Monday, June 17, 2019

Rahila’s Ghost Press: Emma Tilley, Kyla Jamieson + Brandi Bird


I inherited my green hair from my mother. She’s a quarter cup salt and a soupçon of blue food colouring. Dad left his genes at Old Navy, came home with wool socks pulled up to his knees. The family tree is rooted at Fourth and Main: one hundred years of pity, bar fights, and the occasional vegetarian. I smash the fine china and rearrange it into snowy mountains. None of us cry at concerts, micromanage, or hug longer than the sell-by-date. We send each other e-cards on the wrong birthdays. Dad adds extra sugar to Mom’s brussel sprouts for texture. The magic skipped a generation. Mom likes to fly kites on days there is no wind.

The third season of Vancouver’s Rahila’s Ghost Press chapbooks [see my review of the first season here; the second season here] include Emma Tilley’s Carp Dime (2019), Kyla Jamieson’s Kind of Animal (2019) and Brandi Bird’s I Am Still Too Much (2019). I’m enjoying these small collections, although I’ll admit I’m not sure why such short titles require tables of contents (my own quirk, I suppose). And why are there no author biographies included in these collections? Either way, Rahila’s Ghost has, through nine published chapbooks-to-date, established themselves as a press with a preference for the local, publishing emerging poets (all but one title so far, Meghan Harrison’s third chapbook, Amateur Hours, last fall, have been debuts) with a focus on the narrative lyric. Given their website offering that they are a publisher of emerging and established poets, I am curious to see if and when a more established writer might appear on their roster (this isn’t a complaint, merely a curiosity; there is nothing wrong with preferring the emerging, and perhaps there aren’t any established writers sending them manuscripts that excite the editors enough for publication).

These are chapbooks by poets who, on the whole, seem to very much be writing themselves into being. Vancouver Island poet and flash fiction writer Emma Tilley, who has a BA in Creative Writing from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, is the author of the debut chapbook Carp Dime, an assemblage of short prose poems. “I am a poet in a prose body.” she writes, in the opening poem, “SELF-INTRODUCTION,” a poem that closes with: “I stumble to make sense of the world through similes and metaphors. Tape the word writer to my skin and re-apply as needed.” I find her collection of first-person narratives rather curious, and I’m taken with the cadence of her prose poems. The poems here that are strong are quite strong, and I look forward to seeing where else she might go with the form.

Vancouver poet, reading series curator and editor Kyla Jamieson, who seems to have published in a variety of journals to date, is the author of the debut chapbook Kind of Animal, an assortment of lyrics around survival and recovering from a concussion. I’ve been enjoying the understatedness of her poems, striking just as one might not expect, and allowing the wisdoms to quietly unfold. There are parts of this collection that are extremely sharp, as her title poem opens: “sometimes it’s exhausting / to be awake and alive // at the same time. with my / concussion comes tunnel vision // this is not a metaphor. / the periphery disappears.”


Can we talk about the moon
tonight low and full
in the baby blue sky. Brigitte
at my door, the sound
of her laugh and well-loved
heart. I want to be held
up like that. I need a poem
about happiness that I haven’t
written yet, an ode
to the ducks in my neighbours’
pool, another for the pink
magnolias of spring—some trees
make it look so easy: yes,
I can hold all this beauty up

Originally from Winnipeg, Brandi Bird is a Two-Spirit Saulteaux and Cree poet who has published in a small handful of journals, including Poetry is Dead and PRISM International. Bird's debut chapbook is I Am Still Too Much (2019), a collection of first-person lyrics that focus on navigating and negotiating the immediate of family, culture, tradition and belonging, as well as a deep sense of loss. As Bird writes in the poem “Manitoba”: “This is the Red / in springtime. It thaws slowly / and then faster. A father / in an ice floe. A father as water, / faceless in the riverbed. Melting / like a body into another / body and coursing north / like all rivers here.”


I triage the landscape. The prairies
are numb today and so am I.
I am too thin. Built
like I won’t explode on hot
afternoons, a mirror
to the sky. My body is a hurt
where tall grasses grow, where
clouds pass, where rain sinks. It
aches where I touch
the ground. The prairies are split
into farmland locked in the control
of continuity and destruction. A plaque
of canola on my arm itches and
I want to scratch. Someday I will move
to where the land cradles me, swallows
me whole, erodes flesh from my body
in the surf. I can’t explain how I feel today
except: the wish for winter. Every season
an emergency, distinct but repeating
like the bones of my ribcage
or prairie highways in blowing snow.
I am the outline of a person
on the shoulder heading west, formed
into black plastic garbage bags. I am still
too heavy for the wind to take me
anywhere fast. I am still too much.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Jerika Marchan, SWOLE

[ Keep it clean ]

Lake is big and the light on the water makes a shimmery dress on it – Give me a day all sunsents with the wide colors riding up its back, flooding the sky. Wander these streets when the sun gets high so hot wonder – if I were made of more moisture, how quickly could I evaporate? – stand still and the sky is heat lamps, and I’m willing the soles of my shoes to melt me to the blacktop. I could watch from here. The road is the halflight makes the cracks and the edges and shadows make them deeper. How is something animated in stillness?

Ten miles away from the city is water. And after? The horizon. The skin feels like it’s burning without shelter.

New Orleans poet Jerika Marchan’s first full-length collection is SWOLE (New York NY: Futurepoem Books, 2018), a book-length lyric/collage suite chronicling the intimate and cultural uprooting caused by and through Hurricane Katrina, a sprawling record and articulation of those affected by the fury and aftereffects, writing of “houses like paper sculptures – houses / so delicate when the wind rips high – / almost nothing to them.” Marchan’s lyric is multitudinous, energized and set to a powerful music of violence, distance, poverty and disconnection, charting a sequence of overlapping voices throughout the eye of the storm: “So much of me is bayonet. // Bayonet. You be the // bayonet I’ll be the // bayonet I’ll be the // you the bayonet I’ll be // the be the wound I’ll be // the bayonet you be the // wound I’ll be the wound // I’ll be the bayonet wound // you be the wound I’ll be the // wound you the bayonet you be // the wound I’ll be the wound //// You don’t know how to // nothing about me.” I’m amazed by Marchan’s language, one that shifts from the short-form of texting to lyric examination to full glottal-stop, raising and raking and raging within a collage that swirls with a complexity as full as the storm itself.


I drove as you slept with your forehead heat
flushed against the glass. Radio off.
Highways west found us some calm
land flattened more and became clean—
our last-minute evacuation to Dallas,
land of swimming pools, to save us.


what’s it culled

what      culled

what is held

can be


insistent foil

h e a v e

what beauty

had    lush

a lush perimeter

surround me

Hers is a love poem to a city and a document of the people within, during a particularly dark time in the city’s history, writing out a devastation of losses, both from without and within. “It’s the inside that knows so much / nothing & // nothing // & nothing & I repeat / myself so far ahead of me / when I catch up, it echoes.” In a recent interview on the collection for New Delta Review, conducted by Lauren Burgess, Marchan responds:

JM: This cluster of questions might resonate through my answer in ways that may veer toward the reductive, so I’m just going to pop it open a bit. I wrote SWOLE for home—and that place is there and isn’t there. New Orleans (the dream) is slipperier than this book (or any book at all) can hold. New Orleans (the place) is bigger than one voice can say, which is why it’s important to keep grasping and saying, even as we sink slowly into the ocean. New Orleans isn’t an identity to me—it’s something I try to pull close to me to understand how to be human. (Other times, she tries to swallow me instead—another way of understanding how to be human—)

As a general comment, it is fucked up to write anything about New Orleans that is devoid of black and Creole people. This place and its culture and its sound are their legacy. What we eat, what we dance to, how we treat people—that is part of their legacy and their gift to this place. Life here is saturated with this culture. You cannot unhear it. You should never try to. We could lose it one day, along with so many other things, under the heft of gentrification, political and economic instability, political and environmental destruction…

Collage, palimpsest, masking, transliteration, mondegreens, the fragment, the code switch, the erasure—these were modes that I used to organize the debris/the writing, mostly because these are the modes through which I process the world. This is how I sort through stuff. I write because I am trying to figure out where my language (the stuff that erupts out of my heart and out of my face) comes from. (I don’t feel naturally or easily coherent or articulate, in like a standard, buttoned-up way. I have to work really hard to be understood, turn myself inside out with that effort. It makes me really anxious to say that explicitly—like I’ll get kicked out of some club for not perfectly legibly articulating everything all the time.)

The book I wrote isn’t a facsimile of a single speaker that is (more or less) a thing like me. My friends, family, and neighbors are in there. I tried to write my community in there along with the specter of collective trauma, and I fully accept that the work is never finished. How could it be? There are so many gaps, so many things that aren’t addressed in part because I am so limited in my body, memory, ability, and words. I don’t try to catalog all our losses because it’s impossible. The act of saying doesn’t make the loss stop, doesn’t make the lost thing reappear as a whole thing, doesn’t plug the hole.

I grew up here. I’m still growing up here. I’m running out of space but another time, I will talk about what I’ve learned about Bulbancha, St. Malo, “broken” English, x…, x…, x…, x…

Saturday, June 15, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Stuart Buck

Stuart Buck is a poet and artist living in North Wales. His debut collection of poetry, Casually Discussing the Infinite, peaked at 89 on Amazons World Poetry chart and his second book Become Something Frail was released on Selcouth Station Press in 2019. When he is not writing or reading poetry, he likes to cook, juggle and listen to music. He suffers terribly from tsundoku - the art of buying copious amounts of books that he will never read.

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 what you may call ‘a learning curve’. I only submitted to one place and they accepted but to be honest I should have taken my time and chosen more wisely. They shall remain un-named but suffice to say the book was riddled with errors despite me getting it proof read twice, they added and took away lines from my work without asking and to round it off nicely I never received a penny of royalties despite the book making it to #89 on Amazons world poetry chart. From my end, I put too many poems in that really should not have been there. I wanted to produce a full-length collection but really, I only had a chapbook amount of work that was worthy. It still received positive reviews and it was definitely a positive experience because I have learned a lot from it.

Compared to my first work, Become Something Frail is night and day. It is much shorter, far more focused and I think it tells a story rather than just being random poems. I actually took the time to focus on the flow of the work and it shows. It is probably the thing I am most proud of creating and for someone like me that pours everything in to their work, that is something special.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I was a chef for most of my working life. Ninety hour weeks were nothing special and I had zero social life outside drinking with my workmates. One day I just had enough, I put my knives down and walked out. I thoroughly advocate this if you can afford to do it, however I couldn’t really. So after several extremely rough months I managed to stabilise and started writing Haiku and Tanka. I had never written anything before but enjoyed the constraints of the short form. I started posting some online, then submitting to journals. A few got picked up and, because I had some time on my hands, I thought I would try longer works.

Poetry suits me far more than fiction or non-fiction. I have the attention span of a nine year old and, though I have tried in the past, can never anchor myself in to anything above a page or so. I admire fiction writers hugely, because it takes self-control and discipline. Something I completely lack.

Poetry allows me to work with what I have. I wear my heart on my sleeve and float around the clouds most days. I dream vividly and I think all this allows me a certain  freedom on the page that would not be present if I had to create characters, narrative ect. Most of my poems are vignettes. I will get a scene in my head and it literally will not leave until I create something from it.

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?
Quickly and like a bolt of lightning. My poems take about ten minutes to write on average. I do not edit my work at all, I am a big believer of getting the words out of my brain on to the page as quickly and painlessly as possible. I know it is an unpopular opinion, but I think editing adds a layer of dishonesty to your words. Or rather, it would to mine. I want people to read my work and understand what the hell is going on inside me. I want them to feel what I feel not what I have carefully selected for them to feel. Does that make sense?

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?
It is hard to describe where an idea takes root for me. It starts as a image every time. A diner. A forest. A memory. Then I open up Word and it just flows out of me. I post a lot of my work online (on social media or poetry sites) and honestly, from the image flashing in my head until people are reading it can be just ten/fifteen minutes. It keeps my work current. Not topical, but current in terms of what I am thinking. I suffer from self-doubt a lot but I would rather write and create on my terms than any other way. I want people to enjoy what I write because I have lived  and breathed it, not because I am good at tailoring my creativity based on what is popular. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do read sometimes at poetry nights. I started off an extremely nervous performer but now, honestly, I love it when I am screaming out my dirtiest secrets to a bunch of shocked people, their eyes boring in to me. Brilliant.

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?
Life, the universe and everything. Everything stems from confusion I think. I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what happens when we die, I don’t know what effect certain events from my youth have on my adult life. I am scared and I think that is the best way to be. Look around. Everything is fucking terrifying. That is what my latest work, Become Something Frail, is all about. Letting people know that it is OK to be a mess. It is OK to allow yourself the time and energy to process what it is all about. And if you can't, that is OK too. It is OK to be weak, to be frail. Society projects this image on to us through social media, the news channels etc that the only way to function and get by is by being normalised, by fitting in to the pockets of humanity that have been prescribed by people that, let's be honest, have absolutely no fucking idea what the majority of us are feeling, thinking. What we go through.

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?
Creative people in general are culture. I don’t think there is a larger culture. Everything stems from creation and that is what we are trying to do. Apart from that, all there is is conformity and acceptance.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I never edit my work and I wouldn’t be happy with anyone else doing it either to be honest. I have been extremely lucky in terms of my publisher this time round. She saw my vision and ran with it and for that I am hugely grateful. I want to produce art on my own terms. It’s naïve and counter-productive but that is me all over!

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In terms of writing, the best piece of advice I have ever heard is read. Just keep reading.
In terms of life as a whole I find it very hard to go beyond Tom Waits - ‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me that a frontal lobotomy’

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?
None what so ever I am afraid. I am an insomniac extraordinaire, I sleep in patches when I can. I am also very dyspraxic which means I find it difficult to maintain any form of routine. Almost everything I create happens the same way, with my legs crossed in bed, laptop tilted towards me. But it can happen at 5am or 5pm. I am governed by my mental health to such a degree that I am often surprised I can do anything beyond make myself toast and brush my teeth.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Well recently I have started making digital art and that is a wonderful way to get away from words but still be creative. I have had some success with it despite only using a basoc program and starting it a few months ago. I have been asked to design book covers, have had art in journals etc. So I turn to that now. I also love arty-farty cinema. So Tarkovsky, Tarr, Lynch, Jodorowsky. Things like that. So much inspiration.

Oh and I juggle. Helps with my coordination and my mental focus (well, it is supposed to)

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Brilliant question. Modelling glue. When I was younger I was basically the kid from Salem's Lot (the model collector not the vampire). I made models, played board games etc. So whenever I smell modelling glue it reminds me of my youth and therefore my home.

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 think everything should influence your words. For me personally, I love scientific discoveries. I read a lot of Reddit posts, mostly about what new rock they have found in outer space or (this is topical!) the new photo of a black hole. The first one ever. For me, that desire to know more and that passion fuels me. I want there to be so much more for everyone. I just wish we could pull together and explore space together rather than find new ways to destroy each other. Am I idyllic? Possibly.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The very first poet I read was Ginsberg. I fell in love with his bombardment of fragmented imagery. I read poetry constantly and would struggle to name people who stand out for me, as I enjoy so many broad works. I love the work of Andrew McMillan and Kaveh Akbar so I will opt for them, but for me it has never been easier to access work that resonates.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Own a dog. I have never been in the right situation but that wholesome love and adoration that you would give to each other, that is what I am grasping for. I have been lucky really, I have travelled extensively, fallen in love, had my heart broken, lived in a cult, been scared, alone, as one. I have had a full life but I have never had a dog. Tragedy really.

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?
My skilled trade is cooking. I worked in some really good restaurants and held my own. But the hours and the pay were laughable. I was reading an article on Vice the other day about salary men in Japan working 60 hour weeks and thought ‘damn that’s not much’. It is honestly that bad. 

As far as another occupation, I would work with animals I think. Is dog-petter an occupation? Because if it is then that.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The pressing need to release the stream of thoughts and desires in my head. I have found no better way to do it than through poetry. It is my one true love.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Last great book would be Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. His poetry is wonderful and his use of language and memory is really second to none.

Last great film was Werckmeister Harmonies by Bela Tarr. Amazing film, 39 shots in 130 minutes. Meditative and extraordinary.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I write. I make art. But I have no plan really. Just create and try to be the best I can be. The words will curate themselves when they are ready. My job is just to write them down.

Does that sound pretentious? I think it does.

I am a bit pretentious really.