Friday, September 30, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Thomas Kendall

Thomas Kendall
is the author of The Autodidacts released May 2022. Dennis Cooper called The Autodidacts ‘a brilliant novel — inviting like a secret passage, infallible in its somehow orderly but whirligig construction, spine-tingling to unpack, and as haunted as any fiction in recent memory.His work has appeared in the anthologies Abyss (Orchards Lantern) and Userlands (Akashic Books) and online at Entropy.

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 novel has only just come out. I don’t know how people are going to feel about it and I don’t know how their reactions to it (presuming there are any reactions at all, that anyone reads it) will make me feel. Positive or negative. Either way I don’t imagine it’ll do me any favours but it would be nice to know if it succeeded in being, for anyone, something interesting and possibly beautiful. What I can say is that I had to learn how to write the novel and I think that the act of producing something, developing an intuition towards its conclusion, could qualify as transformative. 

The novel I’m finishing now is in many ways a reaction to The Autodidacts. It’s very singularly focused and the structure of it isn’t part of the narrative. I wanted to see if I could work with plot in an interesting way and I thought the only plot driven style of work that I’ve ever really enjoyed is noir. But it’s not really noir. It is also about biological machines and posthumanism etc. Anyway, I’m terrible at describing my work and I want to pretend that’s a virtue? 

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

I can’t write non-fiction because I don’t want to be near anything interesting when I write. I want to disappear when I write.

I’m not very good at poetry. I can only do it sincerely. That sounds bad but I hope you understand what I mean.

A novel gives you a lot of space to cut away at.

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 have a quite infuriating process. I usually have an image or an idea of the affect I’m interested in and then I write to think about what it is composed of and then I continue to write outwards from that. I usually know how I want it to end. I think about structure a lot but the events tied to that structure have to be intuitive so it’s often a complete car crash. I rewrite continually but the rhythms of the work seem to be there at the beginning. I’ve written complete, or almost complete versions, of both novels and then had to completely trash them several times over. Like trash them. The kind of complete toilet flushing waste that makes you question if you can actually do anything interesting or understandable. And I write S-L-O-W. Writer’s have an insane capacity for belief, that sense of faith is the main virtue of the practice. Self belief through excoriation. I don’t know how long I’ve spent trying to get something right in a sentence. It doesn’t help that my grammar is appalling. Still, I want my sentences to be under an amount of pressure that borders upon the unbearable.

4 - Where does a 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?

Always a book. The rest as above.

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

I’ve never really been part of any community or published enough to be invited to do many readings. I think I quite like them but at the same time it seems like it should be a special occasion. I can’t be giving readings on the regular. Too social.

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 think every writer I like has their themes. I think I know what mine are. What links my work is a kind of obsession with trying to detail the experience of thought or the relation between language and what it restrains. 

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I don’t know that any position I take on this is satisfactory enough to express because I think it's impossible to think about this in the singular. That the impulse to individualise is so prominent in our language is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot at the moment. How do we define a multiple? And of course the answer is you don’t have to, you only have to open yourself up to connection to it. 

This isn’t a cop out, I think all creative acts have a duty. The role of the writer, as I see it, is to show a fidelity to whatever is driving creation. 

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

I think you have to get your writing up to scratch. Take it as far as you can go and then submit it. But having someone question what you’ve done and spot your errors and tells is important.

(BTW It took me a long time to learn how to redraft. You have to redraft.)

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

I remember on Dennis Cooper’s blog there was a day on writing tips and the one that stood out to me was to consider writing as a drug. What kind of experience, and what variable for experience, is your work creating is how I interpreted it. It helped me with being able to think of a reader, because I sincerely struggle/d with that.

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 wake up at 6. If our toddler wakes up before 7 I make him breakfast as I drink coffee. At 7 I walk forty five minutes to the school I work in. It’s a good walk. I usually have work until 4 and then I walk home again. I feed our toddler and, depending on what day of the week it is, I wash him and put him to bed. Then we eat and have a chance to catch up. On Tuesdays my wife usually visits a friend and I write. Then I usually have one other two-three hour session somewhere in the week.

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

I just stare at the computer and rewrite sentences until something or nothing happens. Then I tell myself it’s a case of creating the opportunity, just being there, that will lend itself to an answer.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I have a very poor sense of smell.

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?

Film evokes the inexplicable and is able to situate the reader in an ambiguous state much more effectively than a lot of literature does.

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

I have two lists here. One is something I want to keep private and the other I don’t feel like organising. But if pressed: Agota Kristof, Dennis Cooper, Alain Robbe Grillet, Yukio Mishima, Djuna Barnes, Kathy Acker, DH Lawrence, Cormac Mccarthy, Faulkner, Ballard, Gaddis.

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

I don’t know, finish the next book and then know what to do with it.

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 think writer, as an identity, is best kept secret. You have to earn enough money to live and then you have to sacrifice something else to write. Unless you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky you have to be careful what you choose to sacrifice or you may just become unbearable. You risk that any time you talk or think about your writing. Being a writer is just choosing to spend time creating something that may only have value to you but which you have to believe communicates something or has any effect on the world.

I think its unhealthy but true that I can’t imagine not writing. 

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

At a practical level, it’s the cheapest artform. It’d be amazing to work in film, sculpture, conceptual art but it’s the difference between football/soccer and tennis in terms of the equipment and space needed. Language is available and all you have to do is find a way to make it interesting. And writing is the closest thing to telepathy we have so how can it not be interesting?

Writing is also independent in a way that doesn’t rely on having a personality. People don’t really talk about personality any more. Which is a shame because maybe it offers a more charming way out of identity? Anyway, i digress. I want to be invisible to myself. That’s what The Autodidacts is doing.  

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

Three books to cheat and in no specific order: The Employees, Olga Ravn. I wished, Dennis Cooper and Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor.

Last great film. I don’t know. I’m out of touch.

19 - What are you currently working on?

The final, I think, draft of my second novel ‘How I Killed The Universal Man’ and playing around with the beginnings of a third.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Canthius #10 : guest edited by Sanna Wani


I was going to rest my hands this afternoon

but they wanted to make something for you I was going to rest in the full sun fold myself into a neat nap shape always I asked for you ran ahead of you asking when if I held you again would I need anything that takes up more space than I could possibly live every time somehow I still ended up with more before I moved you could I wait for you to return to me I am not very patient (Emily Lu)

I’ve always enjoyed going through issues of Canthius: feminism & literary arts [although admittedly I haven’t offered a review of an issue of some time; see my review of issue two here and issue three here and issue seven here and even the interview I did with founding co-editor/publisher Claire Farley after the first issue landed here], and this new issue, guest edited by Sanna Wani with artwork by Eryn Lougheed, offers up an array of stunning new work by a mound of writers both new and familiar: Emily Lu, Sennah Yee, Chimwemwe Undi, M.A. Blanchard, Joanna Cleary, Terrence Abrahams, Jaeyun Yoo, nanya jhingran, Hua Xi, Elizabeth Mudenyo, Dessa Bayrock, Cecil Choi, Devon Rae, Akshi Chadha, Sarah Ghazal Ali, Lina Wu, Hadiyyah Kuma, I.S. Jones, Malvika Jolly, Cassandra Myers, emilie kneifel, Samantha Martin-Bird, Hajjar Baban, Sara Elkamel, Ryanne Kap, Victoria Mbabazi, Yi Wei, ava hofmann, Natalie Lim, Alyza Taguilaso, Conyer Clayton and Hajera Khaja. With a focus on emerging writers (it would seem), it is always interesting to see different writers expand their roles, so I’m appreciating Wani taking on such a project (although admittedly I’m surprised the issue doesn’t include a biography for her as well, to give a reader unfamiliar with her work the opportunity for context; it seems a bit of a disservice to her work as guest editor. I offer, instead, our recent ’12 or 20 questions’ interview). As she writes to open her ”Editor’s Note”:

When we began thinking about this issue, Leah, Ashley, and I agreed that we would forego a theme. We agreed that we wanted to see what came in—and what we loved—to find a theme by chance rather than call. To see what emerged, rather than to coax anything in particular out of the world. The chance to edit this issue was an enormous gift. You know that saying, how you read is how you write? I feel gifted with a new awareness of how to love poetry, which is in all writing, the particular quality of my love, of poetry’s music, and so the world’s, through these writers.

Part of what is interesting, as I move through this issue, is the number of short and uniquely sharp prose poems that appear here, including pieces by Emily Lu, Sennah Yee, Terrence Abrahams and Devon Rae, through her two poems “Conversation with My Lips” and “Conversation with My Tail.” As the latter reads in full: “you are stunted, cut short, hard nub. But sometimes, I sense a quiver, a kind of stirring. The unfurling of your shadow. I long to drape you over me, feather boa, to use tip to text the air. I long to speak through you, old tongue, ripped out.” I’m enjoying the thread that sits through the issue, of a handful of different poets offering short, lyric bursts of prose poems, and curious at how these particular submissions found themselves into and across this particular issue. Another highlight, in an issue of highlights, is Pakistan-born Afghan Kurdish poet Hajjar Baban, a 2021 PD Soros Fellow and MFA in Poetry candidate at the University of Virginia.

What I’ve Since Learned of Mountains

The language a sun unspoken. Hanging in the air,
my father’s brother’s death. The sword, a missed
prayer. Rocks and my instinct

against reason. Why a Kurdish joke
exists, a fire in the celebration. Those gowns

you’ll never wear. Lavender grown there. The distance,
the name of no country found.

Also, Eryn Lougheed’s artwork throughout the issue provides a fascinating counterpoint to the writing, setting lyric aside lyric, thematically linking to the conversations that guest editor Wani invites through her particular curation. As Wani asks near the end of her opening note: “What would you name the theme of this issue, dear reader? You are the you I am always chasing after all, inviting into these pages. I’ll let you have the last word. I’m interested to know what you choose.” So, basically: this is a journal you should be paying attention to. And you know they’ve a bunch of extra content online as well, yes?

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Forge, forget, lovely, lonely. I need my mind pure and my body expired. I want to devour this meal whole and not feel empty. I need to be better than real. I want you to look at me all the time. (Sennah Yee)

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Danni Quintos, Two Brown Dots


Something from Nothing

It feels like we’re doing everything
in preparation for instead of

to distract ourselves from
pregnancy. Yes, I wish I was

nauseous & constipated, I wish my ankles
would swell, my feet wide as skis.

Zach is planting & cultivating
all the space we have outside:

greens, fruit trees, root vegetables,
climbing peas & herbs whose leaves

take lacy doily shape. I am turning
long lines of wool into cloth: knots

knitting with bamboo needles while I watch
everything my TV suggests. This is self

-reliance. Reproduction & production,
something growing where there didn’t

before seem to be space.

Selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as the winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize is the full-length poetry debut Two Brown Dots: Poems (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022) by “Kentuckian, a mom, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet” Danni Quintos. Her first-person explorations and recollections write around and through a self-determination and self-creation, seeking answers to a space she requires to singularly establish; illuminating lyrics around memory and being, offering answers as best as she is able, in due course, due time. Set in three sections—“Girlhood,” “Motherhood” and “Folklore”—Quintos writes across the length and breadth of lived experience, from watching her father from a distance, summers and childhood crushes and living as an awkward youth, to the experiences of pregnancy and eventual motherhood. She offers stories of her connections to the Philippines, writing of a familial background she simultaneously holds and can’t help but carry, offering, as part of the poem “Possible Reasons My Dad Won’t Return to the Philippines,” “What if he remembers everything [.]” A few lines further, as the poem ends: “[…] the little boy in him left / here with all the cousins, no one / to call nanay or tatay, alone, / the shape of him on a mattress / the version of him that stayed.” She writes of differences, from the ways in which most (if not all) teenagers feel as outsiders, to the consequences of racism, reacting to boundary-making micro-aggressions offered for no reason other than the colour of her skin. “I didn’t yet / understand. And every summer after,” the poem “Brown Girls” ends, “a whirring // reminder that I didn’t belong here, a little song / sung at me by the bodies that slept for years // underground. How we couldn’t see what he saw: / two brown girls under a white couple’s roof.” In certain ways, Two Brown Dots is a collection of poems entirely centred around the body, and how those bodies are experienced, both from outside and within, offering physical responses through the lyric, from adolescence to the fact of living in a predominantly Caucasian space. Her poems are sly and smart, curious and rife with detailed narrative. In the poem “Boobs,” from the opening section, she reveals the phrase from whence the collection finds its title, writing: “In fifth-grade gym class I ran into the padded walls / and felt like marbles bruised me under my shirt. That night // I dreamt they were big & flouncy and I looked at myself / in a mirror, laughing. In a field at recess I did a cartwheel // and Elliott Fess saw my shirt fly up to my chin. I’d forgotten / we were different now. When I asked, did you see anything? // he said, just two brown dots.” Through Two Brown Dots, Quinto manages optimistic poems on awkwardness, uncertainty and a feeling of displacement, packed with story, family and connection, offering observations, recollections and revelations, as one step immediately following another, building a home out of what might otherwise have seemed impossible. “We are two sisters in the middle / of the world where the sun paints us // bronze.” she writes, close to the end of the poem “Pond’s White Beauty.” Or, as Nezhukumatathil’s “Foreword” opens:

Danni Quintos knows how to create light. After so much darkness brought about by climate change, political strife, and, most recently, a global pandemic among other devastations. I’m so glad for this spark. I’m reminded of that old Rumi missive: “If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.” Quintos is a lighthouse when it comes to revealing essential truths about finding your way when you feel alone or misunderstood—our ability to feel lonesome can be just as equaled by our ability to find love, even in the most unexpected ways. This debut thrillingly gives us a triumphant vocabulary with which to make sense, celebrate, and ponder the wild and ecstatic bafflements of coming-of-age, and what it means to insist and cultivate a home for yourself (and others) with courage and grace.