Melissa Bull: Two Poems, Six Questions

In the truck my roast pink mother floats in a piggy nightgown from the Piggly-Wiggly. She’s drinking piña colada. I’ve got corn mash or some kind of corny nosto-industrialized moonshine tourist trap rubbing alcohol. Gag. Bought our bottles at the package store across the marsh crawling with crabs big as silver dollars. Creeping marsh. Southern Birnam. At night we go to see the turtles spawn. My mother’s bunioned footprints sidle turtlefin sandtracks. Underexposed whitecaps flick black and white and back. A centenarian loggerhead’s eye beads. Dinosaur wan. Moon dandles a gelatinous turtle egg.
This is the dream. A horse crucified on a telephone pole stuck into orange desert dirt. The horse’s wounds faucet red. A girl, twelve or thirteen, hair shiny charcoal (like a horse in a Colville), places herself between beast and cowboys. There are two cowboys upright in a kicked-open truck. Rifles cocked. There’s a blue sky. A high-arcing pale blue sky. Blue the colour of a carton of skim milk. One deep-fried cartoon cloud. The horse’s flanks stretch on the post, its breath bagging shallow girths of air.


Lemon Hound: Melissa, we loved your submission, above, and thanks for letting us post now. I have a few questions for you as well, starting with the obvious. Why prose poems?

Melissa Bull: My father was a journalist and I grew up having my writing edited, from elementary school on, with an eye on producing unaffected, accurate prose. He was a tough critic and his initial influence certainly left an imprint on my way of thinking about language. Although generally I’d say I’m more of a prose writer, I love and return to the prose poem. The prose poem’s got some give, some elasticity. It’s got an interesting threshold/hybridity factor. I like the narrative and rhythmic, sometimes hypnotic qualities of prose poems. The absurd fits nicely into the form. I like the way prose poems look on the page–stark and square. I value the plainness of prose poems, and the misleading, paradoxical quality of this plainness.
LH: Why Montreal?
MB: I grew up here. I’m close with both my parents and also with my stepsister, and they all live in Montreal. My stepsister’s a playwright–a generous playwright–she’s always taking me out to plays, and Montreal’s French theatre scene is pretty kickass. This city just generally makes for pretty good living. In ramshackle terms, I live in some swanky digs. Couldn’t get them anywhere else so cheap. I like the river. I like to travel to the south shore of the St. Lawrence, past Quebec City, where my mother’s family is from and where my ancestors settled a few hundred years ago. That resonates with me. The awareness of language, both in the city generally and in my family particularly, the flipping back and forth from French to English, from one way of thinking to the next, isn’t always restful, but it’s a compelling uncertainty. It’s just a part of my makeup and it’s very much entrenched in this geography. While there’s a lot to be said for travel and transience, I feel that this is my home on many levels.
LH: Do you consider your work as inter-textual, or inter-media? Do you fold art into your work?
MB: Sometimes my work is intertextual, yes. Sometimes I roll other pieces into my own, literally, or thematically, or both, fajita-style. I like false translations and taking things out of context. Words have these lateral reverberations for me. I like the way they rub against each other, or consciously echo one another in meaning or sound.
LH: How would you describe your writing practice?
MB: I work as magazine writer and editor. Although it’s a pretty time consuming profession, the advantage of this setup, apart from the regular stipend, is that I’m constantly writing. I’m used to deadlines and the fact that I’m inherently disappointed by the quality of my work doesn’t get too much in the way of my getting it done anyway. This has been a useful lesson. With regards to my writing outside of my job, whatever I’m working on I reread pretty obsessively. Out loud as much as possible. I usually edit stuff for months. Put it aside and edit it again. When I’m really sick of a piece I send it around.
LH: Conceptual writing or Flarf?
MB: I’m not sure how to taxonomize myself. I’m not that schooled in poetics. Stylistically, I’m primarily concerned with sound–although not enough to prioritize it over meaning. I’m concerned with the narrative properties of punctuation. Despite or because of, maybe, being half-French, I value the way the English emphasize brevity, and the angular feel of the more Anglo Saxon English words. I don’t mind a little vulgarity. Keeps things honest.
LH: Who should we be reading?
MB: I go back to Brenda Coultas’ The Marvelous Bones of Time, Roo Borson’s Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida, Rachel Rose’s Giving My Body to Science, Bukowski. Right now I’m reading Roberto Bolano’s Antwerp, Gilbert Sorrentino’s Red the Fiend and Susan Sontag’s journals. Thematically they don’t have much in common, though they’re all evocative, brief. There are a ton of virtuosic writers out there, but these are definitely in the pile. Unabashedly smart and kind of pissy, a great combo. I’m definitely on this Bolano bandwagon going on.

Melissa Bull’s writing has appeared in such publications as Matrix, Headlight, carte blanche, Pistol, ditch, Swamp, Snafu and Maisonneuve. Her chapbook, Eating Out, was published by WithWords in 2009. She works as a magazine editor.

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