)
Another appeal of the collection is in not only how Spahr relates geography but acknowledges it as well, with a map preceding each section, and acknowledgments at the end that include a list of composition sites, including “'Sonnets' was written at 3029 Lowrey Avenue, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822.” or “'Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache' was written at 5000 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland, California 94613. It was originally published in Tarpaulin Sky. While this poem was written in Oakland, California, it is about Chillicothe, Ohio.” I've never seen anyone write out such a geographic/genealogical list, but part of her awareness of geography in the poems is reminiscent slightly of the Alberta geographies current Ottawa poet Monty Reid played with in his collection The Alternate Guide (Red Deer, AB: Red Deer College Press,1995).
the requirements of this meeting
that this is someplace differently
the input of information
the coolness of things in constant movement
and the green of the track
from this calmness is the breath and the ventilation
the sea is modified and urges considerations
and then the conditions in the cause of meeting
the input of information that this is someplace differently
then the coolness and the things in constant motion
to this calmness there is the breath and the green of the land
the sea expands and is modified by considerations (“Things of Each Possible Relation Hashing Against One Another”)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Jaime Robles on Woodland Editions

Woodland Editions is a series of chapbooks that were published from about 2005 to 2011. Featuring innovative writing in both prose and poetry, the press produced 16- to 28-page chapbooks, laser-printed and hand sewn. The editions use high-quality papers and are especially attractive in appearance.

Jaime Robles is currently working on a series of poems based on the Hoxne and Staffordshire hoards. She published her most recent book of poetry, Anime, Animus, Anima, with Shearsman Books (2010). Her poems and reviews have been published in numerous magazines, among them Agenda, Conjunctions, Jacket, New American Writing, Shadowtrain and Volt! She produces many of her texts as artist books, and her bookworks are in several special collections, including the Bancroft Library, Berkeley; The Beinecke Library, Yale University; and the Oulipo Archive in Paris. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she is now living in Exeter.

1 – When did Woodland Editions 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?
I’ve been self-publishing and publishing others for a long time now. I’ve worked in all levels of publishing from limited editions to corporate publishing. Woodland Editions was, to begin with, the name I used for publishing when I first moved back to the Bay Area in 1990. Once I closed Five Fingers Review, the Woodland Edition chapbook series was a way to practice publishing, which I consider one of my craft/arts, on a smaller and more comfortable scale.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I was close to Kenneth Rexroth when I was an undergraduate, and when I began printing up my poetry and translations he suggested I contact Roger Levenson of Tamalpais Press in Berkeley. Roger sent me over to Clifford Burke of Cranium Press. Eventually, through my connections at Clifford’s, I began Five Trees Press with Cheryl Miller and Kathy Walkup.

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

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

Well, presses are always composites of activities. Each one seems to do some part very well, and perhaps others not so well. Woodland Editions does really interesting innovative poetry in beautiful and unobtrusive designs. Other presses do that as well. We hand sew our pamphlets, which is really unusual.

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

Probably just give books away.

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

I also work as a copyeditor, but that is a role I perform almost entirely with prose and trade books. Of course, I’ll query the author about obviously idiosyncratic spelling and grammar which may not be intentional.

7 – How do books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Supposedly we do 100 in each edition. But it’s turned out to be more print-on-demandish than that.

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?
I work with Susanne Dyckman, Brian Teare, and Todd Melicker. When we do work. The benefits, besides getting books sewn, is the great gossip and banter.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
More than anything, hand typesetting affected my writing. There’s nothing closer than writing a poem letter by letter. I seldom hand set any more, but it was a great teacher.

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 began publishing by making artists books, which is always your own words. I don’t have a problem with it. I seldom published my own writing, except as an introduction, when I was editing/publishing Five Fingers Review. That seemed less correct to me. But everyone should publish their own books, to learn the process if nothing else.

11– How do you see Woodland Editions evolving?

At the moment, the press is on vacation because I’m living part time in the UK and I’m just publishing chapbooks of my own work. I’m not sure how Woodland Editions will evolve, if at all.

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?

I don’t think I have an answer for that.

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

When I started publishing there were a whole lot of small presses in the Bay Area: Cranium Press, Zephyrus Image, Turtle Island, Arif Press, Poltroon Press, Kelsey Street. It was the end of the Vietnamese war and a lot of what we published was political. We were all friends and colleagues, and we had some great parties. I’m not sure models came into it. We scrutinized each other’s work though.

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

I admit that I like to keep my conversations casual. I’m friends with a lot of people who do small press publishing, in the US and the UK.

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

No. Though public events and readings are important, we leave that up to the authors.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
At this moment, no.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Oh, you the reader will have to do that task. I hope it’s not too onerous a one. I can only add that our books are a joy and worth every penny of your hard-earned money.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sandra Ridley, Post-Apothecary

Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011), Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley's second trade poetry collection, begins with a single-poem “Prologue,” “Pulse”:

She is right handed, left. Retain the language nor the visual side.
She is hungry. She is nil-by-mouth.

She is a note hung over a bed, a metal trolley & swinging doors.
She is semi-prone & steadied & there are nights.

An onslaught of nights. On, off, oxygen ventilation. Reeled.
Rocked. A wet tangle of hair. Her hand swept over a bright eye.

She is making it all up.
Can't possibly see through a retinal slit, out the dilated corner of.
I've written before of her long prairie lines, of her horizon-lines stretching out into forever, such as the post I wrote after her reading with Christine McNair at Ottawa's first annual VERSEfest poetry festival in March 2011. Originally from Saskatchewan, Sandra Ridley is the author of the trade collection Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], which won a Saskatchewan Book Award for Publishing, and the chapbooks Rest Cure (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2010) (which is included in the current volume) [see my review of such here] and Lift: Ghazals for C. (Saskatoon SK: JackPine, 2008), which co-won the 2009 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Awarded the Alfred G. Bailey Prize for the manuscript “Downwinders,” another manuscript of Ridley's, a collaboration with Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, recently shortlisted for Snare Books' Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.
Phial of Morphine

He seems nice. No. Not nice. Kind. No. Not kind. Humble. No. Not humble. Meek. No. Not meek. Quiet. No. Not quiet. Reserved. No. Not reserved. Taken aback. No. Not taken aback. Angry.


He seems angry.


He prefers a short skirt against bare leg, a rabbit in her lap,
a tattoo above her right knee.


Faith in morphine, not god. A long list of lovers, delirious injections,
a sequence of broken glass, car crashes. The air in her room, stale smoke.


It was such a nice day – she was right to be wary. (“APOTHECARY”)
With “Prologue,” four sections, “Epilogue” and final “Clinical Note” to her Post-Apothecary, the construction around a single theme in fragmented poems that fractal reminds loosely of how American poet Cole Swensen constructs her own poetry collections. Both writers work to create longer sequences of loose narratives, writing threads of concept, and, as the back cover blurb to Ridley's collection by poet Elizabeth Philips attests, “Sandra Ridley's long poetic sequences document the isolating effects of institutional incarceration with an unflinching vocabulary of treatment and 'cure.'”

Nettle whipped to a muscle twitch & a kick : or her jaw clenched in trismus to a salt-lick blue : until a catatonic hum & a switch clicks & reflects her cornea lacking.

Flit of lid : I lash : I stroke : wet oubliette hole filling in : catacombed where she half-slept : unwatched & bleach-drunk : she : I clasp an ivy strand of hair : a penny from the wall.

Twined : trussed : dialated : light-blinded by the lift of a keyless latch : floor-pressed & false-succour numbed : an incubus susurrates with a red apple & an open palm : she unswallows him.

I in relation to : I in a different way : I in whole or in part : my sugar cube in her mouth keeps his taste away. (“PHANTASMAGORIA”)
Ridley's Post-Apothecary writes around trauma and possible treatments, around myriad physical, psychological and emotional injury and how they often get treated, not necessarily for the sake of improvement, but for the sake of dismissal, hiding the illness and therefore the ill, away. At the same time, Ridley's Post-Apothecary writes out the emotional refuse of living, and the difficulties that often come simply from existing, working through days and relationships and nights to find out just what is possible, and if happiness throughout the detritus of living is attainable. Ridley's Post-Apothecary is a complex and complicated book, deceptively small and gracefully beautiful, impossible to properly describe, and even more difficult to put down. The collection writes trauma and sorrow, writing out trauma, yet a slight lift at the end, in her epilogue, ending with:
When she did start talking, she said: Get a hold of yourself Ridley. You have got to get a hold of yourself. When asked what is wrong, the patient stated she is happy.


I am happy.