Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Cedar Sigo, All This Time


Like Someone in Love

Presenting—Star Time—David Meltzer
and the Famous Flames, lovely healer and
hologram, avenger of the blood who could

read for hours, when the children’s faces
followed him upstairs, the dog would bark

The fire spit funerary songs
A smoke of tiny feathers

that we know nothing and gladly say so (smiling)
that a prince is sometimes left to trace and dig and paste

asking after my poems, qualities of transmission
and who had I been listening to? I might say

Lady or The Misty Miss Christy
Carmen meaning McCrae or Leontyne

Price, either way, he was always
right there and shot through,

                        Wide wreath in flames

The latest from Lofall, Washington poet, critic and editor Cedar Sigo is the poetry title All This Time (Wave Books, 2021), following close on the heels of the remarkable collection of essays (that I’m still working through) Guard the Mysteries (Wave Books, 2021). Sigo’s poems are first person examinations and explorations on living, thinking, reading and being. The press release compares Sigo to a contemporary Frank O’Hara (via a quote by Ron Silliman), composing an “I did this, I did that” kind of first-person lyric, one that engages with the writers and artists within his immediate circle, and there is certainly that, but Sigo’s poetic is one that engages deeper with those poets he references. The references aren’t set simply as references or simple interactions, but composed as deep, and even foundational, engagements with the work of those he cites, including Diane di Prima, Larry Eigner, Tom Clark, Amiri Baraka, Charles Olson and Joanne Kyger. “Larry Eigner’s words,” he writes, to open the poem “Surface Waves,” “Like golden / flies / stuck in / a loom—made / to fall / with sudden / strumming / they sound, separate / distinct [.]” These are poets clearly important to his reading and ongoing poetic. Sigo edited Joanne Kyger’s There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera (Wave Books, 2017), after all, so the repeated instances of her name throughout are hardly one of name-dropping, but in openly engaging with the work of his mentors, forebears and influences, and there is very much the sense of both engagement and homage through these references. I would even argue there’s far more of a Joanne Kyger influence, and even Larry Eigner influence, throughout this collection than anything out of Frank O’Hara, especially through the accumulation of staggered, first-person journal-entry short lines. Not that one needs to know of the source material to enjoy these poems; Sigo’s offerings are truly his own, although it does open a window into his thoughts on these other writers. Paired with this, as well, are poems composed as dedications to some of his contemporaries (including Joy Harjo, John Godfrey, Ed Berrigan and Julien Poirier); any writer’s work exists in conversation, or at least response, to the works of those around, so I’m simply pleased to see Sigo’s engagements acknowledged so directly. He is, as any good writer is, writing from within a particular and uniquely blended melange of books, writers and community interactions.

Mind control takes hold after four poems.

Elaine should be the poet in a cage (booth) at the LA art-book fair
or better yet, bill her as a prizefighting Jean Harlow

in a slightly bloodied V-neck blouse
and green-gold pyramid cuff.


Rereading the first Joanne interview in our new book (There You Are)

“Just write what’s going on around you. Outside and inside.”

I think of this as a statement on sustaining a viable rhythm within the poem.

The poem is the only hem (the only field?) that Joanne has to land upon. (“Six Lines Missing”)

There are times these poems read akin to journal entries or quick sketches, almost Creeleyesque, perhaps, but clearly worked and thought carefully through. There are some sharp insights caught in Sigo’s lyric (and I would highly recommend his collection of essays, the first title of his I’d actually seen; a book I clearly haven’t dealt with properly yet via review), one paired with, and even strengthened through, a lovely, easygoing craft that engages clearly and thoughtfully through the prose sentence and lyric form. And yet, this book refuses any consideration of showy or performative, allowing itself, akin to the work of his fellow Wave-poet, Joshua Beckman, a clarity of pure ease of meditative thinking: a poetry that simply and beautifully is.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, Bird Arsonist


Dibble Wing

parentheses mountains

the debt horizon brailles
crow. I am here        to shoot
the bruise-shaped


The second full-length collaboration by Hamilton writer Gary Barwin and London, Ontario poet Tom Prime, following their collaborative full-length debut, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Guelph ON: Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here], is Bird Arsonist (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2022). This is, in fact, a third full-length collection for Prime, as his solo debut appeared last year, his Mouthfuls of Space (Vancouver BC: A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Noted in the press release as a collection “[w]ritten with four hands,” Bird Arsonist is composed via short bursts of language across a dense and surreal landscape of collaged and distorted words, sound shapes and images. Twin-penned, one might say, and composed through the one mind between them, Bird Arsonist displays a language of sound poetry shaped to the page, writing poems that play with the distortions of meaning, image and sound. There is such a delight displayed through these bursts of speech, as the second half of the sixth and final poem in the sequence “Fair Semiramis” reads: “Alphagetti skinhole / still-housed a mega-church / crusty Hubble / the dictionary purrs / beards [.]”

It might seem that Barwin’s collaborative game came out of nowhere only recently, but he’s been engaged with a variety of collaborative works for years (although he has stepped up his game). Some of his collaborative works over the years include the full-length collections Frogments from the Frag Pool (with derek beaulieu; Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2005), The Obvious Flap (with Gregory Betts; Toronto ON: Book*hug, 2011), Franzlations: the Imaginary Kafka Parables (with Craig Conley and Hugh Thomas; New Star Books, 2011) [see my review of such here] and the collaborative novel The Mud Game (with Stuart Ross; The Mercury Press, 1995), as well as chapbook-length collaborations with Alice Burdick, Amanda Earl, Tom Prime and even myself.

There is something of Vancouver writer George Bowering’s “baffle,” a name he used to describe an external structure utilized for the sake of composition, but for the combined entity of Barwin and Prime, the structure here is one that plays around the meaning that words can’t help but retain, set against each other in unexpected and unusual ways, and how words, narrative and sound interact to form the shape of meaning. In certain ways, these poems lean less into the layers of comparatively-pure surrealism of A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, moving instead into a series of gestures of guttural speech, pushing a surrealism wrapped around a playful, joyful sequence of contortions, cross-outs, interruptions and explosions. “ate their hot facepalm / the hot-wired egg therein // I ruddied / bandaged,” they write, to open to the poem “Prior Tongues,” “the midnight feed-hole / compression bed / furtive, boiled as glands [.]”

Sunday, January 16, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kylie Gellatly

Kylie Gellatly is a visual poet and the author of The Fever Poems from Finishing Line Press (Summer 2021). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Action Spectacle, Counterclock, DIAGRAM, Iterant Magazine, Gasher, La Vague Journal, Petrichor, Literary North, SWWIM, and elsewhere. Kylie is the Book Reviews Editor for Green Mountains Review, Editor-in-Chief of Mount Holyoke Review, and a Frances Perkins Scholar at Mount Holyoke College. For more, visit www.kyliegellatly.com

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

To be honest, I sent the poems out as a manuscript just to see what would happen. I had spent the summer building up these visual poems, about 45, of them, and was about to start my first semester in a new program. It made sense to stop working on them as I was preparing for the academic year, so I bound them up as a “manuscript” and sent them to Finishing Line Press—which I had had my eyes on as a good starting point. They accepted the manuscript within two days and that was that. For most of the school year, I really didn’t have to think about it at all, but once pre-sales started, right in the middle of the spring semester, things got crazy. My understanding of these poems is completely retrospective, as they were written over a couple months—months that were absolutely teeming with change and importance—and I can only look back and draw connections. I’ve learned a lot about my writing and process from this experience and know more of what to expect the next time around.

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

I’ve been reading mostly poetry for some years now, though when I started writing I was writing short fiction. I was in a fiction workshop once and was basically told: “we can’t do anything with this: this is poetry.” What draws me in so close to poetry is its boundlessness. I feel pulled toward art in which the narrative is not the point of the work, when there is no cohesive answer to “what is it about?” I need that freedom, since creativity, for me, has always been a process of discovery.

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?

Because I am working in found/collage form, there is a slight urgency to getting something, once it has taken form, glued down. Otherwise, the tiny, precariously placed scraps of paper with each word (or letter) on it become subject to breeze through an open window or my cat jumping on the desk. That being said, it can take weeks before the scraps start to come together into a poem—though once they begin to, it happens rather quickly. The unique thing about the process is that, once the collage is glued and the poem is in it, there is no revision! No way benefits to workshopping a poem beside asking what I can do differently next time. There was one poem that I tried revised, which was actually very very cool. I had left a good deal of space between each line, so ended up adding 2-3 lines between each original piece, making sure each new line picked up where the previous left off and could also segue into the original predecessor. It grew from 8 lines to 15.

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?

The impetus of The Fever Poems was to make cards I card send to friends. I cut up a couple magazines then found something more interesting—a book that I was tired of holding onto for sentimental reasons that I could turn into something else. It had illustrations too! I made one card with a few words cut out and pasted onto it and then suddenly was writing full lyric poems in that way. Also suddenly, there were more than forty poems. I am working on a new project now that is very much a self-contained book project, replete with an extensive reading list for research and piles and piles of notes on what it aims to explore.

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

Definitely. I found them more useful when I was writing “free form” and not in this new collage approach, because I could edit while I read and would learn more about the poem each time I read for an audience. From readings, I learned to compose out loud and imitate the experience while it’s being written, which offered a noticeable change to my writing as soon as I started doing it. I have a background in music and always got so much out of playing for an audience. Every performance showed me something I had never heard before. The anxiety or excitement of having an audience can be so altering to one’s perception.

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?

I’ve often questioned whether abstraction, in my own work, is a way around craft, which I’m sure comes from an insecurity about my non-traditional education. One concern, in particular, that comes up when working with found poetry, is how the poems engage with the source text or what it means to be working with a source text. For me, I’m interested in how to break narrative, so the idea of butchering a book is very clear for me. From there, it’s which book and why.

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?

Huge question, one I can only answer in terms of myself. I write out of a need to communicate, express, and relate, operating on internal beliefs that I otherwise could not do so. On the other hand, so much of my life has been informed by artists and access to the arts, that creating, myself, is one of the many ways that I can see that kind of availability continue.

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

I haven’t had much experience working with an editor. This book is made up of found/collage poems, which makes them unchangeable beyond whether or not to include the piece. Mostly what I have found with editors is validation—most journals do not consider this sort of hybrid work and finding ones that not only print it, but encourage and foster it, is very exciting.

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

I have a clipping above my desk that acts as advice:

“I am a procrastinating writer an unnecessary writer an undisciplined writer a blocked writer a distractible writer a perfectionist writer a very slow writer who spends most of their time teaching and parentings and washing groceries a writer who writes under the conditions of late Western capitalism, now in new global pandemic form.” — Andrea Lawlor

Andrea is also a professor of mine and I receive advice from them on the regular that can be more tailored to my circumstance.

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 work in the mornings, which can last all day or not. Some days I read before sitting down to write, others it’s reversed. Depending on where I am with one particular poem, “sitting down to the desk” may not mean writing at all. For example, these past few days I’ve spent working on a collage and spending time with the visual aspect of the poem, which sits in pieces, unfinished, off to the side. Sometimes, working with the collage is a step I turn to if I feel I don’t understand where the poem has gone. What can the visual aspect reveal or direct in what is already at work?

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

Besides spending more time with the visuals of the poem, I try to read more. It usually means I’ve been writing too many emails and don’t have the rhythm in my head. It’s a foolproof antidote, unless I’m between books or have, what I call, reader’s block.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I recently went for a hike in the woods and I came upon a horse farm just as it started raining. I had to stop and sit down because of how overwhelmed I was by the smell and how transportive it was. I grew up across the street from a house with horses and extensive gardens, where my father would take me for walks every day, and at that moment it felt like I had not smelled that combination since then.

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?

I curated a playlist that I can write to, the three main ambassadors of which are Alice Coltrane, Phillip Glass, and Sleep.

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

I’ve been very lucky in getting to know a lot of the artists and writers who inspire me most. I lived down the street from the Vermont Studio Center for a number of years and never took for granted the people I was coming into contact with, meeting, and getting to know. The prowess and genius of their work in everyday life made such an impression on me. It is the encouragement I found in that community that motivated me to take myself more seriously in my writing—which has made all the difference.

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

Write a screenplay.

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’ve dabbled in a number of occupations—park ranger, cook, data processor, bookseller, etc. I recently went back to school to study English and am now an unemployed student… so I guess we’ll see.

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

I was raised by artists and thus grew up believing that one I needed to find an outlet for expressing myself — which I understood to mean or else you won’t be able to. It took many years and trials across the disciplines to find that poetry—the manipulation of the very thing I felt was holding me back—was the most freeing.  

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

I’ve finally read Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties and I am blown away. Also, forever changed by Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, which I also finally read this year. 

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m taking the methods I learned in creating The Fever Poems and directing them into a deeper, more conceptual project, that uses a selection of cookbooks to reflect on my time working as a butcher in fine dining, while directing the language into addresses of gender, agency, the individual, and the insidiousness of the anthropocene. The visual and research components of this project have changed my processes drastically and I feel that I’ll be working on this for a long time.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;