Friday, September 30, 2016

Kate Sutherland, How to Draw a Rhinoceros


Almost 50 animals among extinction efforts greatest hunted increase is more of our rhinoceroses since southern this time than their 14,000 success stories short savannas protected population of numbers law inhabited international grass discovered currently by 1895 Africa

Anti-poaching alone but dramatically equip for horn however illegal implement increase killed 1800s law medicinal need no number over 1,000 patrols poaching saved species successes train this tougher value was touted thought scientific story provide public needed late idea increasing from 2007 continues animal awareness

Some might know her through her two collections of short fiction—Summer Reading (1995) and All In Together Girls (2007)—both published by Thistledown Press, but Toronto writer Kate Sutherland is now the author of a poetry collection as well—How to Draw a Rhinoceros (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016). How to Draw a Rhinoceros is a collage of narrative lyrics alongside denser poem-fragments, all stitched together from a variety of rhinoceros sources from the middle ages to the Victorian Era, “The Rhinoceros / or Unicorn of Holy Writ” (“O’BRIEN’S FOUR SHOWS”), and hunters such as Teddy Roosevelt, King George V and Ernest Hemingway, to the more contemporary trade in horn artifacts. The poems are constructed from extensive reading and research, and an awareness of a creature not often portrayed in contemporary poetry (I suspect centaurs and mermaids, even beyond lions, cats and dogs, achieve more ink), although I still have the plastic rhinoceros that accompanied Fredericton writer and artist Joe Blades’ poetry chapbook, Rummaging for rhinos (Ottawa, ON: Pooka Press, 1995). “Wombwell’s Royal Menagerie / hit the road in 1805 / not the first, but the biggest / fifteen brightly-painted caravans / to Pidcock’s four,” she writes, in part two, “George Wombwell (1777-1850),” of the sequence, “THE WILD BEAST MEN.” She continues:

this year his elephant died
upon arrival at Bartholomew Fair
his chief rival posted a sign:
the only living elephant at the fair
Wombwell countered: Come see
the only dead elephant at the fair!
and the crowd crushed in

Sutherland’s collection is a bit of a mix, from the playful, dense and inventive to narrative poems that rely a bit too heavily on research, but most of the poems live in the centre of those two sides, showcasing a perfect blend of form and function. Certainly, there are pieces here that I want more from, such as the aforementioned “THE WILD BEAST MEN”—one of a series of poems that do little more than offer me what I might be able to discover otherwise, but most of the poems here take elements of that research as a jumping-off point. The poem “GOING, GOING, GONE,” for example, utilizes her research and plays with it, instead of simply repeating facts, offering a list of the possible, even as they dissolve and disappear before our eyes. The first two of twenty “Lots” write:

Lot 1
Small bird-form rhinoceros horn cup, 17th century

Lot 2
Rhinoceros horn libation cup with magnolia in fitted wooden
            stand, late 17th century
The base has a magnolia bud broken off and reaffixed with glue

Really, the poems in Sutherland’s How to Draw a Rhinoceros that feel the most effective are those propelled not by narrative, but by the language, using elements of research and narrative as tools in which to further the sight and sound of the words themselves, such as “DÜRER’S RHINOCEROS,” “GREAT FAMILY OF GIANTS,” “OFFICIALS SAID” and “CONSERVATION,” among others. As well, the “Clara” poems that close the collection are quite wonderful, and reminiscent, slightly, of some of Stephen Brockwell’s “voice” poems (or even more playful versions of Michael Harris’ “Death and Miss Emily” poems). They include this short delight, riffing famously off “Romeo and Juliet”:


O rhinoceros! who dares to name thee?
Rhinoceros of all rhinoceroses
A rhinoceros by any other name
would be as fleet
A rhinoceros is a rhinoceros is a rhinoceros
You, of course, are a rhinoceros
but were always a rhinoceros
Hooray, say the rhinoceroses
every rhinoceros has its horn
unless it doesn’t

What becomes interesting in the collection as a whole is in seeing how the accumulation of different forms and perspectives effectively form together into a singular portrait, suggesting that the book’s title isn’t metaphoric but indeed, literal. This book is Sutherland’s portrait of a rhinoceros, sketched fully and fleshed out in a blend of fine lines and rough edges.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On beauty

The English novel began as a correspondence. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, composed as a sequence of letters between characters, combined with journal and diary entries. The novel as personalized pastiche. A thousand years earlier, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. Who is the intended reader for the contemporary novel? Some books are composed to be intimate. Is that better, or worse? Perhaps an improvement to be spoken to directly, as opposed to listening in to a conversation between others.

The snow fell in large, furious flakes. Drifting, lazy. Accumulative. She named it a ‘snow-globe Saturday.’ I had the kettle on. The air water-thick. She felt every hour of those thirty-six weeks. She felt every jostle and kick. I was beginning to see them more clearly, fleshy outline of baby-foot in my dear wife’s belly. There was something inside. We were building a person, someone who would emerge and eventually go to school, find employment, drive a car, find a partner. Once they old enough, the possibility of grandchildren. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We were building a person. There can’t be any deeper responsibility. There can’t be anything so rewarding or so terrifying. Thirty-six weeks. And her nausea remained.

In my journal, I wrote: the knowledge of freedom is the invention of shape, the invention of escape.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Andy McGuire

Andy McGuire is the author of Country Club. He recently completed an MFA in Creative Writing through the University of Guelph. McGuire’s poems have appeared in The Walrus, Hazlitt, Riddle Fence, CV2, Arc, Vallum, and Eleven Eleven. Originally from Grand Bend, Ontario, he currently lives in Toronto.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I realized after my first book how much more I have to do.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
For some reason, I was more interested in poetry.

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?
Writing, for me, is all fits and starts. A first draft usually provides a scaffolding, a basis for change. Work that comes out of copious notes sounds like the worst party ever.

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?
Sometimes I wish I had a cat to chase around the house. Instead, I chase little phrases and fragments around until something sparks. Either a poem begins or it doesn’t. As for the second part of the question, it depends. Sometimes you plant a field, sometimes a field plants you.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like doing readings. I am an eternal intern in the performance department.

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 read a lot of theory, but if any theoretical concerns make it into my poems they do so through a mysterious process of recombobulation. In that metabolic process I trust.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the role of the writer is to produce great writing.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an editor seems essential to me. If you homeschool your poems they’re pretty much guaranteed to be awkward around others.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Give up faster or don’t give up.

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?
Wake up, start writing, try not to die, repeat.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to cardio.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Narcissistic personality disorder.

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?
At the moment, film, visual art, Instagram, and Gregorian chant.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Sarah Manguso sets the bar for crisp, clear prose. Adam Phillips and his dazzling sentences. Mary Ruefle, always. Also Leopoldine Core, right now. I forgot how to leave the house for awhile after reading that book Bill Callahan wrote.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Make some truly awful paintings.

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?
Investment banker. Anesthesiologist. Piano teacher.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’m not very good at much else.

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

19 - What are you currently working on?
My second collection.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ploughshares : an interview with Ken Sparling

Until the end of 2016, I'm a monthly blogger over at the Ploughshares blog! And my third post is now up: an interview with Toronto novelist Ken Sparling, author of the new novel This poem is a house (Coach House Books, 2016). You can read my interview with Ken Sparling, here. My second post, an interview with award-winning Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen, author of the new memoir This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications (HarperCollins, 2016), is still online here; and my first post, an interview with award-winning Toronto poet Soraya Peerbaye, author of Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015), is still online here.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Queen Mob's Teahouse : Ben Fama interviews Precious Okoyomon

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the fifteenth interview is now online: an interview with Precious Okoyomon [pictured], conducted by Ben Fama. Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevost, an interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkham, an interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkham, an interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimor, an interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollari, an interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Frank, a conversation between Vanesa Pacheco and T.A. Noonan, "On Translation and Erasure," existing as an extension of Jessica Smith's The Women in Visual Poetry: The Bechdel Test, produced via Essay Press, Five questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker about Antígona González by David Buuck (translated by John Pluecker),"overflow: poetry, performance, technology, ancestry": kaie kellough in correspondence with Eric Schmaltz, Mary Kasimor's interview with George Farrah and Brad Casey interviewed by Emilie Lafleur.

Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse include: Stephanie Bolster on Three Bloody Words, Claire Farley on Canthius, Dale Smith on Slow Poetry in America, Allison Green, Meredith Quartermain, Andy Weaver, N.W Lea and Rachel Loden.

If you are interested in sending a pitch for an interview my way, check out my "about submissions" write-up at Queen Mob's; you can contact me via rob_mclennan (at)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Daniel Borzutzky, The Performance of Becoming Human

We say that absence is a country

We say that in this country the mouth and the lips rent the present tense to the humans who rummage through the garbage in the bodies of the ghosts: the brothers who carry syrup and blood in their cheeks     the crazed deer     a thick, grey liquid escapes through their teeth     the love we look for what a shame to not be able to touch the soul in its hair in its cadaver in the central orifice of its iris

And the ghosts rise from the wet grass into a blood-filled night     a howling night     a night of coronary arteries exploding in a painting in a mouth in a country in a city flooded with garbage and the radiant blood shining forming a layer of paint on the squirrels’ fur     the urban skunks     the coyotes calmly walking through the streets of our city that no longer has any public employees

Stranded poets stranded insects abandoned factories (“Archive”)

Chicago poet Daniel Borzutzky’s remarkable book, The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn NY: Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016), is a collection of poems-as-direct-statements, each written, seemingly, to be performed from a podium or stage, one after another. Whether the book and/or poems are themselves the performance, or Borzutzky is suggesting that being human is, in itself, the performance (suggesting that the consideration of humanity is a social/performative act and not necessarily our original state of being) might not matter, as the poems here speak to both sides of that reading. “I want to give you more room to move so I am trying to carve a space, with light, for you to walk a bit more freely,” he writes, in the opening poem, “Let Light Shine Out Of Darkness.” There is something in his use of direct statements reminiscent of, say, Canadian poets Lisa Robertson or Stuart Ross, all of whom play around with different levels of directness. The satirical poems in The Performance of Becoming Human critique the political as well as cultural/racial divides, language and the simple fact of being (and performing) human in savage, and occasionally surreal, punchlines. As he writes in the poem “The Gross and Borderless Body”:

Hello, my name is _________________

I come from a village where there is no clean water and where if your nose is shaped a certain way, or if you are too tall, or too short, you are likely to be murdered, raped, or dismembered

These tribal feuds date back to the 14th century when a short guy with a long noses slept with the wife of a tall guy with a small nose

Since then, our peoples have hated each other and many of us are in the diaspora

This is not an academic problem

There really is an element of the monologue in the poems collected in this book, pieces that not only demand performance, but manage as much performance from the bare page as they might see on stage. To say: it is possible to read this as script, and one that manages, if not a narrative line per se, a richness of content, language and critique enough to hold such a sequence together. In the poem “Memories Of My Overdevelopment,” Bortzutzky writes: “To be alive is a spiritual mission in which you must get from birth to death without killing yourself[.]” Later on, some of his sentences could easily be mistaken for Ross’ own, writing:

On the other hand, it is absolutely my fault that my life is so fucking miserable

I touch myself nightly to make sure my organs still work

And there is no one here to make my life feel any less mediocre than it already is

I want to talk, today, about my overdevelopment

But instead I pay someone to wipe the dust from my bookshelves and tables

Every body I look at looks exactly the same as my body

That is what’s it like to be a defenseless animal

You die because you have failed to install the necessary equipment in your body