Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Queen Mob's Teahouse: Hailey Higdon interviews Joanne Kyger

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the twenty-second interview is now online: Everyone Counts: Some Questions for Joanne Kyger, by Hailey Higdon. Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevostan interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimoran interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollarian interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Franka 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 PressFive 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, and Mary Kasimor's interview with George FarrahBrad Casey interviewed byEmilie LafleurDavid Buuck interviews John Chávez about Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing and an interview with Abraham Adams by Ben FamaTender and Tough: Letters as Questions as Letters: Cheena Marie Lo, Tessa Micaela and Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Kristjana Gunnars’ interview with Thistledown Press author Anne Campbell and Timothy Dyke’s interview with Hawai’i poet Jaimie Gusman.

Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse includeGeoffrey YoungClaire Freeman-Fawcett on Spread LetterStephanie Bolster on Three Bloody WordsClaire Farley on CanthiusDale Smith on Slow Poetry in AmericaAllison GreenMeredith QuartermainAndy WeaverN.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) hotmail.com

Monday, February 27, 2017

Jonathan Ball reviews A perimeter (2016) in the Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg poet, editor and critic Jonathan Ball was good enough to provide the first review of my latest poetry title, A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). Thanks so much! You can see the original review here. As he writes:
rob mclennan’s A perimeter (New Star, 70 pages, $18) details the struggles of a poet "Caught, between ambition and exhaustion" — in other words, one that is also a dad.

Through fragments that mimic both the fragmentary thought processes of the new father and the tiny slivers of time he can now dedicate to writing, mclennan’s poems crash fragment against fragment in an elegy for "u((n)in)t(e)rr((u)pte)d) s(l))ee)p."

The title poem considers the "property boundary" and the lawn as a place through which to think about identity, a father’s role, and where the personal and public intersect. One of the prolific mclennan’s stronger books.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

On beauty

Wake by 6am. Put the kettle on for toddler’s oatmeal, start coffee. Slip into the washroom, splash my face with water. Quickly dress. Kettle boils. Slip a bowl of oatmeal in front of eager toddler, check email, collect my newspaper from the front step. Coffee. A second bowl of oatmeal. Wife prepares herself for work, checks her phone, dresses, puts on makeup, interacts with now-fed toddler. I read my newspaper. She heads out to work. Gather toddler, change and dress him, offer his snow pants to begin the process of heading out. He dresses, slowly, allowing for another sip of coffee. I make a quick stop in the washroom, and brush teeth. Collect keys, adjust his snowsuit and boots. Collect his schoolbag and own coat, boots, before out the door by 8:45. This will be a good day. This will be a good day.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nisha Bhakoo

Nisha Bhakoo’s writing has been published in numerous literary magazines, and her poetry has been included in anthologies by The Emma Press and Mud Press. In 2015, she was shortlisted for Cambridge University’s Jane Martin Poetry Prize, and was awarded 3rd Prize in the Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition. She has showcased a selection of her poems at BAFTA, and had a two-week exhibition of her writing and poetry films at Rich Mix, London. She was also selected for GlogauAIR Artist Residency in Berlin in 2015. Her debut poetry collection, You found a beating heart, was published by The Onslaught Press in 2016.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Relief! A lot of the poems in You found a beating heart were written when I was in a pretty dark place, and although the process of writing them was very therapeutic, I felt a huge sense of relief when the book was published. I felt like I could start a fresh. I definitely see a change in the poems I’m writing now – they are less raw and more controlled, although they still have the same dreamy, uncanny and gothic qualities to them.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have always scribbled down my thoughts, feelings or just strange phrases on paper since I was a teenager. I was obsessed with song lyrics when I was younger, not just the music, the lyrics were of equal importance to me. It was at around 15 that I started to look for poetry outside of the classroom.

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 can write poems very quickly. Some poems come to me in a matter of minutes, and I rarely change poems after a few days of writing the first draft. I feel like I should stay loyal to the particular headspace I was in when I wrote the poem. Even though they come quickly, the process of putting together a collection is quite slow. It takes time to put together a manuscript of poems that you want to publish. A lot of poems get discarded along the way.

Also, I am writing a novel now and even though I finished the first draft very quickly, I know the whole publishing process is going to be painfully slow. Many people don’t realize the length of time it takes to edit a piece, find an agent, edit again, then a publisher, then start the whole editing process once again. It can take years and years until the book is finally published.

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?
I am always working towards a book, but I am aware that not every poem I write will end up being in the final manuscript. I think it’s important not to force things, the more you force, the harder it gets.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
My work is very personal and quite exposing but I try to agree to every reading I am offered because I think it’s an important thing to do, and even more so because it takes me out of my comfort zone. I also find that poems are so much more powerful when read by the poet, just the act of reading a poem out loud can change the tone or meaning of the poem. 

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 don’t think I’m trying to find answers in my poems, it’s more that I’m trying to work through certain feelings or processes, for example, grief. Nearly all of my poems are based on my own personal experiences. I am very opinionated but I don’t have to write poems that are centred on these opinions. I think you can ruin a poem if you come to it with a carefully plotted agenda, it can take all the humanness out of it.

I think that when you write a poem, your beliefs and values creep into them naturally. For example, I don’t set out to write feminist poems, but because I am a feminist, feminist values are going to be present in my work, even if it’s in a subtle way. You don’t have to hit people over their head with your politics, and just because you come from a minority group, it doesn’t mean that all your poems should be about one particular aspect of your identity. It’s very reductionist, and a bit offensive when people suggest that. The person you are will come through in your work, even if you are writing a poem about a flower!

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 writer’s job is to write honestly about life, even if you are writing fantasy, you can still bring real emotion or atmosphere to it. Writers should expose the parts of themselves that are often kept hidden, because if a poet is dishonest and submits to the status quo, what hope do we have? Of course not everybody is going to like your work, and of course you will upset people, but that’s all part of being a writer, you have to be rebellious.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’m really interested in receiving constructive feedback. I have an on-going poetry exchange with another poet, and her feedback has improved my work considerably. I don’t think an outside editor is essential, but it is advisable.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
There is no writer’s lifestyle. Don’t wait to be told what to do, just write!

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry on the page to poetry films)? What do you see as the appeal?
The challenge of finding visuals for my poems is so exciting! Making poetry films and working as a director has been quite an experience, although it’s not always easy. Once I’m set on an idea, I know exactly what I want, and am very focused on bringing it to fruition, however films don’t ever turn out entirely how you expect them to, but in my experience, this hasn’t ever been a bad thing. I am interested in literature, visual art and film, so it made sense to combine these interests.

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?
As with most writers, there is no such thing as a typical day. I squeeze in as much writing as I can whenever I have a spare few hours. I have commitments outside of writing because I have to pay rent! But writing will always remain my priority, even if it means sacrificing a comfortable life.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I am lucky because I haven’t ever experienced writer’s block. I seem to have the opposite problem. I have hundreds of ideas at any one time, and take on multiple projects. I am getting way better at saying “no” though.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
There are multiple places that I consider to be home, so this is an impossible question to answer, I’m afraid!

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?
All of the above. My poems come from everything that surrounds me. A lot of my poems are closely connected to nature. I have a whole section of water poems in my debut collection You found a beating heart.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I read quite diversely, and listen to book podcasts and youtube reviews regularly. I like to expose myself to lots of different types of writing, because I think it’s important to know what else is out there. I think the poet that has had the most impact on my work is Thom Gunn. I wrote my MA thesis on his work.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to complete my novel. I’m taking a break at the moment to concentrate on other projects.

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?
Definitely something related to the arts, perhaps a painter.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It’s something I have to do, it’s a coping mechanism for me, and it’s the only activity I can fully lose myself in. It wasn’t really a choice.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I am enjoying reading Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler at the moment – this was the book Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut was based on. I would choose Perdues dans NewYork for the last film I really enjoyed. It’s a strange, poetic film, which is quite similar to a lot of my work thematically.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I want to return to academia soon to do a PhD related to poetry and film, so I am just considering my options at the moment. I am also really excited about finishing my novel.

Friday, February 24, 2017


This is not an oral history of The Poetry Project, for instance, though a great deal of information that might qualify as anecdotal history of The Project and its numerous social and artistic contexts can be found within. It’s not a scholarly book or a book “about” poetry, though one may find out a great deal about poetry as a living art form flowing through the costume of each interview. It is an anthology of a type, and many readers will naturally jump around the book while reading it, but the book is also a collection of stories filtered through the form of the interview into one longer story made of overlapping circles. As such, it will reward readers who take on the experience of reading it from beginning to end. Characters appear, recede, and pop up again in surprising places. Jobs, death, illness, war, and money problems come up as frequently as references to the arts, and the chronological structure of the book belies a sense of time that often reaches back to the 1960s and earlier, while examining the future from the perspective of that particular day a conversation is taking place. It is not a linear chronicle of an era, but it is a chronicle nonetheless, an assemblage verging on accidental chorus that presents ideas and discussion about poetry in the charged words of the poets, not in unreadable academic speak, and not in insulated literary terms divorced from the broader ground of the world and its inexhaustible complexities. Its necessity is bound up with the casual intensity of its invitation: you won’t find many people who speak on and for poetry, or anything else for that matter, in such high and ordinary terms. The ride is for anyone to take. (Anselm Berrigan, “INTRODUCTION”)

Produced to “coincide with the fiftieth anniversary season of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church” in New York City, is the hefty anthology WHAT IS POETRY? (JUST KIDDING, I KNOW YOU KNOW): INTERVIEWS FROM THE POETRY PROJECT NEWSLETTER (1983 – 2009), edited by Anselm Berrigan (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2017). As Berrigan writes in his introduction, the series was originally founded “in 1966 out of the need for a stable ongoing reading series/gathering point/community center for the overlapping circles of poets in downtown NYC. Those circles included and came to include poets variously associated with the New York School, the Beats, Black Mountain, Umbra, Language writing, and the Nuyoricans—associations which are variously highlighted, fleshed out, made ambiguous, undermined and otherwise reformed in the interviews found herein. In one sense, these groups and their outliers are a source-in-common for the poets and artists this book casts its light upon. But The Poetry Project has always been a site of challenge and respite for individual poets who refuse to take conventional paths, who want live experience with fresh material right now, and who, as Ted Greenwald puts it in his conversation with Arlo Quint, ‘want the work out front.’ That’s the ethos.”

7:44 PM 7/29/96 Dear Barbara, …Writing in fragments seems to be a very contemporary response to the postmodern distraction, the channel-surfing attention span, our fractured sense of time, on the one hand. People I know, poets and academics, are writing literally on the fly, taking their laptops aboard airplanes. That’s what we share with the business passenger working on a spreadsheet or annual report. On the other hand, when I think of poetry in fragments, I also think of Sappho, whose work comes to us, like classic Greek art and architecture, as enigmatic shards and evocative ruins. Given the human capacity to destroy civilization “with the touch of a button” the same way we microwave lean cuisine, ancient ruins stand as a figure for the obliteration of ourselves and our own culture. We imagine that some extraterrestrial archaeologists might someday examine our fragments, and wonder what manner of beings we were. In some contemporary work, including my own, the artist is engaged in a kind of archaeology of the detritus of consumer culture, the artifacts of the electronic age. That’s why I immediately recognized Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Houses, in Detroit, as visual art equivalent of what I was trying to do in Muse & Drudge. David Hammons has a similar approach to recycled resources. I’m also inspired by the work of Leonardo Drew, which is more abstract, but still carries the emotional charge of abandoned and reclaimed materials. (“An Interview With Harryette Mullen,” by Barbara Henning; October/November 1996, No. 162)

As Berrigan writes, the interviews collected in this volume were originally done for publication in The Poetry Project Newsletter, with a collected thirty-eight interviews that range in dates from 1983 to 2010, conducted with poets (some who are included here more than once) including Red Grooms, Paul Schmidt, Bernadette Mayer, Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch, Harryette Mullen, Alice Notley, Ed Sanders, Samuel R. Delany, Renee Gladman, Fred Moten, Stan Brakhage, Larry Fagin, Tina Darragh, Edwin Torres, Brenda Coultas, Will Alexander, Ron Padgett, Ted Greenwald, Eileen Myles and Bruce Andrews and Sally Silvers. As fascinating as the interviews are in the collection, editor Berrigan presents a whole array of information and insights on The Poetry Project in his introduction, including the suggestion that perhaps a proper history of their five decades-plus might be worth someone finally putting together. There are ways in which the interviews, collected here as they are, do present a portrait of the ongoing activity and environment of The Poetry Project, one that comes with friendships, apprenticeships, arguments and pitched battles, all while attempting to do the work of writing and continue a writing life. This is an enormous volume, and one that should already be seen as enormously valuable in terms of both history and craft, and showcasing the value of The Poetry Project itself, for hosting, assisting and developing a wide array of writing and writers. And, if nothing else, this volume should point readers into understanding just how important it might be to start reading the contemporary issues of The Poetry Project Newsletter, to keep up with what else is happening.

Lisa Jarnot: I want to talk to you about Allen Ginsberg. Partly, what was your relationship with Allen like?

Ed Sanders: I was a senior at high school and read Howl and I bought Howl actually at the University of Missouri Bookstore on a fraternity weekend. And it seemed like, as a young man, about everything I’d been looking for in terms of a model for writing poetry and combining poetry with your personal life in a way I thought would be appropriate, although I was living in the Midwest, in a ‘50s type all-American environment. Then I moved to New York later and saw him from afar. I attended poetry readings at places like the Gaslight on MacDougal Street or the Living Theater on 14th Street. I saw him read as I did other poets—Edward Dahlberg, Kerouac, Corso; I saw Frank O’Hara read. So wherever I could go to find poets that I admired to watch them read I went, but I never considered introducing myself or trying to be a part of it; I was just a witness. And I was going to New York University trying to study languages so I didn’t really meet Allen until 1963 when he came back from a long stay in India and Japan and Cambodia, Viet Nam, and other places—he went to the Vancouver Poetry Festival—and then he came back. And before that I had corresponded with him. I sent him Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts in India and he liked it and sent me this really important poem, “The Change,” where he kind of changed spiritual directions and came to terms with his body on atrain in Japan after visiting Joanne Kyger and Gary Snyder on the way back to Vancouver. So anyway, from 1963 on, when I formally met him, and he took me to a party at Robert and Mary Frank’s house, I began hanging out with him any time we were around in the same area until he died 34 years later. We had many, many capers and adventures and he called all the time and we saw each other now and then. A number of people could say the same thing. He was part of my life, and part of my family’s life. He was part of the household. He gave us advice, a lot of advice. And you know, he’d give advice on what kind of furniture to have in your kitchen; he was very much a teacher. (“An Interview with Ed Sanders,” by Lisa Jarnot; October/November 1997, No. 166)

The book does make me wonder if it might be worth putting some of the other interviews online, a la The Paris Review, for the sake of a wider readership and even scholarship. Given there are more than two hundred interviews (at least) to date, what else is out there worth reading?