Wednesday, February 29, 2012

the fourth issue of 17 seconds, ( : a journal of poetry and poetics ) is now online:

Fourth Issue: Winter 2012

Gary Barwin
Camille Martin - from "Blueshift Road"
Marcus McCann - No Permission: Why Poets Don't (and Shouldn't) Ask Nice
(originally presented as part of the first annual VERSeFest)
Pattie McCarthy - from marybones
rob mclennan - Insect hopes: Jay MillAr's accumulations
Sean Moreland - "another brain:" An interview with Sandra Ridley
Monty Reid - Address to VERSeFest 1: How Come Inger Isn't Here?
(originally presented as part of the first annual VERSeFest)

seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics comes out as the natural extension of the eight issues of edited by rob mclennan and Stephen Brockwell. Highlighting the diversity of voice, style, practice and politic, seventeen seconds continues the resolve to provide a forum for dialogue on contemporary poetics, with a focus on Canadian writing. Over the past two decades, the amount of critical writing published in print literary journals on Canadian poetry, specifically, seems to have decreased dramatically, but slowly returned through a number of online journals. seventeen seconds simply wishes to help strengthen the dialogue and the ongoing conversation about writing through publishing new writing, and conversation about new writing. How else are we supposed to learn anything, unless we keep talking?

rob mclennan: editor

roland prevost: founding managing editor

mdesnoyers : design & (re)compiler

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Last Good Year (a work-in-progress),

Michael Winter writes that death isn’t an event, but a process. The Death of Donna Whalen.

My mother died nearly two short months past her seventieth birthday, the night of August 19, 2010. These were milestones we hadn’t expected, although few might admit. Years her immune system battered, broken, shot to hell. After forty-three years of illness, her body wore down. She slipped so quick, there less a release than simply gone. Four days in the intensive care unit, Civic Hospital, her last three days on life support, unconscious, and medicated to deflect the pain of lung infections, arthritis, the pain of her failing kidney.

The fourth of George William Page and Della Marjorie Swain's seven children, she was their first born in hospital. Ironic, since she would spend so much of her life in hospitals. Weeks, or even months, at a time. Born at Ottawa’s former Grace on Wellington Street West, a building that stood, until relatively recently, in the Parkdale neighbourhood. Where I too arrived.

Burrowing into a Toronto housesit, I received an email from my sister’s cellphone: you need to come home, right now. I rode the Greyhound east, and called the farm once I landed in Ottawa. I asked my father, is it worth going in to see her, or waiting until tomorrow morning? It was already late. He couldn’t answer.

She’d already been in a coma for more than a day. Slipped.

A photograph among her possessions of a toddler, with the small scrawl on the back, “Joanne at 1, taking first steps.” What would have been June 30, 1941. Joanne Irene Page. The child who would grow up to become my mother. On the day this picture was taken, the infant who would become her husband was four days old.

Through photographs, we move at entirely different rates of speed. I feel my skin pulled at the contradictions of. I try to navigate, negotiate. I attempt to extricate.

My mother, rolling out through pictures I remember and some I’ve never known.

In the minutes before my mother died, my cousin Patti, leaning over mum’s bed in intensive care, telling me of my parents’ pre-wedding blood test, the one that gave her three months to two years to live. The news called Patti home, visiting an American cousin. Three months to two years, the result of babysitting a year or two earlier and catching scarlet fever from a neighbour girl, which started the process of calcifying her kidneys, eventually putting her through twenty-three years of dialysis and three transplants over the same period, the third of which happened only eight years before her body finally gave.

When someone close to us dies, we enter into a particular kind of dialogue, deep and rich and abstract. I imagine conversation. By her hospital bed before and after she died, or alone with her in the chapel before the wake began, whispering under my breath. Oh, mum. Just loud enough for her to hear.

We attach ourselves to a series of beginnings, rare endings. One door barricades, and a window latch opens. To live any differently would cause the body and heart to close down. It would be far too easy, too easy to fall from this point and succumb. There are always ways we could turn that we can never return from. Lines that can’t be uncrossed. The boy on the French side when we still in high school, a shotgun up to his lips in his mother’s bathtub.

Today, rereading a poem by Sandra Ridley, caught in the underpinning of her last two lines:
Yes. I am breathing on my own.
On my own.
[see here for links to other sections]

Monday, February 27, 2012

Freedom to Read Week; rob reads Paul's Case, by Lynn Crosbie (etc)

For Freedom to Read Week, Feb. 26 to March 3, the Ottawa Citizen asked several Ottawa writers to read from works that have been censored, banned or challenged. Some of these writers will appear at the Censored Out Loud fundraiser for PEN Canada on Feb. 29. For more information, see

View videos by Nichole McGill, Phil Jenkins, Oni the Haitian Sensation, rob mclennan and Alan Cumyn.

My choice was Toronto writer Lynn Crosbie's novel, Paul's Case (Insomniac Press, 1998).

Read more:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Capilano Review 3.16: ecologies

In my opening pages, the identity
of the characters is contested as
a forgery of imagery bound up
with the claims and dispositions
of country. It seems in order
to sustain power in all this,
the city upholds an illusion of
authority over the north, so that
the influential with the most is
a problem to which I return.
But cultures are cumbersome,
each with acquired tastes, and
what is this blur about belonging?
By the time I came along in the
literature, the land was exhausted
and the local I knew was fading. (Ken Belford, “Potential”)
I’m intrigued by the length and the breadth of the definition this new issue of The Capilano Review brings to the theme of “ecologies,” running the stretch of what might be called “eco-poetry” and “pastoral” and further, into less-described territories. This new issue features new writing by Liz Howard, Eleni Sikelianos, Christian Bök, Ken Belford, Jacqueline Turner, Larissa Lai, A. Rawlings, Lary Timewell, Adam Dickinson and plenty of others. What might fall under the umbrella of “ecologies”? 

As a whole cloth, this is a spectacular issue that tackles a wide array of political, social, physical, poetic, social and economic ethos and effects of a variety of ecologies, including globalization, the effects of natural disaster and climate change. By itself, the sequence by Calgary poet Christian Bök, for example, is absolutely breathtaking. 

One of the anchors to the issue as a whole is the piece “’Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’: On Poetry and the Environmental Crisis,” featuring Joanne Arnott, Michael Blackstock, Peter Culley, Roger Farr, Christine Leclerc and Rita Wong. As Farr writes, “This discussion took place on September 18, 2011, on a private “Ecologies” blog set up for the occasion.”
RF: I’m curious about how poetics informs the activist work some of you are doing: Christine’s work against the Enbridge project, for example. Do people active as poets bring anything unique to the movement for environmental protection and defense?

CL: I like the way the question is framed, as I usually think about my activist work informing my poetics. Actually, I participated in poetic community before activism. But obviously, the crews aren’t mutually exclusive, and in a way, the more involved I became in activist work, the more I got to know poets involved in serving their non-poetic communities, and who are engaged in struggles for justice. That said, poetics does inform the activism that surrounds The Enpipe Line poetry project, as The Enpipe Line is fairly non-hierarchical. The contributions that make up the long line of this poem are selected by the poets who come forward with work and resistance to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines, and not a panel of editors. And the poem’s editors work on a volunteer basis. It may seem strange to describe the power focus on it because I think it is an essential feature of the work and an important part of what the poem ultimately has to convey.


Can poets intervene in the corporate and political manoeuvring that allows unwanted projects to move forward? I’m very curious about this question, but don’t yet have a clear answer.
Vancouver poets Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott’s “DECOMP: Selected Readings from the Bunchgrass Zone,” for example, worked a collaborative project of photographs and text on the subject of decay that I would very much like to see more of, writing:
In the summer of 2009 we traveled to five distinct BC ecosystems and communities: the coastal rainforest (on Vancouver Island’s west coast), the Gulf Islands (in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island), the Nicola Valley desert, the Columbia Mountains, and the sub-boreal North. In each ecosystem an identical copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was placed in a remote outdoor location, and left there for one year. A GPS reading was taken. In the summer of 2010 we returned to each site and located the specimens. As we hoped, each ecosystem had something different to say about Darwin’s text.
Toronto writer Liz Howard has two poems from her work-in-progress “OF HEREAFTER SONG,” with a note that reads:
Longfellow’s epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha,” was an attempt to assimilate indigenous, specifically Ojibway, oral tradition into Western textual, metric verse. My own government-imposed identity as a non-status aboriginal person and the trauma and silence surrounding this identity (as in the internment of my great-grandfather in a residential school and estrangement from my native family members) became an emergent theme in my writing. As a mixed-race person, not even quite a “half-breed;” as a subject under a continual process of erasure; as the ideal end-product of assimilative programs such as the residential school system; and as a scientist, employing empiricism as the so-called paramount of Western inquiry into the natural or into how we come to utilitarian truth—how could I even write about this? There was something similar, suspicious, neighbourly between Longfellow’s situation and my own. He was a white settler trying to filter indigenous narrative through the framework of the Western epic and I was trying to reconcile a being at odds with itself. I began to read and un-write his work. The result is a long or sequential work in which I intervene upon the text using several procedures—an overarching process of random sampling (which is the norm in scientific research), as well as homolinguistic translation, intertextual recombination, misappropriation, and cyborgian disruption.
A particular highlight has to be new work by Lary Timewell (also known as Lary Bremner, inventor of Tsunami Editions and more recent obvious epiphanies), who, but a few short weeks ago, returned to Vancouver after a hiatus of some twenty-plus years. As his bio writes, “He spent roughly the past 20 years in Fukushima-ken, Japan, where he survived the physical but not economic fallout of the March 11th Higashi Nihon Daishinsai; he currently lives in North Vancouver.” Given his experiences with the tsunami hitting his home city in Japan (the city with the disaster-affected nuclear reactors), it allows him a unique and terrifying perspective on the subject of “ecologies.” Here is a fragment of his poem “escape,” from a suite titled “offshore”:
At Yahiko Shrine the raindrops are opaque, an invisible display. No one is so anthropomorphic as to think Nature is apologizing for the moment past. That is to say, any one of us born. There is this world & there is the cessation of suffering, even under shifting fault-line that obliterates time. A veil of birds passing is once again an abstraction forming on the forehead.

The ghosts were torn from the buildings; the apparatus of moonlight unlocked. There are no words for counting the days. Behind door #3, the hell-wraith of mental & material streams, but here in Niigata my nearest neighbor is the weather. The mountain appears as a particle deluge, the rain constructed amorously of retinal seraphs.

My wife & son are safe in Tokyo. CNN is on anabolic steroids; the static the frayed experience raise cilia-hairs on the forearms of hope. Habitué flock to convenience stores reciting nuclear eclogues formed in the precise matrices of chrysanthemums painted on the side of a wall.

Language tastes better with the tang of wasabi, the cool of daikon. That kid with a diamond-encrusted tricycle is sunlight itself. The ululating somnambulistic of media dissipates like an involuntary communion along the auditory canal. Wooly moon through fog forms fissures on sheets, on ceiling.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Julie Bruck

A Montreal native, Julie Bruck has lived in San Francisco since 1997. She has published three collections with Brick Books, MONKEY RANCH (forthcoming in March, 2012), THE END OF TRAVEL (1999), and THE WOMAN DOWNSTAIRS (1993). Her poems have appeared in many Canadian and U.S. magazines, including The New Yorker, Maisonneuve, The Walrus, Ploughshares, The Malahat Review and Ms, and she's had fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Canada Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Julie has taught at several Canadian colleges and universities, and has been a resident faculty member at The Robert Frost Place in New Hampshire. Since 2005, Julie has taught workshops at The Writing Salon in San Francisco's Mission district, and worked part-time at the University of San Francisco.

For more info, news and events:

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Having The Woman Downstairs published was a terrific kick in the pants. My life didn't change,  but having a book bolstered my commitment to writing. At the time--this was back in the early '90's--I also had a fine group of fellow poets in Montreal to  share work with, and we pushed each other in very constructive ways, not least of which was setting deadlines. If you can't spend your life wandering around with your hands clasped behind your back, a deadline is good. I often hear young or new writers apologize for needing classes or workshops to keep them focused, but all that matters is doing the work, whatever you have to put in place.

As for how my work has changed, I hope each book has had a wider scope, that each includes more of the world, though I'm probably not the best judge of that. I do know that teaching, which I've done steadily for the last 7 years, and sporadically before, has had an effect. It's made me more playful, more open to letting the poem lead. I encourage students to try different angles of approach to their poems, both in free-writes and in revision, and to surprise themselves in the process. I try to practice what I preach. 

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
In college, I took a fiction class and by the end of the year it was clear that I lacked both the instincts and the chops. The only salvageable bits from my awful stories behaved a lot like poems. Also, I'd been taking black-and-white photographs for several years before that, and I think the impulse to isolate and frame something in time was more natural to me than the cinematic nature of fiction. Which may be a kinder way of saying I have a short attention span.

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?
Sometimes forever, or no time at all. The process depends on the project. With individual poems, a few arrive with their spines (structures) intact, and all their toes and fingers, while most need to be built and rebuilt from the ground up, Sisyphus style. I usually write in spurts, say, a couple of poems over a month or two, and then spend a long, long time revising. I suppose that's why it's taken me nineteen years to finish three skinny books.

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?
The poems can start anywhere--an overheard remark, a disturbance in a hedge, a disconnect between images that the mind wants to reconcile, or from just rubbing words together.  I've always had to gather a stack of work before a "book" began to take shape, but since I finished Monkey Ranch things have changed. I wrote a new piece whose title had one word in it that suggested an entire section of a book, and maybe, the whole next book. That word (and yes, I'm just superstitious enough to withhold it here) was so potent and rife with associations that unwrapping it felt like unscrewing one of those Russian matryoshka dolls, each one leading to the next. Things started getting so intense that I had to put the whole project away for a while and cool off. This was new to me, and very exciting.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings, though I tend to do them only when I have a new book to "support" and since my books are so far apart, I spend long stretches without coming out of the cave. When I do read just for fun,  I'm always reminded of how helpful it can be to try out new work in this way, to "hear" the poems land  differently in a public space.

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?

If only! If my work was more "theoretical", maybe I'd march off to work like a scientist to the lab and spare myself the long gaps between manuscripts. I'd like that. But alas, the kinds of poems I write usually demand that I ask myself some particularly thorny questions. This can make the process so intense I'd often rather run screaming for the hills.

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?
Poor old poetry! It's hard to stay starry-eyed about the role of the poet when about five people still read poems. But, as a reader, I want to be astonished or changed by the experience of a poem, and whenever that happens I'm  reinvigorated about poetry's possibilities. I mean, isn't it miraculous that words, well-strung on a page, can take up residence inside a reader?   That a reader makes them their own? For me, it's right up there with the idea that airplanes stay (mostly) aloft.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Editors have become increasingly scarce in publishing--a sad state of affairs. I've been blessed with two amazing poetry editors at Brick Books, Alayna Munce and Marnie Parsons. They both asked crucial questions that always made me push each book further than I thought possible. Good editors are what differentiate publishing from printing.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Sean O’Faolain claimed that “and” was the most hopeful word in the English language.

I also like this advice by Ira Glass, from This American Life. It's long, so I'll give you the link:

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't have a set writing schedule, except this:

Once a week, I lock myself in the car and write for 30 minutes--no goal, save putting words on paper. I place no expectations on these pages, and I often don't read them again until weeks or months later. But as long as I'm generating fresh pages, the work that's already in progress always seems to go better, so I keep this appointment.  

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read promiscuously, and when I get stuck I'll often pick up (almost at random), a book that often addresses some difficulty I'm having, or that offers me a strategy I hadn't considered. I'm a heavy subscriber to the idea that writing engages us in a conversation with other writing--that reading and writing are completely interdependent.

12 - What was your last Hallowe'en costume?
It was in terribly bad taste. My husband Lewis and I went to the Halloween wedding of friends here in San Francisco. These two love to dress up, and we knew this would be an all-out gory Goth affair, so we decided to go for more understated horror. We both wore plain black clothing, and I cut a balsa wood airplane in half. We each had half the plane affixed to our upper arms (the nose half coming out of his left arm, the tail end entering my right). We were the Twin Towers. I told you it was awful.

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?
I'm influenced by all of it. That dialogue I mentioned between reading and writing, I'd extend that to include music, art, and all the rest. The engagement with anything that offers access to another way of seeing the world, of making the quotidian new and surprising. For me, that's what art is about. 

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

Reading promiscuously makes it hard to narrow down a list, but I love Elizabeth Bishop's work for the way it pulses with the pressure of what is left unsaid. Kay Ryan's poems for their mouth music, and for how they can transform an apparently whimsical investigation into something profoundly moving. Jim Harrison's new collection, Songs of Unreason for its vulnerability and nerve, and for how the book weaves two sequences together to such great effect. Bob Hickok's poems, which are loving the way a big dog is loving, knocking you down and slobbering all over you, whether you like it or not.  I love Transtromer's poems too, for letting the mind fly via such simple means.  Charles Simic. Nikky Finney. The list goes on...

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to wake up one morning and find horses in our urban backyard. I'd clear the garage of the neighbors' vehicles, and build a stable. I'd  just listen to them breathe and shift and chew in their new box stalls. I've wanted the same thing since I was six. Puis ca change.

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?
There's a well-travelled cartoon in which a brain surgeon and a writer meet at a cocktail party. The doctor says that in his spare time  he plans to write a novel. The novelist says, that's funny, when I retire I plan to do brain surgery. But yes, had I been better at math and quantitative reasoning-- or if I'd had a reason to work harder at those subjects (something beyond simply needing to pass algebra), I might have applied to medical school. 

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Math difficulties aside? If I defined my nature in one word, it might be "yes, but." I'm a Canadian who lives in the U.S, and an Easterner on the West coast. I grew up as a Canadian child of American parents, an Anglophone in francophone Quebec, a secular Jew in Protestant Westmount during Quebec's Quiet Revolution, the younger sister of brothers who came of age in the late 60's,  born a bit too late for the real action.  My parents were affluent, but my mother was an activist with anti-poverty organizations. My father was a successful textile manufacturer, but even as a little kid, I was acutely aware that other people risked their limbs to run the machines that made the scraps he brought home for me to use in art projects. Add that to an innate disposition to stand slightly to the side of the grand parade.  What else was I fit for?

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
"Great" is a term I use sparingly, since my enthusiasms tend to burn high and fast, and  greatness needs to be tested by time, but I just finished a memoir called The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok. It's a harrowing memoir of growing up with a schizophrenic and eventually, homeless mother, but it's also a beautifully built meditation on the nature of memory.

Film wise, I loved Banksy's Exit Through The Bookshop, which has left my 13-year-old combing San Francisco walls for remnants of Banksy's rat stencils. Also, thanks to Air Canada's in-flight National Film Board collection, I finally saw Donald Brittain's Memorandum, the classic documentary about a Canadian holocaust survivor's return to Bergen Belsen in the '60's. Memorandum also explores the so-called chain of command-- what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil"----the way extermination orders were made by functionaries who then went to off to enjoy their lunch breaks. Memorandum is great. 

19 - What are you currently working on?

More poems. With luck, better poems.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, February 24, 2012

Duration Press' online archive;

Various new, old and out-of-print Duration Press publications are now downloadable as free pdfs. I'd highly recommend going through some of their publications, listed below and linked here. Or check out more recent publications; enjoy!

Code of Signals


, Rachel Blau DuPlessis

To Speak While Dreaming, Eleni Sikelianos

poetics of the exclamation point, Eleni Sikelianos

The Fifth Season, Pierre Joris

It's Alive She Says, Cole Swensen

Mace Hill Remap, Norma Cole

Figures for a Hypothesis, Mark McMorris

Man's Wows, Jesse Glass

Nuclear, Juliana Spahr

Lawn of Exlcuded Middle, Rosmarie Waldrop

The Garden of Effort, Keith Waldrop

Domino: point of entry, Susan Gevirtz

Tyuonyi: Violence of the White Page, Contemporary French Poetry

Pollux, Pam Rehm

Wale; or The Corse, Elena Rivera

Mooon Bok: petition, invocation & homage, Michael Basinski

...As Convenience
, Peter Ganick

And so on, Patrick Durgin

Thursday, February 23, 2012

rob mclennan + Stephen Brockwell read in Lafayette, Louisiana, at UL Lafayette, February 24, 2012;

Friday, February 24, 2012.7:30pm until 10:30pm.. HL Griffin Hall 3rd floor, room 315, UL Lafayette, on the corner Rex and Lewis Sts.

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011) and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 2010), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

Stephen Brockwell is the author of The Wire in Fences (Balmuir, 1988), Cometology (ECW Press, 2001), which Harold Bloom described as having “rare and authentic promise,” Fruitfly Geographic (ECW, 2004), winner of the 2004 Archibald Lampman Award, and The Real Made Up (ECW, 2007). He edited Rogue Stimulus: the Stephen Harper Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament (Mansfield, 2010) with Stuart Ross. He is currently completing the Impossible Books project which has been excerpted in The Puritan (, Experiment-o ( and chap-books from the Olive Reading Series and above/ground press. Stephen is also the owner of the small IT consulting firm above/ground press recently released a chapbook of Brockwell's for the event, his Excerpts from Impossible Books, the Crawdad Cantos.

This event is a project of the Deep South Reading Series and the Creative Writing Program in English at UL Lafayette. Funding for these events is provided by the English Department and the Liberal Arts College of UL Lafayette.

Contact Marthe Reed for more information: or 337-482-5503.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Christine McNair + rob mclennan's engagement party, February 18, 2012;

Thanks to kind and incredible host Rhonda Douglas, and all our friends and family who were able to attend. Photo by Pearl Pirie.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

(another) very short story;

It is important to be precise. One does not say, “I am tired of Fleetwood Mac.” One says, “I am tired of hearing the same Fleetwood Mac song hundreds of times over the past thirty-odd years on randomly-heard radio, and the whole thought of their music now sickens me.” If I could turn the page.

Monday, February 20, 2012

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Leah Mol

Leah Mol recently moved to Vancouver to complete a master's degree in creative writing. Her prose and poetry have been published by various Ottawa chapbook presses and literary magazines.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook was really important because it brought me into the writing community at Carleton University. It made me realize there actually are young people who care about writing, and that writing can actually be a career. Blemish was creative non-fiction, mainly about my experiences in high school, and reading it now always makes me feel like I was such a spoiled brat; I have a love/hate relationship with that chapbook.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger, but in high school, I read Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel and was so amazed that she could write about herself with such brutal honesty. I basically fell in love with creative non-fiction and have been writing prose ever since (with a little poetry thrown in here and there).

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’m an extremely slow writer. I will have bouts of inspiration but they usually don’t last long. I also tend to edit as I write. Most of the time, once I finish a draft, it’s finished except for small changes (there’s always a comma that doesn’t quite fit).

4 - Where does fiction or a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I usually write short and disconnected pieces and then find ways to connect them. I’ve never thought of my own writing in terms of novel-length projects.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings are very separate from writing for me. I enjoy doing them, partly because I like the attention, but I wouldn’t call them part of my creative process. I get something very different out of writing than I do out of performance.

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 like to question the boundaries between truth and fiction. I think truth in writing is very interesting, and everybody has a different opinion on what non-fiction actually is, so I like to see where those boundaries lie and how they change depending on the piece.

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?
It depends on the writer. Sometimes it’s didactic; sometimes it’s pure entertainment.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t worked with many editors, so I can’t say too much, but I think it depends on the editor. I’ve always worked with editors who haven’t touched my writing much, and so it’s always been really easy. My last chapbook was with Apt. 9 Press in Ottawa, and Cameron Anstee was great to work with.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I’m ridiculously bad at taking advice, and so it’s really hard to remember what advice I’ve been given. I guess it would have to be, “If you want to be a writer, you have to read,” or “If you want to be a writer, you have to write.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Personally, I like disjointed and disconnected prose, so although I don’t write poems very often, I do write some prose that people take as prose poetry. I think different genres have different strengths, and I find it really interesting to move between forms according to what the piece requires.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have much of a writing routine lately, although I tend to write much better in the mornings. Since I’m a master’s student right now, I have far too much free time and should really get into more of a routine. Let’s call it a New Years resolution.

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

I usually return to the same books that inspired me to write in the first place. Lately it’s been a lot of memoirs and Hubert Selby Jr. I’ve read the short story Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn about four times in the past week. I also try to read new things as much as possible; libraries come in handy.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Clean laundry and Christmas trees.

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?

I’m heavily influenced by music and film. Larry Clarke movies always make me wish I were more creative. I’m also very influenced by television, both great and horrible shows. I guess my biggest influence is characters and people, “It girls” like Edie Sedgwick and Marilyn Monroe. I just read Patti Smith’s book Just Kids and really wish I could have lived at the Chelsea Hotel in the 60s. I fall in love with desperate and lovely characters every day and am inspired by anything that pushes the boundaries.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There are so so so many. I think the writers that are the most important to my work are those who’ve continued to influence me over many years. Since my childhood, I’d say Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl, Robert Cormier, Chris Van Allsburg. Since high school, Stephen King, Irvine Welsh, Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski, James Frey, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bret Easton Ellis. In the last few years, Kurt Vonnegut, Heather O’Neill, William Burroughs, Jonathan Safran Foer, Hubert Selby Jr.

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

Everything. But just generally, I’d like to stop being such a worrier.

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?

There are so many things I would love to do. I would love an infinite number of lives just so I could try absolutely everything. I think it’s a shame we only get to choose one. I’ve always wanted to go to medical school or law school, but at this point, I think I’ve officially chosen writing. When it came to choosing a university out of high school, I chose journalism instead of music, so if I hadn’t chosen journalism, I’d probably be doing something with music right now.

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

I’ve never gotten bored of writing. And I like seeing my writing in print.

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

Fiction: Room – Emma Donoghue

Non-Fiction: I’m very into Mary Karr right now, so I just finished Cherry and The Liar’s Club

Film: A Serbian Film

20 - What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m mainly working on short fiction. I’m doing a lot of experimenting with dialogue, since dialogue is something I’ve used very little in the past and I’d like to make more use of it.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Call for Papers: Letters for Robert Kroetsch: A Special Issue on His Work and Influence

I wanted to become a postman
to deliver real words
to real people.

There was no one to receive
My application.
Seed Catalogue, section 5
Robert Kroetsch (1927-2011) [photo from CKUA, "Robert Kroetsch Remembered"] had a resounding impact—wild and crazy and thoroughly Canadian prairie—as Armin Wiebe describes it. As co-founder of boundary 2 in the early 1970s he was influential in disseminating postmodern theory in North America and internationally. A prolific and funny theorist and critic, he became a major influence in Canada as he taught Creative Writing at the University of Manitoba at the same time as his own work was taught across the country. He combines a clear connection to his roots in Heisler, Alberta, with a life-affirming and intellectually challenging take on writing. Author of 9 novels, 14 volumes of poetry, and 7 books of non-fiction, Mr Canadian Postmodern has given us many lovely and treacherous words. We invite you to continue the play with word and place that he introduced to Canadian literature by submitting an essay on his work to Canadian Literature.

All submissions to Canadian Literature must be original, unpublished work. Essays should follow current MLA bibliographic format (MLA Handbook, 7th ed). Maximum word length for articles is 6500 words, which includes notes and works cited.

Submissions should be uploaded to Canadian Literature’s online submission system at by the deadline of September 1st, 2012.

Questions in advance of the deadline may be addressed to:

Submission Deadline: September 1, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Debora Kuan

Debora Kuan is a poet, writer, and critic.  Her debut collection of poetry, XING (Saturnalia Books), was published in October 2011. She is the recipient of a Fulbright creative writing fellowship (Taiwan), University of Iowa Graduate Merit Fellowship, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference scholarship, Santa Fe Art Institute writer's residency, and two Pushcart Prize nominations.  In 2010, she won The L Magazine's Literary Upstart short fiction award, and her reviews on contemporary art and film have appeared in Artforum, Art in America, Idiom, Modern Painters, Paper Monument, and other publications. 

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

The call I got from Henry Israeli to tell me that my book was being published was possibly the best phonecall I had ever received in my life, up until that point.  I had shopped that manuscript around, in various iterations, for over six years, and there were so many moments of doubt that shadowed the endeavor and so many near-misses, runner-up wins, and frustrations.  So the day it finally happened was a very good day. 

Since the publication, I can’t say that my life has changed in any daily way, except that more good surprises pop up now—like hearing from the Poetry Society of America, or getting a nice review, or being invited to do a reading, or someone telling me they bought my book and liked it.  Mostly, though, the change is in your headspace.  I feel solidly on a path now as a writer, whereas before I was always nagged by the creeping fear that I would never fully become what I felt I was.

I am writing short stories at the moment, so formally, I’m working with a very different set of rules and expectations now.  But I do think I’m building upon some trends that are present in XING.  For one thing, the bulk of the poems in the book are narrative, and there are two recurring fictional characters who weave their way through the poems—Lin and Chao.  I am also working on a second manuscript of poems, which deploys similar strategies, but is set in the deserts of the American Southwest. 

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most people come to poetry out of an impassioned, albeit wholly misguided, notion that facility with the stuff will somehow (a) ennoble them and/or (b) endear them to the opposite sex.  The ones who continue writing poetry and thus one day come to call themselves poets are the ones whose moderate-to-great success with (b) continues to fuel and add fodder to their sense that they are achieving (a).  I was not an exception. 

Apart from that, I think I was drawn, as an angst-y, overserious teenager, primarily to the immediacy of poetry and what felt to me like a direct conduit to the senses, the imagination, and the inner life.  A lot of the appeal was also the visual nature of free verse on the page and the concentration of the short line.  The concept of free verse itself was radical to me. That you could write a poem without rhyme and without meter?  This went against everything I had learned about poetry up until that point.  The enjambed line and the white space surrounding the poem were like a creative revelation.  And then when I tried my hand at it, I loved it.  It felt exhilarating to open up myself to language and consciousness and let them lead me imaginatively. 

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?
Poetry comes relatively quickly, and everything else comes slowly and painfully, with a lot of hand-wringing and nail-biting and second-guessing.  The same thing goes for revision.  Once in a while I’ll get to a scene in a story that flies out of me and is a total blast to write, but right now, I still feel like a novice, so I worry about everything I put down. 

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?

A poem usually starts with a fragment of a sentence, or even a couple of words that get snagged on my brain and want to get written down.  It’s harder for me to conceive of a “book” and write toward that goal.  I am doing that with the second manuscript of poems, and it’s much slower going.  There are many more things to consider.  That doesn’t mean that XING emerged fully formed; far from it.  But that was more of a process of throwing out poems toward the aim of bringing together a cohesive manuscript.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I usually love to do readings, especially if I have something new to read that I’m very excited about.  I try to aim for that every time I read but it can’t always be achieved.

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?

XING dealt with themes of Christianity, doubt, race, ethnicity, and otherness, and my fiction tends to have a component of social satire to it.  But mainly, I think the concerns of any good writing tend to be the same:  to capture the experience of being human, to inhabit the curious realm of living.  There’s a Neutral Milk Hotel lyric that says it well: “How strange it is to be anything at all.”

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in large culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

The role of the writer is the role of any artist, and that is to contribute creatively and critically to the life of the mind and to the culture, even if that culture often seems largely indifferent to what you are doing.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Poetry doesn’t get edited very much.  It’s usually accepted for publication wholecloth or not at all.  Although Henry and the staff at Saturnalia did give me lots of very wise suggestions for my book in the final pass before it went to print.  I appreciated all of those comments.  They helped pull the book together into its final form.

As for art writing, which is where I get edited the most, it really depends on the editor.  I’ve worked with editors who have put me through what felt like a meatgrinder, and I’ve also worked with editors who have challenged me, bettered me, and expanded my scope, and for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration.  I feel that way about Roger White, editor of the n+1 art journal, Paper Monument, as well as Brian Sholis, who used to be my editor at and took a chance on me when I had almost no critical reviewing under my belt.  They are both stellar art critics, writers, and editors.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
1)A fiction writer friend of mine once told me, Take only the criticism that resonates with you.  It seems very obvious, but when you’re in a workshop setting and people are telling you so many different things about your work, you can lose your head a bit, get overwhelmed, and not know which direction to go in.  The thing I used to like to say about myself in this regard was: Even when I take criticism well, I take it badly.  But I’d like to think I’m getting better at it, the more I receive it.

2)Leave no stone unturned.  Every word counts.  Don’t write a lazy sentence, don’t write a half-assed line.  Be your own exacting editor.  A reader worth having doesn’t read by skimming; they read every word you’ve written.  Make sure you’ve done your best.

3)Believe in yourself unfailingly and what you want to achieve, even in the face of staggering rejection.  When I was in the third grade, I played short stop on the girls’ softball team.  Every time I came up to bat, I felt sure, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that I would hit a home run.  I don’t know why I believed this.  I had never gotten farther than second, and I had rarely gotten to first at all.  But somehow, deep in my bones, I believed that the possibility of a home run resided solely in the will to hit a home run and nowhere else.  So every time I got up to bat, I tried to tap into that sense of myself, thinking, “This time it’s going to happen, I’m sure of it.” When I look back on this memory now, I can’t believe that kid was me—fearful, neurotic, anxious adult me.  Doubt is the lesson we learn as we grow--it’s the eventuality of experience and disappointment, but, when it isn’t delivering us toward a stronger critical understanding of something, it is only landing us at the door of cynicism and limitation.  If you really want to write, and you are not some kind of insane prodigy, you need to find some grain of that belief in yourself.  You need to summon up in yourself that kid who intuitively realizes every moment is singular and every moment is a new chance.  It’s really the only thing that will work.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
By chance, I was watching this PBS program with Jason Alexander on craft last night, and so much of what he was saying about acting could easily be translated to writing.   He said that very often young actors are applauded for being able to access and draw from some purely emotional place in order to play a part, which is all to the good, but ultimately that kind of instinctual work can only carry you so far.  If you don’t have a practical understanding of how to get from A to B and B to C, then you’re simply relying on a feeling, and feelings are fleeting and mercurial and dependent on circumstance.  This really resonated with me with respect to the differences in writing poetry and writing prose.  Which is not to say that one doesn’t need to have a solid understanding of the mechanics of poetry to write good poetry—one absolutely does—but the writing of poetry and fiction require very different muscles and very different disciplines.  The impulse for writing a poem is usually grounded—for me, at least—in something emotional—a triggering set of words, an image that resonates outward—and there is a real sense of purity to being able to capture that impulse relatively quickly, perhaps in one or two sittings.  (Eileen Myles says that poets are people with short attention spans who have decided to study that short attention span, and in contemporary poetry that may well be true.)  But anything longer than a page or two is going to require that you come out of that state and return to it, again and again.  If you can’t find your way back, if you’re just sitting around waiting for that same impulse to strike again, you’re in trouble.

Writing fiction has taught me to write from a different, more intentional place.  It has pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me in very new ways.  For one thing, I have to invent people who are not me and do the work of off-the-page planning: building complex characters, making decisions and being committed to those decisions, replotting my course when I find it no longer works, etc. 

My decision to write critical reviews was a pragmatic one too.  Essentially I came to the point where I had to confront the fact that, as a poet, I was not writing the power discourse of our time.  I decided I had to at least push myself to do two genres—poetry and criticism—well, especially since, at that time, I felt I could not write fiction, that I was really terrible at it.  Also, I liked the idea of following in the tradition of the poet/art critic as practiced by O’Hara, Ashbery, John Yau, and others.

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 write every day, even if it’s not 5oo words like Hemingway.  But it’s important for me to be doing something for my writing everyday—whether that be write down a few lines of poetry, work out a plotline in my head, jot down story ideas, research a topic I will use in a story, or read.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Recently I’ve been going back to Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal and Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?  The George Saunders’ story “Tenth of December,” which was recently in the New Yorker has been helpful too.  He is so brilliant at capturing a child’s imaginative life in it.  I also read an amazing piece of historical fiction, Michael Dahlie’s “The Pharmacist from Jena,” recently in Harper’s.  It was so bold and fearless in all its narrative decisions, and I always admire someone who can convincingly conjure up an era they never lived in.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Everything my mom cooks.  If I also take this question to mean, what are your favorite fragrances, then: chlorine, jasmine tea, paint thinner, sea air, snow, and Christmas trees.

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?
Many of the poems in XING were inspired by visual art and film, which includes Diane Arbus, Joseph Beuys, Jean Cocteau, and Andrei Tarkovsky.   I once wrote a series of poems to be read alongside the scores of Satie’s Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes.  They were inspired by the unconventional notes on playing in his scores.  But I took them out of XING because they didn’t go with the other poems in the book.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Mayakovsky, Rimbaud, Grace Paley, Lorrie Moore, Annie Proulx, John Ashbery, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, Wallace Stevens, John Berger, Joan Didion, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates.

And Harper’s magazine.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Visit Turkey, Greece, Africa.  Write a novel.  Drive across the country, doing a Stephen Shore-esque photographic documentation.  Curate an art exhibition.  Live in the desert.  Have a family.

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 don’t think I am well-suited to any other occupation, really, but I do think I have a good eye for art and design.  It would have been nice to be a practitioner.  I write about art, because that’s the closest I can get as a non-maker.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
When I was sixteen, I got into the NJ Governor’s School for the Arts for creative writing.  It was, in short, the luckiest, most amazing month of my life up until that point.  One of our teachers would send us off to corners of the building to write and then we’d return and read to everyone else what we’d written.  I couldn’t believe I was being given permission to do the one thing I wanted to do, and even crazier than that, the state was funding my ability to do it.  That was the summer I first read Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, and Pam Houston (thank you, Ben Schrank!).  Our teachers showed us Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  It was a ball, and even more than that, it was a real education.  (I was very dismayed to discover that the program no longer exists.  There’s one for science, but I think that may be it.)

Despite all this, I still didn’t believe that being a writer was a thing you could actually set out to do.  I tried to escape the fate of becoming an English major by studying pre-med, but all my attempts were eventually overtaken by my natural predisposition toward the written word. (Also, I broke a lot of glassware in my chemistry classes and bombed my finals.) 

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

Fiction: My friend Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel, Ten Thousand Saints, which the New York Times voted as one of the top five novels of 2011.   Poetry: Monica Youn’s Ignatz.    Gorgeously tight, inventive, and astonishing poems based on George Herriman’s comic strip characters, Ignatz Mouse and Krazy Kat.  Nonfiction: Joyce Carol Oates’ memoir, A Widow’s Story, about losing her husband Raymond Smith.

I recently saw “Pina” in 3D at BAM, a tribute to the late choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch.  I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of her before or seen her work, but all the pieces in it were brilliant and the film itself amounted to a very succinct, and moving, introduction.  Bausch used such simple, almost elemental movements in her work—falling down or balancing branches on one’s arms or crawling into the small space beneath a chair—that the line between dance and life became blurred and negligible.  The filmmakers capitalized on this lack of distinction by staging the dances in the world—on street corners, beneath trams—and that juxtaposition of the everyday context with the elevated gesture foregrounded the humanity of the dancing even more. 

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on fiction and a second book of poems right now.  We’ll see how it goes.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, February 17, 2012

new from above/ground press: beaulieu/mclennan, Young, Babineau, Mangold, Brockwell, mclennan + The Peter F Yacht Club #16, VERSeFest special!

SEVEN NEW TITLES FROM above/ground press!

ECONOMIES OF SCALE: rob mclennan interviews derek beaulieu on NO PRESS / derek beaulieu interviews rob mclennan on above/ground press
unofficial launch as part of derek beaulieu's AB Series reading, March 31, 2012

by Deanna Young
to launch as part of The Factory Reading Series, February 17, 2012

by Kemeny Babineau

Cupcake Royale
by Sarah Mangold

Excerpts from Impossible Books

The Crawdad Cantos
by Stephen Brockwell
produced for a reading with rob mclennan in Louisiana, February 24, 2012

Goldfish: studies in fine thread,
by rob mclennan
to be distributed free at AWP in Chicago, March 2-4, 2012

Peter F Yacht Club #16: VERSeFest special!
edited by rob mclennan
Produced as part of the second annual VERSeFest, February 28 to March 4, 2012.

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
February 2012
a/g subscribers receive complimentary copies

with forthcoming titles by j/j hastain, Fenn Stewart, Phil Hall and Andrew Burke, Kathryn MacLeod, Rob Manery + others! See here for information on the previous batch of above/ground press titles.

Check here for information on 2012 subscriptions, still available!

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Call and Response; Christine McNair's response now on-line

Christine McNair's "materia prima.," a response to Caroline Tallmadge's show of photographs, "Solo Series No. 1: By Hand," are both available for view in Ottawa's Red Wall Gallery at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa until the second week of March. McNair's full text is available online here as a pdf, as well as in the gallery space.

Vernissage: Friday, February 17th, 2012, 18:00 - 21:00

The fifth in a series of seven poetic responses, curated by rob mclennan, the first was Pearl Pirie's "The Walls of Jerusalem - Selected Poems and Process Notes," a response to Leslie Hossack's Cities of Stone - People of Dust," the second was Amanda Earl's "In the Tempo of Now - Selected Poems," a response to John Hewett Hallum's show of photographs, "MOMENT(O)," the third, Monty Reid's "So is the Madness of Humans," a response to Rob Macinnis' show of photographs, "The Farm Family Project," and the fourth, Sandra Ridley's "Shadow Lines," a response to Pedro Isztin's show of photographs, "Study of Structure and Form," all of which are still available here. The final two responses will be by Claudia Coutu Radmore and rob mclennan, with a reading of all the writers (with slides of their corresponding shows) is currently being scheduled for June 22, 2012. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love letter [poem]

welcome to the weather here. it’s snowing—
Pattie McCarthy, L & O

No one forgets, the traces of pageantry. Squirrels on the windowsill. Speechlessness folds, deepest blue. If you were to ask. These interlocked fingers. The trees for the forest. The great shadow of language, between sitter and subject, assimilating a sense. I am attracted to linens. Love, phrased perspective. Stained mobilities, vanish. Dread the upcoming drive. Talked a bottle of red wine. A second. Sound cut from another. Sequins, an alternate word. Clouds asleep in the yard. Daytime cable, Bridezilla. Once a neighbour in costume. Microscopic pearls. So little else is recorded. As happy as moonbeams. A kitten dubbed ‘Lemonade.’ Obviously, a boy. Your initials in tracery, silks. Dialogue, disguised as a monologue. I await the grey page. Sketch out the stretch of a syllable.

Monday, February 13, 2012

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Aaron Cohick on The NewLights Press

The NewLights Press is an independent publisher of experimental writing and artists’ books, concentrating on where the two can and do overlap. All NewLights books are printed and bound by hand, utilizing media from the obsolete (letterpress) to the everyday (laser printing). The NewLights Press was founded by Aaron Cohick in Baltimore, MD in 2000, and currently resides in Colorado Springs, CO.

1 – When did NewLights 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?  2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I came to publishing accidentally. I was studying painting at an art school in Baltimore, and needed to take a printmaking credit. That year, 2000, my sophomore year, they happened to be offering a class called “Zines” that was a dual credit class, part printmaking and part creative writing. I had always had an interest in writing as well as visual art, so it sounded interesting. In that class, I made my first book and knew immediately that that was I wanted to do. So I started the NewLights Press, with no idea what that meant or where it could possibly go.

I didn’t start with any real goals beyond “make books.” And that still, essentially, remains the primary goal. As one might expect, the idea of making books has become more complicated over time, as I learned more about small press publishing, artists’ books, fine/private press publishing, zines, critical theory, and book history. Now I guess the goal is to “make books,” but to make books that contain all of those things, that exist in the transitional spaces between those worlds. 

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

These lines from Jack Spicer, which also serve as the “succinct mission statement” for NewLights:
Tell everyone to have guts
Do it yourself
Have guts until the guts
Come through the margins
Clear and pure
Like love is.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
The NewLights Press engages with the practice of making & publishing books as an “artistic” pursuit. But that means more than making nice looking books. When I say “artistic” I mean it in the full, fine art sense, where form, content, modes of production, and modes of distribution/reception are arranged to hold each other in a productive tension. The books aren’t just about the text that they contain, they are made in such a way as to call attention to every aspect of the process of their construction, as well as the process of reading them.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I’m a “hands-off” kind of editor, for the most part. My primary concern is how to interact with the text on a visual/material/productive level, how to make the book. I usually spend more time talking with an author about the work than picking it apart, as I really have no idea what constitutes “good” or “proper” writing.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs? 5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books and broadsides out into the world?
Our two main means of distribution are Internet sales and small press/book arts fairs. Occasionally, a bookstore that handles work like ours will sell some too, but that is irregular. Our print runs are relatively small (100 – 200 these days), so most books sell out eventually, if not very quickly. Internet sales have definitely been the most effective for us, but showing and selling work at fairs remains my favorite—I love getting to interact with people, answer questions, look at stuff they’ve made, etc. It’s always nice when the books can occasion some sort of exchange.

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 NewLights Press is, editorially, a single person operation. Occasionally friends or students assist with production. In the past I’ve tried to bring other people in as editors and collaborators, but we could never really get it to work. I still would like to get more people involved on a regular basis, but I’m waiting for the right people and a solid plan with which to do that.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing? 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?
Running NewLights has definitely changed the way that I think about my own writing, but that change was not necessarily stimulated by the process of editing. The processes of designing and printing had much more of an impact. Now, for me, writing, designing, and printing are all the same activity, different pieces that overlap and inform each other. They are no longer discreet stages that happen in a definite order. And engaging with texts and books in that way has made self-publishing the only real option for me. I need to be the one printing the work, not because “the artist’s touch” is important, but because that part of the process needs to remain open and malleable. There is no ideal original that the copies should emulate, and thus I couldn’t simply send files to a printer and say “make this.” The books always change when they’re on press.

My workaround for this problem lately (in order to get some publication cred, and to participate in broader communities) has been to produce inserts for other publications. That way my work is “published” in a journal but I can still engage with the production.

11– How do you see NewLights Press evolving?
More books per year, and more kinds of publications. I have an idea for a strange little journal. I’d also like to start publishing a series of other kinds of text-based, “functional” artworks, like posters, t-shirts, and bookmarks. Ebooks remain an intriguing possibility, but I’ll need to figure out a way to engage with their (de)materiality. I’ve been “reprinting” out-of-print books online, but that is just a very simple, very practical way to begin.

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?

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
When I was starting out, I didn’t have any specific models. All that I had was a copy of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side (a book about the “mimeo revolution” by Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips), and a desire to make books. I had a very vague sense of what contemporary small presses, zines, and book artists were doing. But nothing specific.

14– How does NewLights Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see NewLights Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations? 15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Community, both local and distant, has always been a major part of what NewLights does, has always been my favorite part of what NewLights does. The books and broadsides can serve as an anchor or channel for a community to develop. When the press was firmly based in Baltimore, regular readings were an important part of the practice. I’ve been moving around a great deal in the last 8 years, and establishing roots in a community has been difficult. Now that I’m in Colorado on what appears to be a long-term basis, I’d like to begin having readings and launches again. I’d also like to regularly publish Colorado-based writers so that NewLights once again supports and is responsive to its local community.

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

In addition to Internet sales being our primary method of distribution, there is the NewLights Press blog, the IDE(A/O)(B)LOG(Y/UE), which is used both as a publishing platform for texts and ideas and an archive of the press and its process. It’s a place where the provisional, open-ended nature of publishing and making is foregrounded and discussed. I also hope that it can be a resource to other presses/writers/artists interested in the same things, both on a technical and a conceptual level. I try to thoroughly document the entire process of making each book, from the very first stages of working with the manuscript to binding together the finished product. The point being that there is no such thing as a “finished” product. Lately I’ve been thinking about, and making the first small steps toward, expanding the blog to include contributions from other people. Those could take the form of guest posts, the publishing of texts/images by other writers and artists, and interviews.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Officially, NewLights doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions. I say “officially” because occasionally I still get some anyway, and I always read them. But that’s the official policy because we publish so few books a year (I would love to be able to do four, but usually it’s two) and the time/money investment in each project is more intense than it would be for a “regular” small press. If NewLights was to expand to include a larger editorial team, then we might start accepting a limited amount of submissions.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Emily Kendal Frey, The Grief Performance

The End

I miss my beauty
in the field

the long

palls of hair

my dead

no bird
There seems something entirely appropriate about a quote by Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Rae Armantrout on the back cover of poet Emily Kendal Frey’s first trade poetry collection, The Grief Performance (Cleveland OH: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011), winner of the 2010 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, selected by Armantrout herself. Frey’s poems echo some of Armantrout’s short lines and short bursts in longer sequences, and work to negotiate light against the dark. Composed in three sections, the first two of shorter poems and the third of a longer sequence, “A Meditation on a Meditation of Frost,” Frey’s The Grief Performance is a celebration wrapped up in mourning, especially in the final six poems of the first section, all titled “The End.” “My mother / and her dead // sister are / watching me,” she writes in one of these, a short poem as longing, responding to a call, as she ends the short piece, “and I love / how they call // me flower / so I walk // closer / toward the light // that is them.” Frey’s poems are direct and open, meditational without falling into sentiment, writing out the important stages of grief. Isn’t grief, in any and all of its stages, an element of performance, even if just for an audience of the self?
Birds Are So Soft

Birds are so soft.
You can’t imagine.
If you rub them the right way—
gentle, not hard, they love it.
They get pin feathers.
New feathers that grow in plasticky sheaths.
You have to break them up with your fingers.
Fabulous. A head massage for the birds.
They coo, close their eyes,
and coo. You’ll see.
Another bird or human can do this
with a beak or fingernail.
Remove the sheath. It’s heavenly.
They’ll melt in your hand. You will see.
You’ll have a whole new set of sounds
you can make with your mouth.
This is a book about loss, and the appropriate grieving the body requires to move forward, and rarely has grief been written so well. The poems might skim dark places, and even burrow there, but one hopes the pessimism might be situational and not a more ongoing movement, as in this, the twenty-second of the twenty-nine sections of the sequence “A Meditation on a Meditation of Frost,” that reads:
After the funeral his mother and father
stood, swaying, in front
of the crowd, turquoise beads
pinching her throat.
They were temporarily reconciled.
My own mother next to me,
weeping for God knows what.