Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ongoing notes: late December 2019

And what are your plans, for the last night of the decade?

Montreal QC: Montreal poet, critic and editor Sina Queyras has long been known for exploring the shape, meaning and purpose of poetry in their work, questioning what a poem should or shouldn’t be doing, and what might still be possible. Their latest title is the chapbook SWELLES (Montreal QC: Vallum Chapbook Series No. 28, 2019), a poem of grief and experience, of poetics and purpose; of attempting to ground, live positively and live effectively, passionately and responsibly. The thirteen poems in this extended sequence are rife with self-examination, from parenting and teaching to the purpose of writing to climate change, silence and attempting to live as a responsible citizen. There is an awful lot packed into this accumulation of lines, and I would be curious to know if this might be part of a larger manuscript.

Dear Siri, can you thank the millennials
for understanding that they no longer need
to manage the status quo? For insisting on pronouns?

Can you announce my own pronouns? How are
people reading my gender? Have I achieved maximum
alignment between inside and outside expectations?

How is my feminism? Am I doing enough?
Have I been a good mentor? Have I been a good
parent? Is there enough money on my Opus?

Was that last Tweet on the right or wrong side
of the moment? Should I speak to my lawyer?
Do I have a lawyer? Why do I have a lawyer?

Is this poem pretty? Is it even a poem? Am I even
a person? Why is “I” still important? Would I
survive my own “risk triage”? Should I invest in

the same old feminism? Should I invest in climate
change? Should I invest in solar power? Has Greta
reached New York? Is she a corporation yet?

Has big oil branded her potential in the new old world?
Have I become cynical? Is cynical cynical? What
happens when Roxane Gay starts deleting tweets?

What if impeachments fails? Why are people posting
photos of each other dressed as formal gardens?
Have I found new levels of optimism to counter new

levels of end times? Have I accepted that every thing
I thought I was learning to serve me later is now
later and poorly serving me? Can poetry illustrate

the difference between optimism and inspiration?
What is harder, more solid, than truth? I walk
with two natures in me, one more flawed

than the other. Having come all this way,
I just want to feel okay about being alive.

Cornwall UK: I am very taken with British poet Astra Papachristodoulu’s latest, the chapbook/pamphlet Stargazing (Guillemot Press, 2019), a collection of twenty-two poems that play with image, space and sound, staring up at the sky. Composed as poem-blocks, the pieces here are deceptively straightforward, managing a complexity as fresh as a breath. Where might I find more of her work?


out of candlewax and feathers
some break free from the eye
and float around toward the
birth of synthetic gods and the
shifting sands of gravitational
possibilities metal-rich enough
to form rocky planets and
other friendly messages that
often call you to sea, only to
drown you with their song

Monday, December 30, 2019

Carleen Tibbetts, DATACLYSM.jpg


distant knives are being readied
for leviathan heart meat
unsabbathed, this lossy compression
its goldfronted viscosity
clumsy beast in the mindspidered maze
hyperviolet hyperviolence hyperopulence
multiverse multiplex showing on all screens
a spy in the grindhouse of love

Chicago poet and editor Carleen Tibbetts’ first full-length collection is DATACLYSM.jpg (White Stag Publishing, 2019). Subtitled “Vectors by Carleen Tibbetts,” the full-length DATACLYSM.jpg includes the poems that made up her 2018 chapbook of the same name, produced by Paul Cunningham and Jake Syersak’s r/adio/active c-lou_d [see my review of such here]. While the chapbook included an assortment of twenty-four poems from the numbered seventy-two poem sequence, the final book includes the entire series in order, which makes me curious as to how the chapbook selection was chosen; were they the strongest pieces, in the selector’s (whether author or editor/s) mind, or was a specific thread being excised from the larger structure? I think of George Bowering’s Blonds on Bikes, for example, which originally had the first twenty of the series produced as a chapbook, before the longer, complete series appeared in a trade collection. How were those twenty-four non-consecutive poems selected? Now that I’ve spent some time with the longer version, the suggestion becomes, instead, that the chapbook was built as a small selection to give a sense of the far larger construction. The chapbook was there to tempt you into the book.


empathy called in sick
what are the last words you say
before you become dirt
your city-smitten disposable mouth
everything feels feral
as you swerve into flight

For both publications, the threads are similar, and work to articulate the disconnect between information and knowledge, digital presentation and human consumption, and the disconnect between how information is processed versus actually being understood. The effect is deliberately accumulative and quick, pushing a speed and an attention to momentum and detail that suggest the poems would perform quite well at a reading. In an interview posted on July 22, 2016 at Reality Beach, Tibbetts references the manuscript, then still a work-in-progress:

Well, the DATACLYSM.jpg poems are culled from a lot of random language from my journals as well as some wording from advertising spam emails I’ve gotten. The poems are really just about the deluge of information and feelings we endure in this life, but I wanted them to appear as short and visually impacted as possible. Little bite-sized chunks of glut.

Individually, the poems are curious, with one line and one thought immediately following another, and there are times that I wish the pieces were a bit tighter in places, although the looseness allows for a particular mutability of thought, and sound. In her “bite-sized chunks,” I do think she could have gone further with the project, and with some of the poems. The short bursts might want to speak to overload, but could have been far denser, which would have increased that particular effect. Instead, the accumulation exists in quieter, smaller moments: short, self-contained bursts that contain speed, but are slow enough to absorb.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

new from above/ground press: Paty, Christakos, Kasimor, Robinson, Earl, Smith, Campos + Smith,

F I V E   O ’ C L O C K   O N   T H E   S H O R E
Allyson Paty

See link here for more information

Retreat  Diary  2019
Margaret Christakos

See link here for more information

disrobing iris
Mary Kasimor

See link here for more information

Ben Robinson

See link here for more information

Aftermath or Scenes of a Woman Convalescing
Amanda Earl

See link here for more information

Lion’s Den, a chiasmus
Jessica Smith

See link here for more information

Autobiographical Ecology
Isabel Sobral Campos

See link here for more information

S i n g ... d e s p i t e
Pete Smith

See link here for more information

keep an eye on the above/ground press blog for author interviews, new writing, reviews, upcoming readings and tons of other material;

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
October-December 2019
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at at rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com or the PayPal button (above). Scroll down here to see various backlist titles (many, many things are still in print) or click on any of the extensive list of names on the sidebar.

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request. AND 2020 SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE TOTALLY STILL AVAILABLE!

Forthcoming 2020 chapbooks by Trish Salah, Franco Cortese, Andrew Cantrell, Ashley Yang-Thompson + Mikko Harvey, J.R. Carpenter, George Stanley, Anthony Etherin, Guy Birchard, Amanda Deutch, Melissa Eleftherion, Stan Rogal, Razielle Aigen, Rachel Kearney, Leesa Dean, Eric Baus, Zane Koss, Barry McKinnon, Ian McCulloch and Dale Tracy, as well as issues of G U E S T [a journal of guest editors] edited by Dani Spinosa and Kate Siklosi (#8) and Jenny Penberthy (#9), further issues of Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] and maybe even a new issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club!

Just what other gloriousness might above/ground press' 27th year bring?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna Gurton-Wachter

Anna Gurton-Wachter is a writer, editor and archivist. Her first full length book Utopia Pipe Dream Memory is out from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2019. Other recent work has appeared in Social Text, Ginger Zine, Peach Magazine, Vestiges and Deluge. She makes chapbooks with DoubleCross Press and lives in Brooklyn, NY, a few blocks from the building in which she was born. For more info @anna.as.metaphor & annagw.com

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?

My first chapbook, CYRUS published by Brenda Iijima, changed my engagement in the poetry world from peripheral to poetry-is-my-life-what-else-is-there. This was mostly through Brenda’s direct encouragement. My first full length book, Utopia Pipe Dream Memory which is just out from Ugly Duckling Presse, has already changed the way I think about exchange, audience, communication, structure, freedom and community. The first chapbook and the first book have some similarities, mostly in the way each piece thinks about narrative and invocation.

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

I’ve always been drawn to experimentation and loosely defined borders. Those are found in joyous abundance in poetry. The more a piece of art is left open to interpretation, the more I feel I’ve been given permission to play with it in my mind.

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?

My writing comes to me quickly and often doesn’t change much. The more I tinker the more I tend to lose sight of the vision of it.

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 project will usually spiral outwards from an interest in a word, sentence, or theme and then I’ll see how long that interest can hold. Often I’m trying to tie things together rather than have stand alone pieces, because I like what time does with repetition.

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

Doing readings are helpful for me to get a sense of how I feel about a piece, how done I think it is, just from evaluating the feeling of how it felt to read it out loud. I tend to do a lot of readings and I get a lot from the experience of sharing in other forms as well, with my friends over e-mail, in small writing groups, etc.

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?

At the heart of a lot of my writing are my interests in intimacy, boundaries, feminisms, study, attention, dialogue, animals, waste, learning and categories. Lately I’ve been writing more directly about the unspeakable, what it is not to be able to fully describe something, but I think traces of that are found in earlier writing as well.

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?

For me the role of the writer, as with any artist, is the role of giving an offering.  That offering may be bound up with stress or relief, but either way it is one of expansion, breaking open what one previously thought possible.

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

Beautiful & essential.

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

Be in the present.

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

I’m not sure I understand this question. I don’t view it as easy or difficult to move between different genres, it is about the form matching the expression. It doesn’t feel like a choice I can consciously make but one that the work makes for me.

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 write a lot on the train. Sometimes on my phone while I’m walking somewhere. Sometimes I have a more formal writing group space or near my desk, but if I set out to write I always start by reading for a bit first.

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

I’ve been working lately on a small chapbook of writing prompts that I’ve made. I hope to be done with it soon so that people can enjoy it in conjunction with my book. I very rarely get stalled or bored. More often my frustration is that I can’t seem to get back into a very specific mode of writing that I had wanted to return to. That’s why the advice to be in the present was so helpful to me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Whenever I leave the country and return to Brooklyn there is a smell that doesn’t hit me until I’m halfway back to my apartment. It doesn’t have a source that I can identify. For me it is the smell of sidewalk and for a moment it is as though Brooklyn hasn’t changed in centuries. Sometimes I wonder if I leave just so that I can have that moment.

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?

Most of all I would say I am influenced by filmmakers. I think I am secretly wanting to be a filmmaker. My book, Utopia Pipe Dream Memory, is very much indebted to thinking about the films of Peggy Ahwesh, Chantal Akerman, Hollis Frampton and others. Music too. Oral Historians. Dancers. Conversation.

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?

Once I say it, it will be even harder to do. I have to keep those desires to myself in order to help them brew and then manifest.

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?

Well, I have several jobs outside of being a writer. It might be fun to attempt relaxing and chilling out more. I haven’t been doing too much of that lately.

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

Pleasure and friendship. These questions really seem like they want me to consider doing something else with my time. I’ve had many wonderful mentors and teachers. No doubt they are terribly responsible for my current state of being.

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

I recently finished Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection and am looking forward to reading her other book Wayward Lives. Considering how much I think about the unspeakable, I was blown away by how Hartman does a magnificent job of articulating so much that is utterly incomprehensible while also acknowledging this incomprehensibility.  I recently re-watched one of my all time favorite films, Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. There are many things which remind me of this one time that I heard the photographer Larry Sultan talk. I saw the movie Hustlers last night and it reminded me of when Sultan described this moment of his life where he was showing all of these photographs that he was taking of pole dancers in the upside down position on the pole and how everyone’s response was about how formally interesting they were and he how he was baffled that nobody wanted to talk to him about the subject of these photographs and only wanted to place them in formal relation. Isn’t it funny that people still think that is possible? Anyway I felt excited about the movie Hustlers.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I have several projects in motion at once always, I’m fine tuning a second book manuscript that I’ve been calling You Dog, working on that chapbook of writing prompts, writing some poems to my friends like a poem I recently wrote for my friend the poet Morgan Vo. Right now I was thinking about We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan a completely amazing book. In one of the diary entries Sullivan refers to a part of town as “the freak district” and I’ve been trying to write something that stems from those words. Thinking about what it means to be a freak and what it means to be a district. We’ll see if that goes anywhere.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Nora Collen Fulton, Presence Detection System

Jamie didn’t seem to share the hunger and humility of his colleagues.

Jaime never offered strong opinions.

In fact, Rich couldn’t remember one instance when Jamie had challenged someone on theirs.

Some basic element of authenticity seemed to be missing in Jaime.

Tom and the others saw Jamie as a symbol of Rich’s trust.

Rita nearly laughed.

Rich looked surprised.

Rich knew his intentions were good.

Rita looked a little surprised.

Rita seemed to be waiting for Rich’s next sentence, so he continued.

Rich could feel the gelatin he was walking through begin to solidify.

Rita laughed.

Rich was adamant now.

Rich didn’t catch on, so she explained.

Rich considered it, then nodded as though he had no choice.

Rich came to value these sessions more and more.

Even Rich wasn’t completely immune. (“Role”)

From Nora Collen Fulton comes the collection Presence Detection System (Hiding Press, 2019), a book-length poetic study constructed via a collage of critical writing, language poetry, headlines, rushed prose, photographs, erasures and charts. An online description to the book reads:

PRESENCE DETECTION SYSTEM is a collection of presence detection systems written between 19015 and 19017 by my mother's daughter. Its composition was marked by the many things we came to violently disagree about, and it was thought, back then, that an abandonment of comparison could be the only way out. For example, we disagreed and disagree about whether to call what we call ourselves 'misprisions.' We disagreed and disagree about where to drape our lone antimacassar, how to clean it, who made it, etc. We disagreed and disagree about what is and isn't an instance of gambling, which itself is, my mother would joke, 'a kind of wager labour.' We even disagreed and disagree about love, even though we experience it, talk about it, act upon it and theorize it in exactly the same way. But we did and we do agree about you. In this way, PRESENCE DETECTION SYSTEM became a unanimous agreement about you.

The author of the poetry debut Life Experience Coolant (BookThug, 2013) and forthcoming Thee Display (produced as part of the Documents Series, Center for Expanded Poetics/Anteism Books, 2020), Montreal-based Fulton “currently occupies herself with doctoral studies; her research attempts to apply debates in philosophy regarding the relationship between ontology and mathematics to the ontological stakes of trans studies.” Composed as much via accumulation as collage, Fulton writes on shifts and visibility, androgyny, expectation and hiding in plain sight. As she writes as part of the prose-essay “Big Stimmung”: “What is it like to be here, to be present, to really dwell, to be thankful for the now, to embrace the now, to accept the embrace, to open the heart, to open the shutters, to open the blank, to surrender as a kind of giving?” This is a complex, expansive, and at times, overwhelming, collection, one that demands a great deal of attention, but an attention that will certainly be rewarded. In a brief end-notes at the back of the collection, Fulton writes on the first section, “Personal Kanban,” from which the above poem is lifted:

Personal Kanban
combines material from a series of novelizations of management guides with images from a manual for introducing the Japanese logistical approach called kanban into a variety of contexts. In a kanban organization structure, people take on tasks or begin new steps in a fully mapped-out process when they are available to do so, rather than on command, which is intended to lead to autonomic discipline on the part of individuals. What this actually does is shift the focus from production to the production of the availability to produce.