Wednesday, February 21, 2024

rob mclennan reads at Fluid Vessels : The Online Reading Series of the Montreal International Poetry Prize

Fluid Vessels : The Online Reading Series of the Montreal International Poetry Prize
11 March 2024, 1 PM ET / 5 PM GMT
Host: Jay Ritchie
Readers: Caroline Bird, rob mclennan, Vivek Narayanan
sign up here to join! www.montrealpoetryprize.com/fluid-vessels


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jill McCabe Johnson

Jill McCabe Johnson’s third poetry book, Tangled in Vow & Beseech (MoonPath, 2024), was named a finalist in the Sally Albiso and Wheelbarrow Books poetry prizes. Honors include an Academy of American Poets prize, the Paula Jones Gardiner Poetry Award from Floating Bridge Press, two Nautilus Book Awards, plus support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Artist Trust, and Hedgebrook. Recent works have appeared in Slate, Fourth Genre, Waxwing, The Brooklyn Review, Gulf Stream, Brevity, and Diode. Jill is editor-in-chief of Wandering Aengus Press. https://jillmccabejohnson.com

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 poetry book was a collection of persona poems, all written in the imagined voice of the sea. It allowed me to write from a persona that felt to me as though it were innocent, wise, and brimming with love. Subsequent books and chapbooks, including the latest book, Tangled in Vow & Beseech, have fewer persona poems. Even when the pieces aren’t about my life, they feel far more personal and therefore risky. At the same time, I hope readers will connect with them in a more intimate, meaningful way. I don’t know if the writing changed me or if changes within me changed the writing, but I do feel more confident in myself as a person and poet, and that allows me to expose my vulnerabilities more in relationships as well as on the page.

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

Lo, so many years ago, when I started at the wonderful MFA program, the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I wanted to study poetry because I believed it would provide a foundation for writing in prose, too. The attention to image, music, form, diction, and even, at times, narrative teaches a kind of precision but with unlimited wildness, too.  It’s contradictory, but it teaches a person to work without constraint despite constraints—basically doing the impossible. Who could resist?

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 wish there were one, predictable way. Sometimes the writing comes in an unexpected gush, other times it emerges as a complete package, and too often it flops into the world, a floundering, unwieldy mess.

4 - Where does a poem or essay 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?

For me, poems almost always begin with an image but are written from sound. It took me a long time to trust the sounds bubbling up and onto the page. Now, I do my best to get out of the way of what the subconscious wants to say. Easier said than done, of course. The essay writing process is similar, except that it usually begins with an unusual incident or situation, for example, getting laid off from a job or sitting with my father’s dead body. Like so many have said before me, I don’t know what I have to say until I begin writing. That takes its own form of trust and getting out of the way, too. With enough smaller pieces and momentum, I finally see what a larger manuscript is working toward. If I try to force things, the writing isn’t as good.

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

Readings are fun, and I do find it informative to see how audiences respond to narrative pieces. Mostly, I just love when authors and readers connect during a live reading, regardless of whether I’m in the audience or on the stage. 

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?

In the last several years, I’ve been writing my way through trying to understand gender violence. I don’t really even want to write about it, but the subject won’t let me go. It’s frustrating because there are so few answers, and I don’t like most of them, anyway. But the subject has me in its grips for now. We’ll see where it leads.

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?

Do we have to have roles? Can we simply write what matters to us?

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

All praise for editors! I can’t be objective about my work. I can’t reread it and hear it for the first time. Editors help us clarify and refine. That doesn’t mean their suggestions should always be taken. We still have to be discerning about how we revise, but editors help us see when there’s need to revise and ways we might do it.

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

Stan Sanvel Rubin said to read widely, even work you don’t like, because you learn from it and might even grow to appreciate it.

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

It’s hard for me to go immediately between working on poetry and prose. With a little time between—a walk, for example—it’s easier. There’s a different mindset required, at least for me, to write in one or the other. Even from essay to essay or poem to poem. It’s as though my mind needs a palate cleanser. That said, I love writing both. Some things are better suited for an essay or a poem, and I like being able to go between.

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?

My husband and I have a bed and breakfast. Summers are insanely busy, so my writing routine doesn’t follow a daily schedule. It’s on a yearly cycle, with only short work and revision in the summers and longer works in the winters when I have time to immerse myself more deeply.

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

Any good writing will inspire me to write. Also, writing just after a nap or when I wake in the morning, assuming I don’t reach for my phone and read the news.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The scent of a briny seashore.

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?

Books come from the rattling sound of the hoola-hoop at your ninth birthday party, from the bully who broke your glasses playing dodge ball, they come from the coffee-flavored candies in your grandmothers crystal box, from how it felt to tear the necklace your first boyfriend gave you from your 14-year-old neck when he broke up with you and started dating your sister, from oysters roasted open over campfire coals, from the ache in your lungs hiking Mt. Si and being too embarrassed in front of your athletic friends to stop and catch your breath, from kissing your dead mother’s forehead, from apologizing to your son for shaking his shoulders when he forgot once again to turn in his homework, from listening to a flock or red wing blackbirds singing winter inside-out. Books come from books? Don’t make me laugh.

To be fair to David W. McFadden, books absolutely inspire and influence the creation of other books. I also like to look at the structure of things and make correlations to writing, for example, is the work like a nautilus, a river, a pair of lungs, a branching tree? Good standup comedians are experts at shaping story. They know how to setup a situation and seed an idea, as well as how to convey a story specifically and concisely, and how to close in a satisfying yet surprising way.

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

I read so widely, this is a tough question to answer. There are too many writers I love to even attempt to list them, though Rebecca Solnit would be very high on my list.

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

Skydive. Live in Paris. Hike in Patagonia. Master bread-making. See both my husband and son grow old. Be kinder to everyone. Forgive. Listen. Accept.

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?

Botanist. Cheesemaker. Marine biologist. Jazz singer. Weaver. Chimney sweep.

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

How else to connect with humanity and express wonder and try to make the world a better place?

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

Book: All the Light We Cannot See

Film: The Square

20 - What are you currently working on?

Lyric essays as well as essays on gender violence.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, February 19, 2024

Katie Berta, retribution forthcoming: poems

 

I Will Put Your Name Right in the Poem

Don’t be offended—I will put your name right in the poem
because what you do is who you are and we can all see what
that is. Or—don’t be offended—I will put your name right
in the poem because I need you to see that you don’t
scare me anymore. Hello, little man. Why are you so upset
to see your name in the poem? Did you not say “whore”?
did you not say, “Hope you die soon”? I will put your name
right in the poem because I have saved all the receipts
for just this occasion. I will put your name right in the pom
because I don’t care if it fucks your ass up, my dude.
I will put your name right in the poem. Just wait for my poem,
little baby. Here it comes.

There is a force behind and within the lyrics of Iowa poet Katie Berta’s full-length debut, retribution forthcoming: poems (Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 2024), winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, as selected by Claire Wahmanholm. Across a lyric simultaneously stark and lush, Berta offers a stunning and expansive display of articulating devastating events and an enormous heart, one that no longer wishes to hold back. As the poem “I lived in a beautiful place” begins: “and then in a place of bitter cold. / I had a terrible brain. When the winter came, / it brought with it a series of complications. / Always having to put on a hat and coat. / Snow falling over the tops of your boots. / Many thoughts over which I had no control.” There is a clarity and a fierce self-protection, entirely finished with the nonsense of others, that is propulsive, across poems that are expansive, slick and scalpel-sharp. “The earth is short. Reason / is short. Each person’s extends / up over her head,” the poem “Cave,” near the end of the collection, begins, “peters out / as the air gets thin.” The poems carry enormous wounds and anxiety, populated by rapists, ex-boyfriends, rattlesnakes and the body of a dead motorcyclist, most of which hold titles as warnings for content, whether “After I was raped the second time, I lost forty pounds,” “The women I thought of as popular in high school / are having babies who die” or “The NY Times Real Estate Section Publishes Pictures / inside the Expensive Apartment Belonging / to Your Ex-Boyfriend and His New Wife.” Composed as short essays or monologues, there are poems here that are utterly devastating, all presented in such a clear, straightforward lyric, describing heartbreak, sexual assault, emotional brutality, thoughts of retribution alongside elements of absolute, open-hearted beauty, working through and across the worst of things toward something better. The poem, for example, “Remembering that time in my life / when I used to think a lot about innocence,” includes, towards the end: “Something about it touches / me, touches a raw, open place, the way a man / never would. / Is it the core rushing up to take the place / of all that stuff, all that was outside of me, entering / almost without permission?” It is a lot to digest, and even more to process, but throughout, both author and narrator have clearly realized they deserve better, and these poems are the direct result of that discovery and new ownership. As that same poem offers, to close: “Here is my boyfriend, / engaged, as usual, in the garden. I watch him from the window / as he moves, / like a lake does, in the wind.”

 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

VERSeFest: Ottawa’s International Poetry Festival (our rebuilding year) fundraiser : the home stretch,

Be aware that there are only two weeks left in the VERSeFest fundraiser, as part of the grand rebuilding year for VERSeFest: Ottawa’s International Poetry Festival! It’s amazing to realize we’re already at seventy percent of our target, and we’ve received an enormous amount of support and assistance, which is very much appreciated. Thank you to everyone who has offered support!

There are still plenty of poetry manuscript consultations available, including with Madeleine Stratford, Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, rob mclennan, Jérôme Melançon (in English/French), ryan fitzpatrick (for a chapbook-length work) and Stephen Collis (for a full-length poetry manuscript!). Here is your chance to get manuscript consultations some of the best working poets in Canada!

A number of book perks have already gone, but we’ve just added two copies of Nicole Markotić latest poetry collection (signed), books by Ottawa poet Frances Boyle and Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, and there are still signed copies of a limited edition hardcover by Montreal poet and critic Erín Moure! As well, there are numerous book bundles of donated titles by Metatron Press, Book*hug Press, Apt. 9 Press (including a very cool William Hawkins Bundle), Nightwood Editions, Gordon Hill Press, Véhicule Press, Coach House, Invisible Publishing, New Star Books, Anstruther Press and a set of the Arc Poetry Magazine ArcAngels (broadsides by Sylvia Legris, Susan Musgrave and Monty Reid, produced for Arc patrons; designed and produced for Arc Poetry Magazine by Christine McNair).

And watch for information soon on our spring festival : March 21-24, 2024! Some of the poets confirmed include Anita Lahey, Monty Reid,  nina jane drystek, MayaSpoken, Amanda Earl, DS Stymiest, Madeleine Stratford, Sneha Madhaven-Reese, Jaclyn Pudiuk, Chris Turnbull, Mark Goldstein, Sandra Ridley, AJ Dolman, Myriam Legault-Beauregard, Nduka Otiono, Klara du Plessis and Khashayar Mohammadi. That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

Saturday, February 17, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Robert Colman

Robert Colman is a poet, essayist, and critic based in Newmarket, Ont. His fourth book of poems, Ghost Work, was just released by Palimpsest Press.

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?

It made me realize that I couldn’t pretend not to care about the work, that poetry wasn’t just an occasional distraction but was an integral way in which I want to express myself. My first chapbook came 7 years later. When Shane Neilson accepted Factory at Frog Hollow Press it revived my belief in my abilities, the idea that I might have something to say, and the ability to say it with craft.

Shane’s influence, and that of Palimpsest editor Jim Johnstone, has encouraged my use of form in Ghost Work, which is a suite of poems that explores the gradual loss of my father from dementia. This new book has a much more defined narrative arc than any of my previous work, and yet it’s also the most varied in form from poem to poem.

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

I’ve always been much more interested in poetic form than fictional narrative. I just don’t think in that shape. I do pursue non-fiction when an idea doesn’t work effectively for me as poetry. That work moves slower for me.

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?

Very few poems in Ghost Work came out close to their final form. The only exceptions were three of the pantoums that inspired the project. After writing those, I knew a project had begun. After that I wrote about five really bad poems that were soon disposed of. Writing those, however, encouraged the creation of a shape for the first section of the 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?

I usually start by writing individual poems inspired by events in my life or, on occasion, a movie or piece of art. Once I’ve written enough poems that I see certain themes, I might be influenced by those themes as I write. Ghost Work was different. I knew very early that I wanted to write about experiencing my father’s dementia. That intention sometimes made it a challenge, but the use of form helped push me, allowing me to write both away from and towards that ultimate concern.

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

I love readings. That’s where community happens, where you can talk to other people whose work you admire. But I don’t think of them as a natural part of my creative process. For instance, I’ll read a poem out loud to myself but would never take a half-formed poem to an open mic to hear how it’s coming. What I love is hearing what work resonates with an audience. My last book came out during the pandemic, so I had few opportunities to read aloud from it in person. Reading in London, Ontario, last year, though, I had two readers comment on the same poem, one that I’d thought very little of since writing the work. That interaction changes my own perception of the work. Writing is a solitary process, as is reading, so those occasional in-person interactions are revivifying.

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 write because I want to express emotion in a crafted, hopefully beautiful way. I guess the overarching question is, can I reiterate a scene or emotion in a way that is new enough or striking enough that people will notice? Writing on the anthropocene, which I think most of us feel compelled to tackle, is particularly challenging in this sense. Environmental concerns found their way into Ghost Work sideways, which is probably the best way for it to happen.

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 think writers can reframe experience to clarify it for a larger audience. I think of how Roxanna  Bennett and Shane Neilson have helped reconsider dis/ability on the page. While it can have a societal impact, poetry can also simply encourage readers to consider language(s) in new ways, as Klara du Plessis has done for much of her poetic explorations. Hopefully what we write gives our readers at least one moment of recognition, something they’ve seen before that they have a new appreciation of because of the work. It’s all about connecting.

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

I love working with my editor. For me that interaction is essential. Jim pushed me to try new things - for instance, he encouraged me to work on a longer poem, which became “We’ll Meet Again” in this book. My work is very much a collaboration with my editor.

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

Don’t think of the outcome of the work. Allow the poem space to become what it needs to become. Save the editing for later.

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?

When writing towards my first book I wrote every day. I needed that discipline to find my way toward the work. Now, I have a full-time job as editor of a trade magazine and life is much busier. If I have a routine, it is that I read or write poetry almost every day, but much more of that time is spent reading. I read before work, and late in the evening. Poetry writing primarily happens at night, sitting up in bed and organizing those thoughts into concrete shape.

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

I try to get to the Art Gallery of Ontario or the McMichael. Visual art helps calm me and occasionally inspires me.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The smell of sand and pitch pine.

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?

Visual art is the form that seems to influence my poetry the most. The opening poem of my last book, Democratically Applied Machine, was a commentary on a Gerhard Richter painting that, at the end of the process of writing that book, helped me frame its narrative arc in a way that hadn’t been possible before. The work of Joan Miro appears in Ghost Work in a way that remains a bit mysterious but is very important to me.

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

Honestly, my peers whose work challenges me and encourages me to push the art further.

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

I’d like to write poems that tackle the anthropocene effectively. It’s something I’m working on very gradually.

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?

Rock star? Maybe a lounge singer at my age. That’s the fantasy job I joke about.

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

It’s honestly the only marketable skill I have. I’m glad I found poetry along the way to becoming a daytime writer and editor.

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

Barbara Tran’s debut, Precedented Parroting, is remarkable. Also, Russell Thornton’s latest really surprised me.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a book of essays and criticism that is due to be published in 2026 or 2027. There is also an eco-themed poetry collection that remains in its protean stage of development.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Unwritten

originally appeared via my substack:

I imagine a thousand Greek ships arriving, their hulls covered in black pitch, each with a single sail.
               Anne Simpson, “What Does Poetry Do? Notes on Sōphrosynē

 

1.

To illustrate a point during his post-reading on-stage interview, the senior novelist mentions a story he once meant to write of an accountant named Artaud, who fell out of the sky. He fell out of the sky and survived, and no one could figure out how.

Is this something you’re working on now? the interviewer asks him.

The novelist waved off the suggestion with his hand. No, no. He was too old, it would take too long. There are other things I must do.

 

2.

He preferred to answer questions on his latest book, a nearly six hundred page epic that explores four generations of a family across two continents. The narrative stretches across more than a century, and took him twelve years to finish. He spent months wading through historical and personal archives, travelling six months from the United Kingdom through various points across Europe. How many more books might he have in him? He was already eighty years old. With every project, every book, the fear that it might be his last. And yet, every book was a new beginning. To start from nothing but scraps.

He'd spent twelve years splicing and braiding various odds and sods, including the whispered tales of his Great Uncle Silas, who may or may not have had to quickly abandon Dublin over the murder of a local shopkeeper. He wrote a sequence of four generations of men, from Lithuania to Belfast to London, before arriving amid the Family Compact of Toronto, and Upper Canada College. At points the story held shades of a spy thriller into a family drama, to a tale of romance, loss and instability. It was about seeking one’s home, and the sins of the father. A complicated romance of strangers, during the time of the First Great War.

And then there was Artaud, who scratched at the back of his consciousness. Why even bring him up?

 

3.

The fictional Artaud woke in an open field. The first cut had been poured into furrows, and he found himself lengthwise, laying across a bedding of dried hay and clover. How did he get here? He had scrapes on his legs and his arms, and a considerable bruise on his torso, but no broken bones. There were leaves in his hair.

He remembers the passenger jet during take-off. He remembers the ambient engine hum, enough that it soothed him to sleep.

Seeking his bearings, he recognized the surrounding fields, and the curl of the river. The tin roof of a farmhouse and red painted barn, past the trees. The bridge, further south.

And not a sign of the aircraft. No contrails, no wreckage. It was as if he had been plucked from his seat by an invisible hand and placed on the ground.

A breeze rolled up from the river. Three sparrows flecked by. A cool brush past his cheek. The sky a deep, endless blue.

 

4.

After the on-stage event, the novelist stood in the festival pub with a pint of some local delicacy. His agent asks about the story of Artaud. Is this something you’re working on? Is this a short story or novel? No, no, he responds. It isn’t anything. Well, the agent says, if you ever write it up, I’d be interested in seeing it. A knot forms in his stomach.

 

5.

Artaud was fifty-one years old, although numbers couldn’t save him. At least, not any longer. He had built his career around a certainty that numbers made everything possible. He believed in the God Equation. He had faith that a mathematical formula was indeed possible to explain creation, and everything that followed. He had faith in this, all of which came crashing down on that third day of June, in his fifty-second year.

Three thousand to forty-two hundred feet in the air.

He was flying home after a conference, to visit his widowed mother. She hadn’t been feeling well and Artaud wished to check in. He still bore the weight of the good son.

He was in the air. He was on the ground. He had his briefcase in hand. How did he get here?

 

6.

The novelist knew that Artaud would never be the same again. Four years after he woke in a stranger’s field, Artaud’s mother would suffer a stroke, and linger a few months before dying.

The plane landed, as it had been scheduled. Artaud was recorded as having boarded the plane, but there was no one at his destination to claim baggage or pick up his rental car. The airline offered a statement that pointed to human error, and the possibility he hadn’t boarded at all, before considering the matter settled. No crime had been committed, and no one had been injured. There was nothing to claim, and even less to refute.

The novelist knew he’d created a puzzle he hadn’t the bandwidth, nor possibly the imagination, to solve. How did Artaud make it safely to the ground? The novelist worried a younger writer would have been able to write his way out of it, or at least not paint up into corners. Were his best books, finally, behind him?

 

7.

From then on, Artaud couldn’t look skyward without trepidation. He never truly felt safe on the ground again. Was some part of him still in the air?

 

8.

The Wicked Witch of the West’s “Surrender, Dorothy” wasn’t directed at Dorothy. It was an excision from a longer quote, “Surrender Dorothy or die,” directed squarely at the people of Emerald City. She never expected the Ms. Gale to give up so easily. She knew her reign of terror would mean nothing to this stranger, this interloper. The Wicked Witch went after the people.

 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Eliana Hernández-Pachón, The Brush, trans. Robin Myers

 

There are so many ways to narrate horror, and it’s hard to know which one is right. A dry, detached notarial record full of specific data and times, numbers, measurements, like a forensic report? A journalistic chronicle, be it objective or subjective, that tries to access the suffering of the victims? A fantastical reenactment in which terror swells unnoticed? A devastating, symbol-laden poem in the style of Paul Celan? A fictionless novel in the vein of Primo Levi or Truman Capote?
            The Brush, by Eliana Hernández-Pachón, recounts one of the worst massacres in early twentieth-century Columbia, committed by paramilitary forces (with obvious military complicity) in the village of El Salado and its environs, the Montes de Maria. Here, the author chooses a seemingly straightforward way to narrate horror: narrative poetry in third person that describes what befalls a peasant couple (two indirect voices, Pablo and Ester) as soon as signs suggest that something terrible is about to happen. The language is serene, colloquial, familiar, and the voices issue from the mouths of these names: Pablo, Ester, Pablo, Ester, husband and wife. The omens, the fear, the warnings flutter down like snow from the sky. When the threats of danger intensify, Pablo decides to bury his sole treasure, in a secret place: in case he survives, or in case someone from his family survives. (afterword, “How to Narrate Horror?,” Héctor Abad Faciolince)

From Colombian poet Eliana Hernández-Pachón, translated from the Spanish by Buenos Aires-based poet and translator Robin Myers, with an afterword by Héctor Abad, is The Brush (Brooklyn NY: Archipelago Books, 2024), an intense, book-length narrative poem composed in three scene-sections, opening with Pablo, followed by Ester, and then what happens next. “Seventy more of those bullets are fired that day.” the poem “The Investigators explain:” opens, “A mere / ten strike the trees.” The Brush is composed, as the press release offers, as “a response to a traumatic event in recent Colombian history: the massacre in the village of El Salado between February 16 and 21, 2000. Paramilitary forces tortured and killed sixty people.” There is something that literature can do and do very well, and that is act as witness, offering a way to document and acknowledge, to process, and The Brush shines a spotlight on Colombian history perhaps little known across North America, writing on what can’t be imagined, but an event that leaves its scar across not only history, but on the lives of those that remain. “When the bodies collapse in the town square,” the poem “The Brush continues:” opens, “picked out at random, / the houses are left behind with their yards, / their kitchens, their sheets pressed smooth, / receiving, still, / the sun’s warm touch.” This is a powerful and evocative collection, devastating for its subtlety, and composed with enormous care and unflinching gaze.

The Investigators ask:

What did they do to them? Did they kill the ones they killed because they were on the list, or because they tried to defend themselves? What else did they do that day? Was there any warning? How did they get here? That other boy—why did they take him away? Who said he’d stolen their animals? We heard about the man riding a burro. Where did that happen? How did that happen? How many did they shatter into? Were the connections made a long time ago, or were they made and unmade again and again? Did they stay behind as lookouts? Did they leave? Did they leave after that day?