Saturday, June 19, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Wojciechowski

David Wojciechowski is the author of Dreams I Never Told You & Letters I Never Sent (Gold Wake Press). His poems have appeared in Bateau, Jellyfish Magazine, Meridian, Figure 1, Sporklet, and other journals. He is a freelance designer living in Albany, NY. David can be found online at and on Twitter @MrWojoRising.

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

It briefly changed my confidence. For a whole day I felt like I could write poetry. It did show me that there was some hope for my work, which meant a lot. It also allowed me to teach a workshop here and there. Now it kind of functions as a reminder to keep trying, keep writing. As far as it how it compares to my new work, I feel like there’s a tonal similarity because I am who I am. In my new manuscript, there are poems that directly echo and respond to poems from the first book. The composition is all different though. And these new poems feel like they’re trying to be more open—perhaps unsuccessfully, but, still, more open than the first book.

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

My high school was lucky enough to have a literary magazine elective thanks to a very dedicated English teacher, so my interest for poetry probably started there. Then in college I was lucky enough to meet people like Bruce Smith and Michael Burkard who just further kindled that interest in poetry. It came down to, I’d love to write a novel or a movie or a play, but there’s a freedom in poetry that I think makes it difficult for me to write in another genre. Though, I am trying.

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?

The actual writing of the poem is quick. Mostly because I use exercises I make up for myself so that I can get something out on the page. With my first book and early writing, first drafts definitely looked very similar to the final one. I used to be terrible and editing my work, mostly because I was worried I’d edit the heart of it but also because I felt being in a different head space editing it than when I was writing it was going to make editing impossible. I might change “the” to “a” and call it a day. Recently, the past year or two actually, I’m spending more time cutting lines and looking for some semblance of clarity. I’m really trying to figure out what a poem might be trying to say before I call it finished.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

It begins early in the morning at the computer soon after waking up. I don’t have a plan in mind when I start writing or when I finish. Usually I know when the poem is over, I put it away, and then when I have a good amount of poems, I begin looking at them with new eyes. Then, hopefully, they become a book. Though I have finished an erasure project that was definitely intended as a book and recently started a new one. So sometimes there’s the idea for a book at the start.

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

I love them and hate them. I get excited that I was asked to read and it sounds like it’ll be a hoot so I’ll even promote it a lot, but then the whole day of the reading, the hours leading up to it, I’m a wreck. They are a lot of fun though, despite the terror. As far as being a part of the creative process…not so much. Unless someone gives me some feedback afterward I guess.

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?

The big question my poems are trying to answer are “Why am I this way?” which is, luckily, a question I think a lot of people struggle with. Writing poems has become a way for me to explore my own subconscious (since they come from a kind of automatic place) and maybe trigger memories I forgot existed. What I’m working on now very much feels like an exploration of self and what it means to be a person and be among people, what it means to exist in the world.

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?

That’s totally up to each writer. A lot of poets and writers seem to be able to respond directly to what’s currently happening in society. They have something specific to say and they go about saying it. They hope to change or bring awareness. I admire that. I wish I could do that. It feels more relevant than what I do since my work is so interior. Does a writer need to do that? Only if they want to. For me, a writer’s role should be to reanimate the world and its languages, to allow readers to find something in themselves that they didn’t know or forgot was there.

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

I loved working with my editor at Gold Wake on my first book. I always appreciate a new set of eyes that can help me understand what it is my poems are doing, to help me see things I didn’t realize were there. It wasn’t difficult at all, but I totally understand how it could become so.

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

I don’t want to misattribute this, but I’m pretty certain it was a professor at Syracuse who told me that in workshop, when you’re being told something you do isn’t working, that might be the thing that makes your work your work, so you should do it as much as you can until you develop it to a point where suddenly it works.

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 have a sporadic routine. I’ll write every morning for a month or three months, then I’ll stop for a year. It’s a terrible routine. It’s one reason I’ve been getting into erasures; so I can write more often without “writing.” For instance, the poems in the manuscript I’m working on were all written during the summer of 2018. Since then I’ve written very, very little outside of two erasure projects. When I am writing, typically I wake up around 6am, go to my computer, turn on some ambient music, and write for 15 minutes or so. I like writing before I’m fully awake. Before my brain has a chance to process all of my daily worries and insecurities. Then I put that poem away for at least a month before I read it again.

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

The poet Michael Burkard introduced me to ekphrastic writing way back in undergrad, and that’s something I still use and, in turn, introduce my own students to. If I’m desperate to write and nothing is coming, I’ll turn to various art blogs and collections to see if anything sparks a line or phrase or idea. Whenever I’m in a new city, I love to wander their art museum. I wish I lived closer to a great one. In a museum, you’re just fully immersed in creativity, so it’s hard to not walk out of one without at least a line or two for future use.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

My immediate thought was sauerkraut. I’ve been overthinking this question. It doesn’t say “what is the only fragrance,” so I’m going to go with sauerkraut since it came into my head first. My dad made it once a year, for his work Christmas party, but it is such a distinct and awful aroma that would fill the entire house.

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?

As I said earlier, visual art is a big influence for me, but not the only one. People watching, hiking, space…a lot of things end up influencing my work whether I know it or not.

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

Finding Russell Edson’s The Rooster’s Wife in college really changed what I thought a poem could be, and I adore his work to this day. Mark Strand’s work was the first time I truly saw myself in poetry. Other favorites include James Tate, Vasko Popa, Chris Kennedy, Michael Burkard, Dara Wier, Mary Ruefle, Zach Schomburg, and many, many more. I’m not sure why I stuck to just poets, so here are a few fiction writers too: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shane Jones, Samanta Schweblin, and Lydia Davis.

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

I have a novella I want to write that’s a creation myth. I started it in 2012 but it got away from me and I’ve been meaning to return to it for years. I’d also love to write a comic and/or a children’s book. I’d like to see the Grand Canyon. And time travel. I’d LOVE to time travel.

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 graduated from college with a degree in advertising, so had I not become more interested in poetry, I’d probably still be writing copy for Applebee’s and MasterCard. That’s still technically writing though. Working in stop motion animation would be a dream. As would being a Master Builder over at LEGO.

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

My dad took me to the library once or twice a week when I was a kid so I could check out stacks and stacks of books. That’s probably where it started. I always loved being creative, but I think I gradually lost confidence in my abilities as a visual artist, so I kind of fell into words and decided to make my home there. After that it’s just a series of having teachers that introduced me to interesting books and writers, gradually stoking that interest.

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

I’m only going to include a book and a film that were recently new to me (no second or third readings/watchings). Sarah Sloat’s Hotel Almighty blew me away this past year. I have a thing for very very short poems, and these erasures totally functioned on that level and were haunting and open to possibility and micro stories behind the page. Then there’s the erasure aspect and this book is a little master class in what an erasure can (should?) be. I was engrossed in how she put each of these together through collage and colored pencil and stitching. They are each a work of art. Movie-wise, it’s Palm Springs (available on Hulu!). I’ve loved Groundhog Day since I first saw it as a kid, so to see this movie which is at once similar but also wholly its own new thing was a joy. I’m a sucker for time travel or time travel adjacent movies.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I have a second manuscript of poems that I just got together and would like to start sending out. There’s also a manuscript of erasures of cowboy poetry that I need to tidy up. A few years ago I bought a novelization of Ang Lee’s Hulk at a library book sale and it recently became my new erasure project.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jen Sookfong Lee, The Shadow List



Your poor protagonist, face up
to watch the meteor shower symbolically
arcing across the August sky.

She never really had a chance.

You are used to writing novels,
to placing a human in the middle
of a slowly unwinding nighttime dilemma,

darkness hiding her indecisive, rock-heavy feet.

Your psychologist would say, You write
the choices you’re afraid to make
. The women
in your books are bad mothers. They leave

their children, sit with regret in their lap

as if it were an overfed cat sharpening its claws
on the arm of the living room chair. They leave, rent
small apartments where silence is everywhere, like mould.

You have never. You would never. And yet.

The author of five books of fiction and non-fiction, as well as four books for children, Vancouver writer Jen Sookfong Lee’s full-length poetry debut is The Shadow List (Hamilton ON: Buckrider Books/Wolsak and Wynn, 2021). There are far fewer examples of writers effectively moving from novels into poetry I can point to than examples of those working in the other direction (although Robert Kroetsch would be an example). I don’t even want to think about the times I’ve seen poetry titles by fiction writers that appear as little more than examples of prose broken into arbitrary line-breaks, but Lee clearly understands the form she’s working in, perhaps far better than many who claim such as their preferred form of composition.

The Shadow List is an assemblage of raw, first-person lyric narratives that explore the complications of human interaction, pop culture and anxiety, from parents, parenting, texting and dating to teenaged diary entries, Harry Styles, sleepless nights and traumas, past and present. She writes very much in a confessional mode, one that interplays dark thoughts with humour and pop culture. One could say that her work exists with a clear affinity to work by others in her immediate vicinity, including Dina Del Bucchia and Daniel Zomparelli, her current and former co-hosts of the Canadian literature podcast Can’t Lit. Lee’s poetry is unafraid of exploring any aspects of anger, sadness, fear or regret, as the opening sequence, “INTRODUCTION,” offers from the offset: “This is what you’ll need to understand: // Cameron Crowe is to blame for everything. / Sunshine is an insult. / You may never learn to swim but so what? / A dog is the love of your life. / The pretty poems are dead inside.”

Lee’s poems explore how life is lived, and even negotiated, on a very immediate level. “Lining the sidewalk,” she writes, to end the short poem “COMMUNITY GARDEN,” “invasive / creeping charlie and not / your mother complimenting / your ex-husband’s new wife.” Later on, in the poem “YESTERDAY, YOU HAD THE BEST / OF INTENTIONS,” she writes: “There are secrets, indecent and jagged like a stranger’s teeth / biting the thin line of your clavicle. You could whisper / them now and he would not hear you. But no. / You should wait. Nighttime lulls. That soft, enabling dark.” She writes of hopes and shadows, muscle memory, intimacy and frustration, and possibilities that might not always be possible. “The hurt will fuck you up,” she writes, to end the opening sequence, “but you will appear fine and this, / above all else, is your gift.” What is interesting is in the realization that Lee’s poems don’t necessarily exist to fully exorcise dark content, but, sometimes, as repeated loops; the goal of writing out such dark thoughts isn’t to remove them from play but to set them into the light. This is one step in a sequence, not an end. Either way, debut or not, this is a compelling collection, one that explores realms so often presented as unseemly or unfitting of contemplation, let alone as the property of exploration through poetry. As she responds in a recent interview with Rob Taylor for Canadian Notes and Queries:

I always think of these poems as being secrets, the ugly thoughts and unspoken desires we give space to in our heads when we are awake in the night. I learned very young that good Chinese girls didn’t ever allow those wants to be spoken, and it was only alone, when everyone else was asleep, that I let my brain circle around the thoughts that I felt were shameful. In a way, The Shadow List is a tribute to those moments when sex or drama or visceral things were what your body ached for, even if they were never allowed to see the light of day.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Ongoing notes: mid-June, 2021: Dani Spinosa + Cameron Anstee

Oh, I know. Remember when this would have been the time of year when we’d be gearing up for the spring edition of the ottawa small press book fair? I’m hoping we can return to such by the fall, but until then, did you see the interviews I posted with an array of book fair exhibitors? And of course, you should be keeping a regular eye on what is appearing at periodicities: ajournal of poetry and poetics. Further to that, the lifting of current provincial lockdown means I’ve been able to get back into the printers (for the first time since the end of April), so above/ground press titles are beginning to emerge once more. We are slowly beginning to emerge from the dark.

Toronto ON: Toronto poet, editor and publisher Dani Spinosa’s latest is the chapbook-length Visual Poetry for Women, produced as number 8 in Anstruther Press’ “Manifesto Series (2021), a prose manifesto that really furthers and examines some incredible activity not only happening (including Amanda Earl’s remarkable Judith, which I have yet to properly discuss), but being discussed in a larger way for possibly the very first time. Spinosa argues fully for women to “seize the means of literary production,” including digital production, hand-printing and other means of production, editorial and distribution. She argues heavily for seizing one’s own digital space, and in many ways, this work is an updated and forceful counterpoint to Virginia Woolf’s request for a “Room of One’s Own.” As visual poet and producer of visual works by others, this is a matter-of-fact reminder that women need to create their own spaces to work, publish, critique and be seen, instead of simply waiting for someone else to do it for them. This is a glorious manifesto, and I look forward to seeing how readers might respond. As her manifesto opens:

This is not a manifesto urging us to remedy the persistent gender gap in visual poetics. I’ve done that work already. And other, more thorough historians have done that work better. Alex Balgiu and Mónica de la Torre’s Women in Concrete Poetry 1959-1979 is illuminating for the gaps it reveals even in my knowledge. Other writers like Amanda Earl and Jessica Smith have done brilliant work collecting and highlighting more recent work by women and gender non-conforming poets and language artists. That work is important. It serves to remedy several decades of neglect. But I arrive here with a hunger for overwriting, a desire to stop revision, and present instead this voice louder than the story that’s already been told, that’s still telling. I want to carve several new names into the concrete.

Welcome, ladies. Now we’re writing like we own the place.

Ottawa ON: It is lovely to both see that Ottawa poet, editor, publisher (Apt. 9 Press) and critic Cameron Anstee, after a short pause, has begun producing chapbooks again, with his own LINES (St. Andrew Books, June 2021), a collection of nineteen short, sharp poems. The author of a handful of chapbooks over the years, I think this might be the first chapbook of his that has appeared since before the publication of his full-length debut, Book of Annotations (Picton ON: Invisible Publishing, 2018) [see my review of such here], so clearly he’s been slowly, quietly, writing again as well. Produced in a numbered edition of fifty-one copies, LINES furthers Anstee’s exploration into the miniature, exploring the smallest moments and movements, heavily influenced by the work of Nelson Ball, as well as works by jwcurry, Mark Truscott and Stuart Ross. His poems explore structure and landscape, moments and examinations, and writing out only what is essential. It is incredible to realize just how much time one could spend getting lost in his few, perfectly-placed words.


cover the warm bread
with a small towel

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Greg Bem

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian currently living in Seattle, Washington, USA. His recent books are Of Spray and Mist (Hand to Mouth, 2021) and Green Axes (Alien Buddha, 2021). He works extensively in audio, video, and GIF formats.

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 chapbook came out in 2009. ANTE was published by _Catch/Confetti Press in Philadelphia. It seems like ages ago and I'm not sure how much it changes my life back then or now, but I think that all the projects in one's life, big and small, add up. It certainly boosted my confidence to continue connecting with my work and external voices. It also initiated a framing of poetry as longer objects, sequences, and I don't think I've stopped approaching poetry in that way. My recent work, published in Of Spray and Mist and Green Axes, is probably less experimental in tone and content than the former book. My approaches to textual poetry over the last decade have shifted significantly. When I moved to Seattle in 2010, I was determined to explore performance, installation, and multimedia approaches to my work in ways that Philadelphia established . . . after a lot of shifts around 2016 due to changes in myself and the community at large, my work moved inward and a lot of the noise of superficial (often visual) experimentation went with it.

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

I've always loved reading prose and read far more fiction in my youngest years than poetry or experimental writing. In high school I hated backpacks and wore incredibly long jeans (they were in style in the mid-90s). I loved this small notebook that I could fit in the pockets and take out on a whim. I remember in middle school and high school writing furiously in that small notebook, and often the form that fit best was a sonnet. I wrote dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of rhyming sonnets, mostly about my adolescent struggles. I think the immediacy and the adaptability of poetry, its flexibility to one's lived contexts, always attracted me.

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?

In my mid-20s when I was the most productive (that is, I had the most output as a writer), projects seemed to come about every day. I always set aside time in my day to sit down and write poems, and they usually were a handful all related to a specific topic or theme, or some specific form. Now things are a bit slower, even being just ten years older. I suppose that's typical? I think there's a lot of distractions now thanks to professional stability and established communication technology. The writing still can come quick, if I end up finding interest. First drafts, with poetry, are almost entirely the same as the final drafts--I tend to do small chiseling here and there after a poem has been initially written. It's always been that way. I feel like I'm bastardizing a work if I change it significantly from its original iteration--spoiling the soul of it, so to speak. And notes? I'm not much of a note-taker, though I do use an app to capture some lines and links from my travels, which I refer to later.

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'm not sure I have an answer to this one that fits neatly. The poems begin both small and large at the same time. I have done a few projects recently that were intentionally aiming towards book-length collections. I wrote a series of 7 "books" titled CONSTRUCTION, which was based entirely on a building constructed across the street from an apartment building. I imposed a constraint to write those books and didn't stop until I was finished. Most of the time, however, I have several small sequences that match up and fit into something larger. Of Spray and Mist is that way. Green Axes is that way. My latest chapbooks are that way. The curatorial nature behind it all is fascinating to me, too. Ultimately the poems determine their fate for themselves, but it's upon some deeper reflection that I have to make more challenging choices about what stays and what goes, and that's where things become "poems" in that they are turned into these polished, produced objects, be they the individual pieces or the longer works.

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

Everywhere I've lived (Maine, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Seattle, Phnom Penh), I've not only participated in readings but I have helped create readings, both one-offs and series, and I've found the opportunities of community and collaboration powerful in such organizing. But in the last few years, pre-COVID and during, I've found events to be unfulfilling. I do think I took them for granted when I participated in them formerly, and I do think there is a lot of merit to them, but I am in a new space now when it comes to readings. I believe my shift away from performative aspects of poetry and the public "ego" of poetry has contributed to my lack of interest, lately, in readings.

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?

Things are always shifting and my primary concern is stay on top of what my priorities are! The past several years have been eye-opening for me, especially considering those identity qualities that align with/equate with my privileges. Being white, being male, being able-bodied, being heterosexual--these qualities never were a concern with my poetry because of the unfortunate color-blind upbringing and early adulthood I experienced. Now I'm exploring who I am in this sense and how poetry contributes, serves, or doesn't, when it comes to equity, justice, and community. I think about similar issues the globe is facing: climate justice, protecting indigenous knowledge, spaces of education and knowledge-sharing. Before, everything and anything was poetic and could be poetry, and carried significant weight. Now I measure more carefully, think about the effects of my actions, and do a lot more listening and reading to peers much wiser than me. From the outside emerges those questions, which I try desperately to receive and meditate through. Ideally the writing and creative acts I undergo are impacted and I'm participating in a healthy way.

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?

I've never ascribed to the "writer" as a separate category of person. I believe all folks have the writer inside them. Their world may or may not unlock their writerly self, but it's there for all of us. I believe writing can save us--it is psychedelic, it is the imagination exploded. And in some ways there's more opportunity than ever before, for more people, to write. And in some ways, it seems like those mentioned distractions can keep folks from unlocking their writing.

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

It's been a process to learn to be respectful and humble when it comes to the editing process. There's much to learn from those who have an expert eye. I believe that writing book reviews has helped me learn to be better with editing and collaborating with others. I don't believe an editor is essential; I don't believe editing is essential, for that matter. But it does do a lot, and it is an opportunity that should not be squandered/wasted should it arise.

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

I'm deep in The Uninhabitable Earth by climate writer David Wallace-Wells, who writes of the many changes we'll face with warming that has already happened and that cannot be prevented. It's a brutal, grim book that, even at 2 years old, brings out the most harrowing imagery of humanity's effects on the planet and where our survival is being and will continue to be threatened. For films, I found Concrete Cowboy a nice examination of the Black-owned stables in North Philadelphia. I'm not sure if I'd label it "great," but it has painted a picture most people, including those in Philadelphia, haven't seen.

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

Throw a few more on there--creating weird audio music, digital videos, short GIF animations. I move around acrobatically, or maniacally, or both. The appeal is rooted in the pseudo "Renaissance Man" world of the Dadaists, who I loved in college, who have never seemed to me to be concerned about exclusivity in form or genre. The world is available to serve as a canvas, and why not be all about everything? On a more practical note, I tend to get bored with specific activities frequently, and find myself moving between genres, mediums, forms to keep myself engaged.

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 used to write automatically almost every day, without any formalities (it just happened). As I get older and have more stress from work, more projects, more volunteering, etc etc, I tend to need more routine. One night a week I devote to creativity, to make sure I don't slip. I also try to book a retreat or two each year for some major project work.

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

I'm simultaneously reading a few books at a time, and tend to be engaged in at least two large PC games at any given time. I watch a lot. I listen to a lot. I'm tapped in to a ton of sources and I think that fuels my motivation. The problem is interest and specificity! As a librarian, I've come to find myself accessing all manner of things I wouldn't have just five years ago--themes and topics that were uninteresting are now captivating. And so here we are, the world blossoming and unfolding. Writing will still get stalled, of course, but it tends to be because I'm not very interested in what I'm actually writing. When that happens, I open some poetry books and read what people are writing these days, and that usually gets me inspired. While I don't try to copy other poets directly, we all borrow, don't we? And that action fuels the flames.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Strangely, creosote. The smell of desert rain is very similar to the smell of rain in the Maine woods. I don't know why, but I remember those smells fondly. In Seattle there's plenty of rain, but the aromas are typically absent.

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 definitely into all of the above. I really like artists who work in/with nature. The photography of Edward Burtynsky, the rooms of James Turrell, the sound poetry of Bob Cobbing--just a few of the artists over the years I've loved. But it really is endless, understanding these types of influences. I've really enjoyed the recent prose poetry of Joy Harjo and Natalie Diaz--particularly their writings on water and rivers. And noise has been an explicit influence on much of my work (Merzbow, Sonic Youth, blah blah blah).

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

Paul Nelson has influenced me more than any other writer in my adult life. The other writers involved with the Cascadia Poetry Festival. My best friend, Jason Conger, contributed to much of my aesthetic and I don't know if we'll ever stop sharing ideas with one another. I've found a lot of good stuff via Thomas Walton, Doug Nufer, Nadine Maestas, and Elizabeth Cooperman (the PageboyMagazine crew). Justine Chan too--particularly where deserts are concerned. And Sarah Heady for her interest in history and roots. And Libby Hsu for her interest in the tech industry. Charles Potts in Walla Walla and John Taylor in France and Khiang Hei in China and Maung Day in Yangon. There are 1,000 books on the shelves behind me and I tend to take something from every book I read, but I'll never gain as much as what I gain from the artist friends in my life.

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

I had a great experience co-writing a chapbook, bilingual, with Burmese writer Maung Day. I'd love to do a full length book with another writer or artist some day.

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 suppose I'm already fulfilling it as a librarian :) But that aside, I have significant interests in graphic design, instructional design, chemistry, and mycology.

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

I think it goes back to that notebook. I also think, honestly, that a lot of the late-90s and early-00s had some great writing in video games, a lot of it being poetic, and I never could get over how important the presence of language was in my gaming and other activities.

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

Earlier today I finished The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs--an absolute joy for anyone who is interested in the Southwest. Weirdly I had never seen The Birdcage before, and I recently watched it after it was recommended on an art deco walking tour in Miami Beach, and I loved it.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I've been gathering footage for my next visual project. I'm very interested in motion and I've only touched on the motion of water with previous works. By taking some approaches used by minimalist painters, the goal is to reach black and white videos/gifs of water in very dark and very bright spaces. I also just completed a 100-ish page manuscript on travels during the pandemic--fairly straightforward lyrical poetry, which I hope to find a home for, in due time. Meanwhile, literary works seem to be on pause.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Spotlight series #62 : em/ilie kneifel

The sixty-second in my monthly "spotlight" series, each featuring a different poet with a short statement and a new poem or two, is now online, featuring Tiohtiá:ke-based sick slick, poet/critic em/ilie kneifel.

The first eleven in the series were attached to the Drunken Boat blog, and the series has so far featured poets including Seattle, Washington poet Sarah Mangold, Colborne, Ontario poet Gil McElroy, Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Ottawa poet Jason Christie, Montreal poet and performer Kaie Kellough, Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, American poet Elizabeth Robinson, American poet Jennifer Kronovet, Ottawa poet Michael Dennis, Vancouver poet Sonnet L’Abbé, Montreal writer Sarah Burgoyne, Fredericton poet Joe Blades, American poet Genève Chao, Northampton MA poet Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer from Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1 territory) poet, critic and editor Joshua Whitehead, American expat/Barcelona poet, editor and publisher Edward Smallfield, Kentucky poet Amelia Martens, Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie, Burlington, Ontario poet Sacha Archer, Washington DC poet Buck Downs, Toronto poet Shannon Bramer, Vancouver poet and editor Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Vancouver poet Geoffrey Nilson, Oakland, California poets and editors Rusty Morrison and Jamie Townsend, Ottawa poet and editor Manahil Bandukwala, Toronto poet and editor Dani Spinosa, Kingston writer and editor Trish Salah, Calgary poet, editor and publisher Kyle Flemmer, Vancouver poet Adrienne Gruber, California poet and editor Susanne Dyckman, Brooklyn poet-filmmaker Stephanie Gray, Vernon, BC poet Kerry Gilbert, South Carolina poet and translator Lindsay Turner, Vancouver poet and editor Adèle Barclay, Thorold, Ontario poet Franco Cortese, Ottawa poet Conyer Clayton, Lawrence, Kansas poet Megan Kaminski, Ottawa poet and fiction writer Frances Boyle, Ithica, NY poet, editor and publisher Marty Cain, New York City poet Amanda Deutch, Iranian-born and Toronto-based writer/translator Khashayar Mohammadi, Mendocino County writer, librarian, and a visual artist Melissa Eleftherion, Ottawa poet and editor Sarah MacDonell, Montreal poet Simina Banu, Canadian-born UK-based artist, writer, and practice-led researcher J. R. Carpenter, Toronto poet MLA Chernoff, Boise, Idaho poet and critic Martin Corless-Smith, Canadian poet and fiction writer Erin Emily Ann Vance, Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi, Fredericton poet Matthew Gwathmey, Canadian poet Peter Jaeger, Birmingham, Alabama poet and editor Alina Stefanescu, Waterloo, Ontario poet Chris Banks, Chicago poet and editor Carrie Olivia Adams, Vancouver poet and editor Danielle Lafrance, Toronto-based poet and literary critic Dale Martin Smith, American poet, scholar and book-maker Genevieve Kaplan, Toronto-based poet, editor and critic ryan fitzpatrick, American poet and editor Carleen Tibbetts and British Columbia poet nathan dueck.
The whole series can be found online here.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Joan Retallack, BOSCH’D


Human [hyu-muhn]

The human is one of many humorous creatures rolled out in the evolution of this planet. Wholly animal, charismatically self-conscious, intellectually ambitious, emotionally feral. Prone to abstraction, estrangement, hubristic fantasies, bitter depression. Psychologically lethal while imaginatively promising. The “we” that are human are no more, no less than part of nature. Nature is the whole of us. Denial of that has been our greatest folly.

I’m intrigued by American poet, critic, biographer, and multi-disciplinary scholar Joan Retallack’s latest poetry title, BOSCH’D (Brooklyn NY: Litmus Press, 2020), the first of hers I’ve read. Retallack is a poet I’m clearly behind on, given the length and breadth of her publishing history, from books on poetics, artist books and numerous poetry titles, including Procedural Elegies / Western Civ Cont’d / Selected Poems 1970-2008 (Roof Books, 2010). Although it should be noted, that despite whatever other publications she’s produced over the past twenty years, BOSCH’D is her first collection of new poems since the publication of Memnoir (Post-Apollo Press, 2004).

The poems is BOSCH’D are set in two sections, “BOSCH” and “BOSCH’D,” which itself is broken up into numerous sub-sections: “IN LOCO (ON THE SPOT),” “IN LOCO SCIENTIA (MATH & SCI),” “IN LOCO TEMPUS (NICK OF TIME),” “IN LOCO MALUM ET ALTERITAS (EVIL & OTHERS),” “IN LOCO CONFESSIO (SPILLING THE BEANS) BLOOD*LITANY” and “IN LOCO POST SCRIPTUM (AFTERWORDS).” What is the difference between the short “BOSCH” and the extended “BOSCH’D”? The second poem of the opening section, “Bosch [bash, bôsh]” includes a kind of prose poem lyric biography of Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516), the Dutch painter known for his “fantastical paintings on religious concepts,” writing: “His paintings intermix species of many kinds, / realistic and fantastical. Part-human, part-animal, part-mechanical creatures, ethereal / figures, wily demons—a world filled with the exquisite and grotesque in startling clarity.” She writes of time and absolutes, of saints and statues, including numerous poems with codas: an intriguing boiling down of lyric and language, a Greek-chorus style of end-point reminiscent of Toronto poet Margaret Christakos offering the same, via “THEREFORE” codas, throughout her own (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 1998). There is something in the way Retallack expands and contracts her lyric thinking I’m quite taken with, providing both the stretched-out exploration and one boiled down to the bone, both of which still provide an equally-delightful openness.


The exhaustion of truth in language was so
great there was no way to know what one
had to go on as one had to go on going on.

Retallack composes poems as a study of language, of Stein and Sappho, of science; writing the sparks and fragments of lyric. She writes big ideas and small details, exploring the connections across and through physical space, physics and theory, math and myth, philosophy and storytelling, and dreams of the impossible. BOSCH’D includes an array of some absolutely stunning lines in equally stunning poems. At the end of the poem “The Ventriloquist’s Dilemma,” she writes: “Someone will claim / real is a misleading construct. Someone will claim / night flew into a tree. Those five words in a line.” This is a wonderfully complex collection of poems of thinking that can’t help but spark further thinking; a poetry of inquiry as strong as I’ve ever seen, and there are echoes here that remind, also, of elements of Anne Carson, Norma Cole and Kathleen Fraser: an ongoing and deeply engaged poetics of language and inquiry. As Retallack writes to open the poem “St. Anselm’s QED”:

St. Anselm’s Proof of the Existence of God:
God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived:
omnipotent, omniscient, omni-beneficent.

If God does not exist, then something greater can be conceived:
one with a fourth attribute—existence. Therefore,
God, than which nothing greater can be conceived, must exist. QED.