Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Noelle Kocot, Ascent of the Mothers



Two of every naked animal—
Sheets of water,

Stuck nests and lawns,
Your animated face in my hands,

Studded with cigarettes
And then someone recognized us.

Two of every animal
Inside my head.

The ninth full-length collection by Noelle Kocot, current poet laureate of Pemberton Borough, New Jersey, is Ascent of the Mothers (Seattle/New York: Wave Books, 2023), a sleek collection of some forty pages of precise, halting and deeply specific lyrics. The thinking space between Kocot’s carved lines are enormous, providing lines and phrases that nearly hover in space. “Let’s be God / For a moment,” the poem “DIVINATION” begins, “Shall we? / That which invites // Composition, / That which is suspended // From a great height, / The presence // Of approximation [.]” Kocot’s lines, at times, feel akin to the English-language ghazal, offering leaps from point to point across a great distance, nearly drawing a line around what is there but neither seen nor spoken, but somehow articulated. “The scope of this book,” as the press release offers, “is marked by a near-fatal car crash, which elicited a new understanding of their spirituality and gender nonconforming identity.” Kocot’s lyrics extend across lengthy threads of narrative, even through such small moments of wise and stunning attention, as the threads across these delicate, fierce poems push and push further. One might say that the scope of these poems are enormous, with poems touching on considerations of spirituality and the divine, physical being and becoming, and of living precisely within each moment. “The intractable landscape,” they write, to open “POEM FOR MY GODDAUGHTER HANNAH,” “the harsh sun / On our faces. Waves of we’re alive. Whatever // Happens to me.”

Monday, October 30, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kim Rosenfield

Kim Rosenfield is a poet and psychotherapist. She is the author of several books of poetry, including USO: I’ll Be Seeing You from Ugly Duckling Presse (2014). She is the 2023 recipient of the FENCE Ottoline Prize. Her latest book, Phantom Captain, will be published by FENCE in fall 2023. Rosenfield is an originating member of the international artist/writers collective, Collective Task. Her clinical writing can be found in Psychoanalytic Dialogues and Studies in Gender and Sexuality. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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

My first chapbook, SOME OF US (Ouija Madness Press), came out when I was 15 years old.  It took me from writing alone in my teenage bedroom to having a community and place for my work to be seen and heard.  It helped get me to college.  It most certainly changed my life.  I also though that poetry could change the world. I don’t think that now.  I was new to it all.  It was an unprecedented  time, the Beyond Baroque 80’s Los Angeles poetry scene.

Over the years my work has become darker, more complex, less youthfully confident than that early work, but I still feel connected to it as a formative template of everything I continue to think and write about today.  Just with more life lived and much more uncertainty mixed in.

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

I came to poetry alongside fiction and am a lifelong reader of both. I was a voracious reader with a library card and a parent willing to drive me to our local branch.  I  read everything  In addition, I loved  language absorbed through cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, magazine ads, t.v. jingles, synagogue prayers, music, arguments, newscasts, my grandparents accents, etc.  all were a kind of poetry.  The form didn’t much matter so much.

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?

Slowly, over months and years, with endless lines in endless note books.  Eventually loosely refashioned together like a sewing pattern. Then refined and edited and then edited some more, then finished in a “final” form even though all my work is just one continuous thread spooling out  from book to book.

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?

See above.

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

I love giving readings and speaking my work out loud. There’s bodies and voices and bloodstreams and smells and laughter and coughing fits and rustlings an yawns, and eyes closed and walking out, and street noise, and mic static,  etc. which I find so exciting!  It’s more and less intimate at the same time.  The work gets changed in a collective listening space.  I don’t know  how to describe it  but  so much happens to the poems in a room when read aloud to others.

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?

What does It mean to be human is all I ever think about.

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 really think about this in any significant way. 

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

It depends on who it is but I generally like having another mind in on the work, and being in the fortunate position of having someone pay such close attention to my writing is a gift.

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

Don’t listen to anyone else’s advice

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 don’t have a routine.  I have a  demanding job so I write when I have available time and energy.   A typical day, however, ALWAYS begins with coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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

It depends how stalled and for how long but usually conversations with other poets.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

L’Heure Blue and damp kitty litter

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?

All of the above mentioned + animals + insects

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

A sampling:

Freud, Bion. Klein, Winnicott, LaPlanche, Kristeva, Weil, Iregary, the Barangers, Abraham and Torok, Gail Scott, Leonora Carrington, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Etel Adnan, Buckminster Fuller, Samuel Becket… I could go on and on

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


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 love my work as both a therapist and a poet.  There’s nothing else that I would ever do.

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

I’ve always written and done something else simultaneously.

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

Book: The Hearing Trumpet—Leonora Carrington

Film: Meshes of the Afternoon—Maya Deren

19 - What are you currently working on?

It’s a surprise!  Hint: think “Spanish Inquisition.”

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Amanda Earl, Beast Body Epic


Feathermarked along or frost-etched
deep into and below. Stalactites
suspended into the dark and my body.
Am I destroyed or am I armoured?
Was I tough? Did I hang on against
all pronouncements?

One of the frustrations of no longer running a trade literary press is that we would have easily produced one or two further titles by Ottawa poet Amanda Earl beyond her full-length debut, Kiki (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2014), so it was a delight to see her self-produce her latest, the book-length Beast Body Epic (Ottawa ON: AngelHousePress, 2023) [launching online on November 12]. Beast Body Epic directly responds to the author’s health crisis from a few years back, and the ongoingness of Earl’s expansive lyric and visual structure echoes, slightly, of how Dennis Cooley responded to a burst appendix, through his departures (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 2016) [see my review of such here]. As Vancouver poet and editor Elee Kraljii Gardiner writes as part of her introduction to Beast Body Epic: “She leans into visual poetry, the epic, allusion, disassociation, memoir, verse, prose, fable, allegory, and other modes in order to tell a complex story in a surprisingly succinct work. The variation is not only necessary, it’s seamless, and Amanda’s text flows with the protagonist through crisis into stasis and onward.” Gardiner is an interesting choice to write an introduction, as she knows full well about experiencing a medical crisis and exploring the same through lyric: her collection Trauma Head (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2018) [see my review of such here] is “a book of poetry about [her experience with and after] an arterial dissection and stroke [.]”

Throughout her book-length epic, Earl offers a dense language of sound and play, traversing visual, prose, lyric experimentation and flourish, occasionally sketching a kind of narrative point-form. “Death spent years as the taker.” she writes, early on in the collection, “Loaded art into their conversation. / The Rot was too drunk and needy, couldn’t breathe. / She nightmare herself to sleep. / The sun ceased. // The fluttering started and didn’t stop. / First the pigeons, then the crows. / Black wing over black wing. / There’s a wolf in the labyrinth, / the Rot’s husband told her.” Earl’s lyrics and visuals are wildly performative, capable of incredible grace, flourish, anguish and precision, as required. “A nurse gives me Tylenol 3,” she writes, mid-way through the collection, “a gown / and long white compression socks. / I feel like Anne of Green Gables or / maybe Raggedy Anne, my body / stuffed full of rags, my clothes too / big for me, a little orphan girl without / parents or anyone to save her.” This is a collection that somehow manages to fly in multiple, even contradictory structural directions simultaneously, while holding together as a clear book-length work with a narrative through-line. If you haven’t been paying attention to the ongoing work of Amanda Earl [see my review of her stunning Judith: Women Making Visual Poetry anthology here], you clearly need to begin.


Saturday, October 28, 2023

Samantha Nock, A Family of Dreamers


fort st. john,

i remember when there used to be nothing
but flat fields in front of my elementary school.

behind kokum’s house,
i play pretend in the backyard.
climb on the railing of the porch and talk to
the ravens.

ki miyokîsikan’sin, babe?

The full-length debut from Vancouver-based Samantha Nock is A Family of Dreamers (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2023), a collection of first-person lyrics that exist as an assemblage of monologues or gestures around a landscape of family, ancestors and the land itself, writing her origins in rural north-east British Columbia. “we carry the grief of our ancestors.” she writes, to open the poem “follow your traplines home,” “while we carry / our mothers’ grief / our aunties’ grief / and the grief of the old woman / we saw in shoppers.” Nock’s poems sit as elegies and acknowledgments, offering presence and prayer, writing of mothers and grandmothers and even herself with enormous care. Nock’s poems offer linkages to the past, and the growing pains of finding herself amid these complexities of a living history, as well as northern British Columbia dive bars, “northern cuzzins” and anti-Indigenous racism. This is a deeply intimate collection that seeks to find and hold one’s place, both as an individual and within a context far larger and longer than herself. “hold the braid like this,” she writes, to open the poem “ceremony,” “here, use this to light it. // we’re not supposed to use a lighter? / shit, just use it anyways. / is it going? // okay. // you rub your hands together like this? / push the smoke down your body.”