Have you ever seen a grafted tree? They’re rare.
I once saw one that bore apples and pears.
It was truly weird and strangely beautiful,
Twice-fruited. Copious, plentiful,
Glorious. Could that be us? Is this
The image I should use? Not ancient
Vice, unnatural growth, nature underneath
The yoke, but free to flower twice, he/she?
Joined at the stock; two bodies, and two sets
Of thoughts? Two lives and yet one energy?
So then, where do I make the cut? You ready?
Breathe, my love, and close your eyes. I throw away
The grafting knife. The job is done. We are
Already one, life slipped into life.
We’re standing at the bar and I’m buying
You a drink; you are rubbing my back.
Anyone standing behind us will think
You are my man, so sure your hand
In its quiet proprietary right.
Little do they know that you, Mr Uptight
Will stroke my spine but rarely meet my eye.
That you reach out without asking why,
Seeking comfort, seeking to comfort me.
Your hand performs its own soliloquy
Divorced from conscious thought. You are only
Mine metonymically. Your hip, my thigh;
Your hand, my side; our clavicles have met
And kissed and understood. Our heads, not yet.
Sarah Tolmie is associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Her books include the novel The Stone Boatman and the short story collection NoFood.
At Yale recently, I gave a reading accompanied by two graduate students. One of them, Edgar Garcia, started his reading by introducing a poet he said that he had discovered in submissions and had since found, met, interviewed and published. Her name was Barbara Mor. She passed away this year, but not before she found an audience and published two books, and not before someone recorded her reading (you’ll find that posted below).
First of all, I love when poets start off a reading by reading other poets and I encourage the practice. Only good things can come of widening the scope of our reading, but also, it makes the reading richer. Garcia’s reading of Mor provided a fantastic shock. None of the coiffed lyricism of our current MFA era, no critical theory, no social positioning, just a kind of human mystical rage, a kind of Alice Notley Allen Ginsberg LSD hybrid poetics. Here’s the excerpt he read:
her cunt was oild metal and her mystery and her voice and wings rising from swamp forests dripping scales of light from her and the wind was oil and metal footprints and highways huge skeletal shadows crawling thru black pitch toward her name and the seas are oil the dazzling rigs of cities of burst oil her fingernails are steel and oil tides surge backly at the edges of her hands her heart is oil sliding open in the dark like a warehouse where trucks unload their black lines fossils of endless cities
metalloid is her body turning in slick beds among shells and repeated eyelids packed in silence the bending of ferns and gestures of enormous flight arm bones dripping with black gravity oil is her breath fractioned from wreckyards from night pools diatoms and bolts of insects on fire crushed inside her the exhalations shine in windows on the beasts necks twisted in rubble the roar of oil rising in long elegant throats erupting in black music jet heads inside the flames whining and gnashing glassy foliage her whispers in steel blades the hisses of elevators jewels of sweat drip from light glide as reptile shadows return to original oil in the basements of eons body gears grind into her liquid stations spider webs corpse hands subterranean cables the telephone she uses to call you into the last night
black rayon draped over nothing oil is her throat and her eyes vinyl apertures the mood falls into and spins in thin disks thru a dark machinery small wires of insects suck from electric flowers and the pistils are oil and green wounds of lawns oil is her breasts and the childrens black toys the fruits of the tress are oil the roots the seeds radios of singing teeth that scatter them nets thrown from her kitchen her linoleum thighs her deaths sliding across retinas stab wounds rapes interior mining where oil drips from her screaming on the livingroom rug on bar stools on groins unzipped in such exotic theaters
And here’s Garcia from an essay he wrote on Mor for the LARB:
Some know Mor as the co-author of The Great Cosmic Mother, a tome on Goddess worship published in 1987. But her life’s work as a poet taking apart the visceral reality beneath our national mythology appeared in Clayton Eshleman’s Sulfur, the influential literary magazine of the 1980s and 1990s. This was a brutal time for Mor. She was living in poverty, often homeless, on the streets of Tucson and Albuquerque, in total eclipse with an abusive partner, “a pharmacopeia, he was; junkie, street thug, Mexican boxer, pimp prostitute hitman […] a notorious crazy street person.” She saved what she could from the slow fire eating her skin, “sitting in 24/7 BurgerKing with free coffee refills into infinity, air conditioning, writing in notebooks.” Into these notebooks she put the thoughts and words that became the material of her first book of poems in more than thirty years, The Blue Rental, the evisceration recently published by Eric Larsen’s Oliver Arts & Open Press.
This is the poetry of someone outside the safety net of the Academy. Outside poetry communities and social media. Outside the economics of lyricism. It’s a voice direct from the body. And what price? What price? What price motherhood? Poet? Visionary? I’ll leave the last word for her. You can hear Mor reading below.
Meg Johnson is the author of the full length poetry collection, Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press, 2014) which was a NewPages Editor’s Pick. Her second book, The Crimes of Clara Turlington, won the 2015 Vignette Collection Award and is forthcoming from Vine Leaves Press. Her poems have appeared in Hobart, Nashville Review, The Puritan, Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and others. Meg started dancing at a young age and worked professionally in the performing arts for many years. She is the editor of Dressing Room Poetry Journal and recently received her MFA in creative writing from the NEOMFA Program. She is currently a lecturer at Iowa State University. Her website is: megjohnson.org and she blogs at: megjohnsonmegjohnson.blogspot.com
Come all you haters and see what I have wrought.
Our primary role as teachers is to demonstrate how to best waste time.
I survived Seamus Heaney and all I got was this lousy career.
Monuments are built daily to distraction.
The terms rescuers and salvagers are mostly interchangeable.
Before the sun has risen it is just a bright hill.
Only twenty-four men have walked on the moon and/or behind Jesus.
Crack the spine of The Gutenberg Bubble.
Statistically speaking there has to be a secret door around here somewhere.
Moses flicked his cigarette into the dead bush.
Plan your strategic withdrawal from wishing everyone a happy fucking birthday.
You have 73 important updates waiting.
A more likely zombie apocalypse would be a horde of abandoned buildings.
What we call the sociopaths among us is neighbours.
The number of aboriginal women missing from this line is difficult to estimate.
Heaven don’t want him and Hell’s afraid he’ll go Columbine.
Poets are the unacknowledged escalators of the world.
We all see dead people now.
The subtitles have been subtly lying to us for years.
Sleeper cells awaken and begin plotting in your spreadsheets.
Ennui is an alert that pops up to tell you there are currently no alerts.
The Illuminati left their lights on again.
Bombs strapped to our babies in their dear little TNT onesies. A Room of One’s Pwn.
If I had it to do all over again it would be a cookbook.
Simply breathing is moving forward.
Every breast exposed in the Sistine Chapel is a new Big Bang.
Another opening monologue has rambled two minutes past commercial.
The emperor of YKK pulls himself together.
Look into the dead shark eyes of our leader.
You are what you contract.
Violence has an exchange rate against the price of oil. I heard about him but I never dreamed he’d have blue eyes and blue jeans.
Truly elegant equations deserve cartouches.
Naked old men in flip-flops roam the change room with their hanging tits and balls.
Religion is like sucking in your gut while standing on the scale.
Glitter arcs from the TV remote.
There’s been a sudden spike in the number of lives ended on knees in front of a SWAT unit.
I want to die with my boots on or at least my slippers.
Hitler’s ghost slow claps in the silence men call Hell.
It is time to shit in the houses of our dearest friends.
Listening to a child coughing in bed is virtually anxiety-free for me.
Pigeons anoint our monuments with reality.
To-do lists fall over you like shovelfuls of gravedirt.
Given it was a telephone wire you sat on I can’t figure out how it is your pants caught fire.
Our ears crackle as societal pressure changes.
Research all the surprising places the clitoris ends up going.
Origami cranes flock to the watering hole to find only ink.
The solar system is a Venn diagram of unrelated ideas.
I bought my soul back from the pawn shop for twice what it’s worth.
Heaven and Hell stake out opposite ends of the living room and stare each other down.
Imagine the throbbing anger that is The Hulk’s cock.
Rogue currencies exchange significant glances.
Oulipo is poetry’s BDSM.
My cappuccino foam looks like an ass crack I’d like to fuck.
The farmer comes in from the field and wipes the bitcoin from his hands.
Bracketed counters beside folder icons tick up faster.
Look at all the loose feet in this massacre photo.
I insist that this in fact is formal.
Baby Gap is clothes made by babies for richer babies.
Tremolo wisdom warbles from a dozing pothead.
Volume control is a future civil rights issue.
Stick your finger up Saturn’s rings and let’s call ourselves hitched.
Taxis pull up to the crashed planes to wait for fares.
Run away with me from the tumbling buildings.
Who else was stoned to death today?
I hope God is happy now.
Give blood every six weeks whether or not you can find a clinic.
Every idea taken from below like a seal by a killer whale or a reverse cowboy.
Austerity is what’s Owed On A Grecian Earn.
Blinking first is what liars do last.
My sons will never know a world without a mute button.
Flinch at the thought of a poetry reading broken dick.
That rollercoaster-dip feeling of a plane in turbulence is now an everywhere feeling.
Death’s no biggie.
It’s getting kind of hectic.
Floor to ceiling windows look out onto the tops of your cheeks.
Latest crack smoking video is actually of a fissure leading straight to Hell.
Truth’s unit of measure is the telomere.
Forget poetry and just enjoy the unbridled collecting and hoarding of every last thing.
There’ll be time enough for the important stuff when I’m dead.
The children did not return before dark.
You may have to settle for a Sylvia Plath photo if no Sylvia moment comes.
It’s harvest time at the server farms. Twelve plus one is an anagram for eleven plus two.
Wineglass stems and bases look like spilling water and pools.
Barricades like department store windows.
At the edge of the woods lovers hump in a dark car slowly filling with CO.
Square roots triangulate beneath round bushes.
Comets have longer tails than other harbingers.
If you connect the dots in the Oort Cloud it reads Do Not Disturb.
The contents of the fruit bowl are a decaying data set in need of analysis.
Some races break their ribbon at the starting line.
Faith’s quicksand forms a pit into which none fear falling.
Marvel at the sheer Elvis-ishness of this moving knee.
The clever sign we crafted to hold up in this audience is sure to get us on camera. A Sale of Two Titties.
Laptop fan grill burn on the thighs.
Minds invent scenery to impress and explain the body.
I once stood in the Sistine Chapel and what I remember is I stood once in the Sistine Chapel.
Wee Degas moments seem a little sketchy.
Luck carves its nature similar to time.
Power outages dare to split the middle of popular wars.
We will be in the future when we can watch reality TV set in the distant past.
Police chief pulled over in a hoodie.
You’d be surprised how long a 2% battery can last.
Magic rings mingle in toolboxes like washers in baby food jars.
Space seems so empty and wrong without TIE fighters.
Occasionally I forget Libya exists.
Flipped-table-righter is an unpaid occupation known as love.
You’re a Muppet but the hand up your back that moves your mouth is your own. Amazing Grace sung from the toilet.
Heaven’s fire extinguisher is not WHMIS compliant.
Fireflies batter in unpunctured jars.
One of the bodies has x’s for eyes while the other just reads TILT.
This Polaroid is taking forever to fade in.
Any song for children is creepy if you sing it while weeping.
Roaming charges creep up like a crooked stock ticker.
There’d come a point in the zombie outbreak when I’d just say fuck it.
My black sister and I both want to believe I’m listening.
I’d fuck the me I claim to be.
The shooter fled the scene in an unmarked car.
George Murray is the author of six books of poetry, including the forthcoming Diversion, from which these pieces are excerpted (ECW, Fall 2015). He is also the author of one book of aphorisms and books for children. He lives in St. John’s, where he writes and edits.
I’ve discovered the shortest route between two wants is a scream.
Called into life, an undersong of grief, a magpie of magic, the seed
of my legend focuses the world.
My lips blacken at his mouth, I wipe off those stage kisses in full view
of the audience, in the stone of the moment.
My heart’s beating so loudly I miss my cue, strum the inlet of my
jaw-harp, give me back what was mine, I’ll eat all my misspoken words.
Now that no frontiers remain, I make a fist of myself. I’m equipped
with some standard attributes of stardom; I look helpless enough
to protect, courageous enough to admire and pretty enough to adore.
I should be scared—I’ve occasionally opened a heart. I’ll eat my empire
from the inside out, feel this day’s violence a victory.
NOT YOUR GIRL
After a couple of drinks I’ll believe
anything, that the worst thing
I ever did was fuck my best friend’s
dad, or about the night I got so drunk
at my sister’s wedding, yelling
at every passing man from the midriff
of the dance floor, No I don’t want
to dance with you.
My ex has joined the procession, my
eviscerators tonsured and waiting
their turn. Spine articulated, he tunnels
into the harbour of my belly, my
I’ve cluttered my life with people
who dislike me and continue moving
solo through this overture, kisses like
puncture wounds, all scraggly wide
Ashley-Elizabeth Best is from Cobourg, ON. Her work has been published in Fjords, CV2, The Columbia Review, Berfrois, The Rusty Toque, The Battersea Review, The Puritan, Zouch Magazine, Grist, Ambit Magazine and Poetry Salzburg Review, among other publications. Recently her manuscript, Slow States of Collapse, was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She lives and writes in Kingston.
Just shy of Alaska, catamaraning the contested
Dixon Entrance A-B Line somewhere south
of Prince of Wales Island we’re waiting
with whale-sized patience for the firm blue sea to split
open, our Canadian cell phones buzzing with text links
to American dialing codes and roaming fee
warnings, a cormorant, a distant Tsimshian shell
midden, where grass touches tide, two Metlakatlas
tilted totems and those massive migrating mammals
we want to see, hoping some will be friendlies
breachers or bubble netters, the stench of their baleen
breath fishy and flint and their krilley shit strings
of bright orange recede and we’re astounded silent alive like life
before never knew of throat groves dreams of touching
tail flukes we’re fools taking selfies trying to focus
on us and their bulky heads sky hopping, nodding
their bristled faces, barnacled backs, an acrobat’s arc
a hump our hearts hammering standing still surrounded
by ocean and pods and small clouds
on the horizon and sounds like zings, strings
on saw blades they are so animal
but so me too and so close I look exactly into an eye
and then down a blowhole, breathe in her exhale
and know nothing greater.
WHEN YOUR MATE
It is summer in British Columbia except
not quite way up here, even though the rivers are
flooding their banks and the ground is loosening and my
sister is living in Munich right now, going to volleyball practices
in the evening after work, working out in purple spandex with her ropey
arms and platinum hair, a bombshell who misses London, the city, the pace
so when I’m driving early in the morning to catch a flight going south, sky as light
as late last night, crusts of snow still in the ditches, I catch my breath at the small
town-ness of it all, at the hard drinking men hauling themselves into cabs
of logging trucks, mine and mill dust floating in the air, a blur, inside dad
are cells so sick it takes everything for him to walk once around
his garden of new sharp tart rhubarb stems sticking almost
like they hurt so red up from composted earth
waxy leaves opening, slackening fists.
WHEN I MARRY FOX
September October collision, colour of flesh
orange sockeye salmon spawning-spent
beneath floating leaf decay and me, denless.
The dishwasher, the Lazy Boy chair, even the lawn
mower broken and useless. Husbandless, I stare full
of envy at the diamonds of other women.
Bear, beaver, and even bull-moose
have all said no. Like a hard-boiled egg
lodged in my throat, loneliness.
And did I mention the selkies? Despite seal
fingered flippery children, their rotsalt stink
of sea and tidal flats, their men are shored. Beached.
Then Fox nip‐knocks for me, leg
lifted, piss‐sharp smell ripe as the ping bite
of high bush cranberries.
I will wed you, wed you, wed you he yips.
My hairless white body looming, his promise of torn
up alley cats convincing me: forgo silver stilettos, forget lace.
His bedroom is lined in downy owl fluff
a neck he cracked years back. At first his teeth
draw blood from my nipples, razory little slices.
He tugs at me like he’s tearing at tough
fresh road kill. Slowly calcification takes hold.
My skin thickens, his winter fur comes in full.
In our new year, when humans are thumbing corks off bubbly
popping party sparklers and snapping open tin-foiled Christmas
crackers, he says: it’s time to sell my hide. Pelting time.
This is what he offers our world. Transforming briefly to man then crawling
back to me, bled. He muzzle‐shuffles gifts toward me, exhausted.
A restaurant packet of salt. A bottle cap. A bright blue Stellar’s Jay feather.
Of course I wait, now I’m a fox wedded wife.
Our milky furless pups flipping inside me.
As if from drowning springs life.
Sarah de Leeuw is a creative writer and human geographer. A two-time recipient of a CBC Literary Prize for Creative Non-Fiction, she is the author of three books including Geographies of a Lover which, in 2013, won the Dorothy Livesay Award, a BC Book Prize granted annually to best book of poetry by a BC author. Her literary and academic work appears widely in journals, anthologies and textbooks. She lives in Prince George and Kelowna, British Columbia.
Either rip off cereal box coupons, or don’t,
make note of how much milk is left, think
about trying another substitute—almond milk
maybe—walk to bus stop and find a quarter in
the weeds, shiny, like it might have just been dropped;
on the bus you remember you have to get a new
headlight for the car, and fix the side panel that
has come loose. You remember her face. They are
out of local organic eggs so you buy some that are
free run, but know you read somewhere that is not
that great. The internet bill is due today and you
pay it online by direct transfer. There is no other
way to do it. When you get home the cat has knocked
the open cereal box onto the floor and batted little pieces
everywhere. As you sweep, you wonder if it is worth it
to go out to get eggs and milk or stay home, and try
a poem or two. You think of her, her face, the way
she avoids your gaze, moves into forms.
whining at the door of
hoping that the rash
is not related
stuttering on an explanation
with no question
blabbering on about
herbs and balloons
the century that can
shatter the human myth
he leaned out the driver
window with the wind taking his words
all the reasons are piled
against the wall of the artery i keep forgetting the name of but
it is an important one and in real life not at all the neat shape
you see on hallmark cards and if i gush will i come clean will
the toxins spill out into the river and kill fish eggs aorta it’s the
aorta i am thinking of and it constricts when i say i love you
but is it the climate my aging cells or true
writing and deleting the same
message 44 times
writing a message and sending
it but before you were ready
chest pains are a sign hung
on the door saying ‘i am still here’
i tip over
IF I WERE A MAN
1. The tip of my conscious
gender would flinch
2. Time would stop for me, its
marks and transitions swiveling
to greet me; time as distance
I am traveling toward
3. I would eat
don’t scare me because
I made them
4. My love of nature would know
no bounds; it houses
my ideas and feeds my
urges to make accurate maps;
I would travel the world and
experience it all; I’d be open
to new ideas, thrills, all the exotic
has to offer
5. I would make lists to
characterize gender; the constructions
hardwired into my male hunter
brain as I lumber across the land looking
for sustenance, an animal to bring down
6. I would depend on semicolons
to condition my thinking; it is like
a binary flipside to everything
7. I would love women—not all
women, some are down-right frightening—
with every ounce of my being, revere
their form and sure-footed wisdom
8. Numbers would be in my pocket
9. I would be to-the-point, upstanding,
gentle, forgiving, generous—my abilities
would be the world’s to have; I would be
in the conditional future tense
10. If I were man imagining being
a woman I’d try to
be one of the guys, fit in and
be cool; I’d leave behind that tortured past and
just move on
11. My poems would be emotive, glimpses
into the inner workings of the world, the human
made tactile in the flick of image—
a hawk espied on the horizon
12. I would love language, its access
to thought and persuasive tenor; I would die
without words, without pages of alphabetized
props, without that paper-thin veil to hide
my fear (she) that invades
Rob Budde teaches creative writing at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. He has published seven books (poetry, novels, interviews, and short fiction), his most recent books being a collection of poetry titled Finding Ft. George (Caitlin Press 2007) and Declining America (BookThug 2010). Find him at writingwaynorth.blogspot.com.
PROLOGUE from Second Growth, Creekstone Press 2014
we came for wilderness, bounding trail, rinds of trail
slumping into streambed, river mud hugging our shoes, pulling
ourselves deeper into the forest by its trunks we came –
for the twinge of rain-aged bark in our hands, sunshade
of fir, dogwood, aspen, birch mycelia
flexing whispers between roots, milk-warm
mewling of chickadees, junco tweets kissing bluest
bluest sky, woodland – sponge-deep, open-pored, moss
soaking in all rough edges of sound, we came –
for the coke-sour glint of strewn bottles, burnt-out cans,
cigarettes for birdfeed, scream of slash piles, scream of skin’s
slow scald by water, ubiquitous drone of the ant-trail highway,
tires screaming in gridlock,
scream of jackhammer, rock drill,
screaming teeth of the tree buncher, forested escarpment
crushed to pulp, slash piles incinerated to char in the snow –
we came for boombox static, heartless rock, flatulence
of spun-out tires, the shores of heart lake flanked
by a deadlock armament of quads, we came for the quads
belching like kid soldiers as they pass, forest floor
churned to muck, for fish in the lake, reel’s plastic line
and cancer, the body toxic, for the driver
grinning at our tits, we came for the smack
of muck in our faces, we came to see ourselves
glistening from oil pools and mud. there has never been
a time like this. we curl toward the remaining woods. it took
millions of years for this world to adapt
to the toxicity
and above our heads, aspen
clothed in mushroom shelves –
caps soft as antler down, underside’s
cream-bathed glow – pocket reservoirs
of what’s left of the dawn.
Change bloomed slowly –
one small blush
deep in a provincial park, the budding heart
Back then I marched straight
into the canopy’s rusted out-heart and never
There were easy distractions – flycatcher’s
drunken prattle, how light flits
between trunk and shadow, purple columbine
winking through deadfall.
A pine beetle burrows below bark.
Spores through sapwood
fan like spilled ink.
Not long ago, yearly cold snaps
froze the suckers in their boots.
Now winters sludge along, the beetle
eats its heart out, and snap
goes the timber
of weak blue wood.
From this hill where I stand, the red forest, a dead sea.
One province’s hellfire. Glaring eternal sunset.
Overnight, it bloomed all over me.
I wake to openwork, heart’s shifting filigree,
rust-read and sweeping eastward
under a clear Chilcotin sky–
splay of her limbs, moose
polished clean to bone
by water so pure it squeaks.
lower your cup to the stream,
drop below the plume,
below the feather spray of rapids.
how the river breathes
a white raven ghost, water
exhaled by the lung of the world,
sing the glacial
cave-call, peat and sinter,
hollow echolalia: older
than rock pestle on mortar stone,
armouring the heart
passed down the woman line
down the valley.
listen to the clatter –
moose tibia at the bend,
rocks at the upstream eddy,
by one last
glistening thrust, salmon
to let the soft bits through
pulled home by the sound: ice
knuckling its own knuckles
shudders at the source,
carols the long lament
of calving off, of working
Fabienne Calvert Filteau grew up in Ontario and graduated from the University of Victoria in 2011. For a decade she worked as a tree planter throughout BC. She has been published in Paragon and Prairie Fire, among others. Currently she lives on Gitxsan territory in Hazelton, northwest BC.
“olly olly oxen free,”
I circled the snowy perimeter
bushy play zone edges I hid for fear
of finding out
she let the kids beat on each other
her youngest son was also a psychopath
windmilled his skinny arms
and children cowered under his temper but
I wasn’t tagged and
by the time I reached the tree
of prisoners, I was the only
one still playing
day don’t care!
“as long as nobody cries”
the twins had the same teen moustache
pretenders to a band, but Negative Aggression
too stupid a name
for a real band and a smiling kid
always got more Nintendo time than
me because why? because why?
hijinks in the tree fort with
permanent lifetime repercussions
yes I always did have psoriasis
I didn’t invent it for fuck’s sake
her daycare so clean I was
tempted to shit on that white lino
boys played fist hockey while I
was told my dungeons and dragons were Satanic
the day Mom appeared at the door with a bad haircut
because why? did that happen
other places I wasn’t welcome
(except on account of a subsidy
I said I knew how to spell “stupid”
“do you now” as she inserted an ice cube into my
milk thermos “I don’t want an ice cube, it tastes funny”
“no it doesn’t” under cartoon interrogation lights I might
admit to stomping on that kid’s head but
it was witnessed by everyone so
it won’t come to that
or a concrete tube and bush of aphids
which she said would crawl in my ears
and live in my insides forever
if I went too close to that bush
or walked to school in a pool
of that kid’s orange hamburger barf
on the table forever
forced to sing chin chopper chin chopper
for fucking ever and nap time
on pee-smell foam with no pillow
forever and the old folks’ home, wow
bring joy to strange faces
scuffed my heels on concrete shit
and orange pine needles
failed to picture my own face
amongst the gappy smiles
but easy enough to imagine
to be erased and pictured on my own
or climbing leaping! out of the bush into daylight alone
missing child who starts off
and keeps running flying
II. welfare poem
hi welfare baby we’re
on welfare mommy
we’re high on welfare money and welfare
brother big kid sister pants
Lisa Bart welfare soft drink
family services syrup welfare ID
soft drink LSD warfare
eat big buckets of partially-exposed Kentucky welfare
I’ve been trying to try out
extra large size welfare
one-size-fits extra welfare with a hole in the crotch
look at me
look at me
I stole some shit
welfare death fart cloud
because your whole welfare family is on welfare
III. for Tigger and Gina
reel in the fumes
of the Zellers shoe department
brand name experience
I wanted to possess an unmistakable
collect things but later
thrown in black green bags
feel momentum of your work’s lift-off
the weight is paralyzed
our cat-killer neighbour
got no no nothing
(boo hoo boo hoo hoo
water weeds in ditches
we wanted Umbro shorts
we got Mitre shorts
we got spandex shorts
single pubescent self-stabbing motion
but they weren’t shiny enough
oblique river beds to nap
kidnap and catnap
playground lost item
swimming in ditches
watch all the fluids drain
pet a dead kitty, no no no no
but are you really sure it’s dead
library magazines in the rain
puddle on bedroom floor
seep sop soak
creep crop croak
Seer’s catalogue binding glue
huff a lung sniff
moldy rotten and stashed
where nobody would need to look
we wanted all our favourite tapes, but at the right tension
within tolerances and biases of tape
screwed around a yellow pencil
hushing wow and flutter
mumbles to bruises
failure to return
I’m sorry but I don’t understand
Jeremy Stewart is the winner of the 2014 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry for Hidden City (Snare Books/Invisible Publishing). Stewart is also the author of (flood basement (Caitlin Press 2009). His work has appeared in Geist, Open Letter, and filling Station. Stewart is the General Manager of the Prince George Symphony Orchestra.
“every man is capable of showing his contempt for the cruelty and stupidity of the
universe by making his own life a poem of incoherence and absurdity.” -Gabriel Brunt
* * * * *
I have nothing to say & I am saying it
in a kind of field poetry
From a position of openness to surrounding context
Enveloped by a fine network of half-expressed thoughts & feelings
an atmosphere of such suavity difficult to resist almost
He arrives, unexpected, and possesses
a bare, wintry landscape, dotted w/ploughmen plodding interminably
behind scrawny oxen
* * * * *
The permanent condition of manufactured man
constituted of the sordid, its diabolical subtlety
caught up forever in
burning & immortal
bizanteaten jaws of death
Scattered along stations at the
long end of the spectrum
things are always going wrong Naïve
voluntarism obscures operation of dark forces
* * * * *
Continuously firing gorgeousness
upon him she sprawled him down
w/out even a smile, hacked his heart
Later, weeping on top of the remains of her house
bemoans obstacles to intimacy
Helen: where necessity & beauty converge
in the playpen of erotic devotion
crisis heterotopias of deviation
begin to function at full capacity
* * * * *
Writing in an obsolete medium
of witness & documentation
a “field of action” exhibiting aggression
to an audience concealing amidst
its reflection of economic & class contradictions
deconstructive death rays
impelled by force grandiose, selfish & cold
throughout those dismal days
when the dead return to inhabit their former houses
needing to express their tendency to view experience
through a lens of literary utility
* * * * *
Walking through streets filled w/ghosts of early boy-selves
industrious, affable, having brain on fire
Everything leads to whatever follows
Bernouli’s Encyclopedia of Imaginary Diseases
including a disdain for humanity as practiced
an Olympian desire for perfection over power
creating bridges between radical formalism
and a vaudevillian social platform
A strange state of mind, compounded of shock,
unnatural calm, and grief sharpened into anguish
by the complete wreck of earthly good
Party of animals / animals partying
amidst hyperbolic self- imagining
repudiates all notions of authorization
emptiness w/a few things arising in it
Glorification of energetic stupidity
a methodical tool designed to subvert
expectations of bourgeois readers
suspended in a doubt-like world
There is no escape from heaven
that large brothel called Aquitane,
its hatred of everything that doesn’t
relate to literature the proper setting
for epic scale brain warfare among poets
codependent & entangled sadomasochistic
perpetual institutionality of avant-garde practice
the mania for phrases drying up the heart
* * * * *
“If anyone is sleepy let him go to sleep.” -John Cage
Write as short as you can, in order
of what matters, as if your parents are dead
Your loneliness is a complex group dynamic
to keep the mind alert but empty
Practice: a syncretic poetics of ingenuity & invention, collage & palimpsest
where music invades the sentence
at the vulvic gateway to Archaos dreams leak
and the dead return, but only if you love
grim deeds & moral panic, that aridity
required for the production of genius
self-involved and unable to draw joy from the world
its pitch, timbre, loudness, duration
glorious penetralium locating us as part of an intensity
not an instant lost / doing what must be done
Women edge away from smell of hopelessness
the fraudulent imposition of Eros over Ananke
minor, deceptive & extended detournements / normal marital hatred
Devote one’s life to beating one’s head against that wall
collecting, hoarding and archiving laws & people
ambitionless setting oneself up on verge of ruin
a maggot on the corpse of its revisionist masters
Narcissistic aversion to seeing oneself as permanently ill
divination algebra connects holographic sense to
useless primordial reality of soul
Prepare for the next dumb blow
barest inkling of joyful wisdom always
overwhelmed by cheap / teenage nihilism
* * * * *
“If the mind is disciplined, the heart turns quickly from fear towards love.” -Meister Eckhart
Sincerealism of the workless world of work
seen through rectal eye of disorientation
everything happening at once, heavy
eyes & rain, thick head & ground-fog never
thinking get some of that love
Transcend! sensitivity to rejection
leap over the wall of self after logos
abstract rejection of epic encyclopaedism
isomorphic speech-times closely correlated
with higher whole-system productivity
its typically ironic and tightly disciplined nature
is breathtakingly beautiful
“Just because it’s New Year’s Eve doesn’t make this is any way excusable.” 1
Guilt-ridden literary forensics your
disturbing & conscious complicity
in his long-anticipated breakdown
talking too much bullshit, tapping feet,
facial twitches, not looking directly
into eyes when talking shades of Duncan ‘63 Olson’s blazing sun
fragmentary images a terminal moraine
left behind by passage through conscious-ness
Everything had been tried
and he just couldn’t stand it any more
1 For Simon Thompson and Hardy Friedrich.
G.P. Lainsbury has been teaching at colleges and universities in northern British Columbia since 1995. He is the author of The Carver Chronotope: Inside the Life-World of Raymond Carver’s Fiction (Studies in Major Literary Authors, Volume 23. New York and London: Routledge, 2004); his poems, stories and articles have been published widely in journals across North America. Versions of North, a book of poems, was published by Caitlin Press in 2011.
in the lab of the not understood, the not taste-of-ourselves
in its gold dust, the not soot-plumped sweat
of our brows incandescent with plutonium.
Shed of silver, quick, small– ideas burning off
like surplus fuel, the Pioneer 10 is a thought clicked
shut. Limbs drawn in, it drops like a tick
from the brain’s limbic core, like a photon
traveling who knows for how long
before reaching a body,
the way the mind needs an object,
something to crack open on, and by its reflection, shine.
PIONEER 10 PARSED
The genre was a flyby,
Pioneer 10 the singular proper noun
of the neuter gender,
subject complement renaming Pioneer F
after launching without a hitch.
launching–a verb expressing the action in the indicative mood.
without a hitch—prepositional phrase modifying
the launch into the past progressive—
42 years, 17 hours, 15 minutes
and counting. Goodbye direct objects.
Hello incomplete sentence,
body without a thought.
MARCH 2, 1972 FORECAST
The Pioneer 10 was the first human-made object
to stray from our solar system,
granola the first thing I ate today
while the wind smacked kissers of snow
against the double-glazed pane
and moose braved the yard
for the lower limbs of the weeping birch.
While at first we circled, now we settle.
I could have been a dancer, a stunt double,
and you, Pioneer 10, a pop can, a pie plate,
a gear driving the orrery of all you sail beyond.
When you launched there was a windchill,
minus 30, mostly cloudy. What went up,
stayed up, became the first earthly thing
with mass set to outlast the flutter board,
the pickle jar, the fear of death
and all our diminishing dramas.
JANUARY 22, 2003 OR THE DAY NASA SENT ITS LAST OFFICIAL SIGNAL TO PIONEER January 22, 2003 10
A budget crunch but cake for everyone.
Abandonment but words to soothe the blow: venerable, plucky, bold.
Deep space and unrequited beeping.
Some said feeble cry and whimper,
some said the shape of the probe squeezed from the tip
of an icing gun was nothing short of lovely.
Everyone had a slice.
Donna Kane lives in Rolla, BC, a few miles northeast of Dawson Creek. Her work has appeared in journals and magazines across Canada. In 2000 she received the Lina Chartrand Award for poetry. Her first book of poems, Somewhere, a Fire, was published in 2004 by Hagios Press (Regina). Her second book of poetry, Erratic, was published in 2007 by Hagios. In addition to writing, Donna runs the Writing on the Ridge Reading Series. Kane hosts the literary portion of the Sweetwater905 festival and she currently teaches creative writing at Northern Lights College.
I’m reading ryan fitzpatrick’s Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) in a very busy bar. A man two seats over yells loudly about fucking strippers but not being able to talk about it at work. He loves strippers, he says. I clear my head, misogyny is hard to ignore, but I read more passages from ryan’s book.
I reach the middle section of Fortified Castles, and my stomach flips. The way the poems are meant to flip. My anxiety disorder makes any human interactions feel like I am trapped in my body and these poems are speaking to it, in a good way. Dragon’s Den plays on the television: this bar is what I assume hell would be, and poetry is all I have to escape (metaphor alert!). The man talking about the strippers moves to the seat next to me and yells loudly in my ear about someone named John Mann. He talks of memories being forgotten and mental illness. He asks me if I want to see all the cuts he gives himself. He asks me about women, I don’t reveal to him that I’m gay for my own safety.
I refocus on the book. The collection is like this delicious grilled cheese. The poems of the outer section are goofy, aphorisms, couplets, light, sincere, that slip and play around.
The cheese in this grilled cheese sandwich book, it’s not what I expected (I really like grilled cheeses): tight, compressed. Each poem is a magnet of emotion, or it uses something missing to hold it all together. Like ryan fitzpatrick thought about a feeling, then raked the internet for all the statements that evoked that same emotion. I wonder, at this point, if it’s the hot breath of the drunk man yelling into my ear that makes these poems more about depression than it would normally.
Considering that was the moment I was in reading the book, the poems read as fears and anxieties compressed into incomplete sonnets. Couplets that usually respond to these are missing. These constructed collage poems are so tightly knit together that it acts more like a painting than a collage. Kind of like when you have to find the edge of clear packing tape, but it’s impossible and you’re feeling for the edge and you’re certain the tape roll is fused together in some magical way. Kind of like that, but enjoyable. Anyway …
The drunk man yells, “FUCKING STEPHEN HARPER AND JUSTIN BIEBER” into a young girl’s ears. She is scared. The bartender asks him to stop. The man goes outside for a smoke.
I google “fortified” to see if I’m missing anything in the definition. I read about fortifying alcohol but also fortifying as strengthening something mentally. I google “John Mann” because the drunk guy won’t stop yelling his name into my ear, “I fucking met John Mann today dude!”
The man across from me at the bar switches his seat so that when someone sits next to him he moves one stool away. He does this the entire night. He is handsome. I realize that maybe I only notice him because he is handsome. He checks his phone every two minutes. I read,
“The place I want to live is labeled and documented. I chase sprinklers in the sun. I get hopeful when the day ends. I subtract everyone from the streets. In the future, maybe you will love me in a real way.”
So you’re wondering about the drunk man, and what the fuck this review is about, and that’s cool. I saw ryan a couple weeks later, and he said that when he reads from the last poems in the book, it’s so depressing. I countered him and said those poems, for me, were the most hopeful. The way they are stepping away from the first section with its irony and goofy twists, and the middle, with its angst and intensity, and went to a place of sincerity. And if there’s anything that gives a book hope, it’s sincerity.
“My heart, however, overflowed with hope. I overflowed with reverence. I intruded my heart.”
Back to the night at the bar, with the man drunk and yelling, with Dragon’s Den blasting overhead, me trying to read a book (slightly inebriated). After a while the drunk man was asked to leave the bar. He didn’t fight it. He wasn’t rude or aggressive. He slumped down, said “ok,” and slowly exited without a noise. I am more familiar with a narrative that follows a man raging in response to being cut off. I was silently clutching my book, but he walked away with just a whimper. After he left, the sensory overload of the night went away with him, and all that was left was empathy, sincerity, exactly how I felt reading the final lines of Fortified Castles. And that, is an extended metaphor on how I read this book, and how this book reads. Fucking, John Mann.
This is Daniel Zomparelli’s last review for Lemon Hound. We’ll miss you!
For Your Safety Please Hold On, Kayla Czaga. Nightwood Editions (2014).
Kayla Czaga’s debut collection of poetry, For Your Safety Please Hold On, manages a balance in voice and tone that is likeable, playful, domestic—but also unpredictable, full of precipices and turns. Poems such as “Gertrude Stein Loves a Girl,” “Some Girls” and “For Play” question the relation between femaleness and language, the different modes of being that girls must negotiate as they grow up. The world of these poems is feminine and full of edges while also being delightful and relished because readers live in recognizable versions of it.
Czaga makes the multiplicities of girlhood available in a way that lays out intimate but somehow archetypal progressions, from learning individuality to navigating slippery female friendships and fraught interactions with men. “A two / of girls is as cruel as exclusive” (43), we are told, “A girl turns another girl womanish to stay small and wanted and win” (44). The neighbourhood universe of this girlhood, of front lawns and hopscotch games, cannot become tiring in hands that turn it over and over, allowing things to fall in and fall out.
This collection is anything but static. It houses certain preoccupations with rituals and objects of childhood: the mad multiplication minute, the nostalgia for the VHS tape, the scabs, Barbies, and birds murdered in the hands of boys, the scrawled “fuck” on an Etch-A-Sketch. These investigate a space where collective memories overlap and feed each other.
Many of the poems profile individual family members or familial entities, and here Czaga speaks with an honesty that is almost jarring at times. These poems simultaneously seem to be a compilation of things never told to certain family members and things everyone knows. They are facts, skillfully curated and particular to the moment. The decorative aunt’s face “looks like a military cot you could bounce a quarter off” (36), the not-grandfathers are “old orphans dangling outside / of the family on every greeting card / occasion, not sure / whether or not to touch you” (33). This honesty is one few people use, feeling loyalty and maybe a protective pity towards the intimacy of family. It makes the collection extremely interesting for me to not know exactly where that honesty comes from. There is a feeling that it exceeds the borders that ask female speakers to remain respectably within the voice of a girl-child even long after they have grown up.
The poems rarely self-center by drawing attention to their own metaphors, instead revealing the ones that exist in Czaga’s world. “My father is more like a poem than most poems are” (20). As good figurative language does, they gesture outwards rather than inwards. They are constantly framing and reframing their subjects, looking newly at different sides. There is a lovely tendency to braid characteristics in with their objects, creating a weave specific to one person: “Her basic cable-knit is full of reruns— / Wheel of Fortune loops over and over / holes in the program” (37). In tracing the webs that people create while intersecting each other’s lives, either deliberately or to get to a different destination entirely, Czaga is subtle and powerful all at once. The collection traces a coming-of-age arc with expertise especially because the voice is able to move unattached through all of its phases.
That time from the provincial park I stole
wild lilac with my mother and gardened it
into the backyard. Those times into her arms
made of fabric softener I ran, my skirt
flapping in the breeze. The time we drove
for sandwiches together to the next town
over with the radio and windows open.
The time she bought me a fairy journal
in Great Falls, Montana. The private time
we fled to the movies to escape family
reunion time. All that time before the time
she started dying, how there was less
of it and somehow more than enough.
Now there’s not enough and too much
sitting in doctors’ offices with expired
magazines. How hard it is to move through.
How over it my mother is crumbling.
Time’s a drag and with it drags the light,
the lilac blossoms into lilac dust. But how
lovely the lilac vanishing in the low dusk,
the petals deadlining all over the lawn.
Rudrapriya Rathore was born in New Delhi and grew up in Kolkata and Toronto. During her undergrad, she served as an editor for Soliloquies Anthology and Yiara Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2014 Irving Layton Award for Fiction.
What does it mean for the subject of a poem to embody selflessness; to face death with contemplation and elation; to strive to see our screwed up world objectively, but with care; and to rise to the occasion of an ethical poetics? Ana Božičević invited me to her lovely Lefferts Gardens apartment, made a superb breakfast, and as we sipped mimosas and laughed (a lot) we also got to the meat of these complex, paradoxical meanings. As an immigrant, and queer female poet Ana knows her context and knows that she can and should never totally rid herself of her “I”. But as a white woman deeply concerned with the racial politics of our time she advocates for others like her that the best way to contribute to the fight is to “shut up” and listen to the black voices who really need to be heard. Her poetry manages to see the world for what it is, with all its detriments, cruelties and injustices, but her transmission of such a world is spoken through a subject utterly committed to love. To quote Euripides, “Do you not see what a great goddess Venus is? She whom you can neither name nor measure, how great she is by nature from how great a thing she comes through?” It is an ethical act to let go of the self in order to recognize another person for who they truly are, and to accept their difference from you. It is also an ethical act to write a poem that sees the pain of the earth with affection and balance. So, how exactly are they connected?
AnaBožičević (AB): When you shut up everything else is heard. That is my attitude. I think it is okay for me to shut up. There are people that shouldn’t shut up, there are subjects whose voices need to be heard, but I think I personally am sort of better at receiving, processing and then maybe, you know, putting it out in, weirdly, as an unbiased way as possible. I strive for some kind of affective objectivity. Which is probably impossible.
Cornelia Barber (CB): Right. And it comes with its own set of problematics.
AB: There is no such thing as neutral.
CB: In your work I wonder about how your personal experience and specifically the personal experience of living through the Croatian war kind of effects the gesture (of shutting up) you’re talking about. How it maybe influences or inspires it, and how that connects with your sense, now, of living in America and through the desired objectivity of processing what’s happening here today.
AB: Definitely. Being a teenager and living in a country that is at war, it is definitely a way to shut you up because you realize really quickly the stable ground that you’ve believed in all your life is nothing but a sandcastle, so things are gonna change and regimes are going to rise and fall, and nothing is really certain. Especially when that (uncertainty) is attached to a negative experience, which obviously the experience of war is. You feel a loss of agency. You know, like all the mute refugees streaming over borders just sitting passively. You kind of have to become like that sometimes just to be able to withstand things. Right? So there is that voicelessness, but then I think of the maybe cliché need or call for minorities and refugees to find their voice, express their position – often those are exactly the people who can’t. It’s like asking a depressed person, “Say how you feel. Confide in me ” when they can’t even speak, you know? So I think in the US, what’s happening now with the re-emergence of racial issues to the forefront of our cultural consciousness, there is a population in the States who really live in conditions of war. Of course there is a need for black people to be more heard and acknowledged, and I, for example, as a white woman, although I am from somewhere else, still feel like I should shut up and just follow, support, understand. Help decolonize. I don’t really feel the need for my subjectivity to dominate at all. In my work, “I” is more like a promontory or a frame, “I am the frame.” I want my poem to be a reflection of something else.
CB: Do you think there is a relationship between what you’re saying about subject as frame, to the content of your poetry in which you’re often grappling with what poetry is, and is it dead? Is there a connection there?
AB: I mean I definitely thought a lot about the death of the author and so subsequently the death of the subject, and I even started writing my new book with the tentative title Epitaph, which changed and now it’s called The Joy of Missing Out, so that is going to be my next book. But the last poem in the book is a poem about the book being published after I am dead. So I decided to walk into the work, but by removing myself. It’s very strange.
CB: It kind of reminds me of, you’re obviously doing totally different work, but it reminds me of Trisha Low’s TheCompleat Purge; her suicide, and injecting herself into a story in which fate has already been decided, and in her book it’s this repository—
AB: Yeah exactly. And I want it to be post death. Because people who are about to die or about to kill themselves rightfully command a lot of attention. (CB: Mhm.) And what happens afterwards? After you’re actually gone? To me that’s a comforting thought. That’s one thing I don’t have a problem with. I have a problem with earth and living on earth. I’m like what the hell is going on here? (Laughter) What is all this bullshit?
CB: Well it’s really upsetting being a human being, to some extent, and I think taking it all in, as poets and artists, but many kinds of people, if you’re sensitive and you absorb and you hold the depth of humanities grossness—it’s hard. (AB: Mhm. For sure.) But I think in your work, it shows amazingly that you can reference all that, see and experience all of that grossness, and yet there is something balanced. The frame is still balanced, and you’re not pushing anything down our throats as much you’re…allowing something else to come through in a way that is light, readable, accessible. You know? I think I could give your poems to pretty much anyone and someone could get something from them. Which is definitely not the case with a lot of experimental poetry.
AB: I like that. I like accessibility. I like to amuse. I totally don’t mind the poem being like a song or something. I don’t mind that at all. Despite the world being the way it is or whatever sometimes you work real hard, but you’re singing. What explains that? One time somebody tried to rob me and I started singing.
AB: And I think they thought I was nuts.
CB: Did they leave you alone?
AB: They did. But I don’t know what happened. It was almost like my Swan Song, like If I’m about to be struck down—
CB: And you didn’t think about it, it just happened?
AB: Yeah. I mean I was a little sauced. (Laughter) I think I was in my early twenties. I was sort of in a reckless mood, and somebody just came up, “put your hands up,” and that was my response. Maybe a conventional reaction wouldn’t have worked. Insanity defense.
CB: You’ve said in a couple different places online that you want to make work that inspires other people to write or that lets other people write and I think that goes along with everything we’re talking about, about this framing of self, and subjecthood; letting go; shutting up; singing—and you teach, yeah?
AB: I really like to teach…poetry.
CB: Can you talk about your teaching experience and also how it fits in with all this?
AB: Well I’ve been teaching at BHQFU. I taught with Sophia Le Fraga. And the students are just amazing. They’re artists from across the mediums and somehow they are trying to incorporate poetry, or what is poetic, and they’re just immensely creative. Because they don’t come from poetry and haven’t been taught the conventions of what the poem should be or look like or sound like, they just do their own thing, and it’s often so much more interesting than what someone coming from poetry would do. I am more of a poet’s poet, though I also make video sometimes, so it was just so amazing to see people in other media attack poetry, approach it, just own it, doing really interesting and fun things. This semester was poets’ theater, so they wrote poetic plays and I guess it was timely because the founder of the Living Theater (Judith Malina) passed away and the university is on the Lower East Side, so I’ve tried to make some connections between our poets’ theater and that scene that happened in the neighborhood. With what the Living Theater was doing (highly revolutionary, rebellious and experimental political theater) …but…what was the question? (Laughter)
CB: Umm…how do you want your work to be for other people and make them write?
AB: In this class it seems to me I’m there to facilitate, to give students a sense of permission, to make them comfortable so they can do whatever they want. No one is gonna try to shoehorn them or critique them in an unproductive way. In poetry my favorite compliment is when people tell me “oh I finished your poems and I went and I wrote” or “you made me feel like I could write….or write whatever.” That’s great cause I’m not interested in some cult personality for myself. I’ve never wanted to be some kind of IT chick, and what I want people to leave my reading with is not ‘OMG look at that person she’s amazing’, but more like, ‘Oh wow poetry is fucking amazing.’
CB: Do you think, and maybe this is too psychoanalytic, bullshit, or something, but do you think that being from Croatia and being an immigrant has something to do with that, or influences that drive at all because you have an internalized experience of some kind of othering—
AB: Like having experience in being other gives you training in effacement?
CB: Yeah…or maybe: does it open you up more—when you do have a platform or power— to relinquishing some of that power in the name of others? Partly because you know how it feels versus someone that just has a lifetime of inclusive privilege, and I’m not saying people who have lifetimes of privilege don’t engage with acts of selflessness, but it might be harder to sympathize or put yourself in the shoes of someone else.
AB: I was never really the go-getter immigrant, you know, it took me a very long time to start writing in English and then I could never settle into a particular thing. One thing that has been constant is that I have been writing and teaching poetry, that’s what I know how to do the best. As a parallel—all I’ve been thinking about this week is the racial inequality in this country, that letting go of any kind of privilege or sense of identity scares the shit out of people cause it’s the closest to death that you’ll come – or that you think you’ll come, because in fact it could be your rebirth and feed others’ rebirth.
AB: Imagine letting go of some aspect of yourself that you identify with and that you thought keeps you together. For example, for white Americans, thinking of themselves as this thing that has a value that maybe they should avoid or let go of the privileges attached to it, must be fucking terrifying. Though they absolutely have to do it, there is no other way forward but to start thinking about themselves critically and disassociating, refusing to accept the privilege that comes with whiteness, I mean, I don’t know if I am better prepared to do that because I am an immigrant, I am a big coward and often very scared, and I want comfort and safety, but I don’t know if that really exists. I don’t think that by reifying unexamined selfhood we can achieve safety.
CB: Especially when it makes other people unsafe.
AB: Exactly. Your safety at whose expense?
CB: There’s an interesting part of being female, that doesn’t get talked about as often, it gets talked about in domestic ways, and in the nuclear family and then dissolving the nuclear family, but not as much in emotional ways: it’s this kind of servitude and selflessness that can come with being a woman and bearing children and maybe it’s chemical, hormonal, maybe it has been historically instilled in us and that history has made us who were are, but there seems to be overarchingly a line of servitude that comes with being female, even now in third wave feminism. It’s almost like it’s still easier for women to give up their power in the name of somebody else.
AB: Well we’re more used to giving up our power.
CB: Right, and so in a way we’re now asking the people who really have power to do that as well. I’m wondering if (in terms of racial politics, identity politics, feminism) if we’re after an acceptance of that maternal drive, rather than trying to assimilate or equalize with men, if what we’re craving is really a society that is run by matriarchs.
AB: I can’t even imagine that kind of world. I mean we still inhabit a planet where mostly men kill and women give birth. You know this is what keeps happening (Laughter). The master is a tool. I’m interested in these basic facts.
CB: I love that because I feel like particularly in academia and scholarship you get caught up with details and you miss the basic facts.
AB: Oh yeah, you can become this disciplinary monster and disassociate from your and others’ physical condition.
CB: So what about women who kill? Somebody like Vanessa Place, who you worked with and have dialogue with to some extent, her thing is not exactly women who kill, but she does take on any number of (what society deems) cold, monstrous voices and uses those voices to create poetry, but she herself is a woman, lesbian, all of those things.
AB: (In a self-aware awkward voice) Women are killin it. (Laughter) Well, I was interested in her work because I thought she was immensely intelligent and then secondly I was struggling with subjectivity in the poem and the “I”: Am I supposed to talk? Am I allowed? Is there need for me? I think the conceptualists’ notion of subjectivity is somewhat strangely similar to the Romantic. I’m not the first person to point this out. The Romantic credo of how a poem is made is recollection in tranquility, so you’re kind of the vessel for the experience you’re going to process, you’re the beaker in how alchemically the world turns into poetry. Right? So ultimately despite Romantic individualism it’s not all about your subjectivity in the poem. And in conceptualism there is the whole idea of a vessel, a mouthpiece, through me other voices shall speak, so maybe not the universal voice, but the voice of you know…Joe45Detroit on Youtube. And through Joe…God. (Laughter).
CB: So do you resonate with that, do you resonate with that kind of vessel, mouthpiece thing?
AB: To some extent yeah. On the other hand I am definitely here, and I’m queer. Hahaha. So I can’t totally relax.
CB: Right, you’re repping your community.
AB: But my process (of writing) is very old school, I receive something, I hear words.
CB: I like what you said before in the kitchen about feeling—you named a couple different things as being just as important as intelligence—say that again.
AB: Well, different kinds of intelligence are really important and aren’t taken as seriously; feeling, intuition, memory. That’s the thing, when people ask me like ‘oh you’re working on a new project, what is your process like?’ And a conceptualist might be like, well I had an idea, went to this website and copy and pasted this stuff. I think what happens with them is just as mysterious: why some things are chosen and certain things aren’t chosen, curation versus creation…It’s just as interesting and subjective as anything else. But what am I going to say? ‘Well, I hear some things in a dream, and if I’m lucky I remember them and in the morning when I walk to work I look around and this song comes back to me’ – my process is totally nebulous and ridiculous. It’s more the Romantic process.
CB: It’s not a formula.
AB: It’s not a formula and it doesn’t sound very respectable.
CB: Or scholarly.
AB: Or scholarly or self directed and in that sense it is weirdly again impersonal. It is sort of this florescence of a subjectivity that is totally automatic. In the words of Nicki Minaj. Automatic.
CB: Right, not the Surrealists. Nicki Minaj.
AB: Haha. Right. So maybe it has more to do with automatic writing.
CB: Do you conceptualize your work? Because you have written online in a couple different places about your work, about what you’re doing and what you want for your poetry and obviously that stuff changes over time, if it stayed the same it would be pretty boring, but do you, when you’re not writing, do you conceptualize your work in your own way?
AB: Well I have themes and my own personal mythology. In this new book, I’ve been obsessed with Venus and the morning star. I’ve actually been praying to Venus for a few years with very strange results. Growing up my favorite book was Danica and Other Stars, and Danica means morning star, but it is also a girls’ name in Croatian. Then somehow I realized that book and the particular landscapes, it’s a picture book, actually correspond to my idea of what it means to be on earth and even what it means to be a poet. So it’s like one of those early influences and it had to do with freedom. The little girl falls asleep and either dreams or actually has a vision that she is in the sky and hanging out with the Big Bear up there. So she has this celestial journey, like Sandra Bullock, and then she falls back down to earth, like Little Nemo or something, the cosmic journey. An allegory of the artistic process. And then you tell the story when you come back. But then also maybe sometimes you go too far and you don’t come back. And then you’re dead. So there are themes in the (new) book: death, the subject’s death, but also those journeys and my own personal mythology, symbology. It’s more like HD.
CB: Your death in your poetry, the way you use death, I feel like in our culture and I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but certainly in America, death is this dark thing. It’s this dark, awful unknown that we glorify to some extent. We glorify through war and violent movies and through the military industrial complex and taking black lives, and we also kind of demonize it in this way where we’re totally scared of it, and we totally sublimate our fear of it through other means of desire and libidinal satisfaction in consumerism and pop culture, but the death you describe, there is something light about it. It’s more open. Do you agree with that?
AB: I mean contemplating death makes capitalism seem especially pointless.
AB: Why are we accruing all this shit for when you’re just going to go out the same way you came in. Someone told me once about a rich man being buried with his hands outside of the coffin, because he wanted people to see that he was leaving the way he came and the coffin has no pockets for cash. So yeah when you contemplate it, you get lighter about it and it makes you live differently. To me it’s just like the last laugh. Like after all this? You’re just… you’re… you’re gone. It’s really LOL.
CB: Right. It is really like a joke in some way. Right? (Laughter)
AB: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a joke. And I mean that’s cool. That’s fine with me cause being around forever would be hell and I’m fine becoming something else.
CB: And there is almost something about that that is comforting because it doesn’t take itself so seriously. It doesn’t take the big cultural ego of humanity and of society so seriously. But my question to you is do you think that gives way to a living that’s a little more kind and optimistic, or does it give way to as much patriarchy and war and ruining the planet, or does it not matter?
AB: I don’t know. I feel like I just landed here and I’m trying to figure out what makes these people tick. So I can survive. To me most things don’t make any sense whatsoever. I was just talking about patriarchy last night at dinner—it’s here, we have our fathers’ last names—it’s in the very basic facts of our existence. I spent a long time trying to understand the way things are, but now I spend my time trying to imagine a different way of being. For myself, as much as I can. So I can figure out how to live, and maybe I can fight and be useful, cause one thing for sure is that if you feel like you have nothing to lose and you feel comfortable with death and you feel like you’re okay with this being it, you can maybe put yourself on the line a little more.
CB: Take more risks.
AB: Take more risks, you’re not so scared about your personal property. I have almost studiously remained poor. (Laughter) Almost like how did I manage? I’ve been weary of having too much or wanting too much. I just always felt that if it becomes my focus some integrity would be lost. So I’ve lived differently than maybe how I was supposed to live in the USA. But not everyone needs to live the same. And that’s part of the problem here, everyone is expected to do sort of the same thing and not everyone wants to do so.
CB: Maybe you’re an alien. Do you ever think that?
AB: Haha. I’ve had a few mental breakdowns in my life where things seemed especially weird to me, like ‘forks: what are these?’ Or ‘leaves: why are there so many, who keeps track of them?’ Most basic things of the world become really bizarre. It’s estrangement, ostranenie. If you repeat a word long enough it’s going to become meaningless and sound nonsensical. If you look at the world long enough you see the atoms and you flip out.
CB: Do you ever flip out, cause talking to you now and in your poetry it seems like you can really handle all those subjects and the understanding of it in this way that’s pretty centered, light and doesn’t take itself too seriously. But do you have a process that’s more sad?
AB: Oh definitely. I’m pretty depressive. And recently I lost some time (at least “consensual time”) in my life because I got really depressed. Sounds silly, but it’s the suffering of creatures that really gets to me. I can’t really deal with it. So I try to do both: why people like The Smiths is because they write really happy sounding songs with sad lyrics, and I like that sort of thing, a combination of sadness and bravado, or maybe something that’s light in content, but has a very strict form or vice versa. I like to keep it balanced. For sure I’m dark as fuck, but I don’t think the world needs that from me right now. I’ll get into these moods when I don’t want or just can’t talk or correspond, days I can’t deal. But I am trying to be more of an activist again and I need to stop thinking so much about myself and my moods. Maybe my depression is not so important.
AB: I’ve been trying to put myself in perspective more. Am I depressed or is it the racist capitalist patriarchy that’s bringing me down? LOL.
CB: And that comes back to your poetry because in a way that has been your artistic struggle for a long time now; putting the subject in perspective and making something out of the world that is bigger than the subject. So there is a relationship between the life lived and the poetry that manifests because of it, but maybe they’re not always synonymous, maybe they catch up with each other, or overlap and then diverge.
AB: I don’t know what the relationship is between the work and the life in my case. I have no idea. Maybe they are the same things expressed as different elements, maybe one is a byproduct of the other; sometimes I think about poetry or art as the foam on the wave—the stuff that is generated along the way. But then also they seem to be the same thing to some extent.
CB: So there is this quote from Carrie Lorig on HTML Giant and she quotes you too
I think we know how to be in love with people and things, how to want them, to want what we see of ourselves in other people and things. “I’m so fucking tired of the sound of “sexy”/ of me being sexy, muse-body” (War on a Lunchbreak). To be loving though, is to give something, to transfer something over for absorption. Being loving is considerably more dangerous, more of a risk, and I understand it less, though I know I desire it more.
I’m wondering what you think about that in terms of your own poetry and maybe if this idea of being ‘loving’ not in a mushy gushy way, but in this just way is important to you and for your work? In your poetry is there a relationship between selflessness and lovingness?
AB: For sure. I mean, I totally have been praying to Venus. I was baptized but not really Christian, so I was like, who is the one god that is fly and stands for something I can get down with? So of course Venus.
CB: Cecilia (Corrigan) and I talked a little bit about this: a form of love and intimacy that has an ethics attached to it. It’s one thing to fall in love with somebody and have passion, and it’s one thing to have it in poetry or activism and have a point to make, but where are the ethics of how you make that point?
AB: Let me use an analogy of poetic camps or movements. We’re seeing people fight: this circle versus that circle of poets. I was interested in conceptualists, and some people thought I betrayed my camp – I’m supposed to be neo-modernist, or new lyric or whatever, why was I friends with those people? It became important to me to embody (at least in understanding) both sides of the argument, so poetics becomes not about polarity. Movements have more in common than they want to probably. It’s important to listen because your mind might need to be changed for your life or poetics to move forward, or make space for someone or something more urgent. And in a sense the same thing happens with love. It’s my life’s guiding principle, but also something that I can’t even talk about. To understand what it is to be another human being… Everyone is as important to themselves as everyone else. Everyone thinks we are the center of the universe. People say if only we could love everyone the way we love the one we’re in love with. And we do have the capacity to do that. It’s not a Christian thing for me. To understand that the other person is as important as you are is to be just. The two definitely have something in common. To what extent an author has an ethical or loving relationship to their subject, their reader, their material—it is interesting to think about loving language…
CB: Particularly when it has given us so much hell. Language is the source of so much of our societies’ dissonances.
AB: Oh yeah, yeah. In that sense saying ‘I’m a poet’ is another ideology. It’s the air that I breathe that I don’t think about, and sometimes I think wow, maybe I should just not write anymore. One of the reasons I kill myself off in the last poem of this new book is that I was thinking ‘well if I never wrote a poem again that would be a good ending.’ Maybe next I want to do something different.
Cornelia Barber is a poet and Performance artist living in Crown Heights, NY. She has performed at Bureau of General Services Queer Division, The Cake Shop, Mellows Pages Library and Bard College. Her essays and poetry are published in Prelude Magazine, Local Nomad, Lemon Hound and forthcoming from Wild Spice magazine. She writes at the intersection of experimental poetics and contemporary female mysticism. This interview is the first in an ongoing interview series between her and other female identified poets.
Ana Božičević wrote The Stars of the Night Commute (2009) and Rise in the Fall (2013), a Lambda Literary Award winner. Her new book one day will be The Joy of Missing Out.
Though Ari won’t believe in God, she knows that something somewhere
must be counting—calories and carbon use, every inner tube she’s ever burst,
every acid-crusted battery—somewhere there’s a ledger for the damage
of existence: each bottle top and what it cost the Earth,
the atmosphere, accruing to the rubbish mountain of her soul.
Joy is only sugar, an empty source of energy, and happiness a fiction;
it’s misery and guilt that architect the real. And the body,
the body’s just another spring of discipline; something counts each lick,
each sip, each chew, each mile she runs with weights on arms and legs
up and down the neighborhood so early that she wakes the dogs.
MOUTHS OF BABES
Ari’s dyeing yarn in tea when Stephan lopes into her studio—
headstrong first-born, jeans too short again. Can he have a dollar
for the dollar store. What will you buy? though she can guess. Cap gun. He studies tea leaves swirling in the sink. The air stretches.
Don’t you have enough? They’re all broke. She tries to squash the knot
of righteousness crawling up her throat. Hasn’t she told him
about plastic, about waste? The garbage patch sprawled the width
of continents? Half a billion tons. When we throw away
it just goes somewhere else. He looks up, shoots her
with his eyes: So it’s over anyway, and it’s your fault.
Her fingers probe her pocket for some change.
HUMAN FOOTPRINT SERIES: WESTERN CHORUS FROG
Upon mansions usurping marshland, upon springs ever warmer
by degrees and sooner, let curses fall, and let frog no longer breed
by river’s edge, nor leave egg sac under sodden forest logs, neither
in lake’s reedy shallows. Let frog not sing nor her children sing springtime
comb and fingernail, nor chew mosquito on humid nights. Not even protect
your bedchamber, your kneading board. Over frog-corpse roadways,
his petal underbelly absorbing poison from runoff ditch and gold course,
let sorrowful sound rise. Let male be made female by chemical castration,
and as her song evanesces, let your cradles empty, empty, empty.
Ari Backus, 2006. Felted wool, grass, reeds, acrylic, foil, lightning bugs, birth control pills, beads, rain, moss 100×80 centimetres
Naomi Guttman’s first book of poems, Reasons for Winter, won the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry. Her second, Wet Apples, White Blood, was co-winner of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Best Book of Poems for 2007. The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera is her third poetry collection. Raised in Montreal, she now teaches creative writing at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY.
Jake Byrne: Why did you decide to start Metatron? Was there a void in the Montreal literary community or the publishing scene at large that you felt you needed to fill?
Ashley Opheim, Metatron Managing Editor: In 2012, Guillaume Morissette (a close friend and now co-editor of Metatron) and I started organizing readings to expose voices we felt excited about in fun and playful environments. Our reading series was called This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not. A core of writers began to emerge from those readings, and I felt a little surprised that apparently no one was publishing their work. Metatron was absolutely a direct response to a void within Montreal’s publishing scene, or even Canada in general, as it seemed like I wanted to publish the kind of contemporary literature that wasn’t really present in other presses’ catalogs, or at least not to my knowledge. I don’t think I was entirely conscious of this at the very beginning, but witnessing the growth and interest in Metatron has made me realise that what we’re doing is beneficial and exciting for the Montreal literary community.
Jake Byrne: Why print? I feel like we’re constantly bombarded with messages about how print media is dying out, and you folks have gone and bucked that trend. Any particular reason for favouring print (well-designed, eye-catching, I might add) chapbooks over ebooks or a digital quarterly?
Ashley Opheim: I don’t think print media is dying. I think that new methods of distribution are emerging and old methods of distribution are being faded out, but generally I think publishers now have more opportunities to showcase their literature to potential readers. It’s an excited time to be publishing books.
Books are so important to human consciousness, and we need books to continue to exist in the physical realm now that every aspect of our lives has been allocated to a digital device. In general, I see no reason why the digital and the physical can’t work together and complement one another. It’s a fallacy to think they’re enemies. We will continue to print books, but we are also looking at offering PDF’s of our books for free or by donation. Since producing a digital replica of a book doesn’t cost any money, it feels like the right thing to do is to offer that content for free (as long as the author is cool with it).
Jake Byrne: Many of the works you’ve published are by Montreal writers under thirty. Was this a conscious, deliberate decision? Are you specifically trying to create a market for emerging poets in Montreal, or is this just the best of what you’ve received?
Ashley Opheim: Metatron works with a lot of new or rising authors. This was in some ways a conscious decision, but also a response to the lack of support and resources writers in Montreal in my age category had available to them. When a writer graduates from a Creative Writing program with maybe a couple publications (sometimes none!) under their belt, getting a first book deal can be really difficult. I felt like there was a need for more “in between” publishers in Canada that were willing to take a chance on new writers. My hope with Metatron is that emerging writers can gain momentum from working with us, then maybe move on to bigger and better things if they feel ready. Writers under 30 are also a fun group to work with. Metatron will continue giving priority to young Montreal writers, but we also hope to expand our network to the literary community in Toronto and elsewhere in the world, like New York and Berlin. I feel our local authors and less local authors can both benefit from this approach.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly makes a manuscript suitable for Metatron, but that’s something that I think will become more apparent over time. I think all our writers are daring to express something that’s never been expressed before. I think there is a lot of technological alienation present in the work of our authors, but also a lot of pure life energy that I find refreshing and inspiring to read.
Jake Byrne: Can you walk me through a simplified version of the process of establishing your own press? Any financial or legal considerations we should be aware of? How arduous is it? Is there any advice you’d offer to say, a graduate of Concordia’s creative writing program if they wanted to do the same?
Ashley Opheim: Arduous is a great word to describe it. I often use the expression ‘an act of love’ to describe the work we do with Metatron. But to answer your question, yes, Metatron has been an insane amount of (unpaid) work. Sometimes I look back at what we’ve manifested in the past year and am genuinely amazed. It’s incredible what we can do when we dream big, work hard and collaborate.
To do something like this you need a vision and the drive and determination to not only do it, but to maintain it too. It is also so integral that you have people behind you who believe in and share your vision.
I mentioned this a little earlier, but I want to reiterate that I credit the community that emerged from This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not as being integral to our success. I think that having a strong physical community around you when starting a project is the most valuable thing that will assist you in creating and sustaining your vision.
Logistically, if you want to start a press you are going to need a little bit of money, access to talented writers and some technical skills—notably a design software and some coding skills. It also helps to know some generous artists you can hit up for cover art. Metatron began with roughly $2,000 that we obtained through a grant from Jeunes Volontaires, and a ton of support from countless nice people.
Jake Byrne: You published over ten(!) books last year. Does Metatron plan to continue that blistering pace? Or will the output become slower and steadier as the press establishes itself?
Ashley Opheim: We actually did 11 last year! But that’s a great question. To be honest, we’re kind of ‘going with the flow’ right now. We did 6 in Spring of 2014, 5 in Autumn 2014 and now we are releasing 2 for Spring 2015. I should mention that of the 11 we did last year, some are booklets (fewer than 64 pages, not perfect bound). We do both books and booklets, depending on the manuscripts. Booklets are obviously cheaper to produce and ship, so we can sell them for less.
I think we started off with a bang, which was probably why we got noticed and made an impact. Doing 2 books (one booklet and one book, to be precise) this spring has been a really nice experience because it’s giving us more time to promote each book and try out new ideas, like the Prize. In fall 2015, it’s starting to look like we’ll be doing 5 books again.
Right now, we are still exploring and figuring out what works best for us. Since we do small print runs, only reprinting if the demand is there, it allows for us to take risks—which I think is so important for anything that is trying to grow and find its place. I like having the freedom to do what is necessary for the press, without having to abide to a strict schedule.
Jake Byrne: Metatron has recently launched their first contest, and you offered readings of manuscripts along with the contest entry fee, which is a nice bonus. How was the response? And how big is your slush pile?
Ashley Opheim: The Prize was Guillaume’s idea and we just ran with it. We really had no idea what to expect in terms of number of submissions, like for a while, I think our main objective was to “not lose money.” As long as that happened, we were happy. The support we got from the literary community was really heartwarming. Lots of people helped us spread the word that we were looking for manuscripts. Even Sean Michaels, who won the Giller Prize last year, boosted Metatron on social media. The vast array of submissions we got was dumbfounding and exciting and energizing.
To help us with the Prize, we asked Jay Winston Ritchie, one of Metatron’s original authors, to come on board and help us read through the manuscripts. We loved and valued Jay’s presence and perspective so much that we decided to ask him to just stay on board and continue with us, which is great because we now have 3 dedicated editors devoted to Metatron. I am elated to be working with two of my favorite writers.
We get a consistent flow of queries and submissions for our blog. I try and take the time to get back to the writer with a response as soon as I can, just because that’s what I would want an editor to do for me. I would prefer not to have a slush pile. I want Metatron to be a friendly press that’s willing to take the time to acknowledge everyone that is reaching out to us in a timely manner.
Jake Byrne: For the Metatron prize, what was the selection process like? Were you looking for entries that fit with your general aesthetic/mission statement or more of an anything-goes feel?
Ashley Opheim: I like to think as Metatron as an ‘anything-goes’ kind of press. With that said, we definitely have a vision for our books that remains flexible. We like to support young writers that haven’t had a collection of writing published yet, especially writers located in and around Montreal. We also tend to publish a certain type of literature that doesn’t take its self too seriously and is a bit more playful and fun. I’d say that we are interested in publishing work that compliments and expands the ‘aesthetic’ we’ve developed. So, in this spirit, we approached reading submissions to the prize with open minds.
For the selection process, we worked on a Google spreadsheet and entered our thoughts and reflections on each piece as we went through the manuscripts. We got a lot of submissions that we enjoyed and felt were succesful at what they were attempting to do, but that maybe didn’t feel like the right fit for Metatron. All of our shortlisted manuscripts had an identifiable vision, were situated in ‘the here and now’ and had a certain energy driving the work that made the manuscripts fun to read.
Jake Byrne: Let’s talk wish fulfillment. In your dream board, best-possible-case scenario, where do you see Metatron in five years? Do you have plans for expansion to say, Toronto, or is Montreal the raison d’etre of the press?
Ashley Opheim: One of the things about Guillaume and I is that when we get together we come up with the most bat-shit crazy ideas. Initially, they seem very ‘insane’ to us, but after some discussion, they become tangible. So, needless to say, we have big dreams!
In the long run, I am hoping Metatron can have a physical space that we could operate out of. I’m talking about a possible storefront of some sort in the Mile End or Little Italy—a place where we could sell books, do readings, host workshops and generally offer as a resource to the Montreal lit community. I would also like to be able to print books on our own, too, so I would love to find a way, somehow, to purchase all the printing necessities we would need to do that.
We also would love to put together at some point an independent literary festival in the city, featuring maybe a weekend of readings, workshops, talks and a book expo. Somehow get a big name to read at that, someone like Ben Lerner or Miranda July or Ariana Reines or Lena Dunham. I don’t know how we would get Lena Dunham, but I’d love to get Lena Dunham. We’re also hoping to improve distribution and try to get our books nominated for awards. It sounds crazy, but I think the ultimate dream would be for a Metatron writer, like someone we’ve published in the past, to go on years later to win something like the Giller Prize.
Metatron is an independent publisher of contemporary literature operating out of Montreal. They publish beautifully designed works from Montreal’s brightest up-and-comers. You can find their chapbooks and blog here. Follow Metatron on Twitter at @onmetatron.
Jake Byrne is an undergraduate student in the Creative Writing department of Concordia University and an assistant at Lemon Hound. A recent transplant to Montreal, he discovered Metatron when he decided to scope out the Montreal literary scene. Jake has immensely enjoyed the chapbooks he’s collected and the readings he’s attended.
P.S. – In the interest of full disclosure, Jake’s friendly with a couple of Metatron’s authors.
Come Cold River. Karen Connelly. Quattro Books (2013).
aaaaaaNot a door or a window left of that time
aaaaaaNothing to walk back inside aaaaaaonly recollections of people scattered aaaaaaaaaaaaanameless or forgotten
aaaaaaWhat is the use of a people’s history? (101)
These lines appear in the second to last poem of Karen Connelly’s Come Cold River, “Shelter on the Banks of the Bow,” and pose a question that is central to the collection: what is the use of a history that denies the truth by neglecting and forgetting silenced individuals? Come Cold River is a politically charged yet poetically delicate book of poetry that simultaneously takes the reader across Canada—from forests, rivers, reserves to the heart of Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver—and into her family, while she questions the truth of a nation or a family as home.
These poems consider Canada as a home, a landscape, and a fraught political entity, within which Connelly’s correspondingly conflicted family is rooted. Throughout the book, Connelly plays with lineation on the page to map difficult personal and national histories through the form of each poem. The collection depicts traumatic physical and sexual violence through sparse description and coding language, paralleling the speaker’s struggle with the violent histories and present moment of a nation and a family. These poems, even those most closely focused on individual and personal experiences, show an intense awareness of geographic location, landscape, time of day, season, and the spatial relation to a troubled sense of home.
The book is divided into three sections, “Home for Good,” “Awake,” and “The Last Shelter,” each borrowing the words of its title from a poem it contains and each reflecting a distinct poetic focus. The first section, “Home for Good,” is prefaced by a prosaic mediation on the origins of “Canada.” Connelly writes, “The name of my country is the name of an ancient (and living) nation. Or it is nothing” (11). She establishes her intention to play with the etymology and language, and her concern for the political history of a nation in relation to the present moment and the individual. The poem from which this section borrows its name returns to these ideas, as Connelly questions the notion of nationalism by manipulating the national anthem:
Acá nada. Kanata.
Oh Canada, what do you really mean?
How can I sing you
without lying? (17)
Connelly questions the national anthem throughout the collection, as she interrogates national identity and history through language. Her poems on the identity of Canada explicitly declare their political intentions in this way, and her poems on family are likewise politicized by their relation to themes of nationhood.
In “My sister used to hitchhike all the time,” the speaker relates family trauma—the sister who is “still missing” (90) in “Group Portrait by Skylight”—to the universal uncertain safety of “the woman” (25). The poem begins, “She was the women/ walking on the edge/ of the highway” (25), and establishes the sister’s absence through her use of the past tense. In the second stanza, the speaker “was that woman, too, the one/ who walks into the roar of the wind” (25), and reminds the reader that all women, like her, are this universal figure, whose sense of unsafety could be justified at any moment. This threat posed by the outside world relates back to the speaker’s sense of a lost home:
I am still that woman, aaaaafucked over and under and inside out aaaaaaaaand I am too tired to care anymore aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabecause home is so far away aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI will never get there (25)
The home that the speaker, the sister, and “the woman” (25) look for is a sense of safety that has long since been disrupted by the violence of “the father/ beating the life out of her [the sister]” in “The War” (24). The speaker expresses a sense of vulnerability for all women without a certain home to which they can return. The end of the poem reflects this uncertain—yet implicitly traumatized—feeling:
He pushes open the door.
aaaaaaaSometimes she answers by getting inside. aaaaaaaSometimes she answers by walking on. aaaaaaaOften he answers for her (26)
A later poem, “Enough,” struck me as the centerpiece of the collection. Its place at the midpoint of the book and its unusual length juxtaposes the relative shortness of the poems preceding it. The poem commemorates missing and murdered women who were never given justice by the Canadian government. The poem employs what appears on the page as a two-column structure that positions a list of the sixty-eight names of these women to the right of the poem. She writes,
I await aaaaaaaJulie Young
a single word. aaaaaaSherry Leigh Irving
Seven names. aaaaaaaPatricia Rose Johnson
Twelve faces one week. aaaaaaaCindy Beck
Twenty the next. aaaaaaaCynthia Feliks
Any word aaaaaaaSarah de Vries
The word aaaaaaaRebecca Gunno
For. Against. aaaaaaaTiffany Louise Drew (53)
The poem ends “Wish me through/ Jane Doe” (58), which demonstrates the poet’s sensitivity and intention to politicize. However, the employment of this perspective of missing and murdered women also appears somewhat problematic. While the poet’s tone expresses an investment in the lives of these women, the poem’s form proves ineffective in the poet’s effort to honour these women. The list of their names seems detached from the verse. Perhaps this formal choice would prove more effective if Connelly read the poem aloud. In such a politically charged volume of poetry, I couldn’t help but feel inclined to question the nature of these politics and the effect of the poet expressing them in this way—and provoking this question doesn’t seem to be the poet’s intention.
While the other poems here manage to express family and national politics in a sincere and effective manner by relating the political to the personal, “Enough” positions the first person speaker as an outsider. She says, “Each morning I read/ the newspaper,/ watch the CBC” (49); the speaker is detached from the experience of trauma, thus raising the question of her right to speak for these women.
In the second section, “Awake,” the poem “The Children” offers a striking encounter with the speaker’s unborn children, reflecting her acute awareness of the dangers of the world around her in her expressed reluctance to allow these children, despite their insistence, to enter the world. This poem heightens the notion of childhood naivety by depicting unborn children as eager and fearless, drawing attention to the inadequacy or inaccuracy of conventional representations of children as innocent; in this collection, the dangers of the world are faced immediately at birth.
The final section, “The Last Shelter,” presents long form and serial poems that are reminiscent of elegies and reflections on location and relationships. In “Group Portrait By Starlight,” the poet takes the reader to “the cold starlit body/ of the river” (94), the river that has streamed through the poems in this volume. “Shelter on the Banks of the Bow,” the poem whose lines began this review, returns to the question of the truth of a home and where a woman can feel safe when exiled from home.
The final poem, “No Hunter in the Field,” offers a sense of the inevitable as closure, questioning what “forgiveness is” (102) as the speaker pursues forgiveness of her father in the face of his nearing death. The reader too is asked to consider if they can forgive the father or the nation after the lives and histories these poems have travelled through. However, the final lines offer a sense of the speaker’s own vitality through the awesome sublimity of the landscape: “yes! come/ cold river/ rush in” (105). The book concludes with a final snapshot of the river in which the speaker has seemingly drowned through the preceding poems, but subverts the representation of the river into a source of vitality.
In Come Cold River, Karen Connelly spreads across the page newspaper clippings, a storm-struck family tree, and an elegant juxtaposition of memories and the present moment. Insistently political and delicately crafted, these poems demand not only your intention but your engagement with daring choices of form and content. She takes the reader through harsh familial and national climates set against stunning portraits of Canadian landscapes. She invites you into her troubled sense of home, shows you violence, love, and grief, and then lets the “cold river/ rush in” (105) over you.
Kailey Havelock lives in Montreal and studies at Concordia. This spring, her poetry and academic work will appear in Subversions: A Journal of Feminist Queries, The F Word, Integrated Journal, and Concordia’s Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality. She is the incoming Editor-in-Chief at Soliloquies Anthology.
She said I was the whitest black person she’d ever met and
she laughed when she said it
A kind of nervous jagged laughter the rest of the room tried
to gloss over
Like a white glove over a black hand
I wanted to show her a colour wheel
Point at it
Point at myself
And then say, “Where am I on here?”
How black did I need to be?
How black would I need to be to avoid hearing things like
And if I wasn’t black enough
How black was too black?
My shade deepens and dilates
Shifting shape with the size and timbre of the room
My nebulous form frightens some and pacifies others
Making for a self-relationship fraught with confusion
If I’m not black enough, then I must be some colour
Could I be grey?
“Which of your parents was white?
That’s what they actually say
There must be something else in my broth of being
Something in the mix to make up a strange thing like me
Am I too black to be walking behind her in the evening?
Can I black my way through the barber shop?
Am I black enough to darken her bedsheets with my
shadow at night?
She later apologized to me
Under the strobing beams
Of the black-owned danceclub
In front of the white DJs
Playing black music to other white people
But I still won’t call her White Girl
Because living with absence of colour might be just as tough
As it is coping with the whole blinding spectrum
The gradients of Civil War black and Kenyan black and
And French Canadian white and Scandinavian white and
Do not have to matter tonight
Because I am not black, you are not white
I am me and you are you
WALK-ON PART OF A BACKGROUND SHOT FROM A MOVIE I’M NOT IN Olivia Wood
In a slippery movement,
smell of basil and wheat beer on her hands—
I begin to paper the walls of solitude.
The quiet harbor, the black that presses into the point.
The on-ramp’s gentle maw opens and closes
as I pass through over many years.
It has been many years now. I cannot write town
out of grief. What is the mourning period?
I fall on a shield, and do not contain this.
Put memory and what we puzzled out
of death into the river, the harbor, against the bridge,
to the left of the gas pump, the slick of our lovers mouths,
mend hems with the string of it.
Tethered to this. Loss is all mine. Unflappable.
No more love even for you, or anger, even.
Pan out. The matte lip of the camera mouthing.
War has always been interested in me, she begins.
_____ Roland Pemberton is a poet, rapper, producer and DJ from Edmonton, Alberta currently based in Montreal, Quebec. Releasing music under the name Cadence Weapon, his albums Breaking Kayfabe and Hope In Dirt City were shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. He served as Edmonton’s Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011. His poem “Monuments (The City in Three Parts)” is currently exhibited on lightposts across Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue as part of a public arts initiative commissioned by the City of Edmonton. He hosts a quarterly poetry reading and live performance series called At Street Level in Montreal. His writing has been published in Pitchfork, The Globe And Mail, Matrix Magazine, Maisonneuve and Now Magazine.
Olivia Wood is a poet and essayist living in Montreal. Her recent works include A Work No One Told You About and the zine series Presumpscot.
There is a common thread running through these poems – fundamentally, the wry, desolate voice – but Showler’s dark debut collection reveals a range of talents. Her confidence and vision are equally felt in the mapping of a cerebral artifact, such as “A Short History of the Visible”, as in her synthesis of sample-based forms, from playful, unadorned found poems to the sprawling “Already Today You Have Had Several Very Good Ideas”. Her daring, strange metaphors, crackling wit, and music all make for verse that consistently yields on first reading, even as it invites you to look again.
At times, these poems move with a lurching, mechanical force like “the ugly joisting of a jaw” (7); Showler’s mastery over line and break is at its peak as she dovetails several leaping metaphors into one sentence, each drawing you forward, grasping, to their root. It is the sensation of feeling your way down a staircase in the dark, but this drawn tension is neatly countered by a sense of sound and rhythm that manifest in brash, punchy textures.
In spite of Showler’s penchant for the dizzying and sinister, the architecture of her poems is founded upon this same poise and balance. As she writes, “making things fit together isn’t the hard part” (28); instead, it’s creating this vague sense of thesis, the cohesion of the poem, hulking in the periphery, “hovering just outside the vision” (37). The omission of core – and the paradoxical sense of its magnitude – figures most prominently into her experimental pieces. However, prevailing cohesion is essential to root the categorical, thunderous statements and disjointed movement characteristic of many branches of contemporary and experimental poetry. While many young poets seem incapable of keeping a sense of vision and focus in such poems, Showler’s abstractions and digressions feel purposeful and loosely eloquent.
In Showler’s imagination, “you’re in space. From there, a man can fall the length of a protracted guitar solo and wind up in the desert” (21). These cynical poems knit together one barren landscape after another, yet this vision is consistently rendered in luminous detail. Though she posits that “you’ve never seen something so thoroughly as to forget its name” (5), she creates the sort of poignant clarity wherein truth is felt, not known. This is the alchemy of good poetry, and the chief irony of her work: in the act of depicting the common, mediocre, and ugly, it is transmuted.
It is natural, at first, to feel suspicion toward a bold, self-assured voice, but Showler proves she has more than earned it. This is the real thing. Her poems, “shining like a corrosive, lovely weed” (46), pull you immediately into her intricate, barbed imagination. Where she leads, I am willing to follow.
Portraits of Several Lamps Broken While House-Sitting
Think of the death portraits as still frames
from a reverse-motion video of each demise:
lamps coming upright like break-dancers
fighting gravity with core strength; fire-bits
leaping back into sockets to become unborn flame;
glass archipelagos sucked into Pangea.
The small one was vulnerable, its cord lounging
like an Achilles spine. Its base was banged to a kilter
and three bulbs replaced before it was done for good.
Here’s the reedy green one – it dragged
too much electricity from the wall,
flamed out from the effort.
It was too good for this world.
The tallest and strongest when down inexplicably,
all alone. We suspect it made a sound
like the prehistoric hybrid that evolved into the horse.
The thick glass dome left a galaxy on the floor.
To take the last image, lard the fallen with flowers
and serve them up, tableaued among their loved ones:
the industrial-thick bookshelf,
the ladder leaning into it that won’t bear weight,
the grey couch that can coax a nap out of anyone.
You may need to use props, pin parts together,
create an illusion of life.
(How many lamps had I already broken
the night you threw me over your shoulder?
The way the ground abandoned me felt reckless.
I told you how much I weighed,
offering evidence of something. Your hand
on my calf calibrated the unexpected balance
we’d become, pulling me towards earth.)
Remember the lamps when they were at their finest,
revealing whole rooms, clearing away shadows
accumulated in corners as though bred from spores,
a dark that catches the periphery, stretches
into masses hovering just outside the vision,
always on the verge of approaching.
Remember that the lamplight held these back.
Hannah Hackney has work published in such venues as KIN, Raintown Review, and Shotglass Journal. She is the co-creator of Dyad Press, which publishes small handmade books of art, poetry, and photography. In addition to her work as a journalist & technical writer, Hannah is currently pursuing a double major in Honors English & Creative Writing and Biochemistry. She lives in Montreal.
“we can’t all be ballerinas, ducks, or robots / and we can’t all heed the ventriloquist and live / in the apothecary’s store indulging in mercury, tobacco….” (17).
In erica kaufman’s INSTANT CLASSIC the question of ‘why/how poetry?’ crescendos into several lines of inquiry: “Who owns language? Is language a body to liberate?” (12) “What does it matter who is reading?” (11). More metonymy than metaphor, kaufman’s innovative creation of ‘the mutant’ and her self-proclaimed failed attempt at finding a place in “paradise” (also framed as John Milton’s Edenic garden: “There was never a place for me in the garden,” she writes) leads to one of the most pertinent questions of all: “I cannot help but wonder”, she contemplates, “if there is some connection between epic and censorship – between ‘extreme amounts of writing’ and the ‘suppression of speech’” (11). It is with the aforementioned emphasis on re-invention as resistance that I present to you erica kaufman’s very relevant collection of poems, INSTANT CLASSIC.
Before delving into some thoughts on the collection, it might be useful to think about what a classic is, and by extension what an ‘instant classic’ might be? How does it relate to language and to the present time (of composition)? In “T.E. Hulme, The New Barbarism, and Gertrude Stein”, Laura Riding (Jackson) writes:
The word classical carries with it the weight of all works that have ever been called classical. The impressiveness of a “classic” is in the implication that it belongs in the company of other great works and, regardless of its time, really dates from long ago, from the time when the past was so solid that everything was classical…Classicism is what Miss Stein means by distribution and equilibration. (85)
It may seem rather arbitrary to choose Riding’s description of the term, especially when classics can be found just about everywhere; from high art and the classicism of museums, operas or ballets, to the epics of Milton, Dante, or Virgil, to canonical works, and popular musical hits, to the idiom “classic!”, the term is one of many concentric circles rippling out and touching diverse aspects of art and culture, past and present. As kaufman writes in her introduction, “Instead of an Argument”,
INSTANT CLASSIC is the phrase that trailers use to promote a film that is “certain” to be a blockbuster hit. INSTANT CLASSIC is the term that some men use to describe a certain portrait of a certain woman in which she looks unusually (or unexpectedly) striking (in the traditional sense). INSTANT CLASSIC is the term i always seem to grapple with… (12)
What I find particularly helpful in both Riding’s and kaufman’s account, is the manner in which the term ‘classic’ comes to stand in for the institutionalization of art, as in ‘classicism’, and the subsequent absorptive nature of the artefact in relation to time, history, and of course institutions. But at what cost? In the first poem we find “eve / in the garden voiceless” (15), and in the poem that follows we return to the “predominantly stoic but necessary” image of Blake’s tiger, “like being in cahoots / with the experience of power and amputation” (16) – the obvious analogy here being, not with the tension between innocence and experience per se, but with the inscription and effacement of the subject in relation to history. Rather than build an allegorical argument about oppression that would be mirrored in the patrilineal authority of Paradise Lost, its dramatization of warfare, military industrialism and the exploration and colonization of a new world, INSTANT CLASSIC stages its mode of address in the political epic of the mutant:
we are all mutants in our own gaze/ relapsing into false memory syndrome / symptomatic of the urge to become / a thing destroyed a trumpet / for the past another plastic / object encapsulates movement / encapsulates conventions equals / plot to convene our cochlear selves / so the body becomes general / practitioner compartmentalized / the kind of retrograde that affects / all things physical the apparatus / less glamorous more barbaric sprawl (29)
In a manner that parallels Donna Haraway’s ‘cybernetics’ (see “Cyborg Manifesto”), kaufman situates the classic not in some nostalgic past but as the very terrain that defines present moment politics. It is not surprising, then, to find in the final section’s epigraph a most appropriate quote by Stein: “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches” (np). If the classic, in kaufman’s hands, teaches anything it is its (ideologically fraught) claims to an ideal past, an ideal world and the fantasy of fixity – the monument without its ruin.
Poised as the problem of how to claim responsibility over the economic and totalizing (read: tantalizing) lure of the classic (read: corporate privatization) that shrinks public space by laying claim over the autonomy of the subject (read: advertisement), it is precisely in their ‘mutantness’ that kaufman’s collection resists the eloquence (read: essentializing) and naturalizing discourse of “the classic”; the following example, especially in regards to embodiement, renders that tension quite palpable:
i want to get used to how the elite live or mark
impoverishment as luxury like
coffee, soda, and other elements
of delivery genetic or hi there, make sure you put your body / in the right space (29)
But the classic is not entirely ‘bad’. And, in fact, one of the complexities of kaufman’s collection is that it exposes the inherent contradictions and tensions within the classic itself as both an abstract and normalizing term, but also as a potentially revolutionary tool. This is why the poeisis of the classic carries so much relevance. It is simultaneously in a state of construction and disarmament, which kaufman literalizes quite successfully through the repetition of “instant classic” as the title for each new poem. Similarly, the mutant too is not without its own contradictions, reproaches and complicities. In other words, the mutant does not pretend that it is not also part of the problem, part of the machine, part of the blasphemy, and part of the revolution. And I suppose that much of the interest in the instant classic, as category, reposes on the ability to transform it into an idiom of protest, to mutanized it. To address
the problem of how
to read billboards, lawyers,
diction as experience
of embracing the leeches.
i don’t control my own
amputation a straw taken
to the puss of the road (9)
Near the end of the collection kaufman writes, “today feel a strange thing / the want to reappropriate / a story allow myself to stay” (79). The key word here being “reappropriate”, which with the appended ‘re’ suggests a double movement that is akin to the doubling and generative move of ‘reframing’ or ‘rewriting’. Of course, the movement is doubled in a self-reflexive manner also, especially if we return to a much earlier passage where kaufman asserts that there was never a place for her in ‘the’ garden, and while the fruits of the collection attest to this, what kaufman has perhaps found is rather ‘a’ garden among gardens. And the classic? The (paradoxical) necessity for re-invention.
I thank Gail Scott for being this essay’s first reader and for her generous attention and suggestions.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.
Riding, Laura “T.E. Hulme, The New Barbarism, and Gertrude Stein.” Contemporaries and Snobs. Laura Riding. Edited by Laura Heffernan and Jane Malcolm. U of Alabama P, 2014. Print.
Geneviève Robichaud works in various essay forms and is an editor for Lemon Hound.
Cecilia and I talked about her explosively polyvocal book of poetry Titanic; poetic methodologies; abjection; intimacy; Epicurean balance; rebellion against the normal tired format of the poetry reading; her performance of the misconstrued ‘dumb blonde’; and the influence of all of it on developing a poetics, and a message. Cecilia is vivacious and blunt. Whether she is talking about Modernist methodologies, hilarious personal anecdotes, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer she carries in her eyes and speech a mesmerizing ethics of self-care and profound sympathy. Her radical sincerity, ability to laugh at herself, and her art, is a new model of feminism, one that enriches her own power and stability even in a society that devotes itself to totally unhinging the self-worth and groundedness of young women. In both her poetry and performance she destabilizes the preconceptions of what a girl should look like, sound like and think about, and through humor rebels against the economy of suffering that surreptitiously sustains our society.
Cornelia Barber (CB): So, you’re not affiliated with an Institution?
Cecilia Corrigan (CC): I’m affiliated with NYU, which is basically like not being affiliated with an institution cause it’s like Starbucks.
CB: What are you going to NYU for?
CB: So, not poetry.
CC: No, no I’m not studying poetry— at all (laughter).
CB: Is that what you did for undergrad?
CC: I did a lot of that. I worked with Charles Bernstein a lot… He’s still my pal. Honestly I do kind of think that working with him got me out of doing just poetry, and into doing other things.
CC: Well, I also took his graduate class and I think I connected more with his style of teaching undergrad. It’s just application of different methodologies and experimental stuff from the gambit of like Flarf to Dada to EPC.
CB: So, you were learning all these different styles?
CC: Yeah, and I had been really precocious when I was growing up and won some writing stuff and then like more— I think just cause of my temperament—I’ve always been pretty open to someone just upending the norm, but I was writing pretty traditionally and getting validated for that and that was good for me and it would have been fine for me, but I would have ended up on a different kind of track than I am on now. It lead into writing plays. I kind of figured out that I could do that.
CB: Was that kind of in the lineage of performance poetry or was it really like I’m gonna—
CC: No, I was directing other people (CB: Gotchya) My personality went through different phases. I was really outgoing as a little girl, good at learning new languages and meeting new people. I was aggressively willing to just throw myself into things. You know? I was just that kind of little kid and I had a very happy childhood in that way; a very adventurous one, a very not sheltered one, I mean sheltered in the sense that I was raised by academics and it was very, in some ways extremely, sheltered cause I wasn’t raised with popular American culture, you know my dad is a strict Adornian. That’s a joke he’s not that strict. He watches Breaking Bad.
CB: So going back to what you were talking about before about sort of childhood and then that translating into directing plays in Charles’ class, did you have a time in between those spaces, like an adolescence or just a time that was harder, where some of that adventurousness got lost?
CC: Totally. I had [a] horrible adolescence. Really difficult. (high five) So awkward, so uncomfortable, angry, just bad, bad, bad. And we had just moved back to the States so it was not a good time to learn about being an American kid and it was just weird and that just lead into, I don’t know, I was just super angsty and I was totally withdrawn and then when I was at Penn I hated Penn too. I think I would have dropped out if I hadn’t found support in some of the people and spaces there.
CB: Did you write through that time?
CC: Yeah, I was always working. I was always writing. I’m usually pretty crazy about getting stuff done—The plays and stuff I did were always more like, I just wanted to get away from Penn and I just started doing this Show House with my friend Manya and we were doing all this crazy, crazy stuff—noise bands and performance art. We would have these massive shows. I got into this scene that existed in Philly at the time. I don’t know if it still does, but [there] was a ton of underground music venues and activity, like three shows a night, all the time. Then I just ended up doing things in that scene and explaining them to Penn using them to get school credit. I guess I never really put it that way before. I mean I used to do independent studies with Charles. I think what worked well about his mentorship was that he was always kind of like “do what you want”…not exactly in a disinterested way. In an affectively disinterested way, where I could make my own artistic choices. I really hated the structure of the poetry reading… it’s so boring and so pretentious. It can be transcendent for sure. You know, I just didn’t like having to be so serious and I was surprised more people weren’t playing with the form. I was surprised more people weren’t bringing forms that have more stylistic or affective choices inherent to them.
CB: You wanted to write poetry and also have the performances be an extension of your performance art, not just mimic what other poets were doing?
CC: Yeah. But I do also think I’m kind of a polyglot for sure. Titanic is both like a garbage bin and a variety show of styles, and you know like it’s totally a show off thing too, like I’m showing off all the different things I can do.
CB: There’s a great quote from Felix (Bernstein) I think in ColdFront where he says your performance is a “hot mess versus a cool one”.
CC: Yeah that was a great comment—
CB: And he’s talking really about the lineage of female performance artists who take on these roles, like Cindy Sherman or Marina Abramovic, who are dramatic and their performances are pretty tightly held together.
CC: Both of whom have a lot of austerity in their person too. I’m more interested in Joan Rivers in the Whitney. (haha) That’s what I want. I want fucking Goldie Hawn on Laugh In as the fucking chief curator of MOMA. I swear to god, I’m just like why does everybody have to have a sad fucking face all the time?
CB: So why is that? Say more about that because that’s so— because being a woman in society, in New York City, in the poetry community, there is something that’s really seductive about, first of all the seriousness that you’re referring to, the old school gray suit seriousness, but also even in radical feminist community this kind of ‘internet talk’ girl speech—
CC: I would definitely describe myself as radical feminist without question. But I am also a materialist and I think you can’t debate your way into equality. You need to demand it. I’m not saying violence is the right method, but like yeah the violence of capitalism. I think you need to take things from men. You should.
CB: Do you feel like you do that in Titanic?
CC: Titanic is a book of poetry and poetry will never be a source of capital for me, but intellectually I’d say it was a way of getting a bunch of white men lined up and making them dance a little bit, and yeah I mean it’s interesting you ask that because “the love object” (a character in Titanic) is usually referred to in the feminine pronoun, but that’s partially because it’s also about narcissism, and it’s about the digitized other, which is always kind of the self, yet most of the other characters in the book are men because it’s a kind of reclaiming of the male space.
CB: One of the times I feel the most cathected to the book, and feel more typical catharsis, which is not exactly the main emotion I feel while reading Titanic (but do) is in the poem where you take on that crazy scene from Buffy (The Vampire Slayer) where she’s about to jump off the thing and dawn is there… (In the final scene of the fifth season Hell opens up and Buffy realizes that only her or her sister Dawn’s blood can close the fiery portal so the only way to save earth and Dawn is to sacrifice herself. Then she does a dramatic run and jumps off this really high tower into the portal.)
CC: YEAH. YEAH.
CB: And you’re playing her in that scene, and that scene is like very personal, I think probably to a lot of people. I remember watching it and crying when I was little.
CC: Oh, that scene, I can hardly watch it now and not cry. That was like such a huge moment. Right now I’m intellectually very interested in the question of the female hero and I remember once a friend told me “no one likes a messianic complex” but I don’t know if he’s right. Maybe he needs to hang out with more girls.
CC: That’s like a major archetype right now in pop culture and I think that’s partially because we’re in the midst of a collapse of an empire and we are that generation on the wave that’s going down. So there is less of an idea of the type of victory that might have been associated with tropes of masculinity or a more typical type of victory.
CB: Right. On the one hand you’re talking about radical feminism, and you Cecilia embodying that, and then on the other hand this dramatic female hero scene. How do you think a scene like that is embodying some of that ‘here I am, I am a fucking woman and I’m going to make you dance, reclaim my space’ or is it not that symbolically potent?
CC: Oh everything in the book is symbolically potent— to me at least the symbol is totally there and it is there in the impulse that’s behind the use of that scene in the first place. I understand the objects I’m using and I understand their valence. In terms of the structure of the book, it feels more like data or something. The one thing I am sort of resistant to in the phrase ‘hot mess’ is the mess part of it cause I do often work frantically and quickly then I’ll like edit things down very methodically—I guess I’m kind of like a modernist in that way where text is more material.
CB: I mean I think the quote itself— I think Felix was talking more about your performance than your poetry and I definitely think there is a huge difference between the two. I mean incredibly so, and say if I’m wrong, but it does seem that part of what you’re performing is a little bit of an ‘uncalculated entertainer’.
CC: Definitely. Which is so hard to do. Performing is something I’m more and more interested in. I have gotten into doing stand up and this is the thing I was gonna say before, when I was doing those plays and shows at Penn, I was doing a lot of screaming noise music and had been playing freak folk music—
CB: Do you have recordings?
CC: I’m embarrassed…oooohhh….I mean I think I would like the music now if I heard it, it was pretty. But I got really, I was very introverted, I was always sort of back and forth introverted and extraverted, but I saw myself as so socially anxious and I would like have episodes or whatever…
CB: Like anxiety.
CC: Lots of anxiety and lots of feelings of woundedness.
CB: Self doubt.
CC: Yeah lots of self-doubt. Anyway, so in these plays I didn’t want to be on stage. I was always interested in working with artists I already knew rather than actors and would write stuff for them. I’ve always loved Carol Churchill and my mom is a theater scholar and actress. I was in plays and stuff in high school before I got too neurotic to handle it. When I grew up we would always do Shakespeare plays in the backyard.
CB: I went to Shakespeare camp.
CB: For seven years.
CC: Hell yeah. Umm wow for seven years oh my god you’re so lucky. What was your favorite role that you played? Did you guys do productions?
CB: We did scenes, not like full blow productions. But we studied it; it was a great place we studied it in depth—I don’t know what my favorite role is… probably uh Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet.
CC: Oh that’s the best role!
CB: Fuckin great.
CC: I sill identify with that character so much, cause he’s like a strong bon vivant. That’s definitely the type of character I feel like I play in the play we’re all in.
CB: Oh yeah, yeah I can totally see that.
CC: Except luckily I’m a chick so I’m not challenging people to duels as much, just trying to fire them down the road. So, I was doing those plays and then I got to LA and that was a really huge moment for me. Even though there is a gender gap and social anxiety I like the entertainment industry a lot and I can actually make money—I think we should avoid suffering.
CC: I do. I really think that it kind of cuts both ways where you should avoid any extreme restrictiveness or extreme indulgence—I guess I’m kind of Epicurean or Lucretion in that way—uhh maybe cause I’m in my late twenties now I’m striving towards balance. I guess out in LA I realized that was a nice thing to strive towards. And when I came back I just valued certain kinds of validation less. I think that’s been increasing and increasing. I think it made me want to get over being like a ‘cool girl’ in whatever this space is we kind of occupy.
CB: You mean in the poetry community?
CC: I think poetry is maybe the finest point I can put on it… and obviously I want people to like me duh. Now I think of myself as more a writer/director.
CB: Which is not so different from the curating that goes into Titanic. You definitely have a directorial feel, like your moving parts around and putting things up against each other, playing with voices and directing a flow, a flow of things always, I’m not like “oh my god you wanna do that wtf?
CC: Yeah. I hope it works. What’s nice about Titanic is that it provided the constraint of a book and it did end up definitely being a narrative story for me and an arc and I did start to feel as I was working on it like it was a really pulpy, you know, tragic, sci fi horror slash love story, but of course it was also about language and one of the objects in that pulpy story is language…
CB:…And kind of the mathematical dissonances that seep into language and paranoid like sci-fiesque frames that are all around us that we cant really escape.
CC: Oh definitely. I don’t think I would write this book again because I feel like it was my big moment of my obsession with clues and pairing and all that kind of deep modernist stuff, just that deep cut Joycean in me that wanted to like, honestly I don’t even remember, but I like lost my mind; measuring, thinking everything is connected, there’s all these little portals or whatever, just like insane. I think what I’m working on now there is a different audience in mind and I don’t really believe in that methodology at all anymore in it’s being good for me.
CB: It’s a generous statement to admit that you let go of methodologies.
CC: Yeah, well you know how I was saying that reading the book was like “oh my god this part is so sad” almost like to me that book is like a TV show and I guess my dream is to be able to give that to other people and I feel like I have to learn a lot of new skills and get really good at them in order to do that.
CB: You want to make a more universal thing, whatever form that is, something that other people can completely get into?
CC: I think I’m at this point in my work right now where all I can see is how bad it is. I mean that’s not all I see and I know I’ve gotten where I want to be, but I think the format of live performance is frustrating to me because even though it’s something that’s gotten me into really good things artistically and professionally there is also the fleetingness of it that is so heartbreaking. The amount of psychic and spiritual, if you want to use that word, energy that goes into building these little vehicles and then you just crash them into a wall. So I’m just thinking more and more about how I can make my practice less about recurring breaks and make it more sustainable in terms of the objects themselves and the emotional experience of doing it for me.
CB: Do you feel like you have a message? Or messages? Is that a thing?
CC: Definitely. I’ve only recently kind of verbalized this, but I was at a conference recently talking to this really interesting guy, Joe Litvak, who is at Tufts and he works on the figure of the abject Jewish comedian and he studies this Lacanian rage behind the abjection—
CB: And the castration?
CC: Yeah, yeah, and the sort of invocation of one’s own abjectness as means of critiquing the observer or the observer recognizing their own abject qualities in themselves through his performance. I would say I’m interested in doing that for the figure of the dumb blonde.
CC: Not even necessarily dumb, just the kind of woman that can’t occupy the spaces of flatness we were discussing earlier, and I’m not, you know, I don’t want to make it sound like people with that flat affect are traitorous or something like that. I don’t like the kind of meanness that gets directed at people who are expressive especially female people. I am interested in that as a project. It has a long heritage in camp, I think,[and] it’s a little different because the drag I’m doing is more of this time.
CB: I wrote in my notes to something I was reading in Titanic, like one of the voices, ‘Conceptual poet voice,’ ‘philosophical voice’, and then one was ‘contemporary drunk Jean Harlow’.
CC: Awesome! Hahaha. Yeah totally. That’s absolutely right. Titanic is sort of a fantasy between drunk contemporary Jean Harlow and the love-object, someone more like Marianne Moore.
CB: Hahahaha. In like the future.
CC: Yeah in like a computer game…
CB: Let’s talk a little more about what you were gesturing towards before, the late twenties’ balance thing.
CC: I always feel like I have to answer to myself as a teenager. I think I would have thought a lot of the things I do now to make my life more calm were [I] like dishonest or bullshit or whatever, but I hadn’t actually lived in myself long enough to realize I actually needed that.
CB: Ugh I loooove that you’re saying that. That is so comforting, that is such an honest way to say that.
CC: Everything from like air conditioning to small talk, to eating meat. I was such a little bitch. If you take care of yourself you’re able to do more damage. I got into Lucretius through Lisa Robertson—her book Cinema of the Present is very Lucretian—I’m not going to try to embarrass myself by summarizing all his ideas, but he didn’t privilege the human experience over the natural experience or the experience of the structure of the world, and I have found that in reading him the whole project of thought has made me become more careful with the questions I ask and maybe forced me to go slower than I go at first, or want to go, in order to derive more lasting satisfaction from the process itself. It’s weird because it’s the kind of language I used to have an allergy to and still do in some ways cause it sounds too hippy dippy, but um I also do think that as a woman there is an imperative to fill space and make things comfortable all the time and making sure that you are saying what you want to say and that you are doing what you want to do is actually incredibly difficult and worthwhile.
CB: Well it’s almost like you are saying two things, cause on the one hand women, for other people, historically, want to make things comfortable and easy, but for ourselves we come from such a historical lineage of wounds and of oppression and energetically and in our bones we’re born with these kind of constraints that I think our generation, starting a few generations ago, are making our way out of, but it’s still inside us and it’s a fight, it’s a fight to be like “I’m going to take care of myself today.”
CC: Oh yeah, I think it’s crazy people want to pretend that things are over in terms of that kind of equality. It’s only been like a century that anything has materially or structurally gotten better.
CB: Lydia Lunch has this great line she says “pleasure is the ultimate rebellion” and she doesn’t mean hedonistic pleasure, or the digital Capitalistic machine pleasure, she means really quiet self-love and simplicity.
CC: Yeah that’s what I’m talking about. Yeah totally.
CB: I agree. I think it’s imperative for women—for all human beings—but for women to really find that self-care inside ourselves.
CC: Yeah. Yeah. Whatever that is, it’s really difficult.
CB: Do you feel like you—you write about the love object, and that recurring different heartbreak—do you feel in real life, does that ever get in the way of your writing/your performance?
CC: Yeah I definitely think that intimacy—I think I’ve been very lucky I’ve been in love a couple times I also think that intimacy is the site of so much upheaval and trauma—the Epicureans believed you didn’t have to fall deeply in love, you could have that friendly, you could have uhm love and sex, but you shouldn’t get too possessive and attached cause that would lead to strain. Personally I think I will always be a romantic. I feel like I’m only at the beginning of my life with that stuff too. It’s crazy to me to imagine how someone can make a lifelong commitment to someone else at this age. Obviously people have different experiences, whatever works for you. I think it’s a hard field to manage ethically and still be honest. I’m not sure it’s a field where there has ever been consensus about propriety.
CB: Actually Bell Hooks has this great book called All About Love which is just about that, about developing an agreed upon definition of love, not in a philosophical or abstract way, but in a really ethical way. She talks about justice in love.
CC: Wow. That sounds really good. Love is similar to art. I believe in the creative power, but making art is also kind of destructive for me, you know you grow something and then rip it off and it’s dead and you can never have it again, but other people can have it, it’s like a corpse you’re giving people. Titanic is all bout finding the figure of the muse, maybe I’m trying to point out being in love is always kind of about—I’m not the first person I believe this has been noted—in a psychoanalytic sense, in personal sense, it’s about finding yourself in another person and wanting the ultimate reflection of yourself and that can be such a source of energy— a kind of world building exercise. But it’s a fantasy it’s an illusion.
CB: As my therapist says “the magic always dies…”
CC: Yeah! I do also think I hope to find some kind of, I admire peoples’ ability to dwell in the sustained mediocrity of a love affair. Seems like it’s chill.
CB: Hard as fuck.
CC: I think I really like passions. Maybe that’s why I talk about balance or am so into it because I’m trying to temper my natural tendency towards excess and transcendent experiences.
CB: Ok so something I really like doing, it’s one of my favorite things, is bibliomancy—asking a question to the universe or whatever the fuck you believe in, asking the question out loud and then finding the answer through the book.
CC: That sounds fun. You ask the question first cause I don’t have any good questions.
CB: Okay. Okay um. Let’s see…I want to ask a serious question…ummm: what in the next few months is going to be the relationship between the aesthetic parameters between women in the poetry scene and the political parameters between women everywhere in society?
He-I won’t say anything which anything can dispute…. Or if anyone does dispute it, I will let that point drop and pass on to say something else. / I-I understand but I don’t agree that it is simply a question of giving new meaning to words.
I don’t know if this is like a direct transcription, or something someone copied or remembered, but Wittgenstein had a philosophy class at Cambridge that Alan Turing took, and that’s something he said in the class. The answer is interesting in terms of the style of interrogation.
CB: Even the words themselves—also that it’s ‘he’.
CC: That moment in the poem he is like father figure/significant other of the main character and worshipped by other men, and also a sort of sentient human. That says it all. That does actually answer [the] question really well. How can I ask a serious question?
CB: It doesn’t have to be serious.
CC: All I can think of is….Am I gonna have a good summer? Hahaha.
CB: Okay this is Cecilia Corrigan’s question to the universe immortalized on Lemon Hound (laughter) Are you going to have a good summer?
Selena Gomez: What are you going to talk to him about?
CC: Hahaha. Perfect.
Cecilia Corrigan’s second show for the New York Performance Artists Collective, Cecilia Corrigan’s Secret Garden, is tonight, April 27th, at 7 and 8:30 pm at Whynot Jazz Room, 14 Christopher Street, tickets available here
Cecilia Corrigan is a writer and performer working in New York and Los Angeles. Her debut book, Titanic, was awarded the Madeleine P. Plonsker Prize, and was listed as one of Flavorwire’s 2014 Books of the Year. In addition to writing for television, film, and theater, she writes fiction and performs stand up comedy. Her work has been published in Bomb, Capilano Review, Poetry Project Newsletter, Third Rail, Adult Magazine, and Prelude Magazine, and is forthcoming in the 2015 edition of Best American Experimental Writing from Wesleyan University Press.
Cornelia Barber is a poet and Performance artist living in Crown Heights, NY. She has performed at Bureau of General Services Queer Division, The Cake Shop, Mellows Pages Library and Bard College. Her essays and poetry are published in Prelude Magazine, Local Nomad, Lemon Hound and forthcoming from Wild Spice magazine. She writes at the intersection of experimental poetics and contemporary female mysticism. This interview is the first in an ongoing interview series between her and other female identified poets.
This sadness is bigger than B vitamins, it is not interested in working around my schedule, or all your good ideas, it arrives anyway on wings of fog and stays awhile
“Love Is a Messy Broken Thing, Part 6,” Jacks McNamara
Depression, the word, is useless. There’s no music
no romance, no reclaiming it. Neither word nor illness
can be made into bedroom play. Comedy, maybe?
“So a guy walks into a bar…I mean the ER, no I mean a bar … no I mean ER.” Same difference. Divorced from the root depression divvies, clinically scores me into that and this and this and this. But sadness is bigger than my last relapse. This sadness is bigger than B vitamins,
is bigger than the SAD lamp that brightens my desk.
Bigger than ten milligrams twice a day.
Sadness holds more than all the second-
hand coffee mugs at an AL-ANON meeting
takes more time than the self-help
workbook my poetics professor gifted me
longer than the long-distance collect call
my mother refused to accept.
Too urgent to be wait-listed, it is not interested in working around a schedule, or
another referral from the Red Book.
So tremendous, sadness
doesn’t know where the world ends
and my body begins.
Sure, no bullshit about communing with the universe
but you won’t catch me being laissez-faire
about upper case “W” Wholeness.
I practice sadness because it subsumes
all my shady moods and all my good ideas. It arrives any way
it can and yet it is always here
like a lake forever fed by a cold creek.
Damn right a nature metaphor!
Want more? Sadness always has more
to offer. Its occupation is fluid. It’s air.
Notice you’re breathing? Sadness
is as wide as rain on one end of town
and a heaven-sent break in the clouds
on the other and on the other wings of fog, and all of it stays awhile.
How we applauded you, pint-sized tart singing and swinging to A Cowboy’s Sweetheart. Who taught you the art of sashay, of rouge, The French manicure. Who taught you to bruise?
“American Pageant,” Rachel Rose
Don’t pump the wand inside the tube
like that, it will dry out your mascara.
You’ve got lipstick on your teeth.
We paint our mouths poppy or pink
so men think of talking vulvas. Vagina cantata:
“Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?”
Patent leather, mount up. Tie a ribbon round the oak.
A mix of Giganta and Kewpie is the desired look.
The pubic bone is a predictable body part. How we applauded you, pint-sized tart.
You’re one of us, gobble-gobble, we accept.
Are you ready to rule your nympholepts?
Trust your idiosyncratic gut and follow
these step-by-step instructions.
Don’t be nervous, men would rather
buy your used panties than pay child support.
After all they deserve, just deserts, desert ride
the long hot hot long long hot desert ride.
A mirage is mostly water vapor, play your fluid part singing and swinging to A Cowboy’s Sweetheart
whistling and throb-gristling to Country Comfort.
trilling and shit-uphilling to Old Red Dirt.
“She can bake a cherry pie, quick as a cat can wink her eye
She’s a young thing, and cannot leave her mother.”
Loneliness is cured on the cactus farm. Nostalgia
likes his feet scrubbed clean by the muse.
Never put the money in your purse, darling fool
gold suede Gucci is a decoy, a fake for the taking.
Risky business, what was your first clue? Who taught you the art of sashay, of rouge?
Who set you for a chair? Put them ringlets in your hair?
Stuck a pearl in your navel? Invited you to our fine table?
“Did she bid you come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy,
Did she bid you to come in, Charming Billy?”
Torch songs warm tongues. Get it now, while you’re young.
Who taught you what’s good for the gander is good for the goose?
Who said a honda knot rubbed on rock will come loose?
Who taught you how to play a couch quail? Flash that tail.
Hat your rack. How to moonlight coo. Ungate your sluice. The French manicure. Who taught you to bruise?
Amber Dawn won the 2013 Vancouver Book Award for her book How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir. She is the author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Sub Rosa, and editor of the anthologies Fist of the Spider Women: Fear and Queer Desire and With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn. Amber Dawn was the 2012 winner of the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT writers. She teaches creative writing at Douglas College and the University of British Columbia, and is working on a second speculative fiction novel. She is touring in Canada and the USA this spring with her new poetry collection Where the words end and my body begins. Visit amberdawnwrites.com or arsenalpulp.com for tour details.
It begins seductively, with the potential loss of her hands
parting in a bath O Fernet, able to close again, close enough
to his temples that his darker moments of depression
illuminate, taking on a slow neon flush of knee- cap busting into freedom like we’d like it to for the story. In reality, the butter did it, accompaniment _____for a lens in constant threat of expansion; plus __________it’s all over the microphones _____but like a judge-salve more than _____a ski-resort French-bread patter creaming _____the handheld Mi in ornate fumes,
and took the view that a woman I had loved for a long while was dead, BUT did you know she’d be finally important to you after she died. OF COURSE you knew that,
that’s why she went to so much trouble to feel like she was always
ABOUT TO DIE when she was with you, because she knew she
belonged to you much more in death than in life, already.
What are we bedrooms’
throats drenched in bromide supposed to do then
We hire someone to …
such and such a degree of independence, but they do need
you. Knee becomes nothing, calm down, stick to your
thoughts if I were you. I’d detail here a feeling of degradation
but I lack an ability to practice, much less make you feel it because of my practice, to persuade in-
side suede pink gloves what a line like that can do
without a single desire to insist
other than form itself blotching anterior paprika while you’re __out drink ing. I listen to La voix humaine, a woman moving from
not … a leaf to objective, as shrewd the many forces assume to keep curt … she is thinking I don’t want to be pissed on all the time, obsolete in the dark can. I leave right as Piaf sings “Bâtarde! Bâtarde!” Overwhelm: “Le journal! Le journal!” Her husband can’t stop reading (Algeria, PEUT
TROUT), newspaper in hands. Outshone, she
makes scenes on the telephone with scarabs in the wrong scone at the astron sppeed. Âllo? A virgin in Bourgogne
is still a subscriber to AMC. At some point, pause I could not hinter Madam is not at home __divorce at your improductivity, deluded interior. bragging boys over, I mean, there was nothing to do
but be honest. Coming from nothing. How could faster wealth possibly be so inevitable and why resolve dangerous impulses. I turn off the glass __fibrillator break a, you distract the women’s Door beneath sound of 3 accordions … nothing I am lying, socially, I’ve only had three cigarettes today
and not one called. No one called the house. All the day the house persisted in its infinite artistic workings. Mine teddy bears. THEY ARE FALLING ALSO TO DISREPAIR. Come lend your time to me It’s all right, she likes it like that. She told her friend, __For heaven’s sake, what do I expect me to do about it? Her friend sucked on some hard candy she got at the waxer’s at 7:00 AM.
It was pink and paraclete, pain ward labored tirelessly, sweet, yes, an indirect salivate Obediently beyond pink, it took on a Rosicrucian beam
inspir’d by her agape so she’s all standing there drooling _____For a moment a Radical spiritism—
Smooth is _____conservative.
From that surface on
Amplify went flat on ice rink onto a book, «The confusion of persons is
always the evil of the city» Just looking for some triplicity, you? Put your hand up, under my black cotton turtleneck below a celluloid collar Earnest living
<< My face in thine eye, and thine
in mine >> is true speech, and is
I read naturally, is male, and
if, I did not look but basketfuls
of presumptive eggs all wet
do nothing for us playing at it.
If and is don’t lack for harmless
napkins like freed, unending
time bleats through the
washed away. In mine, suns
dulcet polishing of a tlooth,
<< as much falsity as I can use,
I carry >> On the level, a prop-
osition to disrobe contra shit
on the streets steams near a hot-
spot a relationship a sign a man
pinned to your back moves a
name I’d armament but you know
in a flageolet sitch I’d do any-
thing for you so. On the level?
She ran her car aground as his
ships firing agony in sand mag-
netized black screens of mites,
her car OK tho, it hurts, hood-
winked and The Image in Form is
a book of art writing by Adrian
Stokes and also in Malina
the fact is << I’ve never been
happy, but I have seen beauty. >>
What a fine replacement.
Blubbery and dying in my
same as a breastbone for you
is some fixed charge waiting for
Papermate® to stir a con-
ditional tense apparation, or
is that a coffee, tedious wall
clouds are rather of soap, see
and hath sense since torment and hydromancy bothered to tune.
More, more if must be, more if I’d
be into it, I said I’d do whatever.
What would she of the unmistake-
ably Gothic appearance write me, «I’m losing my mind with
probity presumably forever,» sure, I like most care more than fuck- ing Tiffany’s rattle, inlaid with let’s book it to Alpine, if a diviner
knew you then too as I do. I wish she would tell me what to do with you, or if I did look,
How marvelous to see you,
post-screening, makes «true hearts in plain faces rest» more larding and accurate? Or whether revolution be the same.
In 1938, hotspot was employed in the firefighting sense and whitish smoke employment gives
other women illustrates finitude
onscreen, a labor of demand. If other women wanted finitude
over touchable repetition or if I
beat and beat salad or roast new
potatoes deeply in salt and oil and exclaim their spits as an otter
might shriek the slightest un-
attitude vocable across your hunks in Pisces comportment,
or with happens in trying and apts. to go mad in, surely it’s been
nothing near this terrific face I never in real head’d defenestrate
Corina Copp is a writer and theater artist based in New York. She is the author of the chapbooks ALL STOCK MUST GO, Miracle Mare, and Pro Magenta/Be Met, among others. Recent writing can be found in Cabinet, BOMB, Boston Review, Corrected Slogans: Reading and Writing Conceptualism (Triple Canopy), and elsewhere. She is developing a three-part play entitled The Whole Tragedy of the Inability to Love, inspired by the successive forms of the work of Marguerite Duras. The Green Ray (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015) is her first full-length book.
“Sonnet 59” — appeared previously as a translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59 for The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare (Nightboat Books, 2013). Edited by Sharmila Cohen and Paul Legault. Also included in the chapbook Miracle Mare (Trafficker Press, 2013).
Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence, Leanne Simpson (ARP Books, 2011)
Islands of Decolonial Love: Stories and Songs, Leanne Simpson (ARP Books, 2013)
There is a short sentence I keep coming back to, only seven words:
how to live as if it mattered
In a way that’s what I’ve always been looking for in art and literature, while at the same time often suspecting that I’m looking in the wrong place. This sentence is from the book Islands of Decolonial Love (2013) by Leanne Simpson, a book that in many ways has already changed my life. These seven words come near the end of the story “lost in a world where he was always the only one”, and a short paragraph later they continue:
remember: to feel joy, you first have to escape (59).
I’ve decided not to describe what happens in these stories and poems. Find the book and read it. It is a book that continually surprised me and I don’t want to ruin a single surprise for anyone. It is certainly not a perfect book, it is much better than that. But if I’m not going to tell what happens then what am I going to do. I don’t know yet. I’m still figuring it out. We’ll have to figure it out together.
+ + + +
Around the time I was reading Leanne Simpson I was also reading a completely different kind of work, the popular science book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2015) by Elizabeth Kolbert. The sixth extinction is of course the manmade extinction currently underway: frogs are dying, bats are dying, bees are dying, etc.. About all this I’m not sure how much to explain and how much I might take for common knowledge. Everyone knows that when it comes to the planet, things aren’t going well. Is it really so important to know all the ugly details? What difference does it actually make? With more details or less, the course of action is the same: we must use less, re-use as much as possible, stop burning coal and oil. But these changes need to happen on a massive scale seemingly impossible within the current constricts of capitalism, an economic religion that apparently believes in the pure magic of infinite growth on a finite planet, if it can be said to believe in anything at all.
Reading The Sixth Extinction I was especially struck by a passage concerning the extinction of megafauna, a category of very large animals that covered huge swathes of the planet about one hundred thousand years ago, and whether the arrival of humans was the main cause of their demise. How could small bands of technologically primitive people have wiped out so many large, strong, and in some cases fierce animals over areas the size of Australia or North America?
When [American paleobiologist] John Alroy ran the simulations for North America, he found that even a very small initial population of humans – a hundred or so individuals – could, over the course of a millennium or two, multiply sufficiently to account for pretty much all of the [megafauna] extinctions in the record. This was the case even when the people were assumed to be only fair-to-middling hunters. All they had to do was pick off a mammoth or a giant ground sloth every so often, when the opportunity arose, and keep this up for several centuries. This would have been enough to drive the populations of slow-reproducing species first into decline and then, eventually, all the way down to zero. When Chris Johnson ran similar simulations for Australia, he came up with similar results: if every band of ten hunters killed off just one diprotodon a year, within about seven hundred years, every diprotodon within several hundred miles would have been gone. (Since different parts of Australia were probably hunted out at different times, Johnson estimates that continent-wide the extinction took a few thousand years.) From an earth history perspective, several hundred years or even several thousand is practically no time at all. From a human perspective, though, it’s an immensity. For the people involved in it, the decline of the megafauna would have been so slow as to be imperceptible. They would have had no way of knowing that centuries earlier, mammoths and diprotodons had been much more common. Alroy has described the megafauna extinction as a “geologically instantaneous ecological catastrophe too gradual to be perceived by the people who unleashed it.” It demonstrates, he has written, that humans “are capable of driving virtually any large mammal species extinct, even though they are also capable of going to great lengths to guarantee that they do not. (234)
When I read this I immediately thought back to a passage I had recently read in Leanne Simpson’s Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence (2011):
Over a decade ago I was teaching a class with Nishabeg Elder Robin Green-ba and a scientist at the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources in Winnipeg. Our class was discussing what is meant by the term “sustainable development.” The scientist was explaining that it means meeting the needs (and wants) of humans without compromising the needs (and wants) of future generations. In other words, developing only to the point where that development starts to impinge on future generations. I asked Robin if there was a similar concept in Nishnaabeg thought. He thought for a moment and then answered, “No there isn’t.” He told the class that sustainable development thinking is backwards, that we should be doing the opposite. He explained that what makes sense from a Nishnaabeg perspective is that humans should be taking as little as possible, giving up as much as possible to promote sustainability and promote mino bimaadiziwim [good life] in the coming generations. He felt that we should be as gentle as possible with our Mother, and that we should be taking the bare minimum to ensure our survival. He talked about how we need to manage ourselves so that life can promote more life. (141)
Placing these two unrelated quotes side by side, I feel a premonition of how the Nishnaabeg worldview might have come into being, might have evolved over time. (Mississauga Nishnaabeg is an indigenous territory in and around what is now called Peterborough, Ontario.) If it is possible for early humans to eliminate entire species without noticing they are doing so, of course we need to be as careful as possible. Our actions have consequences far beyond anything we might be aware of at the time. And with all the scientific research currently being done, showing us just what we are doing, it is also clear that even awareness is not enough. We need a completely different way of looking at the world.
Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back clearly shows that different ways of looking at the world are possible, of course they existed right here in Canada before first contact, before settlers arrived (I was about to write before “we” arrived but then thought that assumes way too much about who may or may not be reading this.) Time and time again, while I was reading, I had this feeling: yes, this is how people should live:
For Nishnaabeg people, our political and social cultures were profoundly non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian and non-coercive. Our culture places a profound importance on individuals figuring out their own path, or their own theoretical understanding of their life and their life’s work based on individual interpretation of our philosophies, teachings, stories and values. (53)
Or this passage on justice:
Nishnaabeg legal systems are, at their core, restorative. Restorative processes rely upon the abuser taking full responsibility for his/her actions in a collective setting, amongst the person s/he violated, and amongst the people both the perpetrator and the survivor hold responsibilities to – be that their extended family, clan, or community. In the case of the state-perpetuated residential schools, the table would be turned in a Nishnaabeg legal system. The survivors would have agency, decision-making power, and the power to decide restorative measures. In the case of the Community Holistic Circles of Healing in Hollow Water First Nation, the abuser must take responsibility for his or her actions and is required to sit in a circle of community Elders, the extended family of the survivor, and his or her extended family (who are there to support him or her through the process. Everyone participating in the circle has a chance to speak or to share their thoughts, feelings and perspectives. The survivor has the choice to share whatever he or she feels most appropriate.) Imagine government officials, church officials, nuns, priests and teachers from a particular residential school in a circle with the people that had survived their sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. This is a fundamentally different power relationship between perpetrators of violence and survivors of that violence, where the abusers must face the full impact of their actions. Reconciliation then becomes a process embodied by both the survivor and the perpetrator. And part of that restoration means that the community maintains the authority to make that individual accountable for future wrongs. […]
Restorative models work in Nishnaabeg communities because ethically taking responsibility for ones actions is paramount in the healing or restoration process; as well, the purpose of these models in the long term is the rehabilitation and restoration of all those individuals back into mino bimaadiziwim. These models put the hens in charge of the hen house and the fox under interrogation. If it is truly time to talk “reconciliation,” then how we reconcile is critically important. I can see no evidence whatsoever that there exists a political will on the part of the state to do anything other than neutralize Indigenous resistance, so as to not impinge upon the convenience of the settler-Canadians. The only way to not be co-opted is to use our own legal and political processes to bring about justice. (23)
The end of this passage suggests a problem with the way I’ve been speaking about Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back so far. Because while I definitely feel that all legal systems should “put the hens in charge of the hen house and the fox under interrogation,” that all societies “should be as gentle as possible” with mother nature, this book does not have those particular aims. As the subtitle suggests, it is a book about Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and new emergence. It’s about how the Nishnaabeg, and by extension all indigenous peoples, should be given their lands back in order to renew their connection to their traditions and their language, to bring back and reinvent what is clearly a valuable and political model for human interrelation.
I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me to read this work through my own settler lens, through a hope that these ideas might exist and develop outside of an indigenous framework. As well, it is relatively easy for me to imagine a “collective setting… amongst the people both the perpetrator and the survivor hold responsibilities to” in a community of a few hundred people. It is much more difficult for me to understand how this idea of justice might function in a city of millions, or on a global scale, which certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. In fact, it might be our only hope.
+ + + +
Islands of Decolonial Love hit me much harder than Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. Reading the two books together was like a lesson in the power of fiction to embody and evoke things that theory can only state. In an interview with Tanaya Winder, Leanne Simpson describes it like this:
In some ways, I think my creative work is more political than my non-fiction, academic and activist work because in art, you don’t, you can’t really ask permission. You do. You make. You create. Your responsibility is to smash boxes, not play nicely within their confines. And if you’re not connecting to your audience in a way that is transformative, I’m not sure I understand the point.
While Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back convinced me of the wisdom and efficacy of traditional Nishnaabeg values and ways of being alive (and then more alive), Islands of Decolonial Love drops us directly into the trauma and paradox of living now, so far away from a pre-colonial time in which these values were in full effect, always struggling to live fully and honestly when the odds are stacked so violently against it.
The title comes from a Boston Globe interview with Junot Diaz in which he speaks of a kind of love that his characters long for, “the only kind of love that could liberate them from that horrible legacy of colonial violence.” This longing for decolonial love dances through these stories, fragments seen from ever-shifting perspectives, told with a swiftness that continuously left me off balance and opened. In the first paragraph of the story “buffalo on” Leanne Simpson puts it like this:
right off the bat, let’s just admit we’re both from places that have been fucked up through no fault of our own in a thousand different ways for seven different generations and that takes a toll on how we treat each other. it just does. (85)
There are of course many tales of trauma in literature today, but rarely have I read stories that mix trauma with healing in a manner that is so ambiguously straightforward and satisfying. We move from curling fatalities to the fact that gannets can detach their wings, from hippy-artist-potheads to Profs from the Native Studies Department, from stealing a loved ones body from its coffin to Yeti’s finding each other in unlikely circumstances, from understandable suicide attempts to therapists who don’t get it. But I previously said I didn’t want to tell you what happens in these stories and hopefully I still haven’t. Or have left only a few, possibly false but still enticing, clues.
When I saw Leanne Simpson’s presentation at Concordia University she spoke of the importance of “creating communities of co-resistance,” a phrase I thought about many times as I was writing this. Reading Leanne Simpson makes me want to keep going, to learn more. I ask myself: how can I more effectively be a part of such communities of co-resistance and often don’t get much further than the question. But then my mind drifts back to the ongoing love of literature that has devoured so much of my life so far and I feel that is where I should end, at least for today. With something I am more than certain of: as a work of literature Islands of Decolonial Love speaks to the now, and to the past, in a manner that is both exquisite and heartbreaking. And then one last quote, this one from the story “she told him 10 000 years of everything”: “what happened next is the kind of rare that happens only when certainty melts fear into nothingness” (75). A kind of rare I so often experienced reading this book.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert (Picador, 2015)
Jacob Wren makes literature, performances and exhibitions. His books include: Families Are Formed Through Copulation (2007), Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed (2010) and Polyamorous Love Song (2014), a finalist for the 2013 Fence Modern Prize in Prose and one of The Globe and Mail’s 100 best books of 2014. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize, Individualism Was A Mistake, The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information and Every Song I’ve Ever Written. He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.
upper tacking texture lines
cracked floor of a dry river tracks
trace along side
idyllic sense of security
picking berries on the side of the road; an assertion of sovereignty
dead tree standing sunned and whipped dry
firewood lichen curls kindle
tree taken downtown
across forest floor to blackened pit
battle, an extreme form of dialogue
pain embraced by a loud river
ideality acts public out of order
the mill turns around of its own free will
how the eye loves to rest on the water
determine to supplant the water
purchase a view of the water
taken from the ding
of the docks
looking east, looking west
view of the Golden Mile
early as a city
from the river, of new homes
to Poplar Island from the River Road
the view looking down the launch ramp
Cecily Nicholson is the administrator of Gallery Gachet and has worked with women of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver since 2000. Her work, both creative and social, engages conditions of displacement, class, and gender violence. Nicholson is the author of Triage (Talonbooks, 2011) and From the Poplars (Talonbooks, 2014).
After Lunch with Frank O’Hara, Craig Cotter (Chelsea Station Editions 2014)
In 1959, Frank O’Hara published “Personism: A Manifesto”, a tongue-in-cheek essay that, for all its cynicism towards critical prose about poetry – the essay’s first line insists that “everything is in the poems” (247) – remains the clearest articulation of O’Hara’s casual, intimate poetics. Anti-form and anti-symbol, O’Hara argues for a poetry in which “you just go on your nerve” (247); his stance towards “measure and other technical apparatus” (247) is that these elements only have merit insofar as they make a poem more attractive to the reader (he compares poetic technique to the tight fit of a sexy pair of pants), and his approach to content is to reject abstraction in favour of a completely personal poetry in which the poet directly engages their real life and addresses themself “to one person” (248) in particular with the kind of specificity of reference one might expect more from a phone call than a literary work. The entire mock-manifesto was apparently written as a preamble to “Personal Poem”, a poem directly addressed to one of the poet’s lovers in which, true to his poetics, O’Hara meanders through a story about his afternoon before playfully wondering whether “one person out of 8,000,000 is / thinking about [him]” (31-2). “Personal Poem” is representative of O’Hara’s body of work as a whole, and of the Personism movement which he humorously (but still sincerely) claims in his mock-manifesto to have “recently founded and which nobody knows about” (248).
Writing fifty years after the 1964 publication of “Personal Poem” in O’Hara’s seminal Lunch Poems, Craig Cotter clearly knows about Personism. From the title onward, his new book After Lunch with Frank O’Hara is an unabashed tribute to the man and his work. The collection is an thorough, deeply personal engagement with and ecstatic riff on O’Hara’s poetic legacy. Cotter’s afterword to the book explains the impulse for his project; he credits O’Hara with giving his writing “new freedom” to “blast away and ignore the old rules of the self-contained machine” (95), and frames After Lunch as a tentative answer to the question of how to “move forward with our poetry respecting what he taught us” (97). The “setting for these poems” (98) is a meeting between Cotter and his late master on the field of poetry, a chance for a contemporary poet to digest the impact of one of his towering influences, and in doing so, to explore his own position as a poet, a gay man, and a restlessly sensitive human being.
The generally short poems in After Lunch are divided into four sections. Of these, “Talking to the Sun” deals most overtly with O’Hara as a presence. The section is dedicated to O’Hara, and contains several poems either addressed to him, or directly referring to him in their title or their content. “Personal Poem (for Frank O’Hara)”, its title nicked from O’Hara himself, is emblematic of Cotter’s approach. Intimate, direct, and unfailingly specific, the poem documents a thought process: Cotter (it would be dishonest and inaccurate to refer to a generic “speaker” here, or in the book as a whole) begins by reflecting on a “street hooker” (3) named Javier, moves to a memory of his high school “senior song” (7), then to a memory of a friend playing a prank on “Sugar Beach” (10), then to another image of Javier and his “tiny uncut cock flopping soft” (11), then to the thought of John Ashbery encouraging Frank O’Hara to keep writing his long poem Second Avenue, then back through several other childhood memories, before finally landing on a self-consciously doomed attempt to completely identify with O’Hara by pretending that “John Ashbery / wants me to keep going” (23).
The idea of Ashbery encouraging O’Hara to keep writing – and of Cotter imagining the same conversation between Ashbery and himself – reoccurs throughout the book, and is key to the way Cotter’s poems present art and life as deeply interconnected. After Lunch is in this sense a book about Cotter experiencing life as a poet, and measuring his achievements (both in life and in poetry) by O’Hara’s yardstick; as he writes to O’Hara in “After Lunch (for Frank O’Hara), “I’ve outlived you by five years / but not out-written you” (15-6). In “Good Friday”, the book’s longest poem and its impressive centerpiece, Cotter calls on O’Hara himself as an imaginary voice of encouragement. The five-page poem documents its own creation and declares its poetics early on, which are unsurprisingly similar to those O’Hara espouses in “Personism”:
Here’s something new:
No symbol, no image,
Presence unkind and dull.
Transcend your own life. (4-7)
Later in the poem, Cotter wryly points out that “when you get rid of symbol, image / and an interesting presence” (50-1), “then you really gotta consider / what you’re left with” (55-6). What we’re left with is an autobiographical survey related to but less joyful than O’Hara’s exuberant chronicles of his own experience. Cotter’s poems end up balancing celebration with rumination, combining both in the personal style he inherits from O’Hara. In “advice”, he moves through direct addresses to several of his friends, each short stanza offering little nuggets of tongue-in-cheek wisdom like “paul spend more time in / your green grand torino” (3-4) and “sarah / be a boss” (29-30). For all its playfulness, the poem ends up feeling like a monument to many people’s small regrets – “helen / go back in time / skip the farm / go to high school” (41-4) – and is bookended by a question that belies Cotter’s own moral position: “how did i / get so rich” (1-2). After Lunch ultimately paints a picture of a poet trying to write like Frank O’Hara but deeply aware of his own circumstances keeping him from pulling it off. Cotter here is worried about his significance, concerned for his friends, aware of the fleetingness of his sexual connections (often with young male prostitutes), and guilty about his relative financial stability. The gulf opened up between O’Hara and Cotter ends up being the most interesting thing about the book; Cotter’s dialogue with his imagined mentor reveals a great deal about himself, and about the dynamics of literary (and personal) influence more generally.
One feature of both poet’s lives that Cotter explores with sustained attention is their experience of their homosexuality. In his afterword, Cotter writes that what most moves him about O’Hara’s life is the way he “lived “out” and was unapologetically gay” (97) long before this was safe or socially acceptable. Cotter takes this openness as an inspiration, and does a great deal of work in After Lunch that point towards, as he puts it, “how to be out, unapologetic, and get it in the art” (97). Often, this takes the shape of frank physical depictions of his sex life: Javier’s flopping cock in “Personal Poem”, a “little freak” (89) named Candido’s “giant dick in me” (90) in “Good Friday”, a resolution to “increase my use of boy whores” (2) in “New Year’s Resolution 2005”. In other places the effect is much more tender, as in “Advice for Carrie Preston”:
I’m afraid I’ll outlive Mano.
I don’t want to bury him or see his dead body.
I don’t want him to not be in the apartment. (1-3)
In “Good Friday”, Cotter wonders if O’Hara topped, bottomed, or was into anal at all, and laments that “all those fucking homages and memoirs // and no one gets to that gay fact” (60-61). Throughout After Lunch Cotter goes in search for the gay fact of his own life, laying bare the intricacies of his sexual and romantic life in direct, personal language. If this can sometimes seem like an overly presentational effort to épate la bourgeoisie, Cotter is also making a genuine political point. For all the rhetoric in artistic communities about openness towards homosexuality, the realities of gay sex and gay love are gestured towards far more often than they are actually represented. Moreover, the bold, naked descriptions of gay sex in After Lunch may seem overcooked to certain more liberal audiences (the poetry world certainly being one of them), but the sexually confessional dimension of Cotter’s work could still be greatly impactful in communities like the Michigan neighborhood of Cotter’s childhood “that had no out gay people”(97), which still exist in far greater number than most of us would like to admit. Whether a contemporary book of poetry from a small press like Chelsea Station Editions can actually reach these communities is obviously a much more complicated question.
Ultimately, After Lunch with Frank O’Hara is a clear-eyed, engaging and entertaining work. Cotter’s book isn’t necessarily innovative, but it never tries to be; if anything, it ends up feeling fairly provocative in its willingness to pay close tribute to the poetics of a man who died almost 50 years ago and whose work was, in my own opinion (which Cotter seems to share), never as influential as it perhaps ought to have been. The book isn’t groundbreaking, but it is certainly life-affirming. By taking a direct, personal and playful approach to his work, Cotter asks us to reconsider poetry as a venue to simply think about our lives, out loud, to an audience of our close friends. If this doesn’t present the full picture of what poetry can do, it nevertheless feels like an refreshing, exciting thought.
O’Hara, Frank. “Personal Poem”. Frank O’Hara: Selected Poems. Ed. Mark Ford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 168-169. Print.
—. “Personism: A Manifesto”. Frank O’Hara: Selected Poems. Ed. Mark Ford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 247-248. Print.
David Walker lives in Montreal. He runs a company called DuckRabbit Theatre and is the writer of the plays Beware Beware and You Can Change Anything Whenever You Want. He edits poetry for The Void.
Crows rasp and wrestle for a scrap of kill
discarded at the curb: carcass dropped
from the claws of a passing gull.
Each beak pecks out its portion. In the shop,
a knife is pressed against the cashier’s throat.
As customers look on, the burglar
loads up on smokes and currency. It’s rote,
another outing for the scavenger.
This is the age of waiting. In their flats,
the people huddle, pray by candlelight,
notch off days on door jambs. Through the night
the crows cavort, remorseless acrobats.
Me, I don’t hold vigil. Time is short. I’m swift.
There’s cash to grab and cigarettes to lift.
SONG OF THE GREAT SPECTACLE
No one prophesied a spectacle like this.
The code exploded at Creation never spelled it out.
The spectacle’s planners are secret and smug.
Wednesday, and the awe’s not yet worn off.
Roll up your astral charts. The spectacle scours the sky.
Blindfolds guarantee the safest viewing.
What planners flogged all odds and made this be?
It’s Thursday. Will the spectacle yet dim?
Vast and peerless arrangement of rays!
Friday may pass, and the seventh day too,
but surely our eyes won’t grow back.
Nothing grows from sockets of ash.
Haul down the nets. Erase the painted lines
that separate the people from the court.
Blot out every logo: thwart the designs
of those that would make profit of the sport.
Let service serve; let ranking be repealed.
Shuck off those bourgeois whites; dress up in red.
Put down the racket you were taught to wield
and raise the racket of revolt instead.
Dethrone the umpire and his random will:
his proclamations have been foul indeed!
Let each man play according to his skill;
let each man score according to his need.
And someday even score will be cast off,
and love will be forever serving love.
Peter Norman is the author of two poetry collections, Water Damage and At the Gates of the Theme Park (shortlisted for the 2010 Trillium Poetry Book Award), and a novel, Emberton. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Walrus and two editions of Best Canadian Poetry.
A once promising land—evaporating. The people abolished, divided and shaken by the expulsion, the elimination. The threat of an ethnic cleansing of the Indian minority hovered over
Asian carpenters, mechanics, shoemakers and tailors—the middlemen flail in the political winds. Minority eyes must speak: Identify yourself; breakthrough for Uganda.
Kampala—tombs of kabakas have woven thatched roofs that swoop to a point high above the straw-laden floors, lending a cathedral-like silence to the sacredness of the earth below
where royal attendants continually watched over the remains of their dead kings. Kampala—the arched and pillared windows were endless.
Nestled behind sundown, rests an Indian dialect of silks and cottons. Their eyes lettered names like “Patel,” “Desai” and “Bombay Emporium.”
The ashes of Uganda walked many miles and carried their heads.
The walk was tedious work.
It took years. Now, it’s an image left behind. Why should we wait in line for justice?
Help us begin to drink the pain of Uganda, and one day replant our roots. The mountains appear at sunset, and the hillsides of women flow in the breeze.
The men bring comfort, but their eyes tell stories of death. In their minds, their birth. Precious jewels in a hairdo or turban—confiscated, but still hear tales of escape.
They look back on the homes they built. They look back on the tiny store their grandfather established. Alone in their difficult hours.
HOW TO RUN YOUR FINGERS THROUGH MY HAIR For Craig Brewer
Everyone has to contribute a verse. Get it down on paper, on tape, on canvas, on napkin, on palms of hands or on a crumpled-up grocery receipt, get it down. Speak in prose, encrypted simplicity, and wrap words around words like hands wrap thighs. Let brown eyes drink the blue fragrance of voice. Dream that fragrance. Learn. By any means necessary. Tell stories. Tell tales of all the mamas combin’ daughter’s hair. Every morning. Preach that pain, that tightness, that jaw-clenching fierceness that eventually—causes numbness. Look up, see the light even when it hurts to smile, for days and days and days at a time. Remember stories of hair. Your stories. Talk ’bout that separate entity, that journey. What’s my contribution? I’ll answer questions: “Do you braid? Do you do slack plaits? You quick? Where you from?” Let me tell you where I’m from: I’m from my softness, my texture, my smoothness, my smile. I am from my words, my syntax, my mama’s skin-burnin’ hot wax, and I’m from myself. I’m from my hair, my stories—pulled, stretched, curled, loose strands balled up and tossed; I am from every last piece of every last breath—taken and given. I will tell stories, share stories and write stories. By any means necessary. So, you wanna run your fingers through my hair?
Chelene Knight was born in Vancouver and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU. She has been published in Sassafras Literary Magazine,Room, emerge 2013, Raven Chronicles, and is a member of the editorial board at Room. Her work is deeply rooted in her experiences of mixed ethnicity. She has been writing poetry and short stories in secret since she was a child. Braided Skin, her first book, has given birth to numerous writing projects, including a work in progress, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of prose poems and letters written in the voice of a young woman speaking to the horrors, sadness and pleasures that took place in the over 20 homes she lived in as a child. Her mother is African American and her father and his family were victims of the Asian expulsion in Uganda that took place in the 70s, where the President at the time, Idi Amin, led a campaign of “de-Indianization”, eventually resulting in the “ethnic cleansing” of Uganda’s Indian minority. Chelene stands strong in her chosen position as a young, hardworking single parent. She lives in Vancouver.
it wasn’t intended for me to see but I did
(in the subject of an email)
the invisible mom
on a hill in a suburb in serbia
jon went back
there were two weddings
one in serbia one in canada
two services two families two dresses
they are already more advantaged than most serbian kids, says julie
they speak english and are half-canadian
and she is happy they are growing up here: the serbs cherish children
the schools are good
so much emphasis on art and culture and languages
this is europe after all
but I don’t want my kids to go to university here, says she
I want them to go in canada
where there is more
the ripe red of an apple
julie wants to be here but she also wants to be there
chilies firing green spice from pile on a market floor
but she knows that once she is there she’ll miss here
saris singing in sapphire
and between all the here-ing and there-ing
you often have to ask
are you ever here-here?
nights on the news desk
when a soldier dies and I don’t care anymore
I just want to go home it’s one in the morning
you’ve lost your soul, wanda
I lost it back in santiago when I wanted to take out rebecca’s ellipsis
a drip of soul slithering away with every erasure
still I think that everything is editing
or I did for a while when my head felt nothing else
people editing their lives
those snowplows edit the street, scraping it clean
the gardener edits the ground, please no green disturbances on this path
dank u wel
but it’s strange because then you start to edit your life and the people around you
and people don’t like that
especially not your husband
you shouldn’t bring your work home with you, says michiel
right true but all of us do
especially the artists, those prickly characters who go around with their heads
knotted tightly around their left knees
tap them on the shoulder and they jump because you’ve disturbed
their quiet churning
the grooves in space
kept light kept still
until touch softens the grip
a cardinal line wrapped in tight incisive eddies
in air instead of water
craig says you’re looking through me, like you don’t even see me
Wanda Praamsma grew up in the Ottawa valley in Clayton, Ontario. Her poetry has appeared in Ottawater, 17 seconds, and Feathertale, and several literary non-fiction pieces have appeared in the Toronto Star, where she worked for several years as an editor. She has worked, studied, and lived at various points in Salamanca, Spain, Santiago, Chile, and Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and has travelled to many places in between and beyond, including Cuba, India, and the Balkans. Praamsma currently lives in Kingston, Ontario. a thin line between is her first book of poetry.
I twisted a cap off a bottle and threw it into the fire. We watched the sparks. The beer went down like water. The firelight pumped like a red heart in the night. I said, “Let’s bring Sally to the beach tomorrow.”
Smirks didn’t respond, didn’t move, didn’t look at me. I could imagine them together. In the canoe. In the middle of the lake. Where no one could see. Where no one was watching. I could picture her sitting in his lap and Smirks reaching in between her legs. I could see it all. I could see it happening. It could happen, and then what? And then nothing. And then nothing. Nothing would happen to Sally. She would not be afraid. She would not be hurt.
“Julia,” Smirks said. “If she were your niece—”
My niece, Lila. Not really my niece. My cousin Sandra’s daughter. Little Lila with her big brown cartoon eyes that she got from her mother Sandra and her silken, almost silver hair from her father Joe. Seven years old and a hellion, obstreperous, unstoppable. Teachers said she had “discipline problems” but I saw something better. A tenacity and a questioning of authority that could only be good for her, in the future, surely. She wasn’t unhappy and she wasn’t disrespectful. She was her own person, a small person, a little adult. “What about Lila?” I asked.
“If Lila were here, would you offer her to me? Would you give us time alone? Would you let me touch her?” He threw a log on the fire, and the world lit up in an instant of orange, then faded as quickly to dark.
I’d spent the summer with Lila the year before. Her parents, my cousin Sandra and her husband, Joe, ran a restaurant up north in Fort Nelson. A truck stop, natural-gas pit on the edge of the Greater Sierra oil field. Fort Nelson was a town in the middle of the bush. That’s what they call it up there, “the bush,” because you couldn’t really call it a forest. They barely looked like trees, those spindly pines and firs, skinny from the frigid temperatures and dry air. My favourite formation was the krummholz black spruce, German for “bent wood.” Trunks and limbs, exposed to decades of freezing wind, twisted and deformed like arthritic knuckles clawing north. I’d gone to help with Lila, who’d become a handful. Sandra and Joe offered me free room and board for the summer to nanny while they ran their restaurant, Port Mantoe, a French-Canadian diner on the west bank of the Prophet River, serving bicultural fare such as cheeseburgers on baguettes, or coq au vin with a Montreal style bagel.
The population of the town was 4,500, and most of these people were truckers and diggers, natural gas executives from India, mechanics, A&W employees. It was a strange place on the border of the Yukon, four hundred kilometres from any town on every side, frontier land with no greater purpose than pumping fuel down to the cities and suburbs sprawling half a country away. Sandra and Joe had a beautiful log cabin on the edge of town, isolated from the trailer parks and motels that lined the Alaska Highway. In the summertime, the sun didn’t set. Sandra and I would stand on her back patio at two in the morning smoking cigarettes and watching the soft, orange orb sink to the horizon and hesitate there before swinging, slowly, back up toward day.
Lila was enthralled with me: a new, young, energetic adult, paid to pay her attention, which I did. I poured my attention into her, grateful for the break from my research and from the fights with Thierry. This was before the Molestas, when I’d been hiding inside my books for too long. Lila breathed life into my research. It was the first time I’d spent any significant amount of time with a child since I’d been one myself.
Sandra and Joe would wake up early every morning, gone by six, and Lila would rouse around nine. I’d make her breakfast and she would sit on the floor and watch cartoons. After eating we’d head out to the field where we would, each with our shovels, gather the horse poop of three horses and pile it in the middle of the pasture until the mound was higher than Lila herself. The mares, Passion, X and Synth, would roam, suspicious, around our perimeter, eyeballing us with chary expressions, looking away if I caught their gaze. I always felt they were holding something back, some vital part of their personality that they only exposed once we’d gone inside.
On days when I was distracted, Lila would manage to throw herself into the heap of shit while I wasn’t looking, as though it were a pile of leaves we’d raked, and I’d spend the rest of the morning with her in the bathtub, scrubbing manure out from all her nooks and crannies. At these times, I would be acutely aware of the realness of her body. It made me uncomfortable. Her flat, sexless chest. Everything narrow and nascent and smooth, like a sunflower seed.
I always wondered: didn’t Sandra worry about me? She knew about my father. She knew about the storied “cycle of abuse.” Didn’t she fear perversion on my part, taking care of Lila every day, bathing her, dressing her? I asked her once, after a few beers, terrified at her response.
“No, Julia,” she said, looking me in the eye. “You would never do that to someone. You’ve been through it. You would never do it to someone else. The buck stops with you, remember.” She stamped her cigarette out for emphasis. We cracked open two more cans. I had felt we’d both missed the point.
One day Lila and I took a nap together on the couch. Her little body was warm and supple, snug into my chest, cozy between my legs. I woke up before she did, and tried to imagine becoming aroused by her. We were spooning, essentially, and her bum was against my crotch, and I stared down at our bodies for a while. I lifted the waist of her pink jogging pants and peered past her belly to her underwear. Tiny, like a doll’s. She was about as sexy as a sleeping cat. There was no physical or psychological reaction from me. There was nothing arousing about it. I remember gratitude in that moment, and I actually said out loud, “Thank God,” though I realized later it was a perfunctory performance of relief, because I’d still known I wasn’t safe. What if Lila were twelve? What if she were developing breasts? What if she weren’t my niece? Might I be aroused then? I held these questions at arm’s length.
Months later, long after I had left Fort Nelson and returned to Vancouver, I received a voicemail from Sandra. “I’ve had your diary here since the summer, you know. Just sitting on my bedside table. I kept waiting for you to ask me to send it to you. But you never did. So I read it last night.” A pause as she took a drag from her smoke. “Dude, you’re hilarious. A pedophile? You? Ha. Come on, bud. You’re not a sick fuck. You’re a little fucking crazy, I think maybe a bit. But you’re not sick. Call me. I need you to tell me what ‘perfunctory’ means.”
Smirks asked me again. “What if it were Lila?”
“That’s not a fair question.”
“What’s fair?” he asked.
“I don’t know about Lila.”
“Do unto others.”
“That’s an essentialist argument.”
“What’s right for me isn’t right for everyone.”
“Isn’t it? Think.”
He was right. I had to think. According to the literature, many of the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse don’t activate until a certain stage of emotional development. The research suggested that if the perpetrator of the abuse is a parent or relative, the symptoms of depression worsen because of the perception of the betrayal of trust. But this perception was what I questioned. Did I—did others—actually feel betrayed, or were we told we should feel betrayed?
There was no way to know. There was one way to know.
I was in a dark place, and I was beer-drunk. Heavy. Angry. “I have to go to bed.”
In my tent, I bit my lips until they bled. Pained groans tight in my throat. I hated that Smirks thought I needed help. What could he see? Which one of my defects had slid into view? The loon on the lake called out. A song so familiar that you imagine you could emulate it by opening up your throat, your chest. You imagine your own sadness and wisdom could make the same sounds as a loon. But of course, if you tried, you’d just sound like a human, crying.
The next morning, I dipped my toes into Christina Lake and recoiled. Could this really be the warmest lake in Canada? I spread my blanket out on the sand and sat cross-legged facing the water. Sally’s mother kept the canoe docked at the corner of the small beach, and Sally had brought her lifejacket, even though Smirks had insisted he was not going to take her out on the water.
“I don’t have the skill,” he’d lied to Janice. Of course Smirks knew how to row a boat.
“Oh, it’s fine, Smirks,” Janice had said. “She just wants to float around out there, anyway. She’s just going to jump off and swim, the little fish. Trust me.” Sally held her mother’s hand, looking at the ground, digging a toe into the dirt. The quality of her summer days depended on the willingness of the campers. Would they play with her or wouldn’t they? Si and Sally had probably escorted dozens of campers on the lake, in the woods, over the course of their short lives.
Janice was tall and regal-looking, like a formidable tree. Late thirties, probably a couple of years older than Smirks, the same blonde hair as her daughter’s and a brown face that, rather than wrinkled, had been smoothed with age, like a stone. Ice blue eyes just a shade too far apart. A beautiful lake creature. She touched Smirks’ shoulder, and I froze the image in my mind. Smirks and Janice, happy couple.
“If it’s really too much of a hassle—”
“No, it’s fine.”
He would take her. I saw a flash of relief in Janice’s eyes. She liked Smirks. She inherently trusted him. What an idiot. A surge of rage tingled from my thighs, through my core, into my throat. My innards liquefied. I felt the anger and did nothing. Rode the sensation right out of my body. The situation unfolded and I stood there, jaw fused. I knew I should say something. Obviously I should say something. I should stop it. Should. I wondered if I were a sociopath. Smirks reached out and took Sally’s fingers in one hand and her lifejacket in the other. Together, they walked toward the water.
Once at the water’s edge, Sally jumped up and down. “Let’s go for a float, Smirks!” He laughed and gave her a high-five. Some momentum had taken hold of him, and it slowed all movement for me. I felt caught by opposing forces, the potential energy of his body and mind causing him to move so fast, light years ahead of me, while I was getting smaller, sitting on my beach blanket, watching them, voice lost, withering.
“You gotta put your life jacket on, sweetie.” He held out the little orange vest. Her arms slipped in, thin as broom handles. Smirks kneeled in front of her and fastened her jacket, taking care not to catch her long blonde hair in the teeth of the zipper. I didn’t breathe. He reached his hands, as big as her head, around both sides of her neck, and for a moment it looked as though he was going to kiss her, but instead he tucked his fingers under her hair and drew it out from her life jacket. It spread across her back, golden in the sun. “You ready?”
“Yeah!” she exclaimed, and threw her arms around him in a sloppy embrace. I thought of the scene in Kubrick’s Lolita, when Dolores and Humbert Humbert are driving in the car and she clambers up from the back seat, embracing him, kissing him. The word “coltish” kept coming to mind. But children are not animals, I thought.
Smirks looked at me. “You sure you don’t want to come?” Was that a threat in his voice? A hint of I’m calling your bluff? I felt as though he were challenging me. I’ll do it, he seemed to be saying. I’ll do it and it will be your fault.
I shook my head. “No.” My voice choked. I held up my book, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I had never read Faulkner and had thought, stupidly, that a vacation would be a good time to start. Sally ran toward me and put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. A remarkably adult gesture. I looked at the ground. I wanted to reach up and grab her waist and hold her there. Hold her there until the tsunami that was washing over us stopped flowing. Receded. Disappeared. Sally followed my eyes until they finally landed on hers. Young, trusting girl. Little girl with a slender neck. How did children—so fragile, so easy to break—make it out? How did they survive?
Satisfied with my eye contact, she spoke. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him.”
“You’ll take care of him?”
She laughed, and trotted back to Smirks. He grasped her under her armpits and lifted her up into the canoe. She was so excited, bouncing her knees, lifting her bum up and down on the yoke. Smirks pushed the canoe into the water, lake lapping up to his knees.
“Woo!” he shouted, “Chilly!”
“Chilly!” mimicked Sally, bursting into a giggle. All children sound the same when laughing. That was a line from a book I read once. What book was it? Right before the woman kills herself. She hears children laughing. I pressed my hands into my knees, felt the hard ridge of my kneecaps, dug my fingertips in, probing for cracks. Smirks hopped in the boat and inexpertly guided it toward the middle of the lake. I watched how he slopped the oars into the water and made shallow and ineffective attempts to steer, and I realized he wasn’t faking his ineptitude. He actually couldn’t row. How could a man who grew up learning every other sport and living near different bodies of water not have learned how to row? He and Sally were out in the water like two children.
Sally traipsed all over the boat, perching on first the bow seat, then the stern. She grabbed Smirks’ biceps for balance. Muscle can be a noun and a verb. Intransitive and transitive. I muscled my way into the situation. Or, all that cycling has muscled her legs. I had a compulsion to tell Smirks he was a loser. I made a mental note to do it when he got back. Any self-respecting athlete should be able to paddle without looking like a fucking moron. I remembered that conversation on the patio. One hundred years ago. His smugness disguised as inquiry. Did you do your best at anything today?
Smirks reached an arm around Sally’s waist. He gripped her there, guided her to sit down in front of him. They drifted farther away until they were shining shadows of themselves, the sun reflecting off the water and their bodies. I could make out movement but not specifics. Their bodies were close together, then apart, like drops of black oil bonding and breaking. I squinted against the sun, tried to discern details. There could be kisses, maybe. There could be touching, but I couldn’t see. Smirks’ hands disappeared between her legs. Or was he still paddling? They were in the same spot for a while, it seemed. I shielded my eyes with my hand. Sally reached her arms up high above her head. Why wasn’t she wearing her life jacket? I thought I saw Smirks press his lips to her hairless armpit.
I ran into the water. I still had my shoes on, and I swam. The water pummelled me, coated me in icy armour and all I could think to do was breathe and swim, my mind an anaphora. Right arm, left arm, right arm, left arm, chaotic breaststroke that felt more like drowning. My feet were tied together. I caught glimpses of the blue sky.
The tree line. The water’s edge. A blurry metal boat in front of me with people playing inside. I swallowed green water that tasted like freezer burn and stone. I swam for so long, twice as long as the distance should have allowed, before I finally slapped my hands up over the edge of the canoe and peered inside the hull.
Smirks was sitting on the bow seat and Sally on the stern. She held one foot tight to her body, close to her chest. The way she sat, with her leg bent up, I could see the crotch of her bathing suit. Had it been pushed to the side? She was sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. My lungs dragged. I sputtered, shimmied toward her with my hands on the gunwale. Smirks was talking, but there was a rush in my ears, water leaving them, Sally’s sobs entering them, I couldn’t hear him, didn’t look at him, just moved toward her. Sally. “What happened, Sally?” I asked finally, my lungs finding some air. Sally couldn’t speak, she was bawling too hard.
Smirks’ voice. “She hurt her toe, Julia. She stubbed her toe and slipped.” I looked at him. He was shaking his head. “She hurt herself.” I looked at Sally. With Smirks’ retelling of her trauma she started wailing even louder. Reliving the sharp pain in her mind made it worse. I looked at her foot and saw a trickle of bright red blood twisting up around her ankle like henna. “She was about to jump into the water, and she stubbed her toe. She hurt herself.”
Sally nodded desperately. Smirks pulled me up into the boat with the adeptness of a lifeguard. Before I knew it, he was rowing us skilfully back to the shore, expert swipes and digs with the oars, the hull cutting a fast line through the water. I held Sally in my lap and watched him, dumbfounded. We made it to the beach. Janice was already standing there, arms akimbo.
“She does this,” she said. She grabbed her daughter’s wrist. “She cries, for no reason. Just cries and cries.” She jerked Sally’s arm, harder than necessary.
I pointed to Sally’s foot. “She cut her toe.”
Janice looked, softened a bit at the blood. “Oh. Sweetie.” She kneeled down, kissed her fingers, pressing them to her daughter’s skin. She looked up at us. “It could have been a lot worse. Right?”
Smirks touched Sally’s forehead, wiped a strand of hair from her eyes. “I’m sorry, Sally.” Sally had her thumb in her mouth.
Janice pulled it out. “Don’t worry about it. She’s really too old to be crying like this.” She hushed Sally, pulling her toward the campground. Sally looked over her shoulder. She looked at us as though we were strangers.
Smirks and I watched them go. I could sense him scowling. “People are so fucked up,” he said, and he moved to tie up the boat. He was talking about Janice. He was talking about me.
Me, I felt incredible. Like a star had exploded in my heart chakra and shot photons to every cell in my body. He hadn’t touched her, and it thrilled me. I’d escaped prison. I’d escaped war. We left Christina Lake that afternoon, and for the first few kilometres, until the town was out of sight and off our minds, we stayed far away from each other’s slipstream. I knew Smirks was furious, with me and with Janice and with himself. But I felt liberated. Every time he turned around to look at me, I turned the corners of my mouth down. But the smile would creep back, and the work felt important and the world looked beautiful. I bit my lip to keep from hollering my joy.
Chelsea Rooney grew up in the Annapolis Valley and lives in Vancouver. She hosts a monthly episode of The Storytelling Show on Vancouver Co-Op Radio and is a regular contributor to Project Space’s web series on artist publishing. In 2014, Caitlin Press released her debut novel, Pedal, which Steven W. Beattie of Quill and Quire chose as a favourite first novel of 2014, and Canada’s book blog 49th Shelf chose as a book of the year. Pedal has made the shortlist for the 2015 Amazon.ca/Walrus First Novel Award.
Dear friend, you have excited crowds with
your example.1 I speak to judge crimes of
filiation.2 Consider that the thing died before
we ever proved it lived,3 the boatman’s ferry
creaking with its legions of incurables.4 This
landfall happened at your exact flooding and5
now you are sitting doubled up in pain,6 your head
wet, streaming, smelling faintly of milk and oranges7—
one who never left the adjective, who keeps
my place8 the way the light drips down the sky in
the finally morning.9 Cherish me today, for I am
a vetch crisp and uncorrected.10
1 Maxine Kumin, “How It Is.” 2 Lisa Robertson, “Greeting.” 3 Gwendolyn MacEwen, “Death of the Loch Ness Monster” 4 Amanda Jernigan, “The Hyll” 5 Dionne Brand, Land to Light On 6 Phyllis Webb, “Naked Poems” 7 Erín Moure, “Betty” 8 Méira Cook, “Blue Lines” 9 Maggie Helwig, “Hunger and the Watchman” 10 Margaret Christakos, “Birch”
LAUREL: A CENTO ELEGY
Imagine her now, the raw lilies unfurling in her
throat, their scent and fleshy thrust.1 Her silk
spirit leaving the crown of her head2— what a heavy
candelabrum to be borne.3 What rage for order
disordered her?4 The guest without a wedding
garment is cast into outer darkness.5 I would have
made of my body a body to protect her, anything
to keep her well & here,6 with my arms stretched out
in that stone place,7 the one who never looks up,
whose eyes are lidded and balled, like Blake’s,8 like
pinwheels and burning schoolhouses9 beyond this fog.
Mist. Rain. Fragile demon flags.10 Never the same
river drowns the unalterable doorsill.11 Grief is
original, but it repeats itself.12
1 Hilary Clark, “Her” 2 Jean Valentine, “The Morning of My Mother’s Death” 3 Maxine Kumin, “On Being Asked to Write a Poem About Anne Sexton” 4 Denise Levertov, “Olga Poems” for Olga Levertoff 5 Carolyn Maisel, “Baptism” for Anne Sexton 6 Lucie Brock-Broido, “Soul Keeping Company” 7 Anne Sexton, “Sylvia’s Death” 8 Sylvia Plath, “Death & Co.” 9 Gwendolyn MacEwen, “Fireworks” for Marian Engel 10 Judith Fitzgerald, “Elegy Written in a December State of Mind” for Gwendolyn MacEwen 11 Amy Clampitt, “A Procession at Candlemas” 12 Amy Clampitt, “The Dakota”
Tanis MacDonald is the author of three books of poetry, including Rue the Day (Turnstone Press, 2008). More recent work has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2, The New Quarterly, Studies in Canadian Literature, and Our Times. Her book, The Daughter’s Way: Canadian Women’s Paternal Elegies (WLUP, 2012) was a finalist for the 2012 Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism. She is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, where she teaches Canadian literature and creative writing.
“B-movie blast of bloody blam blam” is a line from Betsey Sharkey’s review of Colombiana in The Los Angeles Times, written in 2011.
Rebecca Salazar is a creative writing MA student at UNB, managing editor of Qwerty, and editorial assistant at The Fiddlehead. Originally from Sudbury, Ontario, she was a co-founding editor of Sulphur: Laurentian University’s Literary Journal. She was recently awarded first place in The Malahat Review’s Open Season poetry contest, and an honorable mention in CV2’s 2014 Young Buck Poetry Contest. Her writing has appeared in Existere and Poetry is Dead.
The bear says
to the gathered performance artists
who are attempting a sound poem
that emulates the sounds of a bear
I never know when it’s actually sound poetry
or when it’s someone making fun of sound poetry
The performance artists adjust their bear masks,
wipe sweat from the backs of their necks.
They feel the eyes of the bear on them.
They breathe in unison and grunt their bear poem.
The bear doesn’t recognize this ceremony,
she has never seen it before,
and she has no confidence in its sincerity.
Before donning the fur and dropping to all fours
these human beings were in cars, on the highway,
like every other human being.
They smell like plastic and gasoline.
To the bear these are just more zoo animals,
and she’s not impressed by their tricks.
She shakes a dry saskatoon bush for percussion
and sings an old song.
The performance artists scatter, all but two.
The bear wants to talk, and moves closer.
The first performance artist looks at the other
and thinks about the book of Genesis.
The second looks at the bear
and thinks about the Marian Engel novel Bear.
With all the sweat in their bearskin costumes
they begin to smell less and less like human beings.
Kelly Shepherd‘s fifth poetry chapbook, entitled Fort McMurray Tricksters, was recently published by the Alfred Gustav Press. He has a Creative Writing MFA from UBC Okanagan, and is a poetry editor for the environmental philosophy journal The Trumpeter. Kelly lives in Edmonton.
The dust is biting the leaves.
A chrysanthemum is blooming in a salty dry swamp. Sécheresse is everywhere.
I’m searching for a mystery
amidst the sandy gravel,
forgetting about the wind
& about doxa, a common belief as its name
My lemonade becomes mixed w/ yellow pollen.
The desert starts speaking in an eschatological language.
Many inverted commas are looming in the horizon.
Ali Znaidi (b.1977) lives in Redeyef, Tunisia, where he teaches English. His work has appeared in various magazines and journals worldwide. He authored four poetry chapbooks including Experimental Ruminations (Fowlpox Press, 2012), Moon’s Cloth Embroidered with Poems (Origami Poems Project, 2012), Bye, Donna Summer! (Fowlpox Press, 2014), and Taste of the Edge (Kind of a Hurricane Press, 2014). He also authored a book of fiction titled Green Cemetery (Moment Publications, 2014) which is in fact the first Tunisian flash fiction collection originally written and published in the English language. Some of his poems have been translated into German, Greek, Turkish and Italian. You can see more of his work on his blog at aliznaidi.blogspot.com and you can follow him on Twitter @AliZnaidi.
to reach and stop. to want and keep going. to want to reach the limit. to want to take
and justify the taking. to reach the limit and steal transgressing. this shapes all that is
sealed with a kiss. so many they cannot be counted. so many thrown, juggled, dropped
and forgotten. the cypher of all fault.
to take and abandon. to give the oath and take it back. to take each one, each kiss, each
blessed grain of irritation, one at a time and reject it. that is how don juan took mille e
tre. each a pearl grown by him.
FISHBOWL OF ADULTERY
he picks a daisy and counts its binary. I love her. I love her not. no, I love her. I love her
not. I love not her but him. no, I love her. or I love him. I love him not. I want. I want
him. I want him not. I want.
scientists use their eyes like hands, feeling for the aberration in light to pinpoint
distant planets. the same heuristic practice is found in those studying Don Juan’s
perversion. a wedding band or vague mounds in aerial photographs.
he has them. he does not. he has hidden them. he has not.
she reads this ambivalence, all over the map. documents forays, near misses and then
disinterest. keeps the mystery of the daisy hiding in full sunlight.
let us take Bagdad as the tenth wife.
FISHBOWL FOR DON JUAN
Don Juan is not heterosexual but ambidextrous. has built an argument so sound no
hand has exposed the question. made it a biblical argument that sleeps through every
Don Juan never stops. he takes them one at a time promising a house and garden and
four wheel drive. no one is without opportunity. no one is
turned away. no one is privileged. not one of us is evil.
the capitalism of original sin.
Concetta Principe (PhD) has three books to her credit, including walking (2013) with DC Books, and an earlier collection of prose poems, Interference (Guernica Editions 1999). As well as writing prose-poetry, she is a scholar/teacher of literature, philosophy and biblical-cultural studies. Her first scholarly project, Secular Messiahs and the Return of Paul’s Real, is coming out this spring with Palgrave MacMillan.
_____“The point is that fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life.”
_________________________________________– Bill Cunningham
Bare feet in old running shoes, a tattered cape
made of shopping bags skilfully knotted together
so they overlap like shingles on a roof or oily feathers.
Were you a tailor or sailmaker in another life? And where
is my camera? Your doom chic might make the cover
of an un-airbrushed, alt Vogue. Worn by a skin-and-bones
blonde on a runway in Milan, it’d be, like, ooh la-effing-la.
“Dashiell, it’s not polite to point,” but the boy’s compassion
has not yet ossified. He won’t be deterred. A minute ago,
they were snapping selfies with the NYPL lions as backdrop;
now the boy tugs at his father’s coat sleeve, “Dad, can I
have some money, please, for that man over there?”
Dad looks irritated, giving you a cool once-over, as if to say,
“I think you can be safely ignored,” but then, with a slight
smug smile, his face softens: he’s taught his kid right.
He shrugs and fishes for his wallet, checking the crisp bill
twice to make sure it’s only a single. “Well, go on then,
hurry up, I’ll be right here.” The boy approaches warily,
only to have his offering politely refused. And now
the man is really annoyed; his son’s return is like the long walk
back to the bench after striking out. What’s this guy’s problem?
How dare he zombie-shuffle through their father-son vignette
and take the shine off a perfectly good day. “Hey, Asshole,
you don’t like money?” You merely smile and bow,
makeshift cloak crackling in the cold.
Up the beach from the supper club’s sprawling
patio where beleaguered servers thread the crowd,
bearing trays of watered-down Cuba Libres,
grilled mahi-mahi on skewers, near the striped
changing huts and sea kayaks on steel racks,
two men pace figure-eights in the sand, their faces
lit by cellphone screens. One sports a loud
shirt and a fresh sunburn, the other, darker
skinned, wears a once-white apron and hairnet.
They circle, pivoting on sandaled heels.
It’s a kind of wary dance, the boundaries
invisible, yet mutually agreed. The elusive green
bars were here yesterday. There’s always something
that can’t wait: a friend’s birthday, a baby overdue,
someone in a nursing home, a child to wish goodnight
before the sitter switches out the light; niggles, logistics,
some little piece of news. The odd couple
commiserates silently – the one who chafes
at his leisure, the other on a smoke break.
What they have to say won’t stay bottled up;
what they want to hear is the one thing
that will permit them sleep. But the satellites
won’t cooperate: the night air carries
only the surf’s white noise, merengue
from the resort casino on the next point.
It’s an old story: figures on a far shore,
hands raised to the sky, searching for a signal.
Two tiny lights like fireflies engulfed by dark
inhuman scenery. The drone of scouring waves,
the moon stirring the iron filings of the sea.
Steve McOrmond has published three collections of poetry, most recently The Good News about Armageddon (Brick Books, 2010). His second collection, Primer on the Hereafter (Wolsak and Wynn, 2006), received the Atlantic Poetry Prize. He lives in Toronto. He can be found at http://www.stevemcormond.com or @Steve_McOrmond on Twitter.
Frankie Barnet: Place plays a significant role in your work. Stories like “Wireless”, “Hellgoing” and “Another World” all seem to have an interest in exploring and critiquing cosmopolitan aspects of city life, as well as differences between city and country life. You yourself are from Cape Breton but now live in Edmonton. How important is location to your work and how does your own geographical location influence your work?
Lynn Coady: I think growing up in a place like Cape Breton made me hypersensitive to cultural differences. As a Canadian, you grow up with these self-deprecating messages that you are living in one of the most bland, homogenous cultures in the world and we’re basically all alike from sea to shining sea, so as a young person I wasn’t expecting to experience culture shock the moment I set foot off-island. But I absolutely did. So one of my earliest revelations about human society as an adult was the realization that people’s prejudices and assumptions about life and the world are determined by their surroundings to a horrific degree. I figured that out mostly by looking at myself, by understanding that the starting point for my entire worldview came out of being from Cape Breton, being rural, being Catholic, being surrounded by the Scottish-descended, being working class, being on an island, etc.
This really came home to me in the 90s when I was in a Creative Writing workshop at University of New Brunswick, workshopping the early chapters of my novel Strange Heaven, which was set in small town Cape Breton in the 80s. My classmates kept insisting that the story seemed like it took place 80 years in the past–they didn’t buy that it was supposed to be set in contemporary times. So anyway, culturally-determined differences in people–even the tiniest differences, and the way they can radically alter your perspective–have remained a fascination for me ever since. For example in “Body Condom,” Kim, from the east coast, is dating Hart, from the West Coast–and Hart is a hippie dippie type who behaves in ways that no man would be permitted to behave where Kim comes from. As a result, and even though she knows better on an intellectual level, she can’t quite bring herself to trust him.
Frankie Barnet: You work as a playwright, novelist, and short story writer. How does your process differ between each of these forms? When you first conceive of a project, is it already rooted in its form?
Lynn Coady: Yes, usually. When I have an idea for a novel, I know it’s for a novel because it feels big–the idea has sweep and I feel like I could play around with it for a very long time without getting bored. But it makes me feel tired, simultaneously, because if indeed it is a viable idea for a novel, I know I’m going to have to sit and think very hard about it for several months, making notes and mapping a way to approach the story. When I have an idea for a short story, it’s more energizing. It’s like being given a new toy to play with–there’s not that sense of, Oh Jesus I have to invest in this idea for the next two years of my life. It’s more like: Here’s something fun to noodle around with for a little while and if it doesn’t work out, no big, I’ll just pick up another toy. Short fiction can feel more playful and more creatively freeing because of its lower stakes. But losing yourself in a long form project can be incredibly absorbing and rewarding on its own terms.
Frankie Barnet: Something I found interesting in Hellgoing was how you played with sentence length to highlight some of the more absurd and comical aspects of character’s lives. One of my favourite moments of the collection comes from the story “Body Condom,” where you have the line (which is also it’s own paragraph) “Then they just did yoga for two straight days”. How do you approach humour in your work? Is it something you work at or does it come out more naturally?
Lynn Coady: I mean I’m kind of at the point in my writing where the work is done very intuitively. I get immersed in the process and I’m not thinking so much about the instinctive decisions I’m making around structure and form–I’m just working to make the story the way I want it to be. After I’m done the first draft I’ll look at it with more of a journeyman’s eye and say–oh, look what I did here with the run on sentence. I guess I was trying to get across a sense of time passing rapidly, or a sense of the narrator’s racing mind, or whatever quality I was trying to get across. And in the revising I might finesse those elements a bit, underscore them or downplay them if I think that’s what needs doing. But I’m not really thinking about them during the initial writing. And with humour usually I start out with a feel for the innate humour of the situation or the character’s predicament and those elements just kind of emerge organically via the storytelling.
Frankie Barnet: What role do you think creative writing programs play in the creative development for young writers? What role did your education play for you?
Lynn Coady: Well this goes back to my background–for me it was really important to be around other people who were obsessed with reading and writing because I was never around people like that growing up. It was important to be in a milieu where everyone comported themselves as if the art and craft of writing stories was crucial. Sometimes when people criticize creative writing programs, they take it for granted that most people grow up in environments like that–where books and art and culture have a certain primacy and are revered. And they can’t imagine other would-be artists might not have experienced that as a birthright.
You can hear Lynn Coady read in Montreal, at Concordia University, at 7pm in the De Seve Theatre, Library Building, 1400 de Maisonneuve West. Follow her and Writers Read on Twitter. Students of Concordia can attend a master class Friday morning. See writersreadconcordia (@) gmail.com
Frankie Barnet is a graduate student at Concordia University and acting Writers Read Assistant. This interview was conducted via email.
* I might sing forever with never a goal nor solution
* Full of luxury, grace notes, prosperousness and charm
* while singing of the pleasures of good gianthood
The commonality of all form is constraint and its bending: mine is length and a conceit. This is an ornament, approaching by a leap.
The first trill, or turn, rather, is sound; how Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets sound to me, their melodic or imagined graphic contours, their richness, their affective and harmonic range, intervals and ties.
If a sonnet is a sound and a tune, standing on its own feet, as well as being linked to others, then each one could be said to have a sort of prophetic musical power in that it signals or suggests where it might go next; embracing chances, it is one fragment of something that makes the overall piece memorable or coherently itself.
All sound patterns can bind a moment’s immediacy into a form. I think it is useful to analyse these sonnets as other cycles or series via the playing together of consonant or dissonant arrangements, lengths and rhythms, in which sequential reading can be revisionary and inform the semantic and extra-textual loops and insistences.
As with any sonnet sequence, I want to ask whether Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets need to be read as individual poems or as a cycle. Presented as such, they resemble a compositional and reception problem well-known from the ‘Klangsprache’ of Schubert and Schuman in their German ‘Lieder’. Schumann’s Eichendorff cycle Liederkreis is composed of stand-alone pieces but their underlying musical—rhythmic, melodic, harmonic—structure is only legible as a whole. True, the pieces are a ‘romantic whole’, which implies but does not satisfy closure, and Mayer’s sonnets, too, are no ‘cycle’ as such. The last sonnet does not pull towards the first, nor is it a triumphant end-point prepared by gradual build-up, it is rather an accumulation that is united by textual (syntactic, semantic) and motivic characteristics (open beginnings or endings), or the re-appearance of characters (Grace).
These sonnets are songs that constitute themselves harmonically in a processual revelation, as an everyday epiphanic desiring structure or glimpse of the is and may be. Thoughts doodle and dander, in ritardandos and most of all grace notes—those little embellishments, in small type, clinging but frivolously free, uncounted in rhythm’s measure.
Dante is there in name, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (‘Most gracious singer of high poems!’) in spirit. Sometimes there are word order inversions, in which the deliberately poetic is synthesised, placed on the dinner table, ‘I’m so mad at you I’m sure I’ll take it all back tomorrow / & say then they flee from me who sometimes did me seek’. The sonnet tradition is here present as citation; quoting Wyatt at the lover as a form of rebuff, and as consolation. Or even more explicitly, the sonnets sometimes foreground their sonnetness:
This is my new form of sonnet
This is the closing of it
Please don’t stop loving me right this moment
No deliberate show or avoidance of form’s constraint, only a self-awareness of the poem’s participation in the genre’s evolution. Self-reflexive moments contour a history of the sonnet form, they showcase a tension, a formal straining, as well as an overflowing, which matches the emotional, physical and mental states they portray or style into a fragmentary whole. The Sonnets traverse and expand generically traditional subjects. For instance, we find the long-standing anguish that is written into the genre. The Petrarchan sonnet makes garlands of the poet’s masochism, blending love and death as equally tragic—which here appears with a feminist twist: ‘All torn and sore like a female masochist that the rhyme / Of the jewel you pay attention to becomes your baby born’. Motherhood, too, is a political choice:
A white dog chases a man around the park
Your school hand your rich hand your suburban hand
Cares if I come I am a woman & we woman must both
Have babies & there’s my mirror & there’s my baby
When Eliot writes in ‘The Music of Poetry’, ‘No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job’—he claims that absolute compositional freedom can’t produce a good poem, but forgets that this freedom is particularly restricted for a woman who is trying to write, trying to ‘do a good job’. There is a tangible limit on freedom, on movement; the poet and her sonnet cannot go where she pleases, there are domestic, amorous, and financial relations that need fixture.
There are colloquial we’s and you’s and remembered intimacy in an everyday buzz of having a coke with them or you, but here it’s wine instead, and babies need to be fed. Some phrases are without consequence, that is, the consequence is not revealed, and why should it, there’s no stable tonic, but unprepared modulations, polytonal. It’s in this formal way but also in its tone that Mayer’s quotidian sonnets speak to O’Hara’s personal and deceptively anecdotal, casually detailed poems. They are an encyclopaedic or at least telescopic swerve across a person’s life. But there’s less procedural listing; they are less perambulatory, less flamboyant, their movement is thought, and thinking is observed as something to marvel at. Worries about what might seem trivial, what is tremendous, in a constellation of the universe.
These sonnets are responsive, their form adaptive, guided or nudged by a thought, a momentary experience, a sense and sentiment. But it would be a misrepresentation to see them as heavy on the personal, they ask pertinent questions about perception, politics, culture, the poet’s profession, underpayment or no-payment, socialist thinkers (Fourier), Greek social system and division and community (phratry), and geology (porphyry) and epistemology. They establish poise between extreme introspection and outgoingness with the external world; they suture moments of suspension by way of shortness or pith; for the task is to convey fleetingness but elongate it poetically.
A sonnet’s covenant is anticipation, longing, failure, anguish, disappointment, and pleasure, and these sonnets show themselves to be experts or connoisseurs, rather, in the poses and guises of love-writing.
The foolish desire to wish these slices of life were mine, or written by me, or written for me.
I am untrained in writing about intimacy. But the eye and ear—they are; and really what I should have done, was write a score, and sing it.
 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese IV’, in Poems, (London: 1850), p. 319.  T.S. Eliot, ‘The Music of Poetry’, in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber, 1957), p. 37.
Sophie Seita works with poetry on the page, in performance and in video. She is the author of 12 Steps (2012), Fantasias in Counting (2014) and i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where (2015), a translation from the German of Uljana Wolf. Her videos have been screened in the US, UK, Ireland and Germany. A recent and on-going collaborative project can be seen here. She lives in New York and is finishing her PhD on avant-garde little magazines.
Bricked corridors, buildings bunched
elbow-to-elbow in the blue-shift
of coastal rain. Street-lamps duck
and blush as we pass, fluoride-gazes
eschewing all but their own perimeters
of pavement, vision hung like a bell
in some Pavlovian stoicism. In a corner café
the woman beside me uses “logistic”
too often to describe the process
for naming her first daughter.
Magnetic interferences of other lives,
their corners flush. Rogue patterns
inter-splice our own – how at this age
all my friends are institutionalized by marriage,
how right angles fashion themselves in every
sky-line silhouette and turn of phrase,
how the word alone in this city
is anaphoric to being.
Intervals of buses Doppler past, heavy-engined.
Transit-routes, I’ve read, modeled on the growth
of Physarum polycephalum: slime-mold
mycelia: neural. Appropriations
implicit in every attempt at
a human configuration.
Outside a Starbucks a blind pigeon drags
a scabbed-white leg across the pavement
to pinpoint crumbs littered under tables.
A useless desire slides like anger, nothing I can do about it:
unpin the voodoo between its wings,
let it dream of trees.
I will never assimilate sirens into something familiar.
The phlegmatic cough of the man down the block
collecting cigarettes off the sidewalk
as if they were clues.
Neon bar sign’s chemical slap
igniting like indigestion.
Also, arrivals I did not foresee. Wind shunted up
avenues, smeared on the window panes,
its treatise finding little purchase
among the constancies of the city’s idling.
The extant stirring of a brain
while it sleeps: delta-wave erosion
at the sharp banks of a dream
where the salmon’s rubicund belly
oscillates above enormous rooftops,
its dying spilled out like slit-sky,
a lingua ex nihilo. Nothing grows here,
it mutters through hooked lips.
The goldfish you abandoned on my doorstep when you left
has been left out to October’s scavenge.
The neighbours complain about its death as it lifts
like a rapt eye, pressing all of its certainty in what it sees
against the thin dished bladder of a Ziploc bag.
This particular harshness.
I want no proof that I have lived here,
river’s shore, bones fussed from the single muscle
of a fish by adolescent osprey. What legacies we leave
for others, messages fingered on the kitchen window
suddenly visible in the condensation
of morning’s drained light,
the cusp of a single word, held vowels.
Felt petticoat, leather gloves, Oxford shoes,
every angle conscious of the invisible camera
when you snap your fingers on the cigarette
between them. I would tell you, forget the gridlock
of trying to love in two dimensions. In the distance
the sweep of Granville Bridge mid-yawn above
the inlet in an act of uncoordinated interface.
Westward horizon’s huge arms
fold into each other like a book being shut,
blackness chaptering the sky.
Smoke if it had a sound would be the crow
conducted in its genius opening zippers
or flagging down small roadside tragedies.
The weather’s scanning field littered
with their Morse-code, the dash dot dash
as they push home, pulled like
magnetic flecks of iron across a grey periphery.
Something impinges on the senses
the way there are sounds you anticipate
before the arrival of bad news.
Far away in the north hills, at the fingertips
of highways, mossed Sitka harvest the dark,
seminal, bundling themselves as thick
as marriage vows in the apogee of winter.
Scar tissue when it binds
in one direction:
sap wrung down pale trunks.
All our conversions of amber.
Jordan Mounteer graduated from the UVic Writing Department and has appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Arc, Grain, Prairie Fire, and The Antigonish Review. He recently won the 2014 PRISM international Poetry Prize, and is currently writing bad were-wolf romance novellas in Australia to pay the bills.
They say this glass of London water passed through eight bodies before mine.
Starting near Heathrow. A Sikh cabby. The morning shift.
Then teacher between classes, a young woman, Kiwi, fit to burst.
A Southall market seller, bagging mangoes and bitter gourd.
A man who lives on a Brentford boat, pissing straight into the Thames.
Kevin, who drank six pints last night and has a killer thirst.
A gardener at Kew tending orchids, blooming just one day.
Carrie, just up from bed, still red-raw from energetic sex.
And old man Andy, up the road, downing morning pills.
They say my body is sixty percent this. Blood. Spit. Plasma. Piss.
A constant whoosh and sluice. Tidal. Tethered to the moon
like a walking, thinking sea. I half expect to stretch and flop —
a water balloon about to pop and drench my neighbour
on the Tube with my multitude of juices
in waves — six small splashes then a seventh monster —
enough to drown the Underground.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Sipping my second Bloody Mary, half
way through the inflight movie, crying
again. The kid slips the book to the
orangutan and something snaps. I ponder
the vanity of violence and vengeance
and what I would do in ruined San Francisco
faced with murderous talking primates
in this disease-wracked, decimated world.
I must play more Monopoly with Maddy,
take fewer flights, go for walks around
the Arnold Arboretum, learn identities
of birds from sound alone. But armies armed
to the teeth are sweeping south to liberate
this tired town and time is running out.
A light turns on. Through a window a man in shorts is ironing —
two towers stand dark against the Acton evening —
red tiled roofs, terracotta chimney pots — a line of lights sinking
in strict tempo to Heathrow, beyond the spires and officeblocks.
The man is folding shirts, his life marked by the widespread
presence of mammals and flowering plants —
the rumble of a skateboard, the humdrum of cars on the Westway.
He is a geological force to be reckoned with.
The door closes behind him, the light still on. A cats creeps
along a walltop, across the road, down an alley. Sodium lights pop.
The street submits to echoes and foxes. In the morning
the dustbin men appear with their dayglo and intricate systems
in a place that could spend millions of years buried
and still blackbirds wake me up in spring,
in this city that reveals through crushed structures
that it is unlike melancholy, for instance.
Come and hear Cresswell read at Concordia on Friday, March 13, 2015
Room LB 646 JW McConnell Building. 1400 de Maisonneuve
Tim Cresswell is a geographer and poet who has been widely published
in poetry magazines in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the USA and
Canada including: The Moth, the Rialto, the North, Poetry Wales, Agenda, Riddlefence and On Site Review. His first collection, Soil, was published by
Penned in the Margins (London) in July 2013. His second poetry book—a
book-length sequence set in Svalbard called Fence is being published by
Penned in the Margins in 2015. Interviews with him about Soil can be
found at the Wild Culture website as well as SnipeLondon. He is also the
author of five books on the themes of place and mobility including, most
recently, Place: An Introduction (Blackwell 2014).
After the drill of social punctilios, when curtains are drawn, the blah
blah of bovarism lies peeled in hearts willing to eavesdrop on themselves.
The therapy of truth unveils its secrets: we know our lies better than all
the light there is. After a mortise level on laminate of life, it is meaningless
to tend to every kernel of truth. Attempts to amp this will only end in ache.
The key is to find your calm. If there were a panopticon edge to one’s script
there wouldn’t be need for prophets. To be famed for clerihews is so meta.
Synesthesia bedrocks all impulse. What is the color of your grief?
Pain isn’t proprietary, join the party.
Author of two well-received books of poetry, Suddenly For Someone (Atma Ram & Sons, Delhi 1988) and Nine Summers Later (Har-Anand, New Delhi 1997), Sanjeev Sethi is a media person who at different phases of his career has written for newspapers, magazines, and journals. He has produced radio and television programs. His poems have found a home in The London Magazine, The Fortnightly Review, Solstice Literary Magazine, 3 Quarks Daily, Poetry Australia, Indian Literature, Journal of the Poetry Society (India), The Indian P.E.N., Literature Alive, Journal of the British Council (India), Delhi Gymkhana Club Ltd Centenary Souvenir, The Statesman, The Hindu, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.
Stuck again we came up with something else
Tried gluing the cardboard shards of boxes
To our heads and backs like
The defensive plates and spikes
Of dinosaurs we weren’t but were becoming
Or drove out west like a movie we remember
Where girls feet rest on the dash
Window prism light listening to electric chatter
And music seems part of the sunny world
That is escaping last air from a thought balloon
The gentle breeze backyard backdrop
Of evergreen trees allows a long strand
Of web the faintest visibility floating like
This will be the last word ever spoken
Or overheard no this will—Kalamazoo
But then the Internet didn’t care anymore
Though it went on recording every keystroke
And whoever we were outside of information
We stood together with our chemicals
And held death a little closer to our whispering lips
Now when we text it is barely the memory of bird song
There might be some data or DNA left somewhere
But with no readers who cares what bugs
Are expressing remnants of after images and holes
The whistle’s blown and we are unplugged for good
All spaces branded all space is branded
Each gene known catalogued but totality’s
Unknown totalities unknown plural
Loops and overlaps and the spontaneous
Production of nearly identical individuals
Then is vichyssoise alive as edible coding?
First they brand us radicals
Then they eliminate the concept of the radical
Lift this information through your chemical soup
Loops and spirals and poetic gyres abound
But—gimme shelter—lost lips spell no flies
Shuttling chemical structure to hump new
Chemical structures out of perpetual primal soup
We want to be swallowed by this language
No this language—nucleocytoplasmic shuttling
Oft in dire like this weather this redactical
Sun branch sun cloud reflects sun
Methane bomb shelter gimme time went as we
Species twiddled and sang to lamp light and
Located our deep viral past on a map (you are here *)
Realize we can’t keep saying we but muttering
Totalities script bioinformation in scriptorium
Cells copying thus where diversity lies origin lies
But what’s the frequency, Kenneth Rexroth
And what follows or fallows these fleet fields?
And then we extend the climate of our unknowing
Despite false colour views and massive stacks of data
The moment wasn’t about the symbolic after all
The moment followed a bee
Through the streets of Manhattan
The earth spinning hot on its axis
Was—or wasn’t—more like a tree falling in a forest
Than it was like an instrument measuring CO2
On a mountain in Hawaii—but if a tree falls in a forest
And everyone is already in that tree
Having climbed there to get above rising waters
Does it make any sound? Or is that
Just the noise our limbs make wind-milling in space
As we launch—indexical of our own distraction—
Off the ends of our two hundred year old hockey sticks?
But tell me, Cecilia Vicuña, if you can
Is that bee the last fluttering bastion
Of a cognition that we have undone in our doings?
Or will the herd of boreal caribou coming behind us
Sweep us around Columbus Circle one too many times?
I know, it’s hard to stop coming to America—
The waiting room is the size of the world
Has a sign that says, “Welcome to the Anthropocene”
And all the exits are jails furnished with
Unassembled Ikea furniture with nary an Allen Key in sight.
Stephen Collis is a poet, activist, editor and professor. Stephen Collis is a poet, activist, editor and professor. His many books of poetry include The Commons (Talon Books 2008; second edition 2014), On the Material (Talon Books 2010—awarded the BC Book Prize for Poetry), To the Barricades (Talon Books 2013), and (with Jordan Scott) DECOMP (Coach House 2013). He has also written two books of literary criticism, a book of essays on the Occupy Movement, Dispatches from the Occupation (Talon Books 2012), and a novel, The Red Album (BookThug 2013). In 2014, while involved in anti-pipeline activism, he was sued for $5.6 million by US energy giant Kinder Morgan, whose lawyers read his poetry in court as “evidence.” He lives near Vancouver and teaches at Simon Fraser University.
I used to—with a flashlight—
inspect the bones in my hand
a child’s fascination:
orange phalange glow
but the bones in these hands of mine
moved like worms in there
and I was scared so I called Mum
on a black bakelite telephone
with a dial instead of buttons
and I kept messing up the number
because of the worm-bones I guess
She said it was normal for someone
my age to feel like their bones are
made of worms but honey
she said try and think about noodles
instead and you will feel better
Allison Fairhurst is a poet, novelist, and blogger currently living in Montreal. She is working on an illustrated collection of dream poems that explore the relationship between brain and psyche. She was last published in Bone Bouquet, issue 5.1. She can be found at http://www.allisonfairhurst.com.
You sign in to watch the K-Pop princess
eat three steaks, a bucket of kimchi, ten carp pastries
filled with custard and red bean paste.
You sign in to see her hair, silky
as bull semen, her skin, dewy
as snail slime.
She is size minus ten, but you sign in
to see her eat garlic chicken
with such gusto it lifts loneliness off
your shoulders, loosens your anus.
Your opener is broken, so you stab craters
into a can of tuna, give up,
opt for dill chips and chili dip.
You sign in to see her giggle between spoonfuls
of mayo, to see sauces
accumulate on her teensy chin, to imagine
wiping them off with a spit-damp napkin.
You sign in because your husband is enjoying
the Tuesday night special: beer
after beer after soju after beer.
Your last non-solo meal was you and your sister
sharing a tub of plain yogurt as skim-milk watery
as a half-hearted subway grope.
The escape key is sluggish, blurred
and sticky with horseradish mustard.
You sign in, you sign in,
you sign in, each screen shining
with her charms, that guileless shoveling:
bibimbap, fried okra, sweet potato tempura.
Her eyes, all whites,
rolled back and watching her own baby
pink brain light up with pleasure.
You sign in to enter the scene, turn off
all the webcams, scrape the plates clean.
To smell the pear detergent’s
dim fragrance and to feel
yellow gloves squelch against your fingertips.
To stack rinsed dishes in the rack
as neatly as the unlived lives are folded
in your heart, each one with a sweet splurge
at its core:
banana kick, the perfect kiss,
an appetite to clack chopsticks with.
When I’m an old crone I’ll wear asymmetrical, gem-toned muumuus
and thick cords adorned with ceramic speculum pendants.
Dependant-free, just me and my harpy-self, burlap sack
bursting with razor-lanced caramels and poisoned ring pops.
I’ll learn ballet through spells, pas de chat my way to the local cafe
where I’ll order a carafe of moonshine and a charcuterie plate.
While stuffing my face with fat-spackled pate and pickled cobra eggs,
I’ll riff with my scruffy waiter about mystics. Kabbalah, blah, blah…
On lazy Sundays I’ll shoplift dildos, take blimps for joyrides, juice kale
and the fabbest new steroids, splurging on extra for my Aqua Fit homies.
By moonlight I’ll paint cubist portraits of prolific succubi,
turpentine fumes doing the mess around with my brush strokes.
Yup, in those magic hag years I’ll be so freaky blissed
I’ll cease to exist.
Catriona Wright is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her short stories and poems have appeared in The New Quarterly, Joyland, Prairie Fire, PRISM International, Riddle Fence, Grain, and others. A selection of her poems won Matrix Magazine’s LitPop Award for 2014. She is an associate poetry editor for The Puritan, and you can find her at http://www.catrionawright.com.
i much of the language of this section lifted from Gray’s Anatomy ii language lifted from Gray’s Anatomy iii language lifted from The Malleus Malificarum
C. Kubasta attended Wells College and received an MFA in poetry from The University of Notre Dame. Her work experiments with hybrid forms, excerpted text, and shifting voices. A Lovely Box was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013 and won the 2014 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook Prize. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous journals, including So To Speak, Stand, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Verse Wisconsin, and The Notre Dame Review. Check out her website. She currently teaches English and Gender Studies at Marian University, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She lives with her beloved John, cat Cliff, and dog Ursula.
These last few months have been difficult, knowing that Lemon Hound would be ending, not quite believing it. I’ve been torn between wanting–as has been my feeling from the beginning–to save this as a space for women and diverse voices–and wanting my life back; between knowing that we need to provide more opportunities for writers both in and out of creative writing programs to build their editorial, critical and curatorial skills and again, wanting to get back to my own work; between wanting to transition this space into a course so students could get credit for their work, and be guided in gaining editorial experience, but not wanting to spend even more of my time trying to secure either institutional support or external funding.
It has been frustrating. But ultimately I could not allow the site to go on fueled by free labour, no matter how many hours young writers are willing to give away, and no matter how strongly I believe in the basic premise. Nor could I support and foster the kind of critical and intellectual writing I wanted to post going forward, not without paying authors. I could not build, and I did not want to coast either.
My partner, who has paid dearly for the presence of this blog and magazine in our lives, doesn’t believe it’s over. She knows that I can’t stop myself from sharing, and that has been what Lemon Hound has done best, I think, share, generally with enthusiasm, the work that has come across my desk, and the desks of those who have been involved.
No one will argue with a woman willing to produce good work for nothing Tanis MacDonald wisely noted. No one wants her to stop. Few expect her to stop. Womens’ labour fuels the world does it not?
But I will, stop. And to be clear, this is not a break, it’s the end. There are many other reasons for this site to come to an end, but I’ll save those for another day. For now, I want to remark on the enormous body of material accumulated here, for which I am extremely grateful. Lemon Hound has touched the lives of, and had the great benefit of intersecting with an unbelievable number of creative powerhouses. It has grown from tentative posts to several poems being included in the Best Canadian last year, as well as a Nomination for a Pushcart. I am eternally grateful to all those who have had a hand. However small. I am grateful to those who donated, and subscribed. Also, please check out the posts from these past few weeks–the Winnipeg folio, the Northern BC folio–both amazing. As well we’ve posted Bhanu Kapil, Barbar Mor, Bruce Whiteman, George Murray, an interview with Shane Book and more. The archives will remain for the time being.
There are many to thank, starting with my partner, who has endured the ongoing distraction and disruption. The amazing force of Geneviève Robichaud, who took the position of reviews editor and made it mean something. Thanks to Melissa Bull, Laura Broadbent, Emma Healey, Alex Leslie, Ben Hynes, Alex Porco, Elisa Gabbert, Erin Wunker, Heather Cromarty, Stephen W. Beattie, Tracie Morris, Lisa Robertson, Vanessa Place, Daniel Zomparelli, Adam Sol, Candice Maddy, Wanda O’Connor, Helen Guri, Laura Broadbent, Melissa Bull, Alex Porco, Eric Schmaltz, Tanis MacDonald, Jacob Wren, Aimee Wall, Jonathan Ball, Michael Nardone, Nikki Reimer, Helen Hajnoczky, Michael Turner, Nick Thran, Gary Barwin, Jeff Thompson, Eric Schmaltz, Sue Sinclair Bukem Reitmeyer and many others…especially my students, Alex Custodio and Jake Byrne for these final months.
Thanks to our contributing editors over the years: Christian Bök, Kevin Connolly, Anne Fleming, Josip Novakovich, Evie Shockley, Stephanie Bolster, Darren Wershler, Zoe Whittall, Vanessa Place, derek beaulieu, Madeline Thien, Danielle Bobker, Ken Babstock.
Thanks to Don Share and Poetry Foundation, thanks to all the presses who sent us review copies. Thanks to the Volta, Masionneuve, Quill & Quire. Thanks, thanks, thanks.
Here’s to future endeavours. Yours and mine. But first, it’s off-leash time.
Where is the body in the poem? This is a question I have been asking a lot lately, and will continue to ask as I embark on a collection of essays about poetry. This is not a question the reader will have to ask of Bhanu Kapil‘s work though. The body is right there, in the text. The body is in the word and the syllable. Don’t believe me? Ask Kate Zambreno. But I’ll let Bhanu speak for herself. Buy the book. Follow her blog. We’ll all be happier.
Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches writing and thinking at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, as well as Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal [a project for future children] (Kelsey Street Press, 2009), Schizophrene (Nightboat, 2011), and Ban en Banlieue (Nightboat, 2014).
SQ: You’ve been writing poetry for many years–I first heard about you in glowing terms back in 1999 or so–and yet you’ve just published your second book. Is there a reticence about poetry and poetics, a rigorous poetic practice, a diverse writing life or a combination? Or something else?
SB: I took a long time to send a manuscript out. One of my teachers at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Brenda Hillman, used to tell us to wait eight years after we graduated to publish a first book. But even before Iowa my approach was to actively not think about publishing and just write poems. In the meantime I tried to expose myself to a wide spectrum of aesthetic approaches, styles, poetic practices. Some of the educational institutions I attended were conservative; others were super open. Along the way I started working on different kinds of poems—prompted in some cases by the tenor of the classes, schools, fellow students. Iowa was aesthetically diverse: the program was so big you had a Noah’s Ark of literary camps. It felt like there was room to do whatever I wanted. At Stanford my so-called “experimental” poems were met with silence, which isn’t all that fun or interesting week after week. So I started writing a more discursive, plainspoken verse I knew people would actually discuss in workshop. I kept writing the more adventurous poems as well but would alternate what I turned in: one week I’d workshop a mainstream lyric, another week I’d bring in a strange little piece.
Also, I was writing other sets of poems that fell outside these two “aesthetic poles.” For instance, for a time I was living on an island of the North east coast of Brazil, in the state of Bahia, as an artist in residence, trying to finish what would become my first book, Ceiling of Sticks. For one month I got up every morning and spent all day in my steaming hot studio, writing terrible poems. I couldn’t seem to write anything strong enough to complete the manuscript. Then a mosquito bit me and I contracted Dengue fever and lay in my room in a hammock draped with gauzy mosquito netting, sweating and hallucinating in the tropical heat. A doctor came to check on me and all he said was, You have Dengue Fever. As he was leaving I asked him what I could do about it. He paused at the door and said, If you start hemorrhaging in your brain and you can get on a motorcycle and come to the clinic the next village over, we will give you an IV. I asked him what a cure and he said, There’s no cure, either you’ll live or you’ll die. And then he left.
Ten days later I woke from my fever dream, feeling totally fine and walked straight to my studio and wrote five poems in short succession. It was like turning on a faucet. The poems were totally different from anything I’d ever written. This pace continued for three weeks until I had written an entirely different manuscript from the one I had arrived in Brazil intending to finish. A few of those poems made it into Congotronic.
Fernando Pessoa is a hero of mine for his heteronyms: the different pseudonyms he wrote under, each with his own personality and very different aesthetics, e.g. the poet who wrote like a Portuguese Walt Whitman. Back then, if I had possessed any foresight I would have published my varied kinds of poems in magazines under different names. But I didn’t figure out that I was creating such distinct spaces in poetry until I’d published many of the poems of different aesthetic styles under my own name. It was too late to create a distinct literary personae.
Also, I am very fond of using emulation to figure out how a poet I’m really into accomplishes some technique or effect. Through emulation I’ve embraced and absorbed many influences and have been able to expand my poetic toolbox.
Additionally, when I was starting out, I watched many of my friends rush to publish books and when their books came out nothing happened except that they then tried to get jobs as professors in universities. I wanted to hold off on all that for a while longer. In the meantime I tried to cobble together a life with grant money, residencies, fellowships, part-time teaching, starting and running businesses, and a bunch of other things that involved travel and filmmaking, because I wanted to try to live in the world in a full way, or as fully as I could. Though I was still in a sense living in some proximity to institutions, I was trying not to become institutional in my thinking.
Strange to say maybe but another factor is a certain shyness, a distrust of the whole lust to publish, a discomfort with publishing’s supposed allure. It seemed to me that everyone—my friends and other young poets I read—was trying to write “books” rather than poems. They all had book-length projects, with a theme linking their poems. That seemed completely dreary and for me, unsustainable—I couldn’t imagine being able to stay interested in such a confining structure.
Early on, a teacher encouraged me to just get out there and publish and not care too much, to learn book to book, but then I met Al Purdy, just before he died. This was at his home in Sydney, B.C. I was interviewing him for my undergrad newspaper – or maybe it was a journalism assignment? – and he talked about first books and said that he regretted his early work so much that he still went around to bookstores in every town he visited – and he was a poet who read all over Canada and around the world – and he’d ask the booksellers if they carried his work – I recall him laughing that mostly no one recognized him and how awkward it was when they did, the poet asking about his own work and so on – and Purdy said that if a store had any copies of his early work (I don’t remember if it was his first or second book) he would buy them all and burn them. That didn’t sound like a way I wanted to live.
I liked the poets who were careful about their work and precise about what they collected into book form. Further I’ve always preferred slim volumes of poetry rather than thick books where half the poems seem like drunken first thoughts written down while sitting on the toilet. In the end I did wait eight years until sending a manuscript out to publishing competitions. And I am glad I waited. If I live to be eighty years old I don’t think I’ll be embarrassed by my first book. As a side benefit, not caring about publishing for so long allowed me to wander around in poetry and make a lot of work because I happened to be interested in it at that moment, rather than because I thought it was strategic or fit in with a larger project.
SQ: I really love the book. It feels very contemporary, very familiar, and yet very much its own thing both in terms of poetic concerns, and style. Flagelliforms in particular. Can you tell me about the compositional practice there?
SB: Thank you very much for your kind words about Congotronic. The “Flagelliforms” were something I started a long time ago. I knew it was going to be a serial poem. In a class at Iowa we read Berryman’s Dream Songs and I was struck by the way he wrote in “blackface” in an openly minstrel way and I noticed we never really discussed that part of his work, the casually racist part. In the same class we read a bunch of Paul Celan and Hoderlein and Emily Dickinson and I began wondering what it would be like to talk back to Berryman in the voice of a person of colour, a person of multiple races, a shattered Celan-esque figure who invented inside the language another language. Plus I was reading Pound’s Cantos and Zukofsky’s “A” and Olson’s “Maximus Poems” and someone gave me Nathaniel Mackey’s ongoing serial poem and I thought, maybe I can just get wild with the thought and feeling of a blues-tinged sensibility: incorporate some Middle Passage references and narrative strands. And I wanted a foundation in myth to guide one of the main figures who emerged in the series, so I used the West African myth of Sundiata but imagined him as a person from the future-past, an African Mad Max, i.e. the original Road Warrior. All of this unfolded over many years, though. It wasn’t mapped out or planned from the start at all. As an example, early in the process of composition I was searching for a new sound and I seem to remember applying the OULIPIAN “N+7” procedure to some Robert Frost poems as a way to generate new linguistic registers. Those experiments didn’t survive but they did help me to break into another set of sounds I liked and used for some of the Fleagelliform “voicings.” Actually I’ve written a lot more Flagelliforms than appear in Congotronic. The ones that made it into that book did so because my editor felt they conversed with each other well with Congotronic’s non-Flagelliform poems.
SQ: Why Gilbert Ryle? These are so much fun, and yet not Steinian in their play, a kind of logic at play? I don’t know Ryle, so I’m appreciating them without the full benefit of his ideas, but it seems to me there is some kind of collision going on here. Maybe the argument being played out in equations within the poems lines?
SB: Well I read some Gilbert Ryle, a great British Empiricist philosopher, right after reading Descartes. The Ryle essay I read was a direct rebuttal of Descartes’s ideas. And as you may have noticed there’s a poem in Congotronic directly informed by Descartes’ Meditations. So there’s a kind of poetic-philosophical call and response going on in my book. Also, at the time I started those pieces I was living at a friend’s place in a cabin in the Shenandoah mountains in Virginia. My friend was a witch, like a real witch and I was probably trying to counter all the mysticism in the house by reading philosophy. Ryle struck me as kind of severe and humourless. And I started imagining what would happen if he wrote novellas. Then I started doing some homophonic translations for Lorca and Jimenez and I took some of that language and tried to write some poems as though they were Ryle’s; so some of the titles refer to statements he makes, pronouncements. Then I went to the MacDowell Artist Colony for a couple months and met some eccentric artists there; spending concentrated time with them in a focused environment helped the Ryle poems. I recall being in the wintery New Hampshire woods made me want to write stripped down poems, short things, with music as a determining factor, both in terms of the sonic textures of the words and also in the writing process. I mean I was quite literally writing them while listening to the same small number of free jazz songs, by the great saxophonist Albert Ayler and the great pianist Cecil Taylor. More and more – and this has extended into my filmmaking too – I’m interested in creating things that feel like music or painting or sculpture, in that reading my poems or watching my films or hearing the poems should feel like an experience that can’t really be described adequately, the way it is hard to really describe and summarize music or paintings or sculptures. I want the poems to be an experience in language, on the page and in the ear.
SQ: One more career question: I see you’ve also achieved the kind of track record of writing residencies that most mortals (and almost all Canadian poets) dream of. It looks like divine intervention, but I’m sure it was a lot of work and strategizing as well as exhausting in a way–would you recommend this path?
SB: Unsurprisingly, it takes a lot of work to make time to make your art. OK so assuming that to even be in the running to get the grants and the fellowships you have to be reasonably good at what you do–fine but of course that’s not enough: lots of people are good at what they do too and so the competition is insane. What this means is you have to be continually applying to things, while trying to get even better at what you do and if you aren’t careful you will find yourself applying so much that you’ll begin to feel more like a bureaucrat than an artist. If you don’t mind living with a high degree of uncertainty, living by your wits as it were, hustling, always on the grind, then I would say, this could be a path to take. In reality though, for most people I don’t think it is the right way to go. Most folks like to know where their next pay cheque is coming from!
I have never thought of poetry or writing in general as related to a “career.” I was just trying to survive. Perhaps to my detriment, I have not actually been involved in careerist practices regarding poetry, e.g. I only attended my first Associated Writing Programs Conference three years ago.
The fellowships and grants and all that was my attempt to have as much time as possible to write. When I started out I knew following this path would mean I was not going to have any money. At all. Ever. But I figured that if I was able to be smart about how I lived, I could maybe eek out some sort of quasi-bohemian existence. There were no immediate role models for how to do this within my family so I read a lot of biographies of artists and athletes and scientists, seekers of all kinds – basically anyone who had set out to try to do something singular. This “research” really helped me navigate a way through because I realized the obstacles I faced were actually part of the deal and that others before me had overcome far greater hurdles.
Really all I wanted was the time to do my own work, which involved both learning whatever interested me in no particular order and writing in all kinds of genres and making films. And this life has allowed me some time to write a lot and make movies. I used the rest of the time to read widely, to get up to speed on what had happened in cinema by watching a ton of films (as I did not grow up watching TV or seeing many movies), to see as much painting and sculpture as possible, to listen to a wide swath of music, to travel and live in many different cities and countries. I guess it worked on some level. We’ll see where things go. I say this all now like it was planned—but it wasn’t.
I would tell anyone applying for all the stuff that’s out there, you have to decide what specific grants and fellowships you want and keep applying for them and working on your stuff and not caring when people reject you. You need to have a stupid faith in yourself and the work you are doing, even when all the signs are that nobody else thinks your work is compelling. A strange optimism or a deep vortex of denial—who’s to say what that’s about. Cheesy as it may sound, persistence seems to be the key.
SQ: Do I have to ask how your Canadianness plays out in the poems and/or career or are we beyond that moment? I kind of think the latter, but I suppose I’ve asked it now.
SB: Yeah, I think your instinct is probably correct: you don’t have to ask me that. What’s interesting to me about your question is the phrase “are we beyond that moment?” I wonder what that means. Does it mean that I have transcended/transgressed categories, boundaries or is it a reference to some aspect of what I do in my artistic life?
I do feel and have always felt Canadian. And what that means undoubtedly involves the usual platitudes. I think there was something about growing up in a family of travelers, a family that lived in different countries and was itself made up of multiple nationalities, races, ethnicities, and so on – that seemed to me to be very Canadian. Perhaps this is because I have always associated Canada and Canadians with a certain inquisitive internationalism, an outward-looking curiosity about the world. Also, I have always felt like and been, an outsider. To absolutely generalize – I think there’s a certain quality of the “onlooker” or “spectator” that is part of being a Canadian. This quality of “watching” probably goes along with being from any smaller, peripheral nation: we’re looking to the centres, at what the empires are doing. Then again I have always felt like a citizen of several nations, so maybe that cancels out everything I just said. Apparently, like anyone, I contain multitudes, contradictions and some platitudes, as well.
SQ: It’s more than a month after the fact of our conversation, and now you’ve been nominated for The Griffin Prize, which your early mentor, Brenda Hillman, won last year. Congratulations. How does it feel?
SB: It feels awesome. The news took me completely by surprise. I was in Minneapolis when I heard about it, having gone there a week before the Associated Writing Programs Conference was to start, to finish rewrites on a script with my screenwriting partner, Ilya Simakov, who lives and teaches there. I was sitting in the student union building at the university where Ilya teaches, waiting to meet with another person who was cutting together a trailer for the new film and I opened my laptop to do some work, i.e. check facebook – and I saw like fifty little red notification symbols. I thought, this must be bad news, someone must have died or something so I didn’t click on the notifications. Instead I got on twitter where I found another insanely high number of notifications. By then I was certain that there must be some horrible news lying in wait. I closed the laptop. It took some minutes of walking around the cafeteria before curiosity got the better of me and I finally clicked on the notifications and saw what was up.
At first I felt overwhelmed, I wanted to weep and then I thought, no you can’t cry around all these people. So I got up and wandered the building in a haze, trying to find the exit, for I was supposed to be meeting with the trailer editor in an editing suite in the film department which was in a neighbouring building. Even for a person in their right mind, the building that houses the film department would be confusing; for a person in shock, the place was unnavigable. I just kept walking around and around the empty hallways completely lost.
Eventually Ilya found me and brought me to the editing suite. I told them what had happened and we sat down to watch the cut of the trailer. When the editor asked me what I thought about the trailer I said, Right now my response to everything you say is going to be, “I love it. It’s awesome.”
Then Ruth from the Griffin prize called to tell me she had phoned my parents’ house looking for me and had told my mom the news. Ruth said my mom was very excited, and kept laughing and exclaiming over and over, Where are my glasses?! I need to write this down! Ruth was very calm about it all and suggested my mother have a seat, take a moment and then put on a kettle to boil for a cup of tea.
As the day wore on I felt a wide variety of emotions. I felt joy of course, but also flashes of anger and spikes of sadness, and so on, cycling round and round. As I sat with the feelings I tried to understand where they were coming from — like why would I be angry at such good news? I realized I had been suppressing a lot of feelings surrounding the multi-year odyssey the book went through as it made the rounds with publishers, the months and sometimes years it sat in the hands of different editors at different publishers who ultimately said, It is too different from your first book, or the time it was accepted for publication and then the press decided to stop publishing poetry altogether and the time editors just straight out said No. I thought back to the people who had been harshly dismissive about the individual poems and those who had not supported me as an artist, in other works, I was thinking about “the haters.”
The sadness came from thinking back to all the people I’d known while writing the book, specicially those with whom I am no longer close; I thought of the inevitable sacrifices an artist or anyone with a singular passion makes, the relationships that change and die along the way.
I also recall feeling a mixture of relief and terror. Prior to the nomination, Congotronic had received several good reviews but it didn’t seem like many people were reading it. I had resigned myself to believing the book would fade away. Now, with the Griffin, I knew more people would read it. The relief part I came to understand as an obvious response to the knowledge that because of the nomination the book would not die. The terror part of the equation came from recognizing just how much of this stuff, the fate of your book for example, is out of your hands, and realizing that things could just have easily gone the other way. It is scary to contemplate how much of your life as an artist – in terms of how your work is received – is beyond your control.
SQ: I love what you recall Hillman saying, about waiting eight years to publish a first book, and I share some of your anxieties about early work. There is always so much energy spent around this, so early on—I have had several undergraduates publish first books for example, and with presses that are connected to their professors. My students say they feel enormous pressure to publish, and often seem to say yes to the first offer. In other words, they publish far too soon. Poetry, more than any other art form it seems to me, is so horizontal, one can go a number of years just trying to pull enough strands together to have a firm footing for a first book. Do you think prizes like the Griffin have the potential to signal a different order of “early book”?
SB: I don’t think I understand the question – specifically, “the potential to signal a different order of early book.”
When I was in graduate school and amongst my friends, it wasn’t automatic that one would become professionalized as a writer. Sure there was the business of poetry or “po-biz” as it is called but we were in school precisely to get away from the perceived pressures to publish or get a teaching job or whatever. I do think that the growth of the industry around writing in general has normalized this notion in younger writers that they have to publish early and win prizes and get fellowships and get a coveted teaching job—when the sad fact is there aren’t any teaching jobs, and the prizes and fellowships are rare and one can make a far better living doing things other than teaching.
I just try to write one line and follow that one with another. There’s nothing harder than trying to write good line after good line. Of course “good” is a nebulous term and I’m being simplistic here, but I hope you get what I mean. You write a line that you hope has energy and feeling and thought and singing and you hope that it surprises even you, the writer, and then those lines accumulate, and eventually, with some luck, you have a poem. And after many many poems, you can maybe cull them and assemble a manuscript and then you send it out to publishers and publishing competitions and maybe someone likes it enough to make it into a book. There’s no reason to think about poetry as some sort of career. It’s poetry! It’s not like there’s any money involved. It’s not like the stakes are high: it isn’t life and death or that someone’s fate will be determined by your writing a poem or not writing a poem (at least in most cases). But in that smallness there’s a great freedom. True freedom to do whatever you want. That, for me, is the way to approach the writing of poems. I mean it is so hard to write poems and it takes a long time to feel like you have some tools to work with, a collection of techniques to match the vision you have for your work so that you can accomplish what you set out to do in a poem, that to rush to publish just seems foolish. As I said earlier, it isn’t like publishing a book of poems is going to change your life in any substantial way.
Shane Book’s first poetry collection, Ceiling of Sticks was published in 2010 by the University of Nebraska Press and won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a Poetry Society of America “New Poet” Selection. Prior to the book’s publication, excerpts from Ceiling of Sticks won The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize and a National Magazine Award. His second collection, Congotronic, is a 2014 Kuhl House Poets Series Selection, published in the U.S. by the University of Iowa Press and in Canada by House of Anansi Press. Excerpts from Congotronic were selected for inclusion in The Best American Experimental Writing. Congotronic was recently named to the shortlist for the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. Book’s other honours include a New York Times Fellowship, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and fellowships to the Telluride Film Festival and the Flaherty Film Seminar. His poems have been published in over seventy magazines and twenty anthologies, including Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets and The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. He is also a filmmaker whose work has been awarded numerous jury prizes and screenwriting awards at film festivals around the world and has played on television on three continents. He was educated at the University of Western Ontario; the University of Victoria; New York University; Temple University; the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. You can find two poems from Congotronic here.