Monday, September 25, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Patti Grayson

Patti Grayson is the author of two award-nominated novels and one award-nominated short fiction collection. Her debut novel, Autumn, One Spring, was translated into German and was a popular book club selection. She lives and writes from the prairies. The Twistical Nature of Spoons is her fourth book and was published in fall of 2023.

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

The first book changed the interior of my life within the context of personal accomplishment. Following publication, I received an email from a high school acquaintance that read: “You’ve managed to fulfill your dream.” At that point, I was in my 40s, and it was surprising to me that people who knew me in my teens understood and remembered that I’d aspired to become a writer.  Having the first book out in the world allowed me to refer to myself as an author without a full-blown imposter-syndrome attack every time. And my exterior world was definitely enriched. Publication provided me with opportunity to encounter readers and to engage with peers at various events. Both those aspects were very rewarding. 

I’m hoping that the new work reveals that some writerly growth has taken place.  Structurally, this novel is more complex than any of my previous projects, which were all more straightforward narratives. This work definitely feels more strenuous.

It also feels more instinctual—metaphorically speaking, there was less checking over my shoulder in the fear that validation was refusing to follow me down the path. For better or worse, I granted myself permission to proceed unaccompanied with what I was creating.

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

Actually, when I decided to become serious about my writing, my initial focus was poetry, and although I never pursued a collection, I did have pieces published in literary journals before I turned to short fiction. I’d always favoured poems that leaned toward storytelling, so it felt natural for me to begin to concentrate on narrative fiction. Once I started writing short stories in earnest, I suddenly felt that I’d never be able to write another poem. It was almost as if that area of my sensibilities sealed shut and was no longer accessible. For me, poetry and fiction remain quite distinct from one another in terms of what they ask of me as a writer. Non-fiction terrifies me, so that was an easy evasion. Fiction continues to be my preferred fit. 

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 tend to plunge right in when I get an idea, but then the process most often turns into a slow crawl. I think it would be helpful if I could work from an outline (sometimes, when I start revisions on a completed draft, I have to create a thumbnail chapter summary for quick reference, but I’ve never started with or followed an outline otherwise). I seem to prefer the wandering, loitering, and dithering that result from the lack of one.

When it comes to revising, my projects have varied in terms of number of drafts, and of the overall overhaul that they produce. I also do tend to become obsessed with minutia; I can easily spend an entire morning reconstructing a single sentence and then delete it at noon.

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?

Each of my published works has originated in a different manner. Core Samples was a determined march toward accruing a collection of short stories. Autumn, One Spring was originally a series of connected stories which were intended to serve as the backbone for Core Samples, but I pulled them out at a late stage and replaced them. I felt that the main character wanted more of my attention, and that perhaps I was ready to tackle a novel for her sake. Those connected stories were significantly altered when I subsequently began the larger project—but their solid roots remained. Ghost Most Foul, my novel for younger readers, came from a single spark of inspiration that was literally gifted to me while I was taking a walk with my dog. The entire story arc presented itself, and every time I sat down to start a new chapter, its purpose and direction were clearly defined in my head (despite not having an outline). At the opposite end of the spectrum, The Twistical Nature of Spoons, my newest adult novel, has had numerous false starts, including the completion of a hefty number of chapters for a forerunner that was totally abandoned (other than one minor character and the vague essence of a single scene that insisted on accompanying me out of the debris). Spurred on by research that led me down absurd paths and produced notebooks of ideas that were never included, I finally did manage to write one-half of a chapter that I knew immediately was going to stick. What it was going to stick to was a complete unknown, but it roused enough curiosity in me that I was compelled to find out, and see it through to completion. I’d have to say that I equally despaired and revelled in my inefficiency.

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

Despite the anxiety they instill, I love to take part in public readings. Reading aloud is pure joy to me, and sharing with an audience is bliss.

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?

At times, I’m plagued by the question of relevance in my own work. Why not leave the writing of books to those who have wider scopes—those who are more politically situated or who have more socially relevant stories to tell? Wouldn’t it be prudent to leave it to writers who are addressing environmental issues, race relations, human atrocities, the increasing polarization of ideologies, economic disparity, the encroaching dominance of social media in our lives?

But there are other aspects to our humanity that exist within the scope of our daily lives. I’m drawn toward those more interior factors and feel compelled to explore them creatively. We all live within the framework of our families and our relationships, and within the context of community, be it geographical, cultural, or endeavour-based. The everyday questions that swirl within those boundaries fascinate me. What drives human beings to forge bonds, betray, aspire, achieve, jump to conclusions, accept defeat, hold a grudge, love, harm, hope? What makes us human? And what can we do about that? These are my questions. 

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?

As I ponder these queries, the WGA (screen writers) strike is ongoing, and there is an ever-widening discussion of the threat of AI within the creative community at large. I think the role of the individual writer is so crucial within society today to ensure that humanity’s story is safeguarded and continues to be widely interpreted—whether it’s recording broad-sweeping historical moments, or creating the scene in which a fictional character raises an eyebrow and pandemonium breaks loose.

Yes, AI can string together sentences from data bases too large to imagine, but it can’t smell the sweetness of a baby’s head, can’t feel the stinging cruelty of a racial slur, or slowly emerge from under the heavy blanket of a close friend’s betrayal. AI can think it knows these things, but it doesn’t. Writers do, and can tell us about them in a way that is uniquely their own.

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

I’ve just recently wrapped up the editorial process on my new novel, and both the substantive edit and copyedit were definitely essential. With my editors’ keen eyes on the manuscript, I was afforded a glimpse of the work from outside my own head, and the book benefitted from the collaborative efforts in terms of digging deeper and adding vertical depth. I’ll admit the process of addressing all the editorial notes was challenging—at times, exhausting—but absolutely worth it.

Improvisational theatre is mentioned in this book, and one of improv’s guiding principles is the “yes, and” rule: If someone presents an idea, you say “yes, and” adding the next idea to build the scenario, rather than saying “no” and blocking the scene. I decided to try and adhere to that rule during this book’s editorial process. I recall one particular substantive suggestion that seemed quite unworkable to me, so I tamped down my resistance with the “yes, and” rule. The revisions that I made, using my editor’s suggestion, not only resolved the original concern, they added extra value. The suggestion was also a far more natural fit than I first imagined possible when my initial impulse was to question or reject it.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all the editors I’ve worked with on each of my books.  

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

When it comes to writing advice, I can never get enough of others’ wisdom. I do, however, consistently rely on one single, straightforward suggestion that I received from a mentor: “Just keep your derrière in the chair.” 

Recently, a family member gifted me a thirty-minute hourglass timer that complements that bit of advice. It’s a beautiful object, and while the sand is descending, I’m very reluctant to get up and walk away from the keyboard. Turn the hourglass over a couple of times, and something usually gets accomplished simply because I’ve stayed put long enough to do the work . . . perhaps even long enough to have entered the “zone” where time falls away, and upon resurfacing, I have no idea when the hourglass last clocked out.

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

I don’t tend to be one of those writers with multiple, concurrent projects actively on the go. I literally do full stop on one before moving to the next (that has happened to me while smack dab in the middle of a project). However, after taking a breather, my plan is to turn back to short stories for awhile, and I doubt I will even think about the longer format again until I’m story-satiated.

As for appeal, I’ve been totally content residing in one novel’s world for quite a few years now; it will be equally satisfying to bop in and out of places for shorter durations, an aspect that the short story accommodates more readily. For me, the appeal is the immersion—disappearing into the work—regardless of the format. 

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?

In early days, I used to be quite consistent at writing in the mornings until about 2 p.m. Within that system, there would often be gaps of several months, but then I’d reinstate. That routine is no longer in play. It’s been replaced by a catch-as-catch-can system, and if that means 2 a.m. insomniac writing, I give in, get up, and do it. I still believe that breakfast at my desk with a large pot of Earl Grey tea is the ideal way to start a writing day. 

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

When I’m stalled out on a specific problem, listening to music always helps.  It seems to “pop” me out of the negative doubts and struggles. Sometimes I dance along. (In the past, I’d often turn to long walks or long showers/tub soaks to free up my mind). 

If a more general lack of commitment is circling, there is no better way to motivate me again than to pick up a book and read. Contemplating the work of others just naturally inspires me to want to create again. Fortunately, the sources for that stimulus abound! (I will never complete my bedside TBR stack because my compulsion to add to it reigns supreme over my ability to reduce it).

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Evergreens/haylofts.  I’m half Canadian Shield/half Prairie. 

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?

Apart from the aforementioned music, I do turn to the visual and theatrical arts for stimulus. Nature is providing more rejuvenation than inspiration as of late. Social science tends to take the win over science for me, although my abandoned novel contained a scientific component that excited me—perhaps that will resurface. 

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

So many writers have influenced me and continue to do so. I’m not sure I would have ever imagined becoming a writer if I hadn’t encountered the work of Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut in my early days. Since then, I’ve stayed the course with Ms. Atwood, but there have been dozens of other contemporary writers along the way whose books have taught me, inspired me, changed me, or expanded my understanding of how to situate myself within my own work. My incomplete list (with apologies to the many not mentioned) includes: Alice Munro, Di Brandt, Catherine Hunter, Margaret Sweatman, Katherena Vermette, Wayne Tefs, Sheila McClarty, CS Richardson, Joshua Whitehead, Patrick deWitt, E. Annie Proulx, Douglas Stuart, Zadie Smith, Jennifer Egan, Lily King, George Saunders, Richard Russo, Ann Patchett, Donna Tartt, Maggie O’Farrell.

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

Screenplay. Stage drama. Children’s picture book.

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?

That’s an interesting question because I’ve worked professionally at a variety of things in my life, including bank teller, hunting/fishing-store clerk, puppeteer, office assistant, trophy engraver, educational assistant, advertising copywriter, school librarian, and actor. Another occupation? Concierge? Think of the stories!

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

As indicated in the previous answer, I’ve done a fair bit of the ‘something else’, but I’d have to say that being told that I was a good writer by teachers probably had a lot to do with me pursuing the written word. (I loved school in that teacher’s pet kind of way.  During my elementary grades, my spare time was filled with visiting the library and writing my own stories).    

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

I’m answering this question strictly on the basis of most recent . . . I just finished Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood, and so admired her ability to maintain a discourse on societal issues alongside a captivating portrayal of characters in a snarl of subtle, oscillating power balances. The last film I viewed was Coda (not the recent Academy Award winner, but a film by the same name, directed by a Canadian and partially shot here).  It’s a film that invites contemplation about classical music, self-doubt, aging, and grief—understated and ‘engaging’ (TNG Trekker pun was unavoidable).

20 - What are you currently working on?

At present, a short hiatus is on the schedule as I prepare to launch The Twistical Nature of Spoons, but my husband and I have recently been discussing the law of unintended consequences (or the knock-on effect), and I’m curious as to how I might create a short story around the concept. Hopefully, its unintended consequence will be a positive outcome with an unanticipated benefit. Fingers crossed.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, September 24, 2023

SOME: seventh issue,



Old creep

staring at blooming,
solid flesh,

remembering home. (Rae Armantrout)

I’m always interested to see the latest issue of Vancouver poet Rob Manery’s SOME magazine, and the seventh (summer 2023) landed on my doorstep not that long ago. Compared to the issues he’s produced-to-date [see my review of issue six, issue five, issue two], this issue appears to focus on literary elders (each of this list began publishing their work in journals in a range that extends from the late 1950s—as with George Bowering—into the 1970s). One might say that experiment without attending our influences can lose foundation, so the acknowledgement is one appreciated, and this issue includes extended poems, sequences and prose by Rae Armantrout, George Bowering, Phil Hall, Lionel Kearns, Ken Norris and Renee Rodin. There is something of Rae Armantrout’s work that I’ve always found reminiscent of the structures of poems by Ottawa poet Monty Reid, in the way they both extend small moments, stretching them out further than one might think possible. Reid does this in part through the physical line, which Armantrout breaks for the sake of slowness, pause, extending moments into a particular kind of simultaneous extended and sharper focus. She writes in portions, in sections, and her contribution of five poems are incredibly sharp. As the second half, second section, of her poem “First Born” reads: “To be present / is to start, // to feel a flash / of dread // when opened. // Dead the eldest / child of what?”

George Bowering gets a pretty hefty section in this issue, a sequence of twenty-four short lyrics under the title “Divergences” that feel reminiscent of some of the poems in his Teeth: Poems 2006-2011 (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Could Be (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2021) [see my review of such here], and even through his collection Smoking Mirror (Edmonton AB: Longspoon Press, 1984), through the use of the short, lyric burst, although one that extends across short stanzas as a loose narrative thread down his usual seemingly-meandering but highly purposeful cadence. Although, one might say, there’s a calm resoluteness to these poems that differs from his other work; the electrical energies of his prior lyrics are quieter here, seeking a kind of intimate calm. Ever since working his one-chapbook-a-month-year-long-manuscript, My Darling Nellie Grey (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2010) [see my review of such here], Bowering appears to be more overtly working sequences of chapbook-length sequences, each of which he seems to attempt to each get into stand-alone publication before the publication of the full-length collection; given the reluctance of literary journals to publish such long stretches across a single author, he’s focused on chapbook publication, so this sequence, whether it be part of something larger or not, does appear to be one of those rare journal placements. As Bowering writes as a kind of afterword to the poems: “Each of the sequence’s 24 sections begins with a line or two from the start of a Romantic poem of the 19th century, then diverges into something from the mind/soul/mood of the present old poet. You may notice that Goethe gets pilfered from twice. That was an accident. It takes, they say, nine accidents to kill a cat. Which is odd, because curiosity means carefulness. It is also the last word of the poem. Poems, the old poet thinks, are made through accidents and carefulness.” His first poem in the sequence “Divergences” reads:

Open the Window

Open the window, and let the air
freshly blow from treetops to faces
that care not.
                        They are turned
heedless away from the blue sky
they will never glance while some
they do not see are lowering
them beneath fresh air’s reach.

Perth, Ontario poet Phil Hall’s contribution to this assemblage are three poems from his forthcoming collection Vallego’s Marrow (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw Press, 2023) [see my review of his 2022 title with the same publisher, The Ash Bell, here], a title that should be out somewhere in the next couple of weeks. The poems here offer a continuation, a furthering, of Hall’s unique blend of lyric first-person essay, swirling through memoir, memory, literature and what I’ve referred to in the past as a kind of “Ontario Gothic” almost folksy charm. Hall’s straight lines are never straight; his lines have a way of turning, moving, altering in tone and shape while retaining direction, akin to white light through a prism. There is such a scope of length to Hall’s ruminations, one that seems to extend with, and even through, each new poem, each new collection. “I see my dead parents as characters in fables / or extinct creatures trapped in an old story,” he writes, as part of the first of these three poems, “there is no memory that has not savaged or been savaged / a tongue is eaten & thumb grease sees through a page // now here comes my own little train / the doors of its empty boxcars rusted open on both sides // black fields black fields black fields black fields / I can see through each clanging frame [.]” Lionel Kearns is one of those Canadian poets that I don’t think has ever been given his due, in part, I’m sure, through the fact that he doesn’t publish books terribly often. An early experimenter with form (his author biography includes the note that “His most anthologized work, Birth of God / uniVers, first published in 1965, stands today, in its various forms and formats, as one of the earliest examples of digital art.”), his contribution to this issue sits under the umbrella title of “Selections from Very Short Essays,” each of which sits, stand-alone, as text within a box shape. The poems read akin to koans, offering compact lyrics and twists in the language.

Of the eight poems included by Ken Norris—originally American, then Montreal, back to Maine and now retired in Toronto—the first two offer themselves as projects, responding to the works of poetic influence: “The Wordsworth Project” and “The Shakespeare Project.” “To realize the full variety of humanity.” the second of these begin, “To get it all down in a cast of characters.” Each of Norris’ poems in this assemblage are slightly different than where his poems often go [see my review of his 2021 Guernica Editions title, South China Sea, here], offering a broader overview of thinking, reading and response. After some thirty or forty-plus poetry collections since the 1970s, there is something of Norris once again seeking out origins, even legacy, perhaps, through these short narrative lyrics. Or, as he offers as part of the poem “Cultural Marginalia,” a poem dedicated to Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell, “Louis [Dudek] said we were kibitzers, / and I guess that’s true. My poems have never been / broad cultural statements. // Someday someone will realize I was speaking / to them, for them.” Vancouver poet Renee Rodin is another poet too often not given her due, and for reasons similar to that with Kearns: her biography references her Talonbooks published in 1996 and 2010, respectively, as well as a chapbook with Nomados in 2005, now long out-of-print. Her two-page prose piece included here is “Here in the Rainforest – The Lighter Version,” a piece composed “during the invasion of Ukraine and the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria” that begins:

Suddenly the morning is dark, hot water cold, no heat, no stove. My phony landline doesn’t work, cellphone almost dead. The last text is from a friend, also in Kitsilano, asking if my electricity is out too.

Cut off from communication I panic. My kids are long distance calls away, there’s nothing closer that the sound of their voices. Now I’m scared they might need me and won’t be able to get through. I find this thought unbearable.

Here in the rainforest we’ve had a severe drought, I loved the months of sunny, warm days. To not enjoy the beautiful weather would have only compounded the waste. Today we’re having an atmospheric river, a lovely sounding name for prolonged pelting rain.

Rodin has long utilized the prose lyric, similar to the work of Vancouver writer Gladys Hindmarch [see my review of Hindmarch’s 2020 collected, published by Talonbooks, here], as a way in which biographical threads are offered as the structure through which she is able to comment on all else. Similarly to Hindmarch being a prose counterpart to the 1960s TISH poets, Rodin’s work feels akin to emerging as a prose counterpart to the poetry experiments in and around Vancouver of the 1970s and 80s, all of which made Rodin, and Hindmarch as well, literary outliers. There is a seriousness to Rodin’s work, an ecological and social engagement, that underlies much of her work as well. One would hope we might even see another collection at some point, hopefully soon.

The colophon to the issue reads: “Contributions and email correspondence can be sent to / Subscriptions are $24 for two issues. Single issues are $12. E-transfers are welcome.”

Saturday, September 23, 2023

the genealogy book : (a new work-in-progress,

Nearly a year ago, I started a substack for the sake of prompting a particular writing project, and have just started posting from the most recent work-in-progress, "the genealogy book," the first two of which are now available here and here. Since my teens, I've been the self-designated genealogist for my family, and spent years working through a variety of archives to piece together innumerable threads of genealogy. Through this, I've been fully aware that I was adopted, and had other threads as well, but I've only been learning them over the past few years, and am now pushing further to explore those threads, and what that potentially means, through a non-fiction project. If I self-identified so heavily through one set of threads, only to be presented with a whole slew of alternate threads, how does that fit in with my consideration of self? What does it all mean?

Through the substack, I'm aiming to post weekly, with every third or fourth post for paid subscribers only (I mean, I have to give some incentive to sign up with money). The substack originally started to prompt my non-fiction "Lecture for an Empty Room," a book-length essay on literature, small press, community and responsibility, so there's a bunch of pieces on there for that. The weekly prompt I originally gave myself for posting sections on this blog of the manuscript-in-progress that eventually became my pandemic-era memoir, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022), worked out pretty well, after all. As well, I was posting fragments of a forty-ish page essay I had worked on, "A river runs through it: a writing diary," composed during the months that Denver poet Julie Carr and I were actively working on our collaborative poetry call-and-response. Other threads via the substack include a two-part essay on above/ground press, a variety of self-contained short stories, and the sprinklings of a journal project from 2019-2020 around genealogical discovery, Christine's health and my father's illness and eventual death, "the blue year." I've also been posting self-contained essays on fiction writers as part of an ongoing series titled "reading in the margins: a writing diary," with some new pieces forthcoming, hopefully, on Lucy Maud Montgomery, John Lavery and  Dany Laferrière, among others. Since starting, I've tried to treat the substack as a kind of weekly column, and the trickling of support from such has been helpful, although the big push is really to get me writing further and deeper into these ongoing prose explorations. Why not sign up? Who knows what might come next? And I'm completely fine with folk signing up gratis; the working-class farm lad in me always thinks that lack of finances should never be a hurdle to engaging with literature, after all.

Friday, September 22, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kimberly Reyes

Kimberly Reyes is the author of the poetry collections vanishing point. (Omnidawn 2023), Running to Stand Still (Omnidawn 2019), and the chapbook Warning Coloration (dancing girl press 2018). Her nonfiction chapbook of essays Life During Wartime (Fourteen Hills 2019) won the 2018 Michael Rubin Book Award. Her work is featured in various international outlets including The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly,, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Alternative Press, ESPN the Magazine, Film Ireland, The Irish Examiner, Poetry London, Poetry Ireland, RTÉ Radio, NY1 News, The Irish Journal of American Studies, The Best American Poetry blog,, American Poets Magazine, The Feminist Wire, and The Stinging Fly. Kimberly has received fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, the Fulbright Program, CantoMundo, Callaloo, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Tin House Workshops, The Irish Arts Council, Culture Ireland, the Munster Literature Centre, the Prague Summer Program for Writers, Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya, Community of Writers, and other places.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I didn’t, haha. Unless you win a major award it doesn’t really change your life and you realize you’re a writer so you keep writing. vanishing point. is similar to my previous work in that it represents significant years of my life -- I don’t pretend that my work isn’t mostly autobiographical. And It feels different from my first book in that it’s a bit more experimental in form.

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

I didnt come to poetry first, I was a journalist first so prose was and will always be my bread and butter, I for sure still write nonfiction. Poetry is just my true love that doesn’t pay. It keeps me sane, although I guess sanity is relative.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Such a good question. It really depends on where I am mentally and readings serve as barometers for that. I can tell if I feel situated and if I have community by how comfortable I feel in a particular place and time at a reading. So sometimes I enjoy reading and sometimes I dont. And as far as my creative process I don’t really know if i connect giving readings to that but I am certainly inspired by hearing certain poets read.

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?
God yes. I mean what is this all for? Is the human condition worth it? Do we take these lesson with us? Does it all even out in the end or are all of these injustices meant to just eat at us until the end of time? Why why why?

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?
To try to make sense of things and to try to make this existence a bit more bearable for ourselves and for each other.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I absolutely LOVE working with editors! I think it’s such a privilege when someone takes you and your work seriously enough to engage with it in a meaningful way, to ask questions, and to challenge you to do better. A good editor really needs to be engaged beyond the surface level and when that happens I’m always appreciative. I’ve noticed that the practice of editing is disappearing, especially from smaller, underfunded presses, and it’s sad. Attention is the most valuable currency there is.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Rising pizza dough and hot trash (I’m from NYC).

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a screenplay. I’ve become hooked on poetry films and seeing my work come to life visually so I’d love to see that happen on a larger scale.

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’d love to be a small shop owner, maybe selling crystals or baked goods in the countryside. Something without deadlines in the way I’m used to, where my day to day is an actual day to day that I can’t predict.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t know if I ever really had a choice. My teachers told my parents it was something I should pursue ever since elementary school and then I was always writing for my school papers so I assumed I’d be writing for magazines and then I saw Almost Famous while I was in college and I was like: Done! This kinda ties back into the screenplay thing, I guess I just wanna be Cameron Crowe.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Last great book: Wanda Coleman’s Wicked Enchantment

Last great film: Aftersun.

20 - What are you currently working on?
My next book for Omnidawn while trying to stay sane in my PhD program. If the book comes out and I’m a doctor in 2025 I will have succeeded.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Thursday, September 21, 2023

John Levy, 54 poems: selected & new



I’m at a temple. A young monk in black robes walks by, looks at me, stops. He points to my long hair. Brown. Then to my goatee. Red. He touches my armpit and looks puzzled. I point to my hair. He points to my crotch. I point to my hair. He invites me in for green tea.

The latest from Arizona poet John Levy, and the first title of his I’ve read, is the collection 54 poems: selected & new (Shearsman Books, 2023). 54 poems offers a selection of poems composed between 1972 and 2022, with pieces having previously appeared across an array of books, chapbooks and broadsides by publishers such as Longhouse, Half Day Moon Press, Figs, First Intensity Press, Sow’s Ear Press, The Haiku Foundation, Smallminded Books, the tel-let series, otata’s bookshelf, Convivo, Kater Murr’s Press, Quenencia Press and The Elizabeth Press. There is something timeless about Levy’s short missives assembled here that (without sections or earlier-publication acknowledgment throughout, simply set as a single, book-length assemblage of lyrics) don’t feel dated, given these are poems composed across a fifty year period. There’s such an interesting consistency to his lyric approach, even within the varieties and explorations on form and rhythm, moving through prose poems and more traditional poem-shapes. His lyrics are deceptively straightforward, and subtle; at times, even delicate.

My Wife

My wife is painting
the ocean. It,

the ocean, looks

sort of, on the


she (my
wife, not

the ocean)
is excellent.



the ocean.

I’m intrigued by the short, sketched-out stretches of Levy’s lyric brevity, the meditative ways in which his poems offer elements of the hush and a halting slowness, holding far more than what might first appear. Levy is capable of some fantastic short threads, woven in that simultaneously sit as asides and part of the larger weave of the poem, each of which propel his short narratives: “The river sound behind me is traffic,” he writes, as part of “Letter to Paul Matthews / from a Parking Lot in Tucson,” “and an American flag hangs / in front of a barber shop’s / plate glass window; the flag’s / reflection resembles / wings.” Through that particular thread, he steps aside from the narrative and simply swirls this element in, allowing his story a further depth. Through the poems assembled here, Levy appears to favour variations on the epistolary form, composing poems directly to, around and through specific individuals, composing poems as postcards, elegies, letters and obituaries. It is almost as though he prefers the suggestion of a poem as something addressed to someone, which has an enduring charm. “Dear Bob,” the poem “Letter to Robert Lax” begins, “I like addressing you, though / you no longer live on Patmos / or in New York, or anywhere on Earth.”