Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ongoing notes: TIFA’s Small Press Market (part two: Lannii Layke + Janette Platana,

the moment Ken Norris met ryan fitzpatrick
[see part one of my notes here] Here’s another accounting of some of the titles I picked up at the most recent fair in Toronto!

Toronto ON: I’m fascinated by the debut chapbook by Toronto-based poet Lannii Layke, their Os (knife|fork|book, 2022), a gracefully-sleek collection of exploratory poems. There is an intriguing narrative layering to Layke’s lines, offering line upon line upon fragment, a hush, and a halt. Their author biography at the end of the collection offers a couple of intriguing details: “They attend to crafting memory and fine jewellery. In French, os is bone.” The poems here are crafted but not precious: precise, and deft in their resolve, offering eight first-person poems that seek, seek out. “we have those secrets that stick us,” the poem “Sister” offers, “like our / talk  and hate  and / waxing piss onto our man [.]” There is such graceful, absolute beauty in Layke’s searchings, one that sparkles not just through discovery, but revealing and remarking upon what was already known.


                    My frequency
  factors  in the cloning of plums
The rib of plum
in the posture of plum line    a smaller Sweat
       is that same salt    collecting so

Toronto ON: There’s a wonderful sense of play and language across the nine poems of Peterborough writer Janette Platana’s chapbook New Fairious (Anstruther Press, 2023), each offering short narratives, akin to character studies, to a list of alternate fairies, from “The Shame Fairy” and “The Literary Fairy” to “The Fairies Feify & Deify” and “The Truth Fairy.” “They are not twins, these two,” the poem “The Fairies Reify & Deify” begins, “but reciprocating parasites who // rfuse to play host. / Yet each outstrips the other // in unxious luxury.” There’s a delight of sound and meaning through her word choises throughout these poems, offering an unexpected richness line by line by narrative line, all of which rolls along into a sequence of impossibility. How Platana is a writer I hadn’t heard of previously, although her author biography offers that her short story collection, A Token of My Affliction (Toronto ON: Tightrope Books, 2014), “was a Finalist for the Ontario Trillium Book Award.” Oh, how I wish to see more poems by Janette Platana.

The Shame Fairy

Her dust encauls you in nausea.

Until the ignosecond of Her enclaspment
you did not even know
She was a thing. Now, you are filled
with Her shitty gift. Now, you bob
inside Her gassy bubble
like you are the grinning bonhomme
in one of those oversized inflatable snow globes
in the parking lot of the biggest big box store
when your anchor cable has sprung
and you bounce between parked cars,
legless, footless, as well as entrapped,
head blog
indignant and indistinguishable
from bottom blog.

It would be funny if it weren’t forever.


Friday, September 29, 2023

David Martin, Kink Bands



They trotted out his anticline,
capstone crust punctuated
by a wedge-thrust to the town’s
makeover bonanza, where
seismic pricks could plot
secured flab, and flatter him
under talk-show sunlight.
Yet look at the after shot:
Devonian shell-sweat is
girdled by a deer-head buckle,
his footwall has lead foot
an a King Cab, and during
apotheosis to carbon cloud
his Nudie suit will blacken
at dusk, sloughing sequins
over our sweet, crude sleep.

Following his book length debut, Tar Swan (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2018), comes Calgary poet David Martin’s second collection, Kink Bands (NeWest Press, 2023), a collection slyly and semi-deceptively titled for a geological term. As the back cover offers, Kink Bands is composed via “lyrically experimental poems expanding and retracting,” in a collection that “finds sonic and conceptual energy from the perspective of deep time and the geological forces that have shaped and continue to shape the Earth.” The notion of “deep time” is one that contemporary poets seem to only occasionally wrestle with (not nearly enough, one might think), focusing instead on more immediate moments and concerns, but for the length and breadth of what might be seen as Don McKay’s second lyric act (with Long Sault more of an opening salvo than an extended act), following a career of multiple poetry titles focusing on birds and birding into multiple book-length lyric meditations on geological and ecological time (the 2021 title Lurch might be McKay emerging out the other end of this into a larger, blended consideration, but that’s a conversation for another time). For Martin, the notion of the “kink band” examines both a layering and an extended thread, approaching his blending of geological research and the narrative lyric akin to extended study.

Martin’s poems are hewn, carved and crafted, comparable to if one could simultaneously carve and reconceptualize stone. Simply to read the notes set at the end of the collection makes for interesting reading, seeing how he approaches the composition of poems and the application of ongoing study. Martin moves from bedrock to striation, legends of the creation and use of stone tools to the myth of Philoctetes, and even to Martin’s own adaptation of Earle Birney’s infamous poem “David,” from David and other Poems (Ryerson Press, 1942), a poem he translates “into the restricted language of Basic English. the poem mimics the crystalline structure of foliated metaporic rocks that have been subjected to extreme pressure and heat at tectonic zones of subduction.” There is something so deeply fascinating about a particular interest or research becoming ingrained to the point that the poems that emerge feel entirely natural. “I watch my daughter clap two mitts / of snow,” he writes, to open the poem “SINTER,” “amalgamating hand-bergs. // A jillion columns, taunts, and spoked / dentrites have their civil distance // fractured.” There’s a play across Martin’s sharp language, and one might even compare Martin’s lyric use of scientific research and landscape to such as Lorine Niedecker’s “Lake Superior,” or Monty Reid’s The Alternate Guide (Red Deer College Press, 1985). His note on the poem “Stone Tape Theory,” for example, referencing the infamous Frank Slide of 1903, the subject of numerous poems over the years (including one of my own, around the time of the event’s centennial), read: “One explanation for the magnitude of displaced debris that occurred during the rockslide at Turtle Mountain in 1903 (next to the town of Frank, Alberta) is a phenomenon known as acoustic fluidization. To my knowledge, the Stone Tape Theory has yet to be substantiated.” As the first of the four stanzas of the poem reads:

Turtle Mountain belting a tonic
from its spooned-out lungs
as Livingstone scutes surf
on tranced cushions of sound:
charming friction’s coefficient
to embrace a dazed disinhibition.


Thursday, September 28, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Hannah Kezema

Hannah Kezema is an artist who works across mediums. She is the author of the debut collection, This Conversation is Being Recorded (Game Over Books, 2023), and the chapbook, three (Tea and Tattered Pages, 2017), and her work appears in Black Sun Lit, Grimoire, New Life Quarterly, Full Stop, Spiral Orb, and other places. She was the 2018 Arteles Resident of the Enter Text program, and she is currently the co-editor of Moving Parts Press’s broadside series of Latinx and Chicanx poetry, in collaboration with Felicia Rice and Angel Dominguez. She lives in the Santa Cruz mountains by the sea, among the redwoods and wildflowers.

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 chapbook, three, came out in 2017 through a now defunct press, Tea and Tattered Pages, and I remember feeling like I’d been validated as a writer. I was still sort of fresh out of grad school, and being solicited (after many, many rejections) and then published felt like I’d been given the “okay” to keep going. It’s a strange and dark little book centered around the number 3 – triangles, mirrors, mythology, pyramids, threesomes, and an unreliable first-, second-, and third-person narration. Very experimental and what I would call within the Naropa [University] aesthetic. I remember being really surprised that there were no edits from the publisher, aside from a few things I tweaked here and there, since I tend to over-edit. Looking back, I definitely would’ve asked more questions about the process and book roll-out, but I hadn’t even so much as signed a contract, and that book struggled to get out in the world for a variety of reasons.

My debut full-length, This Conversation Is Being Recorded, which came out with Game Over Books in late March, was a completely different experience, both in terms of the publishing process and subject matter. I’ve worked in the insurance fraud industry for the past 7 years now in a few roles, but primarily, as a field investigator and editor, and I began writing poems about the cases I was working on about one year in. Over time, the poems began accumulating, and Game Over Books was actually the reason the book became hybrid. I’d always been interested in incorporating visual aspects into my work, and ironically, This Conversation Is Being Recorded was my first work that was just straight up poetry. Honestly, after creating hybrid work without any traction for years, I was a little discouraged, and I was trying to do something more “straightforward.” But I was so thankful to have a publisher that understood my praxis as an artist and encouraged me to go all out. To pick up the paintbrush. Get my hands in the dirt. 

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

I kind of came to poetry last! I studied literature in my undergrad while at the New School, and when I got to Naropa for my MFA, I was very much interested in writing prose but also expanding my notion of what prose could be. I hadn’t read any contemporary poetry whatsoever and felt completely out of the loop compared to my peers. I hadn’t even heard of small press publishing, and outside of doing theatre for years, I’d never read my work in front of anyone. Those two years were vigorous for me because I had always felt safer in the sentence than the line. Then, of course, I fell in love with the freedom of the line. 

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?

It depends on how we quantify a “start,” but I’d say that the moment I have an idea for something, even if it isn’t totally cohesive, I usually make a note in my notebook or phone. Something non-committal because I don’t want to scare the idea away! Then I’ll usually wait and see if the idea sticks. Sometimes, lines will come to me first, without the full shape of the idea, but more often than not, I’ll get the impulse to make something specific and it’s a matter of figuring out from there whether it’s fruitful or worthwhile. I think about things very categorically. When the idea becomes a Thing, then the real work happens, and I am (to my own detriment) quite a perfectionist in that regard. I want my first draft to be as close to polished as possible, and as an editor, I can’t turn that part of my brain off. I overthink and I edit and edit and edit, which is likely why each project takes me years to complete.   

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’ve always considered myself a very projects-oriented person, maybe to a fault. I have a very hard time writing a piece “just because,” or without thinking about it within a larger context. Of course, every now and then, I’m inspired to write a poem with no strings attached. I’m trying to be better about this because I think being so book-forward can actually stifle the process. Who’s to say a single poem can’t hold the same gravity as a book of poems? This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. 

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

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with readings. For starters, they make me very anxious, despite my performance background. There’s something specifically stressful about reading words you’ve written in front of a crowd – it’s more vulnerable for me than singing. But I will say that the dread only lies in the build-up of the event because once I’m reading, I’m in the zone. And I feel the post-reading high afterwards. While it’s still challenging all these years later, I think it’s important to take your work off the page and let it test the waters. What comes up – and how others respond - might surprise you and possibly change the trajectory of the work. I do believe a sort of synergy can happen between the reader and the audience when bringing the written word into a physical space.  

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’m not sure that my body of work has a unifying theme by any means, but I think of each work in terms of various stages of my life. All my work is hybrid, which is a common thread, but where my earlier works were more conceptual and form driven, This Conversation Is Being Recorded and the work leading up to it became more about my own life, my job, the seeking of truth, and exploring issues like labor and gender under capital. Of course, I can’t help but weave in the visual aspects, too. Perhaps I’m not as interested in answering the questions as I am in letting the questions linger in my work. 

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?

This is a tough question, as I feel I’m still figuring this out for myself. Many people will say that in these times, the role of the artist at large is to be an activist for change. I don’t disagree with this but also feel the pressure of it and find myself just as interested with the internal kind of revolution that a reader can experience. If a text can change the way you think or feel, then I think it’s fulfilled its “purpose.” All effective change must begin with the individual. I also can’t deny that the role of the writer historically has been the outrider of society, and yet, they are also the visionaries who archive histories, and their legacies live on beyond them. The writer is the dreamer, the documentarian, the hermit, the Shaman. Ultimately, I think writers and artists shouldn’t be afraid to create for themselves – the act of creating a work of art is just as, if not more vital, than its reception. When we become too concerned with the latter, we stray further from poetry and closer to careerism. There’s a lot of nepotism in the poetry “community,” but I don’t believe in the commodification of poetry. I believe that defeats poetry’s very essence. 

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

Both! Especially as I’ve had many people tell me I’m a brutal editor myself. But it’s always valuable to get an outside perspective on your work. Sometimes we just need another pair of eyes.

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

I can’t remember who said this, or if it was a conglomeration of things other people have said, but more or less: “Give yourself permission to write.” And probably cliché at this point, but Ginsberg’s “first thought best thought.”

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

I don’t typically do both simultaneously, as I believe different mediums require different minds. But they can support one another in that way – it can be incredibly beneficial to turn to painting when I’m hitting a wall with the writing. That being said, I do find the visual work is faster for me, or at least I spend less time doing it. For instance, with This Conversation Is Being Recorded, most of the paintings were created in the final months of my working on the manuscript, whereas the text itself took me about six years. For this book, I needed to get all the writing out first, sort of like laying down the foundation. I needed more time to consider how the visuals would be executed, with plenty of trial and error along the way. 

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?

What’s cool about this is you asked me a similar question in 2019, and when I first answered, I had recently completed my first residency at Arteles in Haukijärvi, Finland, during which time, I’d finally developed (if only for about a month) a consistent writing routine. Outside of that and my MFA program, I really haven’t had one. I used to shame myself about it, but I’ve learned that I’m not the kind of writer who can force it. I’m not of the school of thought that doing some writing is better than no writing at all. I’m just not interested in writing for writing’s sake, but I know this works for a lot of other folks. I also hate sitting down at the computer. Unconventional aspects of my “writing routine” are spending time outside, touching water, having meaningful experiences with people I love, sitting still with hard feelings, spending time with art that moves me, and traveling. I let myself get inspired, and it keeps the writing exciting (and not burdensome) for me. 

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

Usually, I read the work of others before me or turn to other forms of art altogether, so as not to be too influenced. I’m also a firm believer in a good walk or moving the body in general to get unstuck.   

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Pine-Sol, newspaper, and fireplace smells. Fresh mint leaves always make me think of my grandmother and her famous iced tea. Cinnamon and clove remind me of my mother. 

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?

Being in nature is vital – among the flowers, trees, animals, fungi, and bodies of water. I also usually listen to music that resonates with the mood of what I’m writing. It’s surprising what can come up if you even just put on a song that makes you emotional. It can make the writing even more cathartic or therapeutic. I also love zoning out to images as a break from language, which can be so unruly. Letting my mind rest and my eyes scan the colors, shapes, and textures of something allows me to slow down. Gardening and creating floral arrangements with flowers from my garden and other things I’ve foraged has also been really meditative but creative at the same time. 

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

So many, but I’ll try to be brief: Molly Brodak, Diane Seuss, June Jordan, Maggie Nelson, Clarice Lispector, Truman Capote, Lisa Robertson, CAConrad, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, etc. etc. 

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

Take a real vacation in adulthood. 

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 always saw myself studying law or forensics if I decided to give up on my creative pursuits. I’ve also felt like I could’ve been a lawyer (or even judge) in a former life. I’m fascinated by detectives but could never be a cop. For some time, my dream job was to be a handwriting analyst, which I guess isn’t too far off from writing.  

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

Writing has always come naturally for me, even if I resisted it at first. I was a voracious reader as a child and wrote these dark little ghost stories. But what I really dreamt of then was becoming an actress and singer – I always wanted to perform. I did theater all throughout high school, studied it during my first year of college, and I was living in New York, hustling but not getting call-backs and questioning whether my heart was really in it. I ultimately decided it wasn’t working and took a semester off to travel to California and then transfer to another school to study literature before later going on to study writing and poetics in grad school. It worked out pretty seamlessly, in the end, but I still sometimes miss being on stage. Maybe my next phase will be playwriting, who knows?   


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

La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta and Asteroid City by Wes Anderson.

20 - What are you currently working on?

Self-care and gardening, for the most part. I’ll be teaching an online workshop focused on This Conversation Is Being Recorded on October 24th and hope to have some more readings later in the year. I may have also started writing another book, but only time will tell… 


12 or 20 (second series) questions;


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Ongoing notes: TIFA’s Small Press Market (part one: Dale Martin Smith + Chris Johnson,

[see my four posts from the debut fair back in 2019 here and here and here and here] What a delightful fair this was! I was unable to make last year’s event due to my host falling sick with covid last minute, but managed to drive down for the sake of this small curated small press fair at Toronto’s Harbourfront, as hosted by Kate Siklosi/Gap Riot Press. Here are a couple of the items I collected as part of this year’s event:

Toronto ON: Some of the most intriguing small publishing work right now is being produced by Kirby’s Knife|Fork|Book; I’ve really been admiring the way that Kirby manages to find remarkable work by an array of writers that might not have been able to find homes for their work, at least easily. One of the titles I picked up at the fair was by Dale Martin Smith [see my review of his 2021 Talonbook title, Flying Red Horse, here], the chapbook Blur (2022). Dedicated to his partner, the poet Hoa Nguyen, the poems in Blur are an assemblage of short lyrics composed with such a light and even delicate touch. “What you know of me / is duration,” he writes, to open “Circles,” “movement / along the path between / our home and the neighbors’.” Smith’s work has long held an element of the personal in his work, but there is an intimacy here that focuses very deeply on the small that is stunningly, staggeringly moving and beautiful. Here is Dale Martin Smith composing poems with the density and brevity of poets such as Mark Truscott or Cameron Anstee, but set with the entirety of his whole heart.


You step out of the house
with trash and rain
comes down cold, intimately
known across the time you imagine
is your life.

Jim Johnstone, Anstruther Press

oronto ON: It was interesting to catch Ottawa poet Chris Johnson’s latest title, 320 lines of poetry (counting blank lines) (2023) from Jim Johnstone’s Anstruther Press, apparently in my hands before even the author got to see copies (this has happened the rare time before over the years with other publishers). There is something about Johnson’s poetry that is intriguing for the way he is so overtly exploring the lyric through experimentations with form and influence, seeking out a form through which to finally land. His poems are so clearly exploratory, seeking and reaching out to see what might strike, from his prior explorations through the haibun to these explorations through elegy, prose poems and extended lines, with individual poems composed “after” specific works by Jessie Jones, Kim Mannix, John Newlove, Artie Gold (his entire prior chapbook was a riff of a specific title by Artie Gold) and Christian Wiman.

Other pieces in the collection reference specific friends, many of whom also happen to be contemporary writers. “the rain has stopped,” Johnson writes, to open “some days are harder than others,” “but Monty says / there is always something / with bigger holes in it.” There are moments that the poems do fall too deeply into the self-referential, such as the opening poem, “elegy for chris johnson,” offering “today I ate a turkey sandwich and / thought about stephanie roberts’ turkey sandwich.” Throughout this piece he cites and he references, but doesn’t seem to offer really anything more than that, so the poem is intriguing, but doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. There are times that his line breaks do offer some nicely sharp turns, moments and corners, such as the opening of “when does the hunger begin?”: “the last days of February were honeyed, / snowy, and enlightened by whisky and weed.” That’s some fine precision, there. As well, there are moments within his prose poems where the music in his lyric shows itself quite nicely, whether the poem “asleep” (after “Awake” by Kim Mannix) or “a regular person” (after “Better Manifesto” by Jessie Jones). All in all, it feels (in an interesting and positive way) as though Johnson is still searching, still experimenting; I look forward to seeing what occurs when he finally lands.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Lisa Olstein, Dream Apartment


The same racist neighbors who refer to the Obama presidency with a vile slur are the ones who hauled water to them, unasked, when their well went dry, who plowed the no-plow road twice a day during his six-week radiation commute, who didn’t tell him his medical bills were what the green beer and corned beef fundraiser were for until they dropped off the cash, B. tells us over dinner, dismayed, embarrassed. It’s a friendly place to live, if you’re white. Across the valley, the canola field’s electric yellow drains the just-bloomed sweet clover of all its light. Closer in, the Monsanto new product tester’s square green fields leak chemicals into the wind. He’s a true believer, thinks he’s going to feed the starving world, B. reports. What happens next, I ask hours later gesturing weakly toward the crises, the crossroads, the whatever-you-want-to-call-it we’ve been circling for hours. What happens next, he repeats, what happens next is what we do.


Animal, adjust. (“GLACIER HAIBUN”)

Austin,Texas-based poet and non-fiction writer Lisa Olstein’s fifth poetry title through Copper Canyon Press, and the first I’ve explored of her work—beyond her collection of epistolary letters co-written with Julie Carr, Climate (Essay Press, 2022) [see my review of such here]—is Dream Apartment (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2023). Dream Apartment is a collection of poems structured across seven clusters of sharp lyrics, each of which stretch out across incredible distances, as the first, say, forty percent of the opening poem, “FORT NIGHT,” reads: “The snake is / a sleeve the deer / puts on its mouth / a beaded cuff / in the haze men / make of morning / with each release / of their fist-gripped / guns.” There is an element of Olstein’s Dream Apartment that suggest this a collection of dream narratives or dream poems, offering a subtle play on rhythm, sound and internal rhyme covering loss and an ongoing grief, from the intimate to the external, including around climate. “So spring today, bees in the bok choy / bolted yellow before we could eat it,” she writes, to open “TO FLEE THE KINGDOM,” “let them eat it instead, let them carry on / carrying its stardust from place to place, // let us all eat, come future come. Meanwhile, / the cat takes, gives a good long bath.”

There is an interesting shift of pacing and structure across Olstein’s lyrics, from the accumulative staccato of the cluster of poems “ANIMAL,” “SEE IT,” “MOTHER NORTH,” “SPRING” and “GROUP PORTRAIT 1244403” to the five poem prose sequence “GLACIER HAIBUN” to the extended sequence of fragments underneath the title “NIGHT SECRETARY,” and the curve of fragment-accumulation lyrics “AND THEN FOREVER,” “MATERIAL FRAGMENTS,” “KINDER SEA,” “YOUR NAME HERE,” “ALL THIS BRITTLE LACEWORK” and “ONLY A FLAWED HUMAN IS YOUR JUDGE” There is such an interesting shift in tone, rhythm and effect through her evolution of lyric structures, one that allows for the larger shape of the collection to emerge out of shared purpose amid myriad structures. “Sorrow what’s my ration tonight,” she writes, as part of “NIGHT SECRETARY,” “full portion [.]” The back cover offers that this collection is “Devoted equally to the long arc and the sharp fragment,” and each shape and patter attends uniquely to the music of each line, offering a precise and dreamy effect through her examinations, and even negotiations, on how one lives or might live in the world. As the poem “KINDER SEA” begins:

There in the trembling port

            of morning who knew yet what

                        wriggled in the net pulled in the

                                    predawn and slapped down on

                                                the rough dock of fuel-flowered