Sunday, May 16, 2021

Barbara Nickel, Essential Tremor: poems

Saskatoon to Edmonton, December, Train

The town we used to visit is almost buried
in the dark. Pick out the rink and boarded
station, exhaust haloing an idling car.

Pick out the train’s bell flattening the more
we move away—now we’re the scene we saw

last winter from the road although
a year ahead and how far west who knows.

Midnight in the dome car: time enough
it seems, until the morning we arrive

then barely stop until another year
has passed. November is a train of cars

down the road spewing gravel and clearing
for once that night, town, its frosty ghosts; the one

we used to visit there is gone.

It is good to see a third full-length poetry collection by Yarrow, British Columbia writer Barbara Nickel, her Essential Tremor: poems (Caitlin Press, 2021), following The Gladys Elegies (Saskatoon SK: Coteau Books, 1997) and Domain: poems (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2007), as well as her collection of poems for younger readers, From the Top of a Grain Elevator (Vancouver BC: Beach Holme Publishers, 1999). The poems in Essential Tremor examine how to keep from getting lost, geographic missives and reportage, notes on her surroundings, offering “past / the tick-tock runway, docks, all moorings / recognizable or not, on the way to lost.” (“Passport”). “You ask me what I’ve given up: outside.” she writes, to open the poem “Anchoress (1),” “Need I elaborate?” She writes of the body, histories of loss and trauma, music and great stories, and poems that utilize Biblical passages as jumping-off points. She writes of the body, and the effect the world might have on it. “If only it were that: a little / trembling in the hand.” she writes, to open the title poem. “If we could tell / your leg be still and still it would.”

The collection includes a selection of mirror-poems, but what really strikes in the collection, possibly as an anchor across the collection as a whole, is “Corona,” a sequence of thirteen pandemic-era lyrics individually dated from March through to September, 2020. The poems within “Corona” provide an immediacy, and even an urgency, to the collection, even if certain poems around and outside the sequence might have been composed years prior. The tensions and anxieties that exist as threads throughout the collection exist more at the surface here, as she writes to open “3 (Spring),” “Family working, twining twigs into a nest, / cherry, trillium, corona bloom / while that buffoon condemns the WHO; on Zoom, / inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest / battle the king of everywhere / who won’t allow a service for the dead / and sneaks noiselessly into the lungs, is dread / on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing // us apart [.]” Through the body and around it, the pandemic rages, writing both the intimacy of a body that requires protection, and an increased attention to the larger world, even through increased isolation. To open “10 (Essential),” she writes: “She walks ahead. We don’t touch yet / except this place within—my phone, her scroll / and fingerboard not skin but living, set / under her chin for life. She plays although / her audience has scattered into screens.” As part of a recent interview conducted by Rob Taylor for Read Local BC, Nickel responds:

I spoke earlier of current events in the “Corona” series, how the form became a medium for the news that always seemed to be breaking in the early stage of the pandemic. They were a bit like news shorts with some reflection and observation twisted in. Burt, in the article I mentioned earlier, says “The form of the sonnet, so often associated with erotic love, has become so prominent in English in part because poets use it to react to the news…” and then goes on to mention Milton, Wordsworth, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others. Without meaning to, I’d fallen into a tradition that was somehow risky and stable at the same time. Which again reflects the pandemic—the humdrum activity of going to the store or staying at home suddenly felt new and dangerous.

New—I think in the end that’s what keeps me coming back to the sonnet. It’s like writing on those old chalkboard school slates—you can erase it and come up with something entirely different every time, but always within the same small frame. In the “Corona” series, inspired by Donne’s “La Corona,” I switched from the Shakespearean sonnet that I’d used exclusively since the start, to the Italian form. It was really refreshing—suddenly I had this new shape to work with. I could play with the octave and the sestet, and use the “gulf” of a stanza break between octave and sestet to evoke different worlds (the world of the family, the world of the news). And the “new” rhyme pattern was liberating as well—the freedom suddenly of a rhyming pair in consecutive lines!

 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): interview with Suzanne Zelazo, and bibliography

this interview was conducted over email from December 2020 to February 2021 as part of a project to document literary publishing. see my list of interviews and bibliographies of literary publications past and present here

Suzanne Zelazo is a writer, editor, and educator. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in female modernism and avant-garde poetry and performance. Her projects seek to integrate creative expression and the body. She is the author two collections of poetry, Lances All Alike and Parlance from Coach House Press, and is editor or co-editor of several books on female artists.

Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?

SZ: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.

Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.

Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?

SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.

Q: At the time you began the journal, had you been writing for long? Were you attending readings? How were you engaging with your immediate community?

SZ: I wrote poetry at that time for sure, but I was so young! I was very involved in the literary scene in Toronto at that time and I took learning the ins and outs of it very seriously. I went to as many readings and book launches as I could, often hitting more than a few on a single night. The Toronto poetry community in the 1990s was so vibrant and exciting! We had a lot of fun. You were very much a part of that too rob!

Q: It is true. I remember doing a reading with you at the University of Toronto’s Hart House, where I think we might have first met, and I have a recollection of you hanging out with Darren Wershler and Christian Bök. After the reading, Jack Illingsworth solicited you to review for Books in Canada, prompting me to jump in with a “me too!”

I’m wondering: what was the process of putting together those first few issues? Did you have an open call for submissions, or were you soliciting work?

A: I remember that! It was a great night and that crew always made those events celebratory. Jack Illingsworth is wonderful. He has done so much for writing and writers in Canada both behind scenes and in front.

For the inaugural issue of QSQ I solicited work with the generous help of Mike O’Connor of Insomniac Press. I’m not even sure he’d remember this, but he put me in touch with a list of writers I then approached. That gesture—helping a young writer he didn’t know but was introduced to over the phone through a mutual friend—speaks to his kindness and dedication to all things literary, but it also underscores just how important community is to such undertakings. Many people in the community helped make the QSQ what it was. I will never forget that gesture of Mike’s though, and I try to reciprocate in my own engagement with younger writers and the community at large.

Q: That is very cool. I wasn’t aware of any connection between Insomniac and QSQ. How were you first in contact with Mike? Apart from geographic location, I wouldn’t imagine much overlap between the aesthetics of those first years of Insomniac Press and QSQ.

A: It’s true, there is not much of an aesthetic overlap. But, as a Toronto publisher and very lovely guy, Mike is in touch with many writers in the community even beyond the Insomniac authors. A very close friend of mine at the time was also friends with Mike so he put us in touch and then Mike helped me reach out to a list of authors. It was a fortuitous connection for which I am forever grateful.

Q: One element of the journal I immediately admired was that I was able to see work by certain writers that I don’t think I’d actually seen in journals up to that point. What were you working to achieve with your editorial, and how well do you feel you achieved those initial goals?

SZ: Yes, I do think we achieved our goal of publishing new and emerging experimental writers alongside more established writers and more traditional work. Associate editors Stephen Cain and Natalee Caple, and for a time Neil Hennessy, Jay Millar and Karen McCormack, were all instrumental in soliciting cutting-edge work. We often invited contributions from authors without a long publishing history but whose work we admired and knew of from readings or from their own self-publishing ventures.

Q: What was the process of originally involving Stephen Cain and Natalee Caple? The masthead originally has you as editor, but after a couple of issues, a number of people were brought on to assist, including Cain, Caple and Michael Trussler. How did they get involved, and what were their roles?

A: I have always believed in collaboration and it was very important to me that the magazine reflected the very best of what was happening at that moment. To do that I wanted and needed multiple perspectives. Having an editorial board helped ensure that. Natalee, Stephen, and my brother Phil were the longest standing members and their contributions were enormous. Not only did they read and vet submissions, but they also helped identify new work and solicit contributions, as did the shorter-term members. All of them were absolutely crucial to what the magazine became. The process of getting them involved was fairly straightforward. They are all writers and readers I admire and who were doing something different than me and each other. I invited them to join us and they all graciously volunteered their time and beautiful minds.

When Stephen Cain became my then, long-time partner, he also did a lot of behind the scenes practical, administrative work with me. His commitment to the small press, his encyclopedic understanding of its history, his ear for sumptuous sounds, and his belief in the QSQ was critical on so many levels.

Q: What was the response to Queen Street Quarterly? And how do you feel the journal developed as you went along? What do you feel you achieved?

A: The QSQ was very much a writer’s magazine and the response to it reflected that—it was a well-known unknown. Being a “little magazine,” its lack of commercial status made it both accessible and somewhat inaccessible and that was perfect. We wanted to reflect the literary landscape not just the literary market sweethearts (which we did feature as well). An enthusiastic community grew around the QSQ over the years. It became a place of exchange and in so being, a place of creative generativity. In particular it was a community of LANGUAGE poets, concrete poets, intermedia artists—writers working innovatively between genres, including writers of fiction who were testing out new forms. It was an eclectic, inspired, and inspiring community dedicated to the word. Cultivating that community was definitely an aim I feel we achieved.

Q: How did you manage to pay for the journal? Had you funding? Sales? Were you holding launches?

A: As with most small press endeavours, the finances were always lean. The funding structures are such that you can’t apply for provincial or federal arts grants without proof of viability as an enterprise—you need to have put out a certain number of issues to qualify. As a result, (and I would never recommend this to a young publisher!)  I paid for the first few issues with my student loans at the time. After putting out the requisite number of issues to be eligible to apply, we received OAC and Canada Arts Council support which was invaluable. We were distributed by what used to be called the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association (now Magazine’s Canada), so sales plus semi-regular launches brought in some revenue. We also had a loyal list of subscribers. We always just made it. We didn’t have much overhead because it was produced in my various apartments and after hours in the work spaces of our wonderful layout manager Judith Parker, and as mentioned, the editors volunteered their time.

Q: Were there any submissions that surprised you? Any writers you wouldn’t have thought might have submitted anything to you but did? Who were the “discoveries” you feel you were able to make?

A: I was regularly surprised! I wouldn’t want to claim to have discovered any writer, but I loved being able to provide a forum for writers at early stages of their career like Emily Schultz and Seyward Goodhand. I loved publishing the sonic visual work of W. Mark Sutherland and poems by Karen Mac Cormack alongside the stories we got from Andrew Pyper and Russell Smith. I think those kinds of juxtapositions enacted their own kinds of discoveries.

Q: The journal had a remarkable run. In your editor’s note as part of the final issue (Volume 7, No. 4), you wrote: “I began Queen Street Quarterly because I believe in creative action. I wanted to create a place that would unite the many different voices that were and are Canadian literature. At the time most magazines were singular–exclusively traditional and lyric, or exclusively avant-garde and characteristically ephemeral. Having always believed in the capacity for reciprocity between the most seemingly disparate things, I thought it was important to put the street in the museum and the museum in the street–wherein sound scores, concrete poems, and surrealist games in all of their ephemeral brilliance could be preserved, proper bound and anchored in heavy, zephyr laid paper, and where the narrative and the lyric could be un-mired–refreshed by a proximity to newer forms. At the time, nothing existed which fostered such relationships so I, perhaps naively and perhaps arrogantly, took it upon myself to create such a space.” How do you feel about that statement now? What, in the end, was behind the decision to fold the journal?

A: It is always strange to revisit heartfelt statements from one’s past but despite that, I would say the overall message is still apt. It was a very difficult decision to fold the QSQ—I didn’t make it lightly. Behind it was a number of overlapping reasons, the most practical of which was that I was trying to finish my doctoral dissertation. At that time, however, there was a shift in the industry more generally with independent bookstores folding under the weight of big box bookstores. This had many repercussions on writers and publishers who were not mainstream including a sense of malaise and the need for new strategies for engagement and production.

Although I thought about handing over the editorial responsibilities to someone else, I elected to preserve the history of what it was—to bookend the literary energy of a particular time period and make room for new ideas and directions. Indeed, there were a number of cool publishing venues about to emerge like ditch, and The Puritan.

Queen Street Quarterly bibliography:

Volume 1, No. 1. Spring 1997. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil D. Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Contributing Editors: Richard Preiss, Zöe Renard. Layout: Neil McDonald. Contributions by: bill bissett, Richard Preiss, John M. Currid, George G. Murray, Christian Bök, Natalee Caple, David Urban, Lee Gotham, Jill Battson, Diana Tregenkamp, Matt R. Yeldon, Clare Bermingham and Michael Kirkham. Cover photo: shwa.

Volume 1, No. 2. Summer 1997. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Contributing Editors: Natalee Caple, Michael Trussler. Layout: Judith Parker. Contributions by: Matthew Remski, Herb Jackson, Darren Wershler-Henry, Shannon Bramer, Lara Aase, Stan Rogal, Herb Jackson, Hal Niedzviecki, Gordon Marshall, Chris Doda, Stephen Cain, Michelle Berry, George Murray and Priscila Uppal. Cover photo: Laurel Bidwell.

Volume 1, No. 3, Autumn 1997. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Contributing Editors: Natalee Caple, Michael Trussler. Layout: Judith Parker. Contributions by: Lise Downe, John Barlow, Matthew Firth, Jay MillAr, Christian Bök, Alana Wilcox, Nancy Dembowski, Marc Bechara, Gérald Audet, Matt Santateresa, Brian Panhuyzen, Michael Bryson, Christina Francisco, Natalee Caple and Beatriz Milhazes. Cover: Beatriz Milhazes.

Volume 1, No. 4, Winter 1997/Volume 2, No. 1, Spring 1998. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editor: Natalee Caple. Copy Editor: Stephen Cain. Layout: Judith Parker. Public Relations Manager: Wendy Morgan. Contributions by: A.F. Moritz, Mark Sutherland, Paul Dutton, Patrick Friesen, Tatiana Freire-Lizama, Paul Vermeersch, Lindsay Tabah, rob mclennan, Simon Archer, Brooke Clark, Fred Gaysek, Louise Bak, Julie Moos, R.M. Vaughan, Steve Venright, Darren Wershler-Henry, Catherine Jenkins, Tom Raworth, Peter Jaeger, Joāo Agapito, Nihad Hasanovic, Jill Larill and Vern Smith. Cover: Catherine Jenkins.

Volume 2, No. 2, Summer 1998. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editor: Natalee Caple. Copy Editor: Stephen Cain. Layout: Judith Parker. Public Relations Manager: Wendy Morgan. Editorial Intern: James Arthur. Contributions by: Jeff Derksen, Michael Trussler, Peter McPhee, j.a. LoveGrove, Nancy Bullis, Scott Pound, Jesse Huisken, Alexandra Leggat, Janine Guay, Michelle Berry, John Barlow, Sarah Dearing, Jonathan Bennett and Victor Coleman. Cover: Christian McLeod.

Volume 2, No. 3, 1998. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editor: Natalee Caple. Copy Editor: Stephen Cain. Layout: Judith Parker. Public Relations: Wendy Morgan. Contributions by: Peter Jaeger, Tom Orange, Rabindranath Maharaj, Gordon Michael Allen, Michael Kelleher, Helen Tsiriotakis, Beth Learn, Peter Darbyshire, Stephen Cain, Monika Burkhardt, William Howe, Simmone Howell, Ann Shin, Patrick Roscoe and Suzanne Zelazo. Cover: Jennifer Walton.

Volume 2, No. 4/Volume 3, No. 1, Winter/Spring 1999. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Wendy Morgan. Production: Judith Parker. Contributions by: Ken Babstock, John Barlow, Derek Beaulieu, bill bissett, Randy Boyagoda, George Bowering, Graham Foust, Steve Hayward, Jim Larwill, Alexandra Leggat, damian lopes, rob mclennan, Ingo Meller, David O’Meara, Brian Panhuyzen, Matt Santateresa, Royston Tester, Paul Vermeersch, Anne F. Walker and Marnie Woodrow. Cover art: Ingo Meller.

Volume 3, No. 2. Summer 1999. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Wendy Morgan. Production: Judith Parker. Contributions by: Charles Bernstein, Christian Bök, Jordan Broadworth, Holly Borgerson Calder, Frank Davey, Christopher Dewdney, Sky Gilbert, Neil Hennessy, j.a. LoveGrove, Andrew King, Esther Mazakian, Esta Spalding, Kate Sutherland, Sherwin Tija and tmuir. Cover art: Jordan Broadworth.

Volume 3, No. 3. Fall 1999. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Wendy Morgan. Production: Judith Parker. Contributions by: Gary Barwin, Darryl Berger, Tony Burgess, Cora Cluett, Lauren Davis, Beth Follett, Graham Foust, Michael Holmes, Andrew Pyper, Trish Salah, Emily Schultz, W. Mark Sutherland and Carleton Wilson. Cover art: Cora Cluett.

Volume 3, No. 4. Winter 2000. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr. Contributions by: Paul Anderson, Jesse Craig Bellringer, Victor Coleman, Bill Griffiths, Hal Niedzviecki, Karen Mac Cormack, Esther Mazakian, Steve McCaffery, David McGimpsey, Jay MillAr, Mary Nyguist, Robert Priest, Matt Robinson, W. Mark Sutherland, Scott Wallis and Andy Weaver. Cover art: Scott Wallis.

Volume 4, No. 1. Spring 2000. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr. Contributions by: Ken Babstock, Derek Beaulieu, Mike Barnes, Daniel f. Bradley, Kate Brown, Kyle Buckley, Clint Burnham, André Carpentier, Maggie Helwig, M.G. Hesse, bill kennedy, Jonathan Lasker, Erín Moure, Jed Rasula, Stan Rogal, Jeremy Sigler, Marnie Woodrow and Jacob Wren. Cover art: Jonathan Lasker.

Volume 4, No. 2. Summer 2000. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr. Contributions by: James Arthur, Kemeny Babineau, Michelle Berry, George Bowering, Jason Christie, Jeramy Dodds, Maria Gould, Janine Guay, Noah Leznoff, Billy Mavreas, Esther Mazakian, rob mclennan, lucas mulder, Ken Norris, a. rawlings, Karen Rosenberg, Erin Soros, Lori Waxman, Zoe Whittall, Julia Williams and Aaron Williamson. Cover art: Lori Waxman.

Volume 4, No. 3, 2000. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr. Contributions by: Mike Barnes, Jesse Craig Bellringer, Matthew Firth, Stephen Henighan, Paul Kelley, Robert Lake, Howard Lonn, Esther Mazakian, Nichole McGill, Amanda Mekhael, John Riddell, matt robinson, Timothy Rogers, Emily Schultz, Spencer Selby, Lytle Shaw, natalie stephens, Paul Vermeersch and Anne F. Walker. Cover art: Howard Lonn.

Volume 4, No. 4, 2001. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr. Contributions by: Bruce Andrews, derek beaulieu, Caroline Bergvall, Gillian Best, Taylor Brady, John Degen, Chris Doda, Michael Holmes, Adrian Liu, Michael Mahy, Billy Mavreas, jeremy mcleod, Ken Norris, Clemente Padin, Jay Ruzesky, Rick/Simon and Jessica Smith. Cover art: Rick/Simon.

Volume 5, No. 1, Spring 2001. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr and Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Louis Cabri, Margaret Christakos, Jason Christie, Tim Conley, jwcurry, Michael deBeyer, Bill Howell, Jake Kennedy, Robert Lake, Wendy Lu, Rob Read, Michael Redhill, David Rodgers, Stuart Ross and William Woodruff. Cover art: jwcurry.

Volume 5, No. 2, Summer 2001. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr. Contributions by: Josh Auerbach, Mike Barnes, Terrence Chiusano, Margaret Christakos, Kelly Dignan, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Loss Pequeño Glazier, Maria Gould, Ihor Holubizky, Coral Hull, Eva Jacek, G.P. Lainsbury, Donato Mancini, Sharon McCartney, rob mclennan, Blaise Moritz, Ken Norris, Kent Nussey, Jennifer M. Paquette, Alex Pugsley, Jean-Paul Riopelle, matt robinson and Karen Woodman. Cover art: Jean-Paul Riopelle.

Volume 5, No. 3, 2001. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Copy Editor: Ava Kwinter. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Darryl Berger, Tony Burgess, Bob Cobbing, Stephen Brockwell, Victor Coleman, Tim Conley, Jason Christie, Richard Deming, Jason LeHeup, Shawna Lemay, Gustave Morin, Jessica Smith, W. Mark Sutherland, Royston Tester and J. Ryan Wade. Cover art: Tony Burgess.

Volume 5, No. 4/Vol. 6, No 1, Spring 2002. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Copy Editor: Ava Kwinter. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Christian Bök, George Bowering, derek beaulieu, daniel f. bradley, kyle buckley, Stephen Cain, Jason Christie, Janieta Eyre, Beth Follett, Susan Glickman, Jesse Huisken, Sarah Hurd, Bill Kennedy jeremy mcleod, David McGimpsey, rob mclennan, Jay MillAr, Gustave Morin, Blaise Moritz, Carol Parikh, Andrew Pyper, Meredith Quartermain, Rob Read, matt robinson, Lytle Shaw, J. Mark Smith, W. Mark Sutherland, Alice Teichert, Betsy Trumpner and Darren Wershler-Henry. Cover art: Jenieta Eyre.

Volume 6, No. 2, Summer 2002. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Greg Betts, Geoff Hlibchuk, Michael Holmes, Peter Jaeger, W.B. Keckler, Karen Mac Cormack, Steve McCaffery, Garry Morse, a. rawlings, Steve Savage, Emily Schultz, Natalie Simpson, Chris Turnbull, Martin Turenne and Susana Molinolo. Cover art: Rick/Simon.

Volume 6, No. 3, Fall 2002. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy, Karen Mac Cormack. Production: Judith Parker. Contributions by: Guy R. Beining, Jonathan Bennett, Jason Camlot, Tim Conley, Andréas Embiricos, Grev Evanson, Allen Fisher, Alan halsey, Jesse Huisken, Jesse Lee Jennison, Evan Jones, Sophie Levy, Jay MillAr, Jeff Musgrave and Alex Porco. Cover art: William Wegman.

Volume 6, No. 4, 2003. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy, Karen Mac Cormack. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr and Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Stephen Brockwell, Kyle Buckley, Abigail Child, Adrian Clarke, Tim Conley, John Delacourt, Jill Hartman, Steven Heighton, Paul Hegedus, Kevin Irie, Brian Jungen, Cory Lavender, Donato Mancini, Barry McKinnon, Jeremy McLeod, Geraldine Monk, Gustave Morin, Alex Porco, Nikki Reimer, Trevor Speller, Lesley Trites, Michael Trussler, Reese Warner, Elena Wolff and Karen Yacobucci. Cover art: Brian Jungen.

Volume 7, No. 1, 2003. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Gavin Babstock, Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, Caroline Bergvall, Bill Boletis, Stephen Brockwell, Natalee Caple, Tim Conley, Pat Cull, Bill Howell, Jake Kennedy, Larissa Kostoff, Mark Laliberte, Drue Langlois and Michael Dumontier, Pasha Malla, Shelby Matthews, Ken Norris, Tamás Prágai, Alexandra Preto, Stan Rogal, Jessica Smith, Linda Spalding, Tamiae Squibb and Moez Surani. Cover art: Drue Langlois and Michael Dumontier.

Volume 7, No. 2, 2004. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy, Karen Mac Cormack. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr and Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Charles Alexander, Michael deBeyer, Gabe Foreman, Seyward Goodhand, Paul Hegedus, Steven Heighton, Peter Jaeger, Kevin Killian, Derek McCormack, Blaise Moritz, Anne Nettles and Russell Smith. Cover art: Edward Burtynsky.

Volume 7, No. 3, 2004. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy, Karen Mac Cormack. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr and Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Louise Bak, Michael Basinski, derek beaulieu, Charles William Boyes, Jason Christie, Tim Conley, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kenneth Goldsmith, Sharon Harris, rob mclennan, Jay MillAr, Gustave Morin, Jeff Musgrave, Hugh Thomas, Martin Turenne and Reese Warner. Cover art: Derek Beaulieu.

Volume 7, No. 4, 2005. Editor: Suzanne Zelazo. Associate Editor: Phil Zelazo. Visual Arts Editor: David Moos. Literary Editors: Stephen Cain, Natalee Caple, Neil Hennessy, Karen Mac Cormack. Production: Judith Parker. Additional Design: Jay MillAr and Rick/Simon. Contributions by: Douglas Barbour, derek beaulieu, Gregory Betts, Frank Davey, Ray Ellenwood, Paul Hegedus, Ailsa Kay, Blaise Moritz, Sheila E. Murphy, Alessandro Porco, a. rawlings, Emily Schultz, Paul Vermeersch, Anne E. Walker and Bruce Whiteman. Cover art: Rick/Simon.


Friday, May 14, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jessica Moore

Jessica Moore is an author and literary translator. Her first book, Everything, now (Brick Books 2012), is a love letter to the dead and a conversation with her translation of Turkana Boy (Talonbooks 2012) by Jean-François Beauchemin, for which she won a PEN America Translation award. Mend the Living, her translation of the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, was nominated for the 2016 Man Booker International. Jessica’s most recent book—The Whole Singing Ocean (Nightwood 2020)—blends long poem, investigation, sailor slang and ecological grief. She lives in Toronto.

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?

Everything, now was my first ticket to traveling for my work, which set me on an adventuresome course for a number of years, reading tours and various arts residencies. I still remember being on the train from Toronto to Winnipeg as I began my westward book tour, and making my very first book sale—Behailu was a former-filmmaker-now-accountant from Ethiopia, and we’d had a fascinating conversation about the support systems (community + financial) that either help or hinder artmaking. (That encounter also led me to my first published essay, “A Thinning in the Border” in TNQ 2016.)

In my inner landscape, the release of Everything, now into the world also represented, in some sense, the end of the first phase of grief (the book is dedicated to my partner Galen, who died in a bicycle accident when he was 29). So for me it was momentous on multiple levels. I remember dreaming about whales the night I finished revisions on the book—whale dreams had become potent, symbolic, for me. In all the other dreams I would see the whales from shore but that night, for the first time, I dove in.  

The Whole Singing Ocean begins with these lines:

The whale dreams began when I was still a child
            always from shore always racing to see them
leaping dark joy in waves

hurled through with light

Like Everything, now, The Whole Singing Ocean is a true story told in fragments. The scope of it feels very different, though, beginning as I do with someone else’s story—the boat builder’s—and weaving in so many disparate threads and voices. The Whole Singing Ocean felt ambitious in its reach and all it tries to contain—transgression, sailor slang, awe, rapture, family history, select theories of Foucault, ecological grief, binaries, a sense of something sacred that gets beyond duality. It is a book of many voices.

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

Ah, this never felt like a choice! I suppose it’s in a way of seeing (and feeling) things, isn’t 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?

I am a slow creator. The Whole Singing Ocean, for example, took fourteen years to emerge. When impatience or comparison rears up in me, I soothe myself by remembering that the Slow Movements (Slow Food, Slow Money, Slow Tech) are all deeply inspiring to me. It also occurred to me the other day that the answer to nearly every snarl or upset or issue, lately, feels like it’s one and the same: slow down.

The first draft of The Whole Singing Ocean did occur mostly in one fell swoop (though I didn’t realize that until many, many years of tinkering, chiseling and carving later). Looking back, the essential themes and components were nearly all there from the start, though the journey to the final book still had a long, difficult way to go.

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?

I think because of the nature of my two books, which are more like long poems than collections of individual poems (Everything, now has been called a kaddish, or a love letter to the dead; and I’m most comfortable calling The Whole Singing Ocean a story in fragments), that the latter is true for me—I’m working on a book from the very beginning.

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

Oh how I miss being at a reading or a show, being able to engage directly and casually and coincidentally with people, passing by other tables or standing at the bar. I miss being in rooms with other people. How could any of us have ever predicted having to feel a longing for that?

It felt important to me to celebrate my book in person in some way, safely, during the pandemic, and so I hosted a series of three back-to-back, limited number, outdoor readings around a fire in the park near my house. It was a beautiful way to celebrate the book coming into the world. And having three events in a row was kind of perfect—I can tend to feel as though I haven’t even been there when a I’m hosting a gathering, so this gave me three big chances to remind myself to be present.

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?

With The Whole Singing Ocean, I was wrestling with something about binaries and the possibility of getting beyond them. It has been suggested that whales and other cetaceans may, because of the placement of their eyes (one on each side of their heads) be able to move past the limits of dualities, which so bind or limit us and our human thinking. I’ve worried this stone for long, long years, feeling like binaries can be such a trap (war/peace, sorrow/joy, pain/rapture). Sensing that the real answer was somewhere else… like, in a field no one had found the path to yet. So that questioning follows me into this book. In the last section, the writing begins to gesture towards something beyond, something greater, something still just out of reach. In the book, I also grapple with a similar but slightly different notion—of how we might become expansive enough to hold two things side by side (trauma and elation for example). How to hold them peacefully. How it might be possible to live with terrible things that have happened, and find a way to simply be with them.

I suppose another question the book explores is one around transgression—is transgression necessary? Do we need it to break new ground, to make new discoveries, to open vital doors? The questions themselves can feel quite dangerous. This was the tightrope work of writing The Whole Singing Ocean.

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?

This is another question that, for me, has been piqued or underlined by the pandemic. It’s a strange time to launch a book. I have wondered many times how anyone could possibly care about poetry at a time like this, when the world is in lockdown, when the ecology is ragingly endangered, when colonialism and racism are still violently rampant, etc. etc. Moments of meaninglessness. But then I remember the many times that reading other writers has pulled me out of a state of meaninglessness. One particular passage by John Berger saved me after a near-fatal car accident, for example. So I need to be reminded, periodically, about the vital-ness of writing, and each time I remember again, it feels so clear. We need writing, we need art, we need music. These are the good things in life. And even on a planet nosediving, we need them!

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

No matter how cold the water is, you just dive right in!

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

I suppose I love bringing a poet’s mind—attention to the line, to charged words, to rhythm—into creative nonfiction, which is what I’m working on now.

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?

Nothing right now is typical. Being a mother to young twins, and during a pandemic to boot, leaves me desperate for patterns as I’m dragged along in the ultimate present moment!

At the best of times, I light a candle, set my timer (with a nice full bell sound—I could never abide a beep) for 30 minutes, and write by hand until it goes off. I may re-set the timer a few times, but I always take a break to move my body or drink tea or anything else—acknowledge / celebrate the thirty minutes—before diving back in.

I also love to work with my pieces taped to the wall, so I can have a more physical relationship with a manuscript—locating patterns and themes in space, sometimes using coloured pastels to mark recurring themes. A more physical and also a more casual relationship, because every time I’m in the room with the wall of pages, I can move a chair around and sit down in front of different sections, reading from random starting points, seeing the thing from another viewpoint.

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

Dreams are often my beginning place. Maybe because I associate the space of dreaming with the liminal space of a flow state in writing. Maybe just because they are always there, waiting, at the edge of awareness, and when I sit down to the page they are the first thing to surface. Walking (alone) is also a nearly surefire way to work out snags and get the heartrate of writing up again. Same thing for music, for me—songs have often had their beginnings in a walk somewhere. It’s about rhythm but it’s also about not thinking. Sometimes not thinking is exactly what needs to happen for words (or notes or rhythms) to come together.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Baked beans.

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 do often find myself turning to philosophy, without entirely realizing it at first. I don’t read a tremendous amount of philosophy but I nearly always find that it awakens my mind in a different way (than, say, reading other poets) and allows me a new angle on a subject. Similarly, reading in French gives me another angle on language – thinking and deciphering in my work as a literary translator gives me the chance to see English from the outside, at least for brief moments. I have often taken inspiration from work I was translating – the most concrete example of this is in Everything, now, in which individual poems are directly inspired by a phrase from my translation of Turkana Boy by Jean-François Beauchemin. These phrases appear as epigraphs or embedded in the piece, à la glossa (or sometimes just as ghosts of themselves, woven in invisibly to anyone but me).

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

At first I read the question as, “…or simplify your life outside of your work,” and that pleased me. I would like to think about what writings simplify my life! The Whole Singing Ocean considers Foucault and a very brief selection of his theories, and though I am by no means a philosophy scholar or expert, I do, as I said above, tend to find philosophy particularly inspiring. John Berger and Virginia Woolf have been vital. Anne Carson. Paul Celan. Leanne Simpson. Maggie Nelson. Lewis Hyde. And those who simplify my life. Ellen Bass. Vicente Aleixandre. Ursula le Guin. Writing to come home to.

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

One day I will make a quilt!

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?

I am sometimes sad I was never a mushroom picker. I would be a good hairdresser, but I would want to give everyone a mullet.

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

Definitely the fame and fortune.

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

I loved Department of Speculation by Jenny Offil. Islands of prose are so exactly what I want to read right now, and I was astonished by how she managed to keep through-threads alive and afloat with such sparing words / paragraphs. Similarly, I was delighted by This Little Art by Kate Briggs, poetic and essayistic meditations on literary translation. The last book to move me to my core was probably My Conversations With Canadians by Lee Maracle, which I came to late, and could keep absorbing for months to come. She has this incredible way of delivering brutal truths with a touch so wry or slant. And, finally, in some ways I still feel that the last great book I read was The Search for Heinrich Schlögel by Martha Baillie—I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it, mystical and real, widely encompassing and grounded at once.  

In film: Call Me By Your Name (I think it was also the first movie I saw in theatre since my twins were born, and thus heightened in specialness). Those lush Italian countrysides! and the most gorgeous portrayal of longing, and intelligent communication within a family. Plus superb soundtrack and terrific outdoor dancing scenes

20 - What are you currently working on?

A series of islands of prose about writing and motherhood… which will hopefully, one day, become a book.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;