Friday, July 30, 2021

Anselm Berrigan, Something For Everybody



the men walked on in silence
passing by long ruins of stables
they walked through several

corridors in silence, passing
by several again, the rest keeping

silence, passing by Roxanes, a
commander of a thousand men

trudging the rest of the way in
silence, passing by the Ichiraku

ramen stand and the library
drove east in silence, passing

by Hochstadt, Mönchenholzhausen
and Weimar, across new halls

of silence, passing by an old
and gigantic tree, which has

miraculous properties in the
hearts of those who are thus

in speechless and pensive silence
passing by the slamming stops

for a moment, the eerie silence
passing by again, until there is

one final large slam and the door
to rooms shatters open toward

Silence Passing by Paul Klee
strange moods of silence passing

by without word or comment
facts of striking interest & sig-

nificance, streams of awkward
people, & the silence at hand

I’m behind on everything (as you know), so I’m just now getting to New York “poet, teacher, editor and occasional publisher” Anselm Berrigan’s latest, Something For Everybody (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2018). Comprised as an assemblage of incredibly sharp and predominantly self-contained poems, Berrigan’s is a poetic of accumulation and fragment, one formed at the apex of his collision of words and phrases. One could look no further to the opening of “ILLANELLE,” for example, that writes: “A ginger ancestor played human by takes // Her tickling shines this discarded grinning // My jumbo warp fetish threadbare on the make [.]” His is a poetic of twists and tweaks, writing a wide space and an open form that furthers a trajectory begun by earlier of the New York School of Poets (including, obviously, his parents: Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley). One can see the lineage, although there are elements of Berrigan’s poetic that could also connect to the accumulation of language employed by certain of the Kootenay School of Writing poets, namely Jeff Derksen.

The author of more than a half-dozen full-length works of poetry, Berrigan’s poems in Something For Everybody are sharp, self-aware and playful, employing a variety of structures and rhythms through his accumulations. There is an enormous amount of play here, wryly worked, from sly jokes that centre around a three-word poem, or the five poems set back-to-back that share the same title, “JIM BRODEY.” These poems are most likely composed, one might surmise, in homage for the late poet and rock music critic Jim Brodey (1942-1993) who was, as his Poetry Foundation biography offers, a “literary figure in 1960s New York City, he was friends with many experimental poets, artists, and musicians.” As the first poem for Brodey offers: “It’s getting hard to have me around too Jim / So I write you under yellow light leaning / Into some waylaid framed dimensions tearing off [.]” One might almost wonder if this is a collection that emerged organically, as poems less forming a specific book-length structure, but one of “occasions” that began to shape into a larger structure, thus the “something for everybody.” And yet, these poems are incredibly tight, without a wasted word or loose thread; to paraphrase Canadian poet Don McKay, Berrigan’s poems are “lines that any bird might trust to light upon.”

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Leanne Dunic, One and Half of You


First, there were them, and them, and them.
Then more. Faces mixed. A pocket here, a
clan there. landscapes shifted – people, too.

Communities disappeared.

And now there is me. I will draw you some maps.

West Coast writer and musician Leanne Dunic’s latest, following To Love the Coming End (Toronto ON: Book*hug/Chin Music Press, 2017) [see my review of such here] and The Gift (Book*hug, 2019), is the long poem lyric memoir One and Half of You (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2021). One and Half of You is a treatise on sibling love, and seeking a space of comfort and comprehension; an examination on identity and growing up. A book-length collection of lyrics that accumulate across a narrative around mixed-race identities, gender and sexual preference, Dunic writes a fragmented composed of short bursts, prose knots and breaths. Dunic writes on growing up into and against a set of expectations that don’t quite fit, experiencing homophobia and racist presumptions and attacks and dismissals. Dunic’s small sections focus on the intimate, seeking to articulate a mapping of how one gets to here. “Funny that the girl from my kindergarten / class remembers my Ghostbuster-crush / more than me kissing her nearly every day. / When I think of her, that’s what I remember.”

The lyrics that make up One and Half of You are set as a long thread, nearly an endurance; a book that attempts to navigate the complications of self against shortsighted social limitations. “At recess,” Dunic writes, early on in the collection, “the older kids taunted, <are you a / boy or a girl?> I was pretty sure I was a girl / but didn’t understand why I wanted to kiss / boys and girls when I knew I wasn’t / supposed to. Gender didn’t matter. Age / didn’t either; I recall not just kissing my / classmates, but the grey-haired school / principal too. I loved to love.”

Chinatown, four-by-ten room, the gap between
books. Paper and beeswax. Scent captive
like insects in resin. Selves we shelve for

future reference. Discover intimacy of sleep.
Difficult to catalogue, love is full of defiant

Compulsions. Inhale. Wear it like rubies.

Set in three sections, each with accompanying soundtrack to be found on the Talonbooks website, Dunic speaks of subtle and overt anti-Asian racisms, from those personally experienced to those further out in the community. She speaks of evolution, change and shifts. “Displacement is / a pattern, not a single occurrence.” Akin to Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle’s SIR (2019) [see my review of such here], Dunic seeks an orientation as much as an articulation through this lyric memoir, working a poetic framed as a sibling portrait that extends out to the family unit and the larger community, and returning to the author/narrator as a counterpoint. The portrait centres on the relationship and interactions between the two, and both the distances and connections that can’t help but keep them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tamar Rubin

Tamar Rubin is a writer and physician, and has published her poetry in both literary and medical journals. Her first full-length collection, Tablet Fragments, was published in 2020, by Signature Editions. She currently lives with her husband and two young children in Winnipeg, the original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Metis nation.

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

After my book was published in April 2020, I stayed home from work for 6 months. I hardly saw friends or family in person. I was staying up all hours of the night, reading and writing. Our little street in Winnipeg was closed to traffic, thrumming with hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists, dawn till dusk. It kind of felt like the apocalypse.

But also, my second son, Jonah, had just been born, only weeks after my scheduled (then rescheduled) book launch. It was the height of the first COVID lockdown. I had a very energetic and under-stimulated toddler on my hands.

I don’t know if the book changed my life, or my life changed coinciding with the book. Getting it out there was anticlimactic, after so many years of hard work, but I was also strangely relieved. I had managed to safely smuggle a relic of my old world into this bizarre new one.

The clean and dramatic transition has filled me with energy and excitement for the next project. My first book was almost a decade in the making, but this next one feels more intentional, urgent, focused. Again, maybe it’s the deadly virus and impish toddlers lurking in the background.

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

I think I was born wired that way. I think in poetry. When people talk to me, I’m listening to the rhythm of their words, rearranging sounds and phrases in my mind. Visualizing how the sounds would fall onto a page.  

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 style is intuitive, flowing. The poems come out quickly. I edit them just as fast, multiple times over, over years and months. Sometimes the earlier versions work better, and sometimes the final version is unrecognizable from the first.

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?

So far I am only one book in, so it’s hard to say. This recent book grew out of many shorter pieces that came together. The next one is a more focused project.

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

I am an introvert at heart. I also love to see the words on a page when I read other peoples’ poetry, and sometimes my own work is quite visual too. I think slowly, and I’m always trying to catch up with the last metaphor when I’m listening to others’ readings. So I feel like something is lost in a live reading. I prefer to sit down with a book and digest it slowly. That being said, sometimes the exercise of reading a poem out loud in front of an audience has unearthed flaws in the piece, or elicited useful feedback that subsequently led to improvements.

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?

While studying medicine, I learned about the concepts of “narrative reflective practice” and “critical reflection.” These ideas have always resonated with me, and so in my own writing I am trying to construct and deconstruct stories. What makes people see things the way they do?    What makes people act the way do?

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?

The writer is a spiritual leader: a person who can draw people away from loneliness and toward communion. It does not matter what the story is about, or even if that story is part of your accessible experience as the reader. The writer unlocks worlds, teleports you into their beauty, or banality, their vulnerability and their power. A writer is anyone who can do this.

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

For me it was a wonderful experience working with my editor, Clarise Foster. She challenged me and then challenged me some more. She was usually spot on in her assessments, and my work emerged stronger, as a result. I am always profoundly grateful (and also amazed) that someone is actually willing to sit down and analyze my work so carefully.

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

I read somewhere that there should be two criteria for deciding when to say something: 1. Is it kind? and 2. Is it necessary? Whenever I’ve messed up, it’s often because I didn’t adequately consider these questions. But I’ve also learned as a writer, that sometimes, even when things are not kind, they are necessary.

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?

I’m currently in a challenging (but also wonderful) phase of my life where my full-time medical practice and (full-time) motherhood have superseded any other structure in my life. These days I’m up at (or before) the crack of dawn, and I sleep as soon as my kids fall asleep. I’m a pretty disciplined person in general, and so I’m hoping that once my kids figure out how to read, or at least sleep, I’ll get back to a regular hour or two of writing every morning or evening. At the moment, I write when I can!

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

I read great writers. I get myself to Algonquin Park (or Lake of the Woods, more recently). I go to work and I listen to peoples’ stories.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of 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 read a lot of medical literature. I talk to people about their health. I studied science and math before I became a doctor. Sometimes when I write a poem, I feel like I am balancing a complex equation, making each word and sentence add up when read up and down, or left to right. 

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

Here are a few, in no particular order: Alice Oswald, Edward Jenner, Leonard Cohen, the Hebrew Bible, Rita Charon, Ocean Vuong, Ken Babstock, Shmuel HaNagid, Yehuda Amichai.

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

Dance at my childrens’ weddings. Will there even be weddings then? Will they even want one? I’d also love to take some formal literature courses. I fantasize about going back to school on a daily basis.

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?

I feel pretty lucky to have two wonderful jobs. I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. I always wish there was more time in the day.

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

I know that double negatives are bad. But I can’t not.

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

Last great book: Tell them it was Mozart, by Angeline Schellenberg. Also: Difficult Women, by Roxanne Gay. I don’t think I’ve sat through more than a few minutes of a movie in a few years.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a series of “genetic poetry,” exploring such things as how experience integrates into your DNA, and how your immune system forms memories.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;