Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair (part one,

Hard to believe another fair has come and gone so quickly (and this fall will mark the fair’s twenty-fourth anniversary)! But it was a good one: here are a couple of the items I managed to pick up throughout the day.

[Chris Johnson at the Arc Poetry Magazine table, grimacing]

Ottawa ON: It’s good to see Marilyn Irwin continuing to produce items through her shreeking violet press, and her latest is the chapbook Eleven Elleve Alive : poems, “Original poems & translations by Stuart Ross & Dag T. Straumsvåg & Hugh Thomas,” and, at fifty-six pages, sits as her heftiest production yet. The publication stems from Thomas’ ongoing work translating poems from Swedish, a language he doesn’t understand, deliberately not looking up words, but taking what he sees and composing an English-language poem in response (for example, see his chapbook Six Swedish Poets from above/ground press, 2015). This chapbook, I suspect, came from an exchange between Thomas and Ross during a pre-fair reading, about Hugh wishing to translate some of Ross’ poems into English, and the results are quite striking. So the book itself contains twelve poems: an original poem by Stuart Ross, a translation of that poem into Nynorsk by poet and editor Dag T. Straumsvåg, and then Thomas’ “translation” of Straumsvåg’s translation back into English. For example:

            after Larry Fagin

The bright green apple sails over the white fence.
The small running shoe lies in an overgrown field.
The man rappels down the side of a sidescraper.
The happy mice burrow through the rotting garbage.
The Latvian hairdresser leaps with joy.
Malarial flies float dead in the gutter.
A paperboy takes a bow.

            etter Larry Fagin

Det Lysegrøne eplet seglar over det kvite gjerdet.
Den vesle joggeskoen ligg i ein overgrodd åker.
Mannen rappelerer ned sida a vein skyscraper.
Dei lykkelege musene grev seg gjennom den rotnande søpla.
Den latviske frisøren hopar av glede.
Malariafluger flyt døde i rennensteinen.
Ein avisgut bukkar.

            Larry Fagin, otter

A green light shines over the planet.
A yoga studio starts to grow in the vacant lot.
A man remembers a disease and a skyscraper.
The happy muses bury themselves in the road map.
The freshly washed hairdresser flaps in the breeze.
Maria flies in the open window.

Both Ross and Thomas’ works have long been known for their engagements with surrealism and sense of play, so the interplay between the two is entertaining to see, especially with the added element of Dag T. Straumsvåg.

[Kate Siklosi at the Gap Riot Press table]

Ottawa ON: Cameron Anstee’s Apt.9 Press has been known for some time for producing lovely handmade books and, given he’s been producing less the past year or two, it was good to see a new item of his at the fair this year: Peterborough writer, publisher and artist Elisha May Rubacha’s chapbook, Too Much Nothing (2018). Rubacha, along with her partner, Justin Million, run readings in Peterborough, Ontario, as well as co-publish the small press, bird, buried press.

some smoked right up to the launch pad

there is no smoking in space
there is no smoking in the barn either

I’m impressed by the amount of activity Rubacha manages to contain within these small, deceptively straightforward poems, writing short observational musings on space, childhood and Roberta Bondar, and her poems close well before they end, leaving the rest of each piece to sit in the thoughts of the reader for some time after. These are poems that might be small in size, but contain multitudes, composed as quiet, thoughtful pieces I would like to see more of. I am hoping there might be more.

little girls

little girls bring their parents
to the opening of Dr. Bondar’s photography exhibit

she autographs their drawings
of rocket ships and planets

while their brothers wait impatiently to leave

Thursday, June 28, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Daniel Perry

Daniel Perry is the author of the short story collections Nobody Looks That Young Here and Hamburger. His fiction has been short-listed for the Carter V. Cooper Prize, and has appeared in more than 30 publications in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and the Czech Republic. He lives in Toronto.

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

In one sense, my newest book Nobody Looks That Young Here is actually my first collection of short stories—it was accepted for publication before Hamburger, even if it’s the second to be published. I mention this because having NLTYH accepted changed one thing for me: my level of confidence in this other collection I had pending at Thistledown Press, which was about half of Hamburger. When Thistledown offered to publish a full-length collection, provided I had more stories, I didn’t hesitate to accept even though I knew it would mean having to rather quickly finish some back-burner drafts, salvage some abandoned ones and even write-brand new stories on a deadline. Without the option of wasting energy wondering if the prospective stories would ever be published (in a book, or at all), I felt freer to just write them.

Regarding what’s actually inside the books, the biggest difference is that the stories in Hamburger aren’t linked, whereas the stories in NLTYH together form a larger narrative. Hamburger mainly contains urban stories, “from” where I live now, whereas the stories in NLTYH are “from” a rural area like the one I grew up in.

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

Though almost none of them were published, nor deserved to be, I wrote poems before I got serious about fiction. I also wrote and edited in the newspaper business for a short time. I came to fiction deliberately when I finally got to it, but I think what actually happened is that I fell into a crevasse between soppy expression and cold journalism.

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 don’t make many notes—to me, a fleeting idea feels likely to result in a disposable work—and I take a long time to start. Usually a story I want to write will follow me around for a while and eventually cut off all my escape routes, muscle out any other stories I might want to write and then throw me down front of my computer. My most recently written story didn’t change much from draft to final—I went into a trance one Saturday morning and came to after sundown with 5,000 words I didn’t hate—but that story’s been rejected by 11 magazines now, so I might be doing it wrong.

4 - Where does a work of fiction 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 realized early on that the first stories I was writing—those in Nobody Looks That Young Here—were linked thematically and geographically and so should probably follow the same characters throughout, too. At the same time, however, I was trying out other, one-off stories I collected in Hamburger, a book that found its thematic label only once the collection was assembled. My next project, a novella, is the first I’ve begun with the declared intent to make a “book”.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I enjoy doing readings, but I think they’d be more entwined with my creative process were I a poet—prose has its rhythms and cadences, but I don’t think it gains as much when read aloud.
For my own readings, I’ll usually choose a flash story or one with a lot of dialogue, as these will usually have more orality and immediacy than longer or denser prose.

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?

Presuming that I ever had any, I think I unlearned my theoretical concerns in the years between obtaining an MA in Comparative Literature and making my first serious attempt at writing fiction. The only question I tend to ask myself when I write now is, “Am I pulling this off?”—do the characters feel real, is the story believable, should anyone care, etc.

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 that depends on the writer, not to mention the culture, but I think a writer’s main responsibility is to do something other than replicate—perhaps to say something “new”, or just as likely something we forgot long ago, but in any case to help us listen for voices that aren’t being heard.

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

It’s essential. An editor’s job, I read somewhere, is to do everything that’s necessary and nothing that’s not. The editor wants your work to be as good as it can be, and no matter how much editing is done, it’s your work that benefits and your name still goes on the book cover. Leaving aside the possibility that a publisher assigns an editor to a book that the editor truly doesn’t understand—so, author, ask for a different editor—I think an author saying that having an outside editor is in itself difficult says more about the author’s ego than about editors.

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

“Keep working until you find yourself working”—relayed to me by an actor, but I think it translates to any vocation one seriously wants to adopt.

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?

My favourite time to write is weekend mornings. Monday to Friday, I come home from work having looked at a computer screen most of the day and usually don’t want to spend the evening doing the same (so I look at Netflix or sports on a screen, but anyway…). On a Saturday or Sunday, I can settle in for a few hours (at home, or in a library or coffee shop) and bang out a good number of words. I’m pretty happy if I get to 1,000.

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

I play guitar, and rather badly, but as a hobbyist (as opposed to a musician) I think I feel freer to try things, play around and fail at that than at writing. I think that when my writing gets moving again, it’s at a moment where I’ve regained this free feeling about my work and can say things to myself like, “Just get through this scene, you can fix it later,” instead of putting pressure on myself to write the scene perfectly the first time—the kind of pressure that, of course, can only lead to walking away again.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Manure, unfortunately.

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’ve taken a lot from popular music, I think—rock, folk, and somewhat unconsciously, country, too. Lately single lines from acts like The National and Father John Misty have been following me around.

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

I’m realizing more and more that I most enjoy reading my writer friends’ books. I think that knowing the person doing the writing helps me pay attention to the choices the author’s making in their work. I have a hard time picturing brand-name authors working on a manuscript night after night (though I’m sure they do!), but when I go to a launch I see the book as the product of my friends’ decisions to sacrifice long weekends, earn no money for a few weeks or months, get up at five every morning, leave a spouse and/or child at home for a long time or whatever it is they end up needing to do to finish a book. I also find this energy contagious, and it tends to help me keep up my own work.

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

Visit Japan.

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?

The English and French departments at Western granted me my BA, but out of high school I was actually accepted into Economics—I applied there because it sounded like a more lucrative career path than literature (and it still does), but also because I was fascinated with questions of how we organize our world, consciously and unconsciously. I didn’t have the math skills, plus I finally saw the light and allowed myself to study what I wanted to instead of what I “should”, but in recent years I’ve noticed that initial interest coming back. I’ve read a lot of popular money-and-power books lately—Dark Money, Flash Boys, The Hidden Wealth of Nations, Plutocrats, Saving Capitalism—and I’ve also come to almost enjoy working out my taxes every spring. I’d need a team of number-crunchers, but I bet I’d enjoy chasing down stupid-rich tax cheats or something like that.

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

I think I was always a writer, but I tried to escape it in a few ways (acting and singing in bands) before I ran out of road. I don’t like to think of destiny or higher callings or other self-justifying “explanations”, but eventually I accepted that this was the best way I knew to express myself. Also, I do plenty of something else: I’ve had the same nine-to-five office job for 10 years now.

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

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad deserves all the Pulitzers and other prizes it got—it’s timeless and searing and inspiring and many more words that I genuinely mean even if they sound like publicists’ clichés. Movie-wise, I thought Call Me by Your Name was beautiful and moving like Moonlight, Mommy and 120 Battements par minute were.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m nearing the end of the novella manuscript I mentioned above, in which a man moves into an old apartment building after a long-term relationship ends and a supernatural woman begins assaulting him in his sleep. I don’t know that it’s properly a horror novel, but I don’t know that it isn’t, either—I’ve restarted it three times since 2014, so for now I’m mostly looking forward to actually finishing this “first” draft and letting it sit before I come back to it and start shaping it into its ultimate form.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

two new broadsides of mine, published by Ottawa's Coven Editions!

I had two small broadsides released this past weekend at the ottawa small press book fair, each in an edition of forty copies, produced by Ottawa's own Coven Editions! Thanks thanks! If you have a chance, you should look at their website or their etsy shop or their facebook group, and see what else they've been making lately, and give them your dollars!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Today is my father's seventy-seventh birthday,

and he is currently stable after a slate of recent surgeries, still sedated at the Ottawa Heart Institute. His double bypass (and valve replacement) scheduled for the Thursday before last turned into a triple bypass (and valve replacement), which developed into requiring a pacemaker, and short-term kidney dialysis to help clean him out. He's pretty much been sedated the whole time (missing out on Father's Day, and most likely today as well), mostly for the sake of his comfort.

Saturday was bad (real bad), but another surgery that afternoon improved him considerably, putting him back to where he was the day after his original surgery a week-plus ago, which also meant a tracheotomy yesterday afternoon, to assist with eventually removing the breathing tube (over the next day or three, hopefully). The sense is that he should be fine (we're going one day at a time, obviously), but that he's going to be in the hospital for another month, as opposed to the original three days the doctor suggested. Of course, its his diabetes and multiple sclerosis that have been throwing things off, preventing certain treatments from being available to him. He improves, slowly. And he rests.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Maxine Chernoff, Camera


The earliest pilgrims shared a cathedral for a heart
            Jeanette Winterson

To be the camera for your gaze,
I made myself a candle and a view,
a wish and furtive trees just to the right.
The window, dressed in black, was lifted
like a carpet toward the sky, and feathers
blinked and swarmed around a body meant
to signal flight. The house arrayed for
mourning was too full of ghosts and glass
to feel the ancient history of floorboards’
prelude and retreat. Harsh light filled
the closet with misgivings. Absent
of words, pages were relief from hasty,
moonlit vows. The world, once beaded
with desire, was pale milk-white.
Paper moths were thrown into the fray.

The latest title from Maxine Chernoff is the poetry collection Camera (Boulder CO: Subito Press, 2017), a book that opens with the preface/poem, “Preface,” that begins:

The work of this moment: a life is celebrated and others are born and die as I write this sentence.

There is a hush and a stillness in the short lyrics that make up Camera, one that holds both breath and the eye. Chernoff writes on the act of watching, seeing and recording, exploring what is possible, impossible and even imaginary, in poems that shift in and out of focus in very precise ways. As her single-page “Preface” closes: “That is the work, giving voice to itself, holding within itself the deep notions of the moment. The poem’s attention is also its ignorance. The work is beyond unkind to everything it omits. The work cannot fulfill its duties of repairing the broken world all around it. The work struggles to contain itself. It does not bleed to death or get crushed by an army. The poem sucks the nectar and returns to its hive.”


You wind up in limbo with liars and thieves who fear you, then sew your own shroud. The exit is a portal: you must grow wings. And like crickets in season and crows at dawn, or the moss at your feet finding the stream, you are small and of things, as if heaven or whatnot were the simple yard of the house in spring. Must you believe? In sewing, in patience, as vines cover the windows and you let them. Come in, you say, to the wind at the gate. You scatter your weakness, splayed on white sheets, no homecomings, hearth, or register. You mend what needs fixing, taking your cue from autumn’s trick of divesting, here and hot here at once.

To watch is to witness, and Chernoff’s poems explore and critique moments large and small, writing clear and condensed lyrics that accumulate to become a book on smallness and attention, as well as one on politics, social engagement and human activity. A hush, and a kick. As she writes in the poem “The Possible”: “So much to tend, oneself included,” shifting immediately to the recent destruction of the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo:

Location as anchor and ivy-filled
absence: the spoken as dirt’s surest witness.

Awake to abstractions, seasons of smoke,
Aleppo’s horizons drop from the sky.