Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Beth Bachmann, CEASE


outside there are street bombs & citizens with guns & farther away war inside we are our own pile of legs two of us are married two of us are falling had two of us are men two of us are man & woman two of us are not alone two of us are mother & father two of us are not fighting two of us are saying I love you I love you I love you two of us are watching two of us are touching two of us are undone two of us are whispering in the other’s ear not war not war two of us are beginning to stir two of us are at the window two of us are parting ‘til it’s just the two of us parting we’re all guilty what haven’t we done lately

Nashville poet Beth Bachmann’s third full-length poetry title is the incredibly powerful CEASE (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), following on the heels of her collections Temper (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) [see my review of such here] and Do Not Rise (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]. Specifically writing, it would seem, on the threads of an American culture that have become increasingly complicit in violent action, both at home and around the world, the poems in CEASE exist with an urgency that responds to the fury of toxic contemporary rhetoric. “[T]o keep the peace,” she writes, to open the bookending “wall,” “we need a wall [.]”As the press release informs, Bachmann consciously takes up “Muriel Rukeyser’s call for women poets to respond to war (‘Women and poets see the truth arrive’),” and she does so in a way that is lyric, immediate and guttural. In an interview recently posted at The Rumpus, conducted by Blas Falconer and Helena Mesa, Bachmann responds:

I think if anyone is familiar with my work, Temper is the book that’s more widely read. It’s a book about my sister’s murder and though the poems are not narrative in nature, it seems to draw readers with a “true crime” fascination, which, given the context, can be disturbing. I’ve received some fan mail from prison (one said, in the spirit of Emily Dickinson, I write to you from solitary). When the book came out, I couldn’t even say the word “murder” and had to practice in the mirror before my interviews. Seriously creepy. So book one was a book about this big personal violence and used a lyric mode to relentlessly circle all the things that were constantly triggering me: death, death, death.

Do Not Rise grew directly out of Temper. One decision I made early on in Temper was to keep the violence violent to honor the magnitude of it. I fell in love with Chris Abani’s Kalakuta Republic and the poetry of Wilfred Owen for the intensity of their depiction of violence. I found a companionship in Owen’s poems about post-traumatic stress that echoed my own experiences; Do Not Rise is really a book about violence as a recurring present-state, so the title is in part a command for all the horror to stand down, but of course, it inevitably keeps coming back anew.

CEASE is an extension of that command, but I think it makes room for the idea that peace is a possible space, even if it’s only temporary. That’s a big step for me! I’ll take it.

The bulk of the collection is constructed as an assortment of prose poems, bordered on either side by two extended poems, both titled “wall,” each of them composed with words and phrases loose across the page, akin to unconnected brick, its mortar a resonance of explorations on truth, connection and the body that holds the whole together. In CEASE, the poems seek and demand a simple slice of peace, however temporary, through an increasing sense of both madness and terror, asking: how do we hold ourselves together through such threats to our health, safety and well being? This is a powerful work, one that presents itself as slant, before charging full-force directly at the heart of her subject matter.

the wall after all made of water                       the gulf

a blue we could      touch on both ends

given clearance to return what’s left of the bod now

bridge simple arch geometry of the circle spanning come

cool my tongue    this light-well opening internal space to

the space that opens into it wind eye the flood

made our bodies       a levee earthen gnawed away (“wall”)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Arc Walk Ottawa #5 : Hintonburg : curator/guide: rob mclennan

Arc Walks Ottawa is a series of guided walks based on poetry themes and capitalizing on the rich poetry history of Canada’s capital. Residents and visitors alike are welcome to join in on the walks to learn and revel in Ottawa’s poetry.

The fifth, and penultimate, walk of this series will take place in Hintonburg on Friday, November 9th. This walk, led by rob mclennan, will showcase the poetry of this historic neighbourhood, including sites significant to Diana Brebner, Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeebar, The Dusty Owl Reading Series, Dennis Tourbin and Anita Lahey.

The walk will begin at 5:30PM at the corner of Wellington Street West and Holland Avenue. During the hour-long walk, participants will visit five locations where they will hear about some of Ottawa’s contemporary poetry history, and hear from a special guest poet or two. Come prepared for rain or shine!

A sixth walk, also led by rob mclennan, will occur on Saturday, December 8th, and focus on Ottawa's Byward Market. Info tba.

For any questions or concerns, contact James Moran:

Monday, October 29, 2018

Shazia Hafiz Ramji, port of being


Birth from our own skin

Concerns over devaluation

Body that hangs and holds

Mushroom halos of work

Dark faces glow in oil

At the back of the room hands wait

To be held in court

To speak a warm fabric of lips

Gaze that hangs and holds

Scholar alone in the office

Ports open for syntax

Decoys of chat and lovers

Hands that hang and hold

Faces of men and women

In the night of a still life

Circuitry to collect heat

From our whispers

Vancouver poet and editor Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s debut full-length collection, winner of the 2017 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, is port of being (Picton ON: Invisible Publishing, 2018). Hers is a collection composed as a book of dislocations, implications and accumulations via short lyrics that explore borders, violence and human connection. The poems in port of being are deliberately constructed to keep the reader off-balance, employing sequences of fragments that layer upon layer into something unsettling, writing on violence, distant wars, social media, internet cables, death, borders and the horror at an increasing disregard of facts. port of being writes from the slippages of what was once actual or presumed solid ground, writing from a series of negative and positive shifts, from what hadn’t been acknowledged before, to what never should have occurred. As she writes to open the poem “Heat”: “Birth from our own skin // Concerns over devaluation // Body that hangs and holds [.]” Ramji writes from a dangerous place, one that comes from knowledge and acknowledgment, attempting to articulate how one might navigate in such a landscape, such as this fragment, from the middle of the poem “Secret Playground”:

It doesn’t make sense to ask
if words will ever stop failing me
but I want to ask it. What does it take
for a three-year-old who lived on M&Ms
and barely escaped the Gulf War
to call the first part of her life
I didn’t tell you
because I still don’t believe it.
In Toronto, I read a poem
about another part of my life,
one I still find hard to believe
when I’m not with myself.

Ina recent interview posted at Train : a poetry journal, she spoke to the difference between compiling the poems in her chapbook Prosopopoeia (Anstruther Press, 2017) and this debut full-length collection:

Prosopopoeia brought together some poems I'd written over the years. It's not necessarily unified, though themes and connections emerged after seeing the various pieces in conversation with each other. The chapbook clarified my obsessions with surveillance, geography, time, and relations between people and objects, and it began to couple those with more personal experiences of loneliness, addiction, and clinical depression. Recognizing these connections in the chapbook was crucial for the book. When I was writing Port of Being, I constantly jostled with the weight of these personal experiences and a sense of responsibility to facts, history, and the experiences of other people. This struggle was intensified when, a few years ago, a thief who stole my laptop followed me and had knowledge of my whereabouts. It was a traumatizing experience that made the more removed preoccupations with surveillance and space far more personal and immediate. The book has a clear arc (at least to me) that moves into the lyrical. I should clarify that the book isn't about me being stalked, though. I've preferred to tell it slant (thanks to Emily Dickinson for the wise words!). It began with research, which led me to undertake a kind of surveillance (after Vito Acconci's Following Piece) in return, and this gave rise to the first part of the book. The process of putting together the book was like following a trail of myself in the world and mapping it all together. I learned so much about the world (for lack of a better word) when writing this book and that makes me feel okay.

One might think she writes for the same reason as Dany Laferrière’s narrator, “Dany,” in the novel Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 1994), offered for writing his own first novel: I wrote this book to save my life. Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s poems, while betraying the occasional exhaustion, exasperation and frustration, don’t fall entirely into hopelessness, providing a glimmer of something beyond mere survival. “In the morning we consider ghosts.” she writes, to end the poem “Nearness”: “I feel the sun settle on my ear.”

Saturday, October 27, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Grace Schulman

Grace Schulman received the 2016 Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry, awarded by the Poetry Society of America. Her seventh collection of poems is Without a Claim (Mariner Books, 2013). Her forthcoming memoir is Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage (Turtle Point Press, 2018), and her collection of essays is First Loves and Other Adventures (U of Michigan Press, 2010).

Among her honors are the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, New York University's Distinguished Alumni Award, and a Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has won five Pushcart Prizes and has been featured seven times on Poetry Daily.

Editor of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, 2003), she is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y. Schulman is former director of the Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1974-84, and former poetry editor of The Nation, 1971-2006. Her poems, essays, and translations have been published widely, here and abroad. She lives in New York City and East Hampton, N. Y.

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 first book was Burn Down the Icons: Poems (Princeton), the first of seven books of poems. It did change my life. I went from being a poet writing in obscurity to an author praised in the New York Times Book Review by a critic I didn't know. I received letters from poets in other countries. As to my recent work, it feels the same.  I tell my students that if you're dedicated, you're as much of a writer now as you'll ever be.

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

Poetry is fiction. I haven't written prose novels. I have written essays about poetry or about my life as a writer. How did I come to poetry first? I was nurtured by my mother, a poet, and mentored by Marianne Moore, a family friend I first met when I was fourteen.

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 takes forever, and it is "never finished, only abandoned." I do take notes, but seldom look at them. I write every day for 3-5 hours.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?

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

I love to read, just as I love to teach. I love to see the audience I imagine as I write.

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 write to engage the soul. And to praise. As Auden wrote, "a poem must praise all it can for being and for happening.

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?

As Shelley wrote, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." I believe that.

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

I enjoy the feedback, especially if the editor has a light hand.

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

In a letter to me, Marianne Moore wrote: "If what you write asserts itself,please disregard anything I say." I've held that to my heart over the years. Another, more recent statement, was made (not to me directly) by the late J.D.McClatchy: "Poetry was made to complicate our sense of things, not pamper them." That one is over my desk.

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

This is answered fully in my own Q & A. It's the subject I think most about these days. Very briefly, in a poem experience is transformed by the imagination. What you write does not have to have happened to you. In a prose memoir, it does. But the writer can shape a narrator that changes and learns and grows. Thus the story, though true, can be transformed in that it's seen through her eyes.

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 rise at 5 or 6 and write for 3-5 hours. Every day. I've done that for years. Among other reasons, I'm a professor at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y. and have to face students after a day's work writing.

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

Jazz. Music at Lincoln Center. Paintings at the Met Museum, especially Netherlandish.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

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?

Answered in #12.

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

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

Finish my eighth book of poems, "The Sand Dancers."

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?

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

See question #2

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

Reread Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Film: Casablanca (video).

20 - What are you currently working on?

My eighth book of poems, The Sand Dancers.

Friday, October 26, 2018

my (small press) writing day : new essays + ongoing submission call,

I’ve been curious for some time about The Guardian’s occasional feature “My Writing Day,”and thought it might be interesting to do a blog of the same, “for those of us who might never make it into The Guardian.”

[note: this isn’t a dig atThe Guardian; I just thought it might be fun to play with the format]

So, like a fool, I started a new blog: my (small press) writing day.

The list of published and forthcoming essays include pieces by Amish Trivedi, Colin Morton, rob mclennan, Sonia Saikaley, Amanda Earl, Jean Van Loon, Karl E. Jirgens, Lisa Pasold, Robert Martin Evans, Jennifer Pederson, Carla Hartsfield, Jason Christie, Eleni Zisimatos, Christian McPherson, Chris Johnson, Eileen R. Tabios, Joshua Corey, Claudia Radmore, Oscar Martens, Sacha Archer, Larkin Higgins, Kristina Drake, Kate Siklosi, Jared Schickling, Karen Smythe, Yanara Friedland, Paul Carlucci, Catherine Owen, j/j hastain, Gil McElroy, Adele Graf, Angela Lopes, Adam Thomlison, Brenda Schmidt, Michael Blouin, Jeanette Lynes, Keegan Lester, Jeremy Stewart, Zoë Landale, Jacqueline Valencia, Michael Dennis, Emily Sanford, Jennifer Baker, Aaron Tucker, Chris Galvin, K.I. Press, Nathaniel G. Moore, April Ford, Lily Gontard, Paola Ferrante, Alan Sondheim, Bänoo Zan, Emily Saso, Annick MacAskill, Ian LeTourneau, Jessica Hiemstra, Jessica Sequeira, Teri Vlassopoulos, Matt Jones, Sofia Mostaghimi, Joshua Weiner, Anita Dolman, Alex Manley, Joseph Cassidy-Skof, Ronna Bloom, Doris Fiszer, Maia Elgin, Cora Siré, Ken Sparling, Heather Sweeney, Sarah Crookall, Manahil Bandukwala, Dale Smith, Sara Renee Marshall, Sarah Burgoyne, Suzanna Derewicz, Jenna Jarvis, Missy Marston, Anna Maxymiw, Nicole McCarthy, Tim Mook Sang, Richard Harrison, Barbara Tomash, Nisa Malli, Steven Ross Smith, Frances Boyle, Sean Braune, Conyer Clayton, Ralph Kolewe, Noah Falck, Sharon McCartney, Dara Wier, Geof Huth, Brenda Brooks, David Bradford, Bola Opaleke, Robert Keith, Carl Watts, Shannon Quinn, Charmaine Cadeau, Micheline Maylor, Violetta Leigh, Torin Jensen, Isabella Wang, Erin Bedford, Ellie Sawatzky, Síle Englert, Donna Fleischer, Eva Gonzalez, Thomas L. Winters, Allison Armstrong, Jonathan Taylor, Bruce Geddes, Jónína Kirton, Jose Hernandez Diaz, Darren C. Demaree, Michael Sikkema, Kate Heartfield, JL Jacobs, Luke Bradford, Buck Downs, Brian Mihok, Jake Syersak, Genevieve Kaplan, Carrie Hunter, Erin Emily Ann Vance, Emma Bolden, Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt, Wren Hanks, Terry Doyle, Stephan Delbos, Lucy Dawkins, Winston Le, Amy LeBlanc, Catherine Graham, Christine Fischer Guy, Timothy Otte, Aja Moore, Dessa Bayrock, Basma Kavanagh, Joshua Young, Shriram Sivaramakrishnan, JC Bouchard, Lindsay Zier-Vogel, Kyle Flemmer, Tanis MacDonald, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Anne-Marie Kinney, Colin Mylrea, Vineetha Mokkil, Lauren Brazeal, Janet Barkhouse, Rupert Loydell, Haley Jenkins, Jennifer Firestone, Honey Novick, Linda Besner, Elaine Feeney, Lauren Korn, Martin Stannard, stephanie roberts, Kristin George Bagdanov, Sarah Venart, Mike Ferguson, Sam Smith, Sarah Law, Carol Bruneau, Brooke Carter, Lawrence Freiesleben, Ken Norris, Mugabi Byenkya, Vicky Grut, Elizabeth Ross, Hannah Stephenson, Leslie Greentree, Emilia Nielsen, Yolande House, Rax King, Emily Osborne, Dan Crawley, Erika Thorkelson, Jordan Moffatt, Leonarda Carranza, Joe Hall, Henk Rossouw, J.I. Kleinberg, Susan Haldane, Blaine Marchand, Paul Hawkins, Sonia Di Placido, J.B. Stone, Jane Shi, Teresa Stenson, Jude Marr, Clarissa Aykroyd, Holly Flauto Salmon, Hannah Gordon, Sarah Anne Strickley and Linda Trinh. And submissions are very welcome...