Tuesday, August 31, 2021



I is a sexed interior wondering through a field of objects.

There is a recurrence of a lone.

Am I is or are.

In these dreams an unnamed forest of bright lights.

What I wouldn’t give to be made up of photons.

A refractory factory of body of light.

I is bright lights coated over.

I was the failing of a sentence.

I is the text corpse of the sentence.

My thanato to its sententia.

I is a glossolalic.

Saliva tongued over the language of the sentence of the I of the body.

The leachate. (“Sinister Queer Agenda”)

It is interesting to see Kirby’s Toronto-based knife|fork|book moving into full-length poetry titles with Buffalo poet and editor Travis Sharp’s full-length debut, YES, I AM A CORPSE FLOWER (Toronto ON: knife|fork|book, 2021), a lyric exploration of gender, queerness, the body and the shape of identity through language. “The sentence contains multitudes of body & body-in-the-bag,” he writes, as part of “Sinister queer agenda,” “& I / within in. Across it, the axes of it, spread eagle.” YES, I AM A CORPSE FLOWER is composed across six sections—“Yes, I am a corpse flower,” “Sinister queer agenda,” “The body under valuation: a musical,” “I guess we should talk about our feelings,” “Protean shakes: a biography” and “OrganGrindrTM”—the second of which appeared previously as a chapbook through above/ground press. Sharp writes of multitudes, of queerness and the performance of the body, including the notion of being bodyless. He writes: “The desire has been there from the beginning. // I replace right kidney with a porcelain lentil bean. // At what point does the body unreadable converge. // Its overwhelming mass. // Its gravitational pull infinite. // I is the tongue tonguing saliva around a period.” Some of the sections, such as the aforementioned second section, exist as extended lyrics, with others set as suites of shorter pieces, all of which move through a variety of structures, from the halted accumulation of lyric phrases and short bursts of the first two sections, to the suites of the fourth and final sections.

There is a flourish and even a buoyancy to the way Sharp utilizes language, writing a narrative lyric that throws and throws off expectation, cleaving and achieving unusual turns in mid-flow, reminiscent of some of what I’ve seen from Julia Polyck-O’Neill or Margaret Christakos. In his poetry mini interviews interview from 2019, I was fascinated by his response to the question “Why is poetry important?” where he answers: “Poetry, which is not escapism, can distance and make strange the real so that you can actually for the first time see it.” As possibly relating to that same idea, there is a simultaneous straightforwardness and a gymnastics his lyrics achieve, rather joyously, making the familiar both strange and increasingly clear. Just listen to the music and jangle of the opening of the second poem, “ACT TWO: ‘I’M TOO BUSY TWINKING, I CAN’T WORK FOR MONEY’,” of the third section, “The body under valuation: a musical,” (a section that opens with, naturally, “performance notes”) as he writes:

Cautiously buoyant
in a left-leaning twink tank
and it’s so great so grand so

gracious so fee’d

America the fee

or so the think tank newsletter tells us:
“they hate us for our feedoms!”

YES, I AM A CORPSE FLOWER is an impressive debut, and Sharp’s language is thick, racy, sensual, ruckous and uniquely physical, upturning tables with a flamboyance that sits underneath the skin of his lyric. Through the final section, Sharp composes a grinding echo of bpNichol’s Organ Music (Windsor ON: Black Moss Press, 2012), but as a suite of poems that speak of queerness, and body parts in terms of illness, ruptures, infection and erasures.


Flaying ourself is an act of don’t should I don’t say hoping for should I say reaching for spread my legs exposing or some sexed exposition a gestural yes a genuflection of the muscles look at me darling unless removed you particulate you demarcate you but what about about leaving you you sculpted me into this sad the sculpted is saddened into a lattice and now body & I & the world are the body & the world & I at least that don’t be upset with who says I’m I know you & know you know I know eye knows yes but together at last body & I & but only a fraction of body of a fraction more exposed & sensate incomplete & fractured & overly dramatic SLOUGH ME OFF SLOUGH ME sentimental over thin layers of me thin layers of you thin layers of us but slack & slackening there is so much unaccounted for & so much left to expose so much is falling I fall out of myself I am bright lights I am organs pooling spreading across the surface of the field I am a perpetual falling an extending touching everything about being touched my infinite expansion arrested image diffuse I am a forest of objects taken in surrogated caressed individuated but somehow still pulsing together quantum entanglement across time across space I am a congealing a dissipating I am bright lights getting brighter

Monday, August 30, 2021

Colin Smith, Permanent Carnival Time

In a different world, my labour at the car wash would have me as a member of IU 670 – for making cars, IU 440 – for retail clerkhood, IU 660 – for making books and magazines and newspapers happen, IU 450 – for making anarchic art and visions available to a public, IU 620 – for making radio, IU 560 – for being a poet, IU 630. “Professional entertainer.”




You must change their life!






Because if we don’t resist
or “riot”, we’ll wind up with
no civil rights whatsoever.


Revolution as absolute
hankering. (“Necessities for the Whole Hog”)

From Winnipeg-based poet Colin Smith comes Permanent Carnival Time (Winnipeg MB: ARP Books, 2021), furthering his exploration of civil discourse, neoliberal capitalism and chronic pain amid Kootenay School of Writing-infused poetics. Permanent Carnival Time engages with the prairies, including the historic Winnipeg General Strike, writing a wry engagement of language gymnastic and ruckus humour. “Labour is entitled to all it creates.” he writes, as part of the second poem, “Necessities for the Whole Hog.” Sparking asides, leaps and fact-checks, Smith’s lengthy poetic calls out culture and capitalism on their nonsense, deflection and outright lies, composing a lyric out of compost and into a caustic balm against capitalism’s ongoing damage. “Money with more civil rights than you.” he writes, as part of “Folly Suite”: “Luckless bustard.”

Smith is the author of 8x8x7 (San Francisco CA: Krupskaya, 2008), as well as the out-of-print Multiple Poses (Vancouver BC: Tsunami Editions, 1997) and Carbonated Bippies! (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2012), both of which were included as part of the collection Multiple Bippies (Vancouver BC: CUE, 2014) [see my review of such here]. As part of his 2016 Touch the Donkey interview, he spoke of the ongoing mutability of his writing, and his interest in refusing to remain static:

Six cans of Kokanee, half a dozen Mooseheads. Part contrivance, part intuition. While I mostly work in free verse, I don’t ever want to be exclusive about it.  

Considerations of aesthetic fit are the endless trump here, and should be. Finding the best strategy and vocabulary for each poem. The world is lumbered with more than enough limitations without me adding to them! I always thought that one of poetry’s better angels (or angles) was that it could help make our considerations of the world larger (I still believe this). So, no language need be excluded, no tactic need be forbidden.  

Although, having just issued a version of “everything is permitted” with that last sentence, I’ll now qualify it by saying that it’s morally noxious to maim the afflicted — one should just flat-out not do it. 

The linguistic cargo of a sonnet can be very different from a LangPo word-salad approach. If you want to, and you have the technical moxie to get away with it, why not do both? Why not head for other possibilities as well?

Permanent Carnival Time is structured into nine extended poem-sections, including “Folly Suite,” a suite of nine shorter poems. For each poem-section, Smith’s scale is expansive, referencing a slate of high stakes, calling out fascism, punitive legislation, capitalism, pollution and even references to the Highland Clearances, from “Human whites ratch. // Jacobites / stomped (Clearances / to follow).” of “Fiddlesticks,” the second poem of the “Folly Suite,” to the fifth poem, “Twaddle,” that offers: “If the Highland Clearances hadn’t happened / these poems would have been written in Gaelic.” Through a gymnastic collage, Smith offers both wry commentary and straightforward notation, connecting capitalism’s insistence on itself beyond all else, including human sustainability. As he writes as part of “Transmutable,” “Something you can’t talk your way out of. / A booing economy.”

There aren’t that many poetry collections that write on the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, so it is interesting that Smith also offers Vancouver poet Rob Manery’s It’s Not As If It Hasn’t Been Said Before (Vancouver BC: Tsunami Editions, 2001) in his notes at the end as a recommended title for further reading. On his part, Smith writes: “30,000 Winnipeg workers withdraw / their permission, walk away / from the marketplace. The Hello Girls / say their goodbyes numerous / and numinous. /// A scant 40 minutes / to pass a clampdown / amendment through Parliament. /// Austerity / follies.” (“Necessities for the Whole Hog”). In certain ways, Smith’s work has a structural echo of a poet such as American poet Sawako Nakayasu [see my review of her latest here], except with a very different set of ways through which he arrives. As part of a writing prompt Nakayasu wrote for Woodland Pattern not long ago, she offered:

1. Choose an object or concept. Let’s call this thing “X.”

2. Tell yourself, in some fashion, that every poem you write from now on is going to be “about X” or “an X poem” or features an “X.”

3. Write poems in this manner for as long as you can.

There are ways in which one could see Smith’s expansive and accumulated poems following a similar trajectory, but through a single, extended piece over Nakayasu’s book-length project. As well, where Smith contrasts from others of the loose assemblage of Kootenay School of Writers poets of the past twenty-plus years is through that ability to write around an idea or a subject, pulling it apart from every perspective, and tossing in a collage of sly commentary, jokey phrases and gymnastic, as he calls it, “word-salad.” Unlike such poets as Jeff Derksen, Louis Cabri or Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Smith appears to originate with meaning, utilizing language as the means through which he plays, displays and explores that meaning, over a kind of composition that begins with language or sound. As well, Smith might utilize theory, but as a part of a larger structure that remains focused the ways through which people are affected by such policies, pollutions and punditries. His foundation of anti-capitalist ethos remains, and remains strong, but the poem “Necessities for the Whole Hog” begins with the history of the Winnipeg General Strike; the poem “Essaying Pain” speaks to his ongoing experience with chronic pain, etcetera. One could say that his Kootenay School of Writing poetics is also one intertwined with a deep empathy (and a curt tongue), writing out his anxieties for the possibility of human sustainability, down to a deeply personal level. As he writes as part of “Essaying Pain”:

What seems to be missing from “the literature”
is description of chronic pain or permanent affliction
that shows in any meaningful way

what, what, what, what, what
a deep-dish and ineluctable tedium it is.

Roaring at the sky, do you
expect a reply?

All the good temper of a rhino.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rayanne Haines

Rayanne Haines’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from, Fiddlehead, Impact: The Lives of Women After Concussion Anthology, Voicing Suicide Anthology, The Selkie Resiliency Anthology, Freefall, Wax Poetry and Arts, Funicular, and Indefinite Space, among others. She is the host of the literary podcast, An Eloquent Bitch and is the Alberta NWT rep for the League of Canadian Poets. Rayanne is a 2019 Edmonton Artist Trust Fund Award recipient and was shortlisted for Edmonton poet laureate in both 2017 and 2019. Her poetry and prose have been shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Award and the John Whyte Memorial Essay Alberta Literary Award. Rayanne is a past executive director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival and is working on her MA at Queen Margaret University.

Her current work focuses on mental health and intergenerational female trauma. tell the birds your body is not a gun appeared in 2021 with Frontenac House.

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

My first book of poetry was an experiment in form for me. It’s a fictional novel-in-verse, told from the voices of three different Italian women. The shaping of the different voices on the page, learning what that meant in poetry, was game changer for me in learning about what poetry could do and my own capacities as a writer. But it was also my first book of poetry. I’ve learned a lot in the four years since it was published. My most recent work, which comes out this April with Frontenac House, is a fully non-fiction confessional manuscript and delves into deep trauma. In Tell the Birds Your Body is not a Gun I question my relationship with religion and challenge how we reflect on our own memories of trauma. I explore my relationship to grief and healing in connection to my teen’s depression and suicidal behavior, my own struggles with depression, a cancer scare and survivor’s guilt, systemic family trauma and generational loss of motherhood. I push boundaries further by using a hybrid text of minimalist poetry, prose poems and poetic essays to interrogate and dissects the areas of trauma in our lives even as I question if I’m writing about loss in service of myself.

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

I feel like I came to fiction and poetry at the same time. Both have been integral to my reading life and I wrote my first poetry book while simultaneously writing my first genre fiction book. They were published by traditional publishers within months of each other.   

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 think it is a slow start for me but I write quickly once I’m immersed in a project. I’m actually trying to slow that down. I’m learning to give my words and voice the time they need to breathe on the page. I think that is a vital part of the writing process that we can tend to rush over.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?

Both poetry manuscripts I’ve written came about because of an idea or a life experience and knowing they’d be a book from the start. I have a new fiction book concept that I’m fleshing out after writing it as a short story and knowing it needed to be a book.

The poetry writing I am doing now is intentionally not connected to any larger project. I simply want to sit with each poem I write for a bit and not force a project concept onto them.

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

I 100% enjoy doing public readings. Even for the more difficult material. I think it is a vital part of the back and forth communication process I value as a writer. I’m also a big proponent of alternative forms of publication transmission. Not every poem, I want published will be picked up by a journal, etc. But I can share it at a reading so the poem still have some life off the page our outside my head.

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?

My questions right now, based on the writing I’ve been doing are, What is my truth? and Am I telling the truth?

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 used to think we had a major role in voicing culture and manifesting or facilitating change. I’m more conflicted now. I value the lived experiences of women writers and I want to uplift our voices and read about how those lived experiences are represented in Canadian literature. I also recognize the huge burden placed on women in particular. I do not want to force a burden or expectation onto women writers. I want them to write about whatever they want to write about, be it how the river flows or sexual assault.

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

It is essential for me. I am not a copy editor, I never will be. I have paid for outside editors to go over both my poetry manuscripts before I even consider submitting them to publishers. I know that I cannot see my work objectively.

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

Allow yourself to sit in the discomfort of your writing. That was a game changer for me.  

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

I move between both fiction and poetry, and this year with also academic writing as I work on my Masters degree. Being able to switch between the different forms provides me with little escape windows that I can jump between depending on my capacities that day. And I can keep up an “almost” daily writing practice without the pressure to be forced into one type of writing that I may not be able to emotional engage with on a given day.

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?

Since starting my Masters Degree last year, my routine has significantly altered. I write daily but I no longer have a set schedule. I do a lot of bouncing. After writing the book coming out this spring, I allow gentleness to focus my writing practice. My mental health demands it. Writing Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The book comes out this spring and I’m still not sure I want to give that much of myself.

My only set in stone writing routine is that I always write poetry by hand in a journal first. I cannot write a poem on a computer until it has settled into my skin for a bit.

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

I walk or run in nature in the hopes it will get me out of my head. Walking away from something is okay. Especially during a damn pandemic. The fact that anyone is writing anything at all right now is a miracle.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

As a child, horseshit. As an adult, lilacs.

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?

Connections to nature find their way into most of my books, but also almost unequivocally the female body and narrative.

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

Natalie Diaz. Have you read, If What I Mean Is Hummingbird, If What I Mean Is Fall Into My Mouth by Natalie Diaz? It might be the best damn thing I’ve ever read.

I go back to Joy Harjo all the time. Canisia Lubrin is a fucking wonder. Tanis MacDonald, Shazia Hafiz Ramji. Billy Ray Belcourt is a fucking genius. Alice Munro was the first short story writer I read and that shifted a lot for me.

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

Far too much, or nothing at all. I’m trying to let go of expectation as a writer this year.

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 consider myself a cultural producer. I suppose I’d like to get more into the publishing side of things. Maybe run a small press, but then I think, oh, you’d have to be crazy. I’d love to run a romantic little bookshop in Florence, Italy, if I could sit and read the books all day.

In all seriousness, I’d run a creative mentorship program for young single mothers. Still trying to figure out how to make that a reality.

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

I have done and currently do a lot of other things, so I guess I’ll simply say, because writing is a part of who I am that I choose not to ignore.

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

I just finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John as research for a project I’m working on.  I’m currently reading, How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa.

I honestly don’t remember the last great film. 

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m playing with the idea an experimental interconnected micro-story fiction collection tentatively called Cut Lines that looks at the lives of trauma in young women as presented through a dystopian, dysmorphic lens. It’s in the early, early stages of development. It’s still in the develop in your head stage of my writing practice with the occasional burst of inspiration regarding how I want to plat or shape it, etc.

I am writing new poetry with no plan other than writing it.  

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Ongoing notes: very late August, 2021: Adam Seelig + nina jane drystek,

Time keeps moving. I’m not even going to ask about it anymore.

The summer’s almost gone / The winter’s tuning up

Toronto ON: Poet, playwright, stage director and theatre company founder Adam Seelig was good enough to send along a copy of his Numbers: Poems (Toronto ON: allaphbed press, 2021). The structures of his poems are enormously playful, even while working through poems that investigate the numbers-to-date of Covid fatalities and the intricacies of Biblical text. At forty-four pages, this is a collection built around anxiety and inquiry, not only documenting a particular period of time but seeking to wrap one’s head around how to find comfort, even from within. He writes of the failure of multiple governments, both provincial and federal, in responding to the opening weeks of the pandemic, and of reports of the crisis from other locations. He writes of the stress of absorbing the news, and how one is supposed to contain such multitudes through such a particular crisis. I’m fascinated not only by the nature of his inquiry, but the ways in which he employs spacing, allowing both pause and breath to occupy as much space in the poem as thought, as the poem “Summarizing Numbers (2)” opens: “It becomes clear that / a / nation needs / not only       laws / and social / roles                          but / also  the ability / to cope                                 with              physical / and                               spiritual / challenges / to                                       survival [.]”

Lack of testing in airports
Lack of testing at borders
Lack of testing at work

Lack of testing in schools
(This is getting predictable)

Lack of contact tracing
Lack of preparation

Lack of protective equipment for frontliners
Lack of lessons learned from SARS 2003

Lack of foresight from the government of Ontario
Lack of insight from same government

Lack of border closures by the government of Canada
Lack of vaccine manufacturing in Canada

Lack of timely vaccine procurement by the government of Canada
Lack of vaccine (“To List is to Demonstrate a Sense of Order and Control”)

Email him at onelittlegoattc@gmail.com to see about how you might be able to secure a copy

Ottawa/Toronto ON: Another poet that utilizes space in an interesting way is Ottawa poet nina jane drystek, author of the new a: of: in (Toronto ON: Gap Riot Press, 2021). The author of a handful of chapbooks [including this one I reviewed over here, earlier this year], part of the enjoyment of reading her work is in seeing the ways in which she is influenced by both sound and visual poetries, and the ways in which she explores elements of both throughout her ongoing work. drystek’s latest utilizes space as not only a visual component, including a variety of structures including mirror text and layering, but one of breath, exemplifying a series of staccato pulses, short breaths and other soundscapes, such as the opening of “a similar design,” that reads:

the telephone clock
a bar      a drink
newspapers       fire     engines

the streets of New York
a pathway

sky fire cigarettes

back of chair
the door     a bar

tables      c o a l       d u s t

drysek’s poems begin with lyric meaning as a foundation, but utilize sound and shape as their propulsion, and the effect is simultaneously lively and jarring, providing a project equally vibrant as potential adaptation into performance as it is as a printed chapbook. At the back of the collection, she speaks of how this collection originally begun as an erasure project, writing:

in 2010 i began excavating anaïs nin’s a spy in the house of love as an erasure project. in my early twenties i was fascinated by how nin expressed women’s sexuality and over the course of several readings i noticed that sabina’s desire was reflected in the objects that surrounded her. language moved her desire forward and gave it urgency through prepositions. i began to highlight these parts of the text—object nouns, objects and their adverbs. each type of preposition—i ended up with smeared pages and colour coded phrases of desire. i typed it all out and the original erasure was strict in its conceptual approach, listing each instance chronologically. that is how ii left the project—unsure how much i should intervene with the original text.

a few years later ii unearthed it from my undergraduate papers and simplified it, giving it a new structure and some play across the page. i made more authorial interventions by cutting sections. i shared it with some readers who enjoyed it. i printed it and let it live in the drawer of an old desk.

a decade after it was originally scored, i pulled the text from its drawer and retyped it again. i got an opportunity to re-experience the emotions in nin’s original text and re-remember my first engagements with it and the romantic desires of my early twenties. a beautiful, confusing and disturbing process. in re-transcribing ii brough my more recent experiences of desire and writing to the process. i applied a new view and took the text further by isolating resonances and amplifying the feverishness.

a : of : in has dissolved over time and the text in your hands now is more of disintegration than the pure erasure it once was, and in many ways, more complete.