Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ongoing notes: late November, 2013

My work is to point out the inescapability of neglect and call for a slower, deeper interaction with it. As we reached the end of our inaugural experience of neglect, our attention returned to skin, the sonic sibling of skim.
                jennifer h. fortin, GIVE OR TAKE
Sugar Grove NC: Produced as “Ark Press #2” is Oakland-based poet, visual artist, and freelance writer/editor Pepper Luboff’s new chapbook, the absolutely striking And when the time for the breaking (2013). Luboff’s breaks, halts and staggers are held together through the most tantalizing lyric flow, sometimes breathless, sometimes staccato and even written out in an extended burst. The first of the three-page poem “Metaphor: Lake Merritt” reads:

Night water wavelets muscle back the city lights’ shining
the lake’s necklace, head and taillights’ intervals,
buildings and rooms flicked on.
    The path around flecked
                                    with bird shit, down shed in flight,
                                                          and broken mussel shells.

A coot flips at a right angle
                             (carmine eye arcing)
              submerges. Coots sink their heads,
                                                            leaving bobbing commas.

An egret’s plumes sign sounds.

            A cormorant looms, moon-bathing—
         fist-like epaulets on its shoulders.
                           It draws on its wings;
                        the fists behind uncurl a little,
                           a benediction gesture:
                                       people, whom distance diminishes, squat
                   on the dock, swooshing lines
into the lake. Fishermen. They still; wait for tugs.
Two joggers p’t, p’t, p’t, p’t, pant, enlarge and louden. Passing
one says, I think:

Kelowna BC: Having only discovered them recently, Sean Johnston was good enough to send over copies of the chapbook series produced by Ryga: A Journal of ProvocationsJake Kennedy’s Studies (2009), Sheri Benning’s Dollhouse (2009), Lee Maracle’s Raven Can Do Anything (2010), Chris Hutchinson’s Not Unlike (2010) and Ed Allen’s When Everybody Was Upset (2010). Unfortunately, Johnston says the series no longer exists, which is disappointing. Produced in editions of one hundred copies each, these gracefully-designed chapbooks are by authors Canadian and American alike, with a strong eye, it would seem, on emerging writers in the Kelowna, British Columbia area. One of the highlights of this series is in the short introduction that opens each publication, all but one composed by Johnston himself (the introduction to Maracle’s chapbook was written by Frances Greenslade). Johnston’s introduction, “A New Objectivity,” to Kennedy’s chapbook (a number of poems that ended up in his 2011 BookThug collection Apollinaire’s Speech to the War Medic) reads:

Jake Kennedy’s poems are informed by an impulse toward truth, despite the erudition and education of the postmodern artist and reader, despite the fact that we are told there is no such thing. It’s clear the truth is flawed – from the moment of its articulation, at least, but maybe from the moment of its conception. The easy way out, then, is to deny the impulse to move toward it, to give in to the idea that we live in the intellect, which forbids truth, and not in the world, which demands it.

As one of the poems asks: “Why not start from belief?” Why not start from what we can hold and work our way outward from there? Each object is its own centre and we are, with Kennedy’s poems, caught in its rings, considering our place in the world, not the world’s confusion surrounding us.

Kennedy begins in the world with these meditations on material objects – grass, trees, bullets, the screen of a drive-in – and moves outward from them into a world that is wild and domestic at the same time, a world that is inclusive enough to include the heart in its intellectual investigation of life. The tiger, to paraphrase one poem, is not concerned if its stalking measures up to other performances of stalking – it’s out for blood. It hunts to survive.

One of the most compelling titles in the series is Alberta poet Sheri Benning’s memoir-essay Dollhouse, writing on ideas of home and place, her childhood and sister, as well as directly on her sister, Heather Benning’s documentary/installation “The Dollhouse” – “a suite of 30 photographs that present the transformation of an abandoned farmhouse in rural Manitoba into a life-sized dollhouse.”

            As children we relate to people and objects with a directness unshackled by the protective cynicism of adulthood; we seek security, but remain open to the world, allow ourselves the sigh of comfort in the place of a loved one’s arms, or in the quiet conversations with a favourite doll. Tuan suggests that this openness grants children the ability to know the world more sensuously than adults, adding that this lost childhood gift of receptivity ‘is one reason why the adult cannot go home again.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

six short short stories and an essay : matchbooklitmag

I’ve got six short, short stories posted this week at matchbooklitmag: stories quite short plus author’s notes, all part of the forthcoming The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books). See the link for such here. The site also solicited a little essay on such, posted alongside the stories, and below as well:
The stories posted here are part of a larger work to appear in the spring, The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014). The seventy-three stories that make up the final manuscript originally emerged through a series of triggers, including the 2007 gift of Sarah Manguso’s Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape (McSweeney’s, 2007), and the later discovery, through Manguso, of the works of American writer Lydia Davis. I was, and still am, amazed by the daring, brevity and sheer density of their writing.

I was in Edmonton during the 2007-8 academic year as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and suddenly found myself in a foreign territory, freed from constraints I didn’t even realize I’d had. I could be different, and my writing was suddenly free to experiment. As I began to settle in this new space, I began explorations on a number of fronts: the sentences of the prose poem, the expansive canvas that was creative non-fiction, and the composition of short, self-contained prose works that didn’t really belong with anything other than themselves. This latter process was the beginnings of a manuscript that would eventually take five years to complete, as I quietly struggled to increase the density and force of my prose into the smallest space possible. My constraint for the project was simple enough: to compose a grouping of untitled stories that could exist together as a suite, that were each a paragraph or less in length, and with lines so tight that one could bounce a quarter off any of them. Some stories took months or even years to complete, and many were edited, rewritten and finally abandoned. Some stories were nearly perfect early on, but still required a long period of tweaking. I wanted to boil down the core of the story. I wanted to not be in a hurry.

I wanted a collection that explored a wide canvas; stories that, together, gave a portrait of how we exist in the world. I wanted stories that showed how we think, and how a few of us live. I wanted stories that came from any and all angles, and some of the pieces in the collection reference American film, Monty Python, dislocation, Canadian politics and history, small essays and anecdotes, and stories so personal they must have happened, at least to someone. A half dozen or so were even originally composed to Twitter, the best of a series of late-night missives.

The results are unlike anything I’d attempted before, and have opened up a whole new series of possibilities. I’m already two years into a subsequent manuscript of short, short stories, quietly shaping sentences, disparate threads and incomplete thoughts into the densest sculptures possible. For example: I’ve been two years attempting to discover the short phrase required to complete a short story that connects Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk to Big Bird and the wonders of Sesame Street. The story currently sits at one hundred and thirteen words in length. It is just a matter of time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Fiona Sze-Lorrain writes and translates in English, French, and Chinese.  She is the author of two books of poetry, My Funeral Gondola (Manoa Books/El Léon, 2013) and Water the Moon (Marick, 2010), as well as several volumes of translation of contemporary Chinese and American poets (Zephyr Press and Vif Éditions).  She lives in France, and works as an editor and zheng harpist.

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

My work is modest.  To some extent, my debut book, Water the Moon, changes the course of my writing.  The second, My Funeral Gondola, is of a different aesthetic — and experience.  My editor and co-publisher from Manoa Books, Frank Stewart has been very much present when it comes to assuming its making.

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

I was working on non-fiction pieces for some years before poems happened. 

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 is a slow process.  Drafts are private.

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 begins with a failure of sorts.  It speaks to me when I can feel its pulse.  I don’t write with a “book” in mind.  It’d empower presentation and result more than the intimacy of writing.

5.  Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?  Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I find readings meaningful when they resist becoming an outward performance / role-playing.  Or something that one does just to sell books or be seen in the literary community.  In short, I prefer readings that serve as a form of dialogue, with a precise social context to relate to.

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 couldn’t help but think of Bialoszewski:

    First I went down to the store
    by means of the stairs,
    just imagine it,
    by means of the stairs.

    Then people known to people unknown
    passed me by and I passed them by.
    that you did not see
    how people walk,

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

More essential than difficult.

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

Not sure if this is the “best,” or an “advice” — Begin from where you are.

10.  How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)?  What do you see as the appeal?

Difficult.  Appeal: to be immersed in another landscape.

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 write every day, but I work on the harp every day.  I also write letters. 

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


13.  What fragrance reminds you of home?

My grandmother’s herbal soup.

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?

Yes, most, if not all, of what you’ve mentioned: botany, music, and visual art. 

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

Homer, Montaigne, Proust, Tolkien, Blixen, Rilke

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


17.  If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?

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

I don’t know.

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

I’m unsure about “great”…  but am happy to recommend Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis (1945), and Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008).  Recently, I re-read a few of Jane Austen’s novels.

20.  What are you currently working on?
Phytotherapy and organic desserts.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lucy Ives, Orange Roses

The first sentence is a sentence about writing. The second sentence tells you it’s alright to lose interest. (“Early Poem”)

According to the press release that comes with New York City poet Lucy Ives’ Orange Roses (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2013), her poetry collection was “written over a 10-year timeframe, [and] enacts a poet’s development: the process of her discovering what a poem might be.” Given that the collection was composed over such a long period, the book holds together remarkably well, constructed out of lyric disjunctives, stretched-out fragments and extended sequences. The poems that make up Orange Roses are composed in a range of styles: from notebook entries, long and lyric prose pieces, hard-cut sentences and poems written with lines condensed nearly to point form. What makes, in part, the book hold together is in the idea that this, as a first collection composed over a decade, is less any sort of coherent collection via style or specific subject matter than it is a portrait of a particular period of time in the author’s life. Given the age of the author (she was born in 1980), this period constitutes a significant percentage of her life so far. As she writes in the poem “Early Novel”: “in the economy of appearance / for so many hundreds here // to enter yet / control // just now / your partnership // I love you, giving up / love you, passing in,” and further:

don’t we just want to climb
back in our bed

sleep, exchange
imperial, the perfect

rose, nothing
no one’s

Ives’ appears to favour longer stretches of the poem, and the book contains only thirteen poems, ranging from the short, single poem to the longer sequence to the sequence as accumulation of shorter fragments. These are poems one doesn’t read quickly, but enters slowly and resides within for a while. One particularly entrancing piece is the extended “Early Poem,” constructed out of a series of one hundred sentences that powerfully push the boundaries of what is lyrically possible through what can be described in parts as refrain, an essay on the nature of writing sentences, and as a kind of narrative assault. The poem pushes beyond what you might have expected into magnificent territories. The poem begins:

The first sentence is a sentence about writing. The second sentence tells you it’s alright to lose interest. You might be one of those people who sits back in his or her chair without interest, and this would have been the third sentence you would have read. The fourth sentence, what does that say, that says something about how I genuinely feel, even if it no longer matters how I genuinely feel, that has not even become the topic of another book. The fifth sentence says that that was left by the wayside because it was such a variable thing. that’s what the sixth sentence said, and says, that it sits there still, varying, changing its colors, etc., the army of ancient Rome marches by, they think it is some sort of tomb and display their eagle insignia. The seventh sentence ill conceals its surprise that I should have tried to make it all look so far away. […]

The penultimate poem in the collection, “On Imitation,” is a lovely lyric essay that includes photographs, akin to works by Juliana Spahr. It is as though the book as a whole is a discovery into the possibilities of the poem, and in the conversations into those possibilities. The essay/poem begins:

My understanding of writing was for a while informed by an idea about insufficiency I got from America. Take images and compare them to words: Words suffer. Consider the naturalness of the photograph, its informative, absorbing detail. It is even possible that the photographic image resembles nature most on purely analogical grounds, since nature is often understood to have no insufficiency in its “bounty.”
            But here I only hint at what I take to be some of my earlier errors.

The process of any writer “discovering what a poem might be” is certainly an essential part of emerging as a writer, and an essential ongoing exploration that should really exist throughout a poet’s entire writing life. Ives’ Orange Roses really is a stunning and breathtaking collection, and rewards with every reading. I can only hope that this conversation Ives has begun becomes one that continues for quite a long time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

book launch! Ground rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003-2013

Produced to begin the re-launch of Ottawa literary publisher Chaudiere Books, co-publishers rob mclennan and Christine McNair invite you to the launch of Ground Rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003-2013.

Co-sponsored by our friends at the Ottawa International Writers Festival and The Manx Pub, the event will feature readings by three of the book’s contributors: Sharon Harris (Toronto), Marilyn Irwin (Ottawa) and Stephen Brockwell (Ottawa). The event will be (lovingly) hosted by Chaudiere Books co-founder, editor and co-publisher rob mclennan.

5pm, Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Manx Pub
370 Elgin Street, Ottawa

Sharon Harris is a Toronto artist/writer whose poems have been anthologized in The Broadview Introduction to Literature, The Last Vispo, and Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry. She is the author of chapbooks from bookthug, In Case of Emergency Press, and above/ground, and her first full-length collection, Avatar, was published by The Mercury Press. She has written articles for Geist, The Globe & Mail, and Open Book Toronto;  is a past contributor to Torontoist and Word Magazine; and her work has been published in The National Post, dANDelion, The Capilano Review, Drunken Boat, The Volta, broken pencil, and Vallum. I Love You Toronto, her exhibition of photographs, appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and television across Canada.

Marilyn Irwin’s [pictured] work has been published by above/ground press, Arc, Bywords, and New American Writing. A graduate of Algonquin College’s Creative Writing program, she has three chapbooks: for when you pick daisies (2010), flicker (2012), and little nothings (2012). She won Arc Poetry Magazine’s Diana Brebner Prize this year.

Stephen Brockwell cut his writing teeth in the eighties in Montreal, appearing on French and English CBC Radio and in the anthologies Cross/cut: Contemporary English Quebec Poetry and The Insecurity of Art (both VéhiculePress, 1982). George Woodcock described Brockwell's first book, The Wire in Fences (Balmuir, 1987) as having an extraordinary range of empathies and perceptions. Harold Bloom wrote that Brockwell's second book, Cometology (ECW Press, 2001), held rare and authentic promise. Fruitfly Geographic won the Archibald Lampman award for best book of poetry in Ottawa in 2005. His Complete Surprising Fragments of Improbable Books is newly out from Mansfield Press. Brockwell currently operates a small IT consulting company from the 7th floor of the Chateau Laurier and lives in a house perpetually under construction.

Working out of Ottawa, poet and publisher rob mclennan’s baby, above/ground press, marks a second decade of the production of broadsheets, chapbooks, magazines, and anthologies that trace out the best shapes of the best of contemporary Canadian (and, increasingly, international) poetry. From the span of that second ten of years, he has compiled this book of traceries: a selection of work by writers ranging from the likes of the late Artie Gold, and Robert Kroetsch, to the living derek beaulieu, Rachel Zolf, Eric Folsom, Natalie Simpson, etc., all collected here as representative of a decade’s aesthetic count.
                        from Gil McElroy’s “Introduction: An Integral”

Edited by rob mclennan, with an introduction by Gil McElroy, Ground Rules features writing from the second decade of one of the most active micro publishers in Canada, selected from a series of hundreds of publications lovingly edited, produced and distributed by editor/publisher rob mclennan. A follow-up to Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press, 2003), Ground Rules includes a wide range of work by Artie Gold, Mark Cochrane, Suzanne Zelazo, derek beaulieu, Stephanie Bolster, Amanda Earl, Nathanaël, Lisa Samuels, Rachel Zolf, Sharon Harris, D. G. Jones, Julia Williams, Eric Folsom, Gregory Betts, Natalie Simpson, Aaron Tucker, Monty Reid, William Hawkins, Emily Carr, Cameron Anstee, Helen Hajnoczky, Marilyn Irwin, Stephen Brockwell, Robert Kroetsch and rob mclennan.

Copies of the book will be available at the event. See the OIWF link to the event here.