Sunday, March 31, 2013

new from above/ground press: new titles by mclennan, Sand, Gelèns and Lindner + O’Connor, and The Peter F Yacht Club,

rob mclennan

A Tale of Magicians Who Puffed Up Money that Lost Its Puff
Kaia Sand

Two Dutch Poets: Hélène Gelèns and Erik Lindner
translation by Anita Dolman

damascene road passaggio, selections
Wanda O’Connor

The Peter F Yacht Club #18
VERSeFest 2013 special!

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
March 2013
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

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 (above). Scroll down here to see various backlist titles (many, many things are still in print). And don’t forget, 20th anniversary/2013 annual subscription, still available!

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Gillian Savigny

Originally from Vancouver, Gillian Savigny has spent the last twelve years studying and working in cities across Canada. She holds a B.A. Honours degree in English Literature from Queen’s University and an M.A. degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Concordia University. She has served as Editor for ultraviolet Magazine, Managing Editor for Delirium Press, and Contributing Editor for Matrix. From 2007 to 2008 she worked as a speechwriter for the Leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Ottawa. Her first collection of poetry, entitled Notebook M, was published by Insomniac Press in 2012. She lives in Toronto where she works in the non-profit sector.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Before my first book, I felt like I couldn’t think of writing poetry as anything more than a personal hobby—something I did alone in my spare time. Now I feel more a part of a community of other writers and more willing to set aside other pursuits in order to focus on writing.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have a short attention span and writing fiction, even short fiction, seems like a pursuit that requires both the ability to multi-task and the ability to sustain concentration over a long period of time. For someone who is easily distracted that seems like trying to juggle while balancing something on your head. Plus the elements of writing that I most enjoy are the language, imagery, turns of phrase—less so character and plot.

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?
It varies from poem to poem, but I have found that once everyone’s finally out on the page I’m often a lot happier with the poems that came quickly than I am with the ones that took their time. I guess because they can still surprise me, whereas I know all the painful secrets of the slow ones.

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?
Writing usually begins with an idea that for whatever reason catches my attention and makes me want to tease it out in different ways. It’s usually something that I can’t resolve after a single poem, that I want to go back to and explore but using a different approach or form or conceit and so I guess in that sense I’m writing a book from the beginning, but the book shifts as the poems take shape. When I was starting the project that would eventually become Notebook M I wanted to write generally about the scientific sensibility. It took awhile for the Darwin poems to emerge and for his writing to become a kind of frame for the whole book. In the book, those early poems appear toward the end, making it seem as though the Darwin voice is fading, being replaced by a more modern and general scientific sensibility when in fact the opposite happened as I was writing.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
So far readings haven’t been a big part of my creative process. When I was writing Notebook M, I spent a lot of time thinking about the page as an environment and about how poems have adapted to the page. Notebooks, like journals, are books that aren’t really meant for public consumption so I wanted to explore what elements could be built into a poem that would keep it on the page and make it difficult to adapt into a performance. That said, I do enjoy readings. I find them nerve wracking, but it’s always exciting to share your work with an audience and see how they react to it.

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?
Aside from thinking about poems as adapting to different environments and the content of poems adapting to different poetic forms, when I was writing Notebook M, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether writing poetry is a process of making or collecting. The word ‘poetry’ comes from the Greek word that means “to make” and I think many poets think of themselves as “makers” that is creators, people who bring things into existence out of the thin air of individual experience. But that idea makes me kind of uncomfortable. It feels bound up with monotheistic worldviews where the poet is cast as a God-like figure. In a book about science and Darwin I wanted to question that conception of the poet and try to figure out what could replace it and this idea of the poet as collector—of writing as a process of bringing together found objects either to show contrast or affinity—seemed like it might be a workable alternative.

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 know what the role of the writer should be, particularly the role of poets. The average person probably thinks of the poet the way they might think of a broach—as being a totally superfluous adornment. I don’t know if I could put together a case that would convince them otherwise, but I find it oddly comforting to think of the William Carlos Williams line: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I think everyone can benefit from a good editor who understands what you are trying to accomplish and can help you achieve it in a way that will clarify your intentions for your audience. Working with Sachiko Murakami on Notebook M was a wonderful experience. She helped me give all my darlings a good death and made a much better book in the process.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
This isn’t the best piece of advice I’ve ever received, but it is my favourite: write with a pen that makes you feel good. It sounds totally trivial, but it reminds me that writing should be enjoyable. And while many parts of the writing process are out of your control, the pen you choose to use definitely isn’t.

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?
I haven’t really done much moving yet, but I hope to do some experimenting in the near future. I’m interested in how form influences thought expression so in that sense it is appealing to think about exploring narrative forms.

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?
My writing routine has typically been as follows: do a lot of thinking about writing, research things I’m interested in, wait until I can arrange some kind of deadline that is out of my control, then let the deadline pressure crystallize my thinking on the page. I would love to be the kind of writer who has a daily routine. I have tried many times to get myself into this kind of routine, but I think I’m doomed to be daydreamy, erratic and last minute.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Walking helps. I find moving sometimes makes it easier to think. It also helps to open a book I’ve never read before. I don’t find going back to books I’ve already read helpful. I need to move forward, find something new. So perhaps the best thing would be to walk to a bookstore to buy a new book. I’ll have to try that the next time I hit a wall.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I don’t have very distinct smell associations with home—though for some reason I do with my late grandma’s house in Medicine Hat: pink lemonade, garden fresh stewed tomatoes, Hawaiian tropics sunscreen—but I do have strong sound associations. I grew up on the west coast where it felt like it would rain non-stop from the beginning of November to the end of February. I live in Toronto now, but I find I sleep better when it rains through the night. For the same reason, I have an unusually high tolerance for the squawking of seagulls and crows.

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?
Science is a big one.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The writers who have most influenced my work are the writers I worked with in workshops. Carolyn Smart, Moez Surani, Alex Porco, Mary di Michele, Stephanie Bolster, Sachiko Murakami, Kate Hall, Jani Krulc, Susan Gillis, David McGimpsey, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Steven Heighton, and Josip Novakovich.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Change a tire. Build a cabin. Visit the Galapagos.

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?
Evolutionary biologist. Psychiatrist.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing is challenging, but the effort feels worthwhile. Also, I always found other writers to be such interesting, thoughtful, funny people and continuing to write seemed like a good way to stay in their company.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just finished reading Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño. I admire the subtlety of his storytelling and how gracefully he resists tidy resolution. For the film, I’ll choose Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols. It tells the story of a father and husband experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia for the first time and the impact that has on his family. I admired how the director intertwined realism and delusion. 

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m in the very early stages of a new poetry project. It’s one that will allow me to keep thinking about collecting—in this case hoarding or the pathology of collecting and what that means when the thing collected is alive and wild.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, March 29, 2013

Arielle Greenberg, Shake Her

Arielle Greenberg was raised in Niskayuna, New York, home of the first Shaker community in America and eight and a half miles from where Mother Ann Lee is currently buried. She was pregnant with her second child when she conducted the research for this book in the summer of 2007 at the Shaker Heritage Society in Colonie, New York and at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, home to the only living Shakers left in the world (four at the time of Arielle’s visit, including a recently arrived young novitiate). She tried to keep this pregnancy a secret from her mother, from whom she was estranged, but her mother found out about the pregnancy in early November 2007, when Arielle had just entered her third trimester. Arielle began having nightmares and visions of the pregnancy being cursed, and about two weeks later, the baby died in utero at thirty-one weeks. He was named Day, and was born and buried in Maine in December of 2007. (More of the story of his birth and death can be found in Arielle’s book with Rachel Zucker, Home/Birth: A Polemic.) (“ABOUT THE AUTHOR”)
I don’t often begin with such biographical detail, but the new edition of American poet Arielle Greenberg’s chapbook Shake Her (Brooklyn NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012) appears to require it. Originally produced as part of the 2008 dusie kollektiv, Shake Her is a startling, heartbreaking and complex collection of poems. Constructed as a scrapbook of poem-sketches and footnotes as part of ongoing studies into the American Shakers, Greenberg’s Shake Her feels very much part of a much larger frame than the boundaries of the immediate publication. At roughly thirty pages, this is a book that ties the narrator as mother to her own mother to the historical figure of Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784), founder of the American Shakers. Through the narrative of the poems, the connection is one that binds the three throughout, eventually moving into the loss of Greenberg’s second child. In one of the first poems, she writes: “I’d be stupid to pretend there wasn’t all that sky-writing / when I was a child and you were my mother.” (“SKY-WRITING”), and the loss of her mother (“to California, and to illness physical, and to illness mental, and to general anger,” as she writes in the poem “THIS IS WHERE I CAME TO KISS (ALBANY, NY)” ) is deeply felt .
My mother has a lovely face of fur, I once wrote,
and has to go to a meeting.
As in a fairytale, there’s a hole in my book where a mother should be,
a hole in my head, caught in my throat,
a hole in my fine felt heart worn on a fob.
There’s a hole big enough to push my finger through
and flex to feel the flood of air I am damming.
This hole die-cut in my life and peered out
to an illuminated page with a castle and a rook,
this round, voided space, my mother.
The hole that hills yell through.
If I followed the familiar paths—was orphaned,
taken to the wolves or the witches or left in spindled knots—
well, as in I am living the good life without,
The author of two trade poetry collections, My Kafka Century (Action Books, 2005) [see my review of such here] and Given (Verse, 2002) [see my review of such here] and the chapbook Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials (New Michigan, 2003), as well as the co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of the hybrid genre nonfiction book Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, 2011), Greenberg has written numerous poems on mothering and motherhood, and her work compares with some of the rare best of a genre that far too often falls into sentiment and cliché. This short chapbook is stunning, and works, in part, to highlight how long it has been since a trade collection of her poetry appeared. Shake Her feels like something much larger that we haven’t yet been able to see, whether still in-progress or left waiting, unfinished. I want to see what the rest of this looks like.
Some Hints of a Religious Scheme, Taught and propagated by a Number of Europeans, living in a Place called Nisqueunia, in the State of New-York, Valentine Rathburn (Salem, 1783): “They begin by sitting down and shaking their heads in a violent manner; turning their heads half round…their eyes being shut.”
I walk the ground for once a childless mother. The thistle, clover, wind and bug-sticky heat are all what I communed from when I was young. The roosters look like perfect folk paintings of roosters, almost kitsch, almost sacred. It is as if the present tense were itself trembling.

Around the corner, the small airport where I used to come to kiss, when I was a virgin and my boyfriend had a hatchback and we both lived at home with our families. It is as if the tide of my next child is already breaking, did break, will break, because waves are just a thing the water does again and again.

I think of myself as a person who, if no path is clearly marked, simply will not start walking. But here I walk, because I am a mother with no child with me. A mother enveloping a secret next child. A child with no mother, with a mother who will not walk beside me. Simple is a fallacy.

A big bee bumbled by from the pages of a children’s book I read to my daughter last night at bedtime. I could sleep or die or birth here, out in the open, in this forsaken and holy farm, its medicinal herb garden still tended, made to look new by volunteers. I could be, finally, that orphan, a free spirit, and bound only to this plot of star flower, Indian cup, and ghosts.

Except, of course, that I was raised up here, daughter to a mother now departed (to California, and to illness physical, and to illness mental, and to general anger). Except, of course, that this is where I came to kiss.

I want to go to my Mother; I am sick to see my Mother; I had no God till I had a mother; how could I be born without a Mother? What reason I have to bless God for my mother.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Six poems for King Kong

for William Hawkins,

1. King Kong Goes to Cambridge

Washed ashore in statehood, long escaped from Rotterdam,

what might he know of low-hung rooftops, turret-stone, a bridge
held down eight centuries

of charter. Neither New York, nor his Island hideaway,

beyond his reach, a bray of school-bells,
silent throng of students cross the football fields.

Castle Hill, no trace of Viking rule. Once more, into the breach.

King Kong, inclined to lechery, a lack of forethought,
keeps close to ground, displaying Newton’s accidents of gravity.

A million miles between: a sense of fair play, given
existential due. If he could, ignite the football fields. He chews

the stupid mint.

2. King Kong Goes to Parliament Hill

When you were young and in your prime,

a battle of wills between you and Trudeau, Laurier LaPierre,
the American National Guard. Deflecting gains

from Empire State.

No flies on you, who once kicked dust from ancient tavern floors,
played Lowertown games of telephone and poems, walked

French Catholic blocks, tracked Sol’s sundial jaunt

across Sisters of Mercy. Now, you labour atop Peace Tower’s peak,
seemingly invisible.

Remain there long enough to count the strands of traffic
bridge the river Grand, now seven deep,

criss-crossing Chaudiere’s diminished boil.

3. King Kong Sketches out his Memoirs

One was neither moon, banana, idle threat,

nor sunlight. Monkey recollections. It begins
with a woman, this: his abject paw-pain, stench

of hair scorched short, these bi-plane flashbacks
of staccato fire. A pretty blonde to catch his eye

and chain, awarded less the mantle of grand beast

than curiosity, verging on cliché. A king
without a country. Ignored by National Geographic,

replaced instead by youngers; Coco paints, he signs,

he strokes his kitten; illiterate King Kong’s insight
no more legible than ice.

4. King Kong Goes to Stratford

Forget the appeal of Basque temples, foreign women,
the disappointments of Rotterdam, or the score

of Saudi-Arabian tributes; plenaries revealed during
a Shawville Fair lost weekend. Success breeds imitation,

and imitation, breeds; copies overwhelm the tabloids, distract
the purity of beasts. Come witness the original! King Kong,

Lord of Stratford. Daily matinee as Lear,

he begins to comprehend his offspring; perhaps,
how best to love them.

He reflects on age and wisdom, vanity.
They ask: what news of home, good sir?

Your faith will bring you nowhere.

5. King Kong Goes to Sleep,

Was it Monster Island,
Inlet, or Peninsula? Old King Kong, Caliban of movie beasts,

dreams abandoned trees and sunlight, morning dew
replaced by screams of flood lights, endless traffic,

brambles, fog of toxins. Who might even realize, now,

his long-lost ambitions to Regal England? Another island
set in sleepy stone, as water surrounds, envelops. Once protected

with the promise of boundary. Fixed
and held to centre, safe,

unable to cross.

6. King Kong Goes to Outer Space

Dawn, you told me, stings. Turbulence cultivates
the same blue as substratosphere, until

the stomach finally empties. Motion-sick, a memory
from another time, repeats: Dorothy, surrender.

An ocean he can’t fathom but for ocean. Sees stars,

adjusts his reading specs, accordingly. From here,
each patch of earth an island, equal. Surrounded

by expansive blue. Explorer Laika, astrochimps
like Ham and Enos. Save me. Kong,

absolute ape of empty space,
of all he sees, ahead. White knuckled,

hairs on end, how exactly

did you get here?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ongoing notes: late March, 2013

Toronto ON: Toronto poet Mat Laporte has been producing increasingly interesting work over the past year or two, the result of which is the chapbook Billboards from Hell (Toronto ON: Ferno House, 2012), currently enjoying a second printing. Billboards from Hell is Laporte’s second chapbook, after Demons (Ferno House, 2010). What intrigues, in part, is the range of structures Laporte attempts throughout the short collection of poems, really stretching out the possibilities of the work. Not all the poems achieve what they attempt, but when they do, they strike perfectly, such as this poem, with a title borrowed from W.G. Sebald:

The Rings of Saturn

I fear I maybe put too much stake in books
What is loneliness but the mind’s estrangement

from the chest? Breaking loose from sheer inertia
and the capital of youth is angst. It is Canada Day.

The mall is closed. Is everybody with me? A bridge
through the physical world is taken with frequent stops

for snacks. It has been a beautiful dream. Though
the body is open to contemplation, it is, in a sense

excluded. Nothing beats a cohesive statement
As in a theatre, the actors appear

to complete the great catastrophe of this piece.
You are an uprising in yourself.

jwcurry once told me that bpNichol wasn’t a great poet because everything he did worked, but that he was willing to fail, and there is something to be admired by any writer constantly willing to stretch out their own skills. Laporte is willing to stretch out and attempt, and there is a great satisfaction to seeing just how clearly and openly his poems attempt, from list poems to short lyrics to the pared-down sequence of the title poem. Not everything might work, but sometimes one can achieve magnificent things that couldn’t have been possible otherwise, an aesthetic openness Laporte shares with Ottawa poets Amanda Earl and Pearl Pirie. I am enjoying these poems, and am very interested to see where Mat Laporte’s writing continues to go.

Judgement Day

The day is a dog without skin
There is a constant kick in the ceiling
Red stool, black book, grey cup, red stone
Potlights or portholes into oblivion
I could stare at this monkey for millions
Watching him dance is like
The most beautiful expression of
I will never love you, signed, the Truth
As if naked hysterical guacamole
I’m sweating hot dogs on the floor
DJ Unidentified Flying Organ vs. DJ Ball-Shaped Head
The State is an illegible tank
Each day plows instead of no-head
Nowhere. Buckets of mitochondria,
Prehistoric man, and the whole shipful of meaning
Pulling in to Main St. Station
We shouldn’t even sleep
We should all just scream all the time

Windsor ON: Produced for a reading Dennis Cooley did in Windsor in March, 2012 is every tuesday (Wrinkle Press, 2012), produced by Nicole Markotić’s Wrinkle Press (see their relatively new website here). The stretch of the three pages make it difficult to tell for certain if the chapbook is made up of a single poem composed out of small fragments, or three distinct pages, part of an ongoing tweak of Cooley’s to not title certain of his pieces. The poem begins with the title, writing: “every tuesday / also thursday every thursday too / and sometimes wed / nesdays hang // my heart in the window / my shadow on the snow[.]” Cooley’s poem (or poems) jam, enjamb and twist, rife with puns and slips that make one groan as much as breathless, turning lines on coins far smaller than a dime. As in much of Cooley’s writing, every piece ties into structures far larger than they could ever appear, stretching far wider and deeper than even the consideration of the trade volume, which makes me wonder what this fragment might eventually be part of.

watch for the sudden flare when
my wicked tongue catches fire
flumes up the tunnel of my waiting
with what it wants
to say

would the light be swollen
would we with it skip
to a gassy balloon
so bulky it was
about to explode
let go and spray

                                                                        happiness all over

                                                the darn place
                                                all over our as
                                                tonished faces