Monday, April 19, 2021

Khashayar Mohammadi, Me, You, Then Snow

 

Close your eyes. Picture your ego and draw.

A blue whale? A deep trail? Roots.

                        Lover’s kiss and mother’s bones
                       
Fickle thoughts                        reminiscent
                       
Last oyster uncleft
 

Close your eyes. Picture my heart and draw.

A cave? Pebble-dashed. Roots. 

Each pebble cast into encircling lakes.
Each ripple unfolds into you. (“Moes’ Skin”)

An Iranian-born writer and translator based in Toronto, Khashayar Mohammadi is the author of the long-awaited full-length poetry debut, Me, You, Then Snow (Guelph ON: Gordon Hill Press, 2021), a book of lyric compassion, epistolary gestures, film references and porn stars, and first-person explorations of memory, dreams, desire and personal histories. “You’re aching,” he writes, as part of the poem-section “Dear Kestrel,” “and while aching / you promise yourself you’ll be beautiful forever [.]” Later on, in the poem “Bergman’s ‘Persona,’” he writes: “to see oneself in the actress / is to make a leap of faith / a cultural martyrdom / of imagery [.]”

Me, You, Then Snow is organized into five sections, the first two of which are constructed as self-contained suites/sequences: “Moes’ Skin,” “Dear Kestrel,” “Salon,” “In Loving Memory of Midnight” and “Homohymns.” I do find it odd any book that doesn’t include a proper acknowledgements, not referencing but for a single publishing credit, especially knowing that the first two sections were originally published as chapbooks: Moe’s Skin (Windsor ON: ZED PRESS, 2018) and Dear Kestrel (Toronto ON: knife│fork│book, 2019) [see my review of such here]. An acknowledgements is, quite literally, about acknowledging those journals and other publications that offered support, and can often provide certain readers a context. The sole reference included is editor and publisher of the second title, Kirby, thanked for the sake of producing Dear Kestrel. A writer, translator and photographer, Mohammadi is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including the more recent Solitude is an Acrobatic Act (above/ground press, 2020), as well as the translator of Saeed Tavanaee Marvi’s chapbook-length THE OCEANDWELLER (above/ground press, 2021), as well as currently working on a full length poetry collaboration with the Toronto poet Terese Mason Pierre.

As part of a 2019 interview on the Invisible Publishing site, Shazia Hafiz Ramji asked Mohammadi about the chapbook Dear Kestrel:

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: How did you arrive at the title of your chapbook, Dear Kestrel?

Khashayar Mohammadi: A few years ago, during a very rough time in my life, I started writing small prose-poems addressed to my dear friend Ke, whom this book is dedicated to. I started every piece with “Dear Kestrel,” and after a while I found this epistolary format both intimate and endearing. I also enjoyed the ambiguity of “kestrel,” the lack of age, gender, etc. allowed each reader to imagine a different person, so I kept writing poems in this format in the years to come, when they weren’t even addressed to Ke herself. None of these poems in this chapbook directly address Ke, it’s just a format that started with her, the primordial Kestrel! 

The difference of Moe’s Skin to “Moes’ Skin” is a curious one, reminiscent of the difference between Leonard Cohen’s fifth studio album, Death of a Ladies’ Man (released November 13, 1977) and his subsequent poetry title, Death of a Lady’s Man (published September 27, 1979). The difference between these is rather clear, from the plural to the singular, but Mohammadi’s shift is less so. What is the difference? And yet, whether writing poems to “Moe,” epistolary poems to “Kestrel” or poems responding to film, the poems in Me, You, Then Snow accumulate into a collection of response poems, placing the narrator in the world in relation to those around them. In poems such as “Canada Day 2019,” “Greg’s goodbye party” and “Pastoral,” Mohammadi centres the narrative “I” in relation to other people and experiences with travel, love, desire and media, all of which reaches out as a way to explore inward. Poems that seek connection, safety and love. The title moves, ripples, outward from “Me” to “You” and then the abstract-beyond, “Then Snow,” all of which seems to sum up perfectly the perspective here, although with a looking outward in part to better comprehend the self, and the narrator’s relationship with any and all else. “I hone my desire to feel more in tune with my past,” he writes, as part of “No pockets ghazal,” “unibrow beauty         hairy arms beauty [.]” Or the poem “Anemone,” that opens: “When I speak of the body, I speak / of its ability / to reconnect and repair [.]” Further on in the same short poem, writing:

The lake is a body without organs.
I am an organ without a body.
My body is a schism between selves.

Each self is a homeland to the body.
So I lay down on the waterfront

to reconnect, extend limbs as an offering
of nautical community housing

and float weightless: an anemone


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Rob Winger, It Doesn’t Matter What We Meant


We’ve come here, cliffside, to admire
this steel assemblage poised against
tankers sluicing past the Western wharf.

And we’ve come without irony:
those flames, we say, that’s beauty.

From here, every shoreline forge is automatic. (“ESCARPMENT”)

Peterborough, Ontario-area (formerly Ottawa) poet Rob Winger’s fourth full-length collection, following Muybridge’s Horse (Gibson’s Landing BC: Nightwood Editions, 2007) [see my review of such here], The Chimney Stone (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2010) [see my review of such here] and Old Hat (2014), is It Doesn’t Matter What We Meant (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), constructed as an assemblage of poems that explore investigations into unintended consequences and system failures, wrong turns and other large and small disasters. “The crop-dusters,” he writes, as part of the poem “SCHOOL DISTRICT,” “from my father’s youth also meant no harm. They spread promise / across their fields. Their noxious clouds made every sunset sparkle.”

Set in five sections of poems—“STILL STILL,” “ALL BOAT,” “EACH HALF,” “JUST LINE” and “EVERY SPAN”—Winger’s poems reference speed traps, Voyageur 1, chemical infection, nuclear disaster and other consequences through an evocative series of meditative explorations. He leans into the absurd, to better offset an earnestness; to better present his arguments. “When I talk, again, about Voyager I / out there beyond the heliosphere,” he writes, to open the poem “A DOZEN MORNING TRANSLATIONS,” “what I really mean is that / none of us recalls the birth canal.” Moving through elements of time, It Doesn’t Matter What We Meant meditates on the immediate present, including how we may have arrived here, and what it might mean for the future, if we are even to have one. His poems hold a selection of moments up to the light, and force us to consider and even re-consider them, if even just for a moment. “These pre-apocalyptic wedding photos,” he writes, to open the poem “A PHOTO OF YOU AT ELEVEN.” The poem ends with: “This photo of you, at eleven, / then. Today’s the day / we took the picture. // Look.” There is something curious about the way Winger examines time, different periods and even the different aspects of storytelling, history and myth. Winger explores different facets of these, not wishing to present a single version or hold the weight of one over another. This is perhaps an extension of considerations he originally explored during the composition of his first collection, Muybridge’s Horse, discussed as part of an interview Alex Boyd conducted with Winger in August 2007:

Even to say “advances” in technology is a biased way to put it, but Muybridge is well known for certain accomplishments. What do you think technology does to our changing perceptions?

This is a lot of what the book tries to address, I hope. Part of what I think it does is create an illusion that the present moment is more complex, more complicated, more advanced, and more progressive than any other previous era in history, a view that is so non-relative and arrogant that it tends to dismiss historical periods as somehow primitive and therefore not as tough or central as our own time. This is a real problem, it seems to me, because it makes people forget historical precedence, and allows for a view of ourselves that is fundamentally arrogant, like a teenager insulting his/her grandparent because they don’t know how to use an iPod, without considering that these folks might have grown up without any of the technologies they’re used to, when war and segregation and violent misogyny were as big if not bigger problems than they are now. I suppose what I’m saying is that our own age has most of the same problems as every other age had; the idea that our perceptions are “changing” all the time, then, seems like a marketing ploy to sell ourselves a new, improved version of how things are. Have you ever heard that Tom Waits tune “Step Right Up”, where he advertises a product that will solve all of your metaphysical and personal troubles, no matter how big or small? Some of that attitude is what our obsession with technology does to our understanding of history, I think.

The second section of the book is made up of a curious array of response-poems, pieces influenced, sparked by or even directly responding to fairy tales, folk tales and more contemporary offerings: “LETTER TO IRON HEINRICH,” after “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich”; “A SOCIAL HISTORY OF TONE DEAFNESS,” after Adrienne Rich’s “Trying to Talk with a Man”; “LETTER TO A GRANDDAUGHTER,” after “The Story of Grandmother”; “RED TRUCK TREATY,” after “I have been losing roads” from Dionne Brand’s Land to Light On (1997); “DAUGHTER OF THE AIR,” after “The Little Mermaid”; “APPLE POEMS,” after Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems (1965); “LETTER FROM VASILISA’S HUNGRY GHOST,” after “Vasilisa the Beautiful”; “WHAT THEY SAY,” after Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”; and “BLUEBEARD’S LAST WILL,” after “Bluebeard.” I would be interested to hear some of Winger’s thoughts on the process of selecting and responding to these pieces, and how each might have been approached, each one exploring or building upon an aspect of their source. There is much going on in these pieces. “I’m writing, now,” he writes, as part of “LETTER TO IRON HEINRICH,” “to ask for the broken iron / that fell from your heart that morning.” Or this, the penultimate part of the six-part sequence “RED TRUCK TREATY,” that writes:

I didn’t want to have to teach you all this.
It’s not easy. Those statues by my pond
I inherited from my grandmother.

They’re just men holding lanterns,
fishing. They’re part of history is all.

Why can’t you leave well enough the fuck alone?

 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Molly Fuller

Molly Fuller is the author of the full-length collection For Girls Forged by Lightning: Prose & Other Poems (All Nations Press) and two chapbooks Tender the Body (Spare Change Press) and The Neighborhood PsychoDreams of Love (Cutty Wren Press). Her work has appeared in Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence, New Poetry from the Midwest, 100 Word Story, NANO Fiction, and Bellingham Review.  She is the recipient of a 2020 Artist Residency from both Vermont Studio Center and Wassaic Project. Fuller is the winner of the Gris Gris 2020 Summer Poetry Contest. You can find her on Instagram and twitter @mollyfulleryeah.





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 book, For Girls Forged by Lightning: Prose & Other Poems, was my entry into feeling like a “real” writer.  Before this, whenever I did readings, I was always the one reading off of a piece of paper.  I always admired the writers reading from a print journal, or a book, and I dreamt of having my own book to read from.  Even now, I am sometimes surprised by how much it means to me to be able to do a reading from my very own book--the tactile sensation of my own book is still a wonder to me.

I am working on about three projects right now.

1)    1) A book of short stories, which is clearly narrative-driven and is the least done.  This is me going back to my roots as a fiction writer.  I feel a little rusty, but I’m enjoying imagining my characters’ lives and really working/focusing on plot rather than language.

2)    2) A wildly experimental hybrid work that combines elements of all three genres and feels like it might be ready for the world.  This is autobiographical, language-driven, almost jazz-like in its musicality, and it’s very exciting.  It’s something that I re-read and think, How did I even create this? It’s wild and magical.

3)    3) A book of poetry that feels maybe more clearly recognizable as poetry, but still contains elements of language play.  This is what I am currently revising.

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

I actually have my MFA in Fiction, but when I first started teaching after my MFA, I was an adjunct at a couple of different schools.  I started writing little micro fictions whenever I had a spare minute (which was not often).  These little micros were also verging into prose poems (even though I didn’t know it at the time). Around this same time I got involved with a community-based arts co-op called, Buried Letter Press, and we did readings / variety shows in the community.  I met my now-husband, who is a poet, through this.  He read some of my new work and gave me a name for what I was doing: prose poetry.  He recommended some books to me and was very encouraging of my work.  So, from there, as my confidence improved, I really started to experiment with poetry.  Which sounds funny, “experiment with poetry,” haha!           

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 am a binge writer. I think projects percolate for a while and then they spill out.  I am not much of a planner.  Even in my fiction projects.  I am definitely the “write to discover” kind of writer.  The joy to me is seeing what happens as I create, rather than outline or follow a plan.  I am very much a reviser, so my work rarely starts out looking like the finished product.  Even in my wild/jazz-like project, I had pages and pages of fragments that I printed out, cut up, and taped to my wall.  From there, I organized my book into a coherent structure.  It looks nothing like what I started with.

4 - Where does a poem or 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?

Oh! This is such a great question.  As I said before I am a binger and a finder/discoverer. I only set out to write a book once, which is my MFA thesis project.  Everything since then has been a marvelous accident that has then tumbled into a book.  It’s fun to take my work and turn it into a book because I can see what my subconscious obsessions have been the whole time.

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

I really used to be terrified of doing readings.  The sweaty palms, knees-knocking, the whole bit.  Now I still get nervous, but much less so and I find readings to be exciting and it’s fun to try out a piece that perhaps you haven’t read out loud to an audience yet to gauge their reaction. 

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?

In my first book, I was very much concerned with talking about violence and objectification of women. I likened it to being akin to “poetry of witness,” to exposing the undersides of culture.  Things we like to cover up and hide.  My next project was much more autobiographical and about love and obsession and the muse.  My current project is about the body and loss and the loss that we are experiencing through climate change as a metaphor for personal loss that mirrors a greater societal experience of loss.

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?

Writers are the mirror.  We mirror the concerns of our time.  And sometimes culture wants to look away from this mirror.  Don’t let them. Write the hard things.  Confrontation might be my answer.  Or, in a gentler sense, being a chronicler / documentarian of the times.

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

I enjoy the process of working with an outside editor. I find it useful to get an outside opinion, an objective assessment, and someone who asks me to ask the tough questions about the poems/poetry manuscript. As a result, an outside editor often makes the work better, stronger, more varied.

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

I love the Dorothy Parker quote: “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” Pithy. Perfect.

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

I love love love moving between genres.  I think of it as like trying to solve a puzzle on the page with words.  I adore that last final snap of a sentence that brings the whole thing together.  It’s an addictive small joy.

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 have fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain disease.  So, I write when I feel well.  I almost feel a kind of weird compulsion to write when I am able because I never know when I am going to have to spend a day in bed or have a day where the brain fog makes working impossible.

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

I read old favorites.  I’m currently obsessed with John Hawkes’ Death, Sleep, and The Traveler. I read it at 22 and thought it was dreamy and sexy, but now at 40, I find it absolutely hilarious and such a study in craft.  I read it this past summer, found it just the other day again unpacking a box, and put it on my nightstand. I love Jean Rhys, Carole Maso, Marguerite Duras, and oh! The Unbearable Lightness of Being.     

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? 

Chocolate chip cookies.

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?

I love ekphrastic writing and find a lot of inspiration in art and going to museums. As of late, science and nature are heavily influencing my current project. I am jealous of writers who can write to music or dedicate a manuscript to an album because I need silence to write. I would say, though, that my poetry does have a very musical quality, and I can see and hear the influence on my work, especially when I give a reading.

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

Robert Miltner (haha! This is my husband), but, really, we have such a symbiotic writing relationship.  Many times we work across from each other at our giant kitchen table and I constantly harass him to read things for me and vise versa.  It is truly a gift to have an immediate, and such an astute, reader. 

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

As a writer, I would really like to either finish my unfinished novel or write a new one.

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?

A photographer.

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

Obsession.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;