Sunday, February 28, 2021

Wayne Miller, We the Jury


Child, look: we’re building a house.
We’re claiming space from the air,

celling it off, then moving through
as though we haven’t just built
the floor we’re standing on.

Clouds of language fill our rooms.
The neighbors think—
who really know? Air branches

and unbranches inside us, this laden air
that fills our time. Then
the floor opens and we never land. (“ON PROGRESS”)

I’m startled by the poems that make up Denver, Colorado poet Wayne Miller’s fifth full-length poetry title, We the Jury (Minneapolis MN: Milkweed Editions, 2021), a collection of lyrics on public executions, American justice, family and what we fail to understand. In an array of simultaneously devastating and stunningly beautiful lyrics, Miller writes on culture, class and race, and the implications of how America has arrived at this particular point in time; poems on trauma, death and violence, hidden beauty and America’s uneasy ease with what people are willing to endure, and willing to impart. There is an unerring lightness to his lyrics; a remarkable precision, as an arrow piercing the reeds to reach an impossible target. As he writes at the end of the short sequence “RAIN STUDY,” one of multiple poems that write on and around the subject of rain: “On the undersurface / of a raindrop / as it falls: // a fisheyed reflection / of the ground / rising at tremendous speed // and that’s it—” Or how he writes of a bird at the airport at the opening of “THE FUTURE,” “A bird in the airport / hopping among our feet— // dun puffed chest, / a sparrow I think— // collecting bits of popcorn / beside the luggage // while invisible speakers / fill the air with names // of cities irrelevant / to the air outside // from which this bird / has become mysteriously // separated.” Miller strikes at the intimate heart of so many subjects, and it is the intimacy through which he attends that provide these pieces with so much power. His is an unflinching, steady gaze, and he clearly feels and sees deeply, attending to the world around him through a lyric that manages to unpack complex ideas across a handful of carved, crafted lines. The poem “ON PROGRESS,” for example, “PARABLE OF CHILDHOOD” or “ON HISTORY” providing, in their own ways, master classes in how one writes out such complexity and contradiction of ideas and emotion; how to pack into a small space that which can’t be easily explained or described. In Miller’s poems, he knows that judgement is not the same as comprehension, and rarely synonymous with justice, healing or absolution; he knows his country, and his culture, has much to atone, and even more to acknowledge, so willing to pass over events for the next one, fully ignoring the implications, the trauma or the patterns. These are poems, also, impossible to excerpt, given an excerpt couldn’t provide the full experience, the full picture. Instead, I will offer the short poem “CARILLION,” that harkens back to the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, that reads, in full:

Phones were ringing

in the pockets of the living
and the dead

the living stepped carefully among.
The whole still room

Was lit with sound—like a switchboard—
and those who could answer

said hello. Then
it was just the dead, the living

trapped inside their clothes,
ringing and ringing them—

and this was
the best image we had

of what made us a nation.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Staycation day #351 :

Behind on everything, but working on my usual array of this, that, etcetera. The past few weeks, sketching out a handful of short stories, thinking about poems, and working on reviews. Working on a mound of above/ground press items, now that Ontario’s further layer of lockdowns, set on December 26, have finally lifted. And still, working up to the first anniversary of the original lockdown, which was, I will remind, was two days before my fiftieth birthday: my entire fifties-to-date on lockdown. And more than twelve hundred letters composed and mailed out since the original lockdown began. Can you believe it? Still, the past couple of weeks moving far slower than usual, as though walking through mud, or molasses. What happened to my attempts at two reviews a week? Everything moves so stupid-slow. Lethargy. I have been in the house too long, even for me.

I’ve been working through the late American fiction writer Bobbie Louise Hawkins’ One Small Saga (Brooklyn NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020) lately, a novella reissued from its original 1984 publication. I hadn’t read her work before, but somehow managed to discover a copy of her Almost Everything (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1982) on our bookshelves downstairs. It even still has the January 1999 price-sticker from the late, lamented Toronto staple, This Ain’t The Rosedale Library. I remember finding and purchasing that book, some two decades back. Why did I never open it? Too many other distractions, most likely. Too many other items picked up on that same Toronto trip, or whatever it was I was doing. What was I doing? That was back in the days when I would tour and scour bookstores across the country, mailing home boxes to myself that jwcurry would collect and go through, before I returned. Her work is prompting some slow movement through prose. A couple more short stories completed and sent out, sketched and sketched and re-sketched during my mornings lifeguarding our wee girls during their e-learnings.

On Wednesday, we finally hired movers to collect the family piano from the homestead and bring it over, the last bit of post-father homestead before my sister’s new tenant moved in. I took more than a dozen years of lessons, but have barely played since the 1980s, so this has been a plan a long time coming. The movers brought it up our front steps and into our front room with great difficulty, and didn’t find it nearly as hiliarious as I did, when, right after they set it in place, I loudly asked Christine if “we really needed it moved into the basement, after all.”

The last time this piano was moved was in 1976, when my father, his hired man and my six year old self hopped into the pick-up to drive the two-plus hours from the farm into Kemptville, to collect it from my great-grandparent’s house. Family lore has it that my mother’s maternal grandparents, Joseph John and Mary Caroline Cassidy Swain, purchase the piano new so my maternal grandmother (and most likely my grandmother’s sister) could take lessons as kids. It needs serious cleaning, and possibly repair. Tuning, certainly. One thing at a time. Rose was extremely excited at the prospect of lessons, something I’ve been whispering into her ear for more than a year now. Right now, the young ladies plink at it, and perhaps get comfortable with it in our space, and get comfortable with playing, learning. Seeing how it feels. Hearing how it sounds.

The other night, the young ladies took turns playing while the other one would dance. It was a whole thing. Each played, while re-telling a story. I think Aoife’s was “Cinderella.”

Otherwise, what else? Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading Rose that first Anne of Green Gables novel at bedtime, which I’m a bit surprised she’s taken to so heavily. I suppose she’s the right age for it. Usually we take turns putting each child down for bedtime, reading stories and such, but Rose and Aoife “made a deal” across a couple of nights so she could get further bits of it read to her, and Aoife prefers when Christine puts her to bed, so that worked out for everyone. I’m surprised at the language; rather ornate, really. Pretty interesting to read aloud, especially when one considers it was published in 1908. I mean, my only experience with prose of the era, pretty much, are those semi-religious novels that Glengarry-esque novelist Ralph Connor was putting out, and those were only a couple of years earlier. Glengarry School Days was 1902, after all. His was a very different kind of prose. There’s a lovely music to her work I wasn’t expecting, and a language that occasionally requires me to explain a word to Rose (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given she absorbs everything). I never did read these when I was young. I went through the Narnia books, Pippi Longstocking and Doctor Doolittle and even Cheaper by the Dozen, and and latched onto comics pretty early, so went over in that direction, instead. My eldest daughter, Kate, in her turn, went through the Green Gables novels when she was young, but said she preferred the Road to Avonlea books, saying they were better written. Not long after that, she burned through a stack of most, if not all, of the novels by all of those Austens.

And finally, after weeks of prodding, poking and excitement, Rose lost her first tooth the other night. She’s already composed a note requesting it back, a note we found in her room. Apparently she didn’t get a chance to show her lost tooth to Aoife. Might the Tooth Fairy require the money back?

Friday, February 26, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Taryn Hubbard

Taryn Hubbard’s poetry, fiction, reviews, and interviews have been included in journals such as Canadian Literature, Room magazine, The Capilano Review, Canadian Woman Studies, CV2, filling Station, carte blanche, subTerrain, and others. She holds a BA in English and Communications from Simon Fraser University, a certificate in journalism from Langara College, and a diploma in Adult Education and Teaching. Hubbard lives, writes and teaches in Maple Ridge where she is the current Artist-in-Residence at the Port Haney House in Maple Ridge with her partner Aaron Moran. Her first book, Desire Path, debuted from Talonbooks in September 2020. Find out more at

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

Desire Path is my first full-length published book. So far, it’s changed my life in the simple sense that I was able to work with a publisher who supported my writing. I’m also feeling ready to move on from the concepts I explored in this book to the next project freely and clearly now that this collection has been published.

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

I’ve always written poetry and fiction concurrently. I focused on a manuscript of poetry first because the early pieces I wrote held their relevance to me much better than my early short stories so it felt more natural to collect those into a manuscript. Writing fiction has taken more practice.

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?

Often, the first draft of something will come together quickly. Then I let it sit and I get some needed space from it before reapproaching it again for editing. The editing process takes much, much longer for me. Sometimes years.

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?

I work on smaller pieces that I realized one day fit together. I like this approach better than working on a “book” right from the beginning. This way I’m able to explore different avenues of what I’m thinking without having to worry about how it fits together with what else I’ve written from the get-go. Right now, I’m working on a novel and that’s a whole other process, but for my poetry book and my short story manuscript, those came together as pieces written over multiple years.

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

Sometimes after a reading I feel encouraged to keep going and/or inspired by the other readers who performed with me, but I wouldn’t say it’s a huge part of my interest as a writer. I’m always honoured to be invited to read but, in general, it doesn’t fuel me creatively.

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 a lot of my work, I’m concerned with millennials, the Great Recession, work/labour and suburban space. No matter what, these ideas keep popping up in my work.

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 have a significant role in our larger culture, from exploring contemporary issues to just plain entertainment. There is something special and important about reading a really good story or poem that brings the reader somewhere new. Writing is about communicating an experience or an idea in a way that draws the reader in.

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

I see working with an outside editor as an opportunity to understand my writing through a new lens, to get important feedback, and to learn more about thinking through an entire book from start to finish. This is essential.  

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

I’ve always liked the advice to write what you want to read. For me, that means exploring the ideas I’m interested in and attempting to offer something from my own perspective.

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

Often, I’ll focus on one genre for a fair amount of time before switching to another genre. I’m not a writer who works on a short story and poetry at the same time. These days, I often switch between writing the first draft of my novel and editing my short story collection. It’s nice to have something else to work on when I need a break from one thing, though I try to keep focused as I don’t have a lot of time in the week for writing.

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?

The key for me is trying to wake up earlier than my toddler! I’m a morning writer and most productive first thing after I wake up when I can focus just on the words in front of me and the house is quiet. I’m a believer in utilizing the time I have, whether it’s an hour or even less some days. Over the years, I’ve become dedicated to my routine and it’s amazing how quickly writing will accumulate with consistency by sticking to a plan. If I don’t feel like writing one morning, I’ll look at administrative tasks like updating my website or submitting to journals as a way to keep the momentum going.

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

A walk outside for some fresh air, some good music, a nice cup of coffee. I might go to the library to discover a new author.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I do like my essential oil infuser. Eucalyptus, lavender, sage.

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’m with McFadden on this one. I’m most inspired by reading other writing.

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

Chris Kraus, Lorrie Moore, Meg Wolitzer, Miriam Toews, Harryette Mullen, Elizabeth Strout, Juliana Spahr, Marie Annharte Baker.

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

Publishing my first book in the middle (beginning? never ending?) of a global pandemic has shifted my perspectives on things but I still would like to travel more—when it’s safe to do so.

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?

Some days I really do wonder why I bother writing these manuscripts, but then I realize I really do enjoy it. It’s amazing what can happen with a little planning and a lot of focus. I work full-time and writing is something I fit in alongside everything else. I can’t imagine not having something like writing to do and I like how portable it is. When we were able to linger in public, I used to like writing in cafes, libraries, and mall food courts.

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

I was first drawn to writing as a kid because I liked theatre and I used to write these page-long monologues. It’s funny to think about that now. I tried painting as a teenager but that didn’t work out well. I was interested in photography for a spell. What I’ve realized is that, for me, with my time crunch, it’s important to stick to what I like the most and that’s writing.

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

Last book I read was Stephen King’s Elevation. I was brushing up on novellas in preparation for the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest, which I took part in this past Labour Day weekend. The contest was a lot of fun and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for some ridiculous daily word count goals. Now I’m reading Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten Year Nap. Up next is Want by Barbara Langhorst, it just sounded so good.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m currently editing my first short story collection, which centres around friendship, labour and technology, as well as working on a full-length novel.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;