Friday, July 25, 2014

new from above/ground press: Ursuliak, Baus, Dyckman + Touch the Donkey

Braking and Blather
Emily Ursuliak

See link here for more information

Eric Baus

See link here for more information

Susanne Dyckman

See link here for more information

Touch the Donkey #2
featuring new writing by Julie Carr, Catherine Wagner, Susanne Dyckman, Pearl Pirie, David Peter Clark, Susan Holbrook, Phil Hall and Robert Swereda.
See link here for more information, as well as a direct link for ordering

keep an eye on the above/ground press blog for author interviews, new writing, reviews, upcoming readings and tons of other material;

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
July 2014
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal (above). Scroll down here to see various backlist titles (many, many things are still in print).

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Rusty Toque interview with Jon Paul Fiorentino

I interviewed Montreal writer Jon Paul Fiorentino recently on his new collection of short stories, I'm Not Scared of You or Anything (Anvil, 2014), newly posted online at The Rusty Toque.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pattie McCarthy, Nulls

THE FOLLOWING IS PLAINTEXT. the poem uses no metaphors. the poem uses no irony. the poem uses no figurative language whatsoever. the poem uses no humor. the poem uses no appropriate eye contact. the poem has a monotonous voice. the poem has difficulty repairing communication breakdown & restarting conversation. the poem uses language in an eloquent but inarticulate way. the poem knows the emperor has no clothes. the poem knows squares don’t have cousins. the poem chews on things that are not edible. the poem is unusually loud. the poem creates jokes that make no sense. the poem creates its own words & uses them with great pleasure in social situations. the poem interprets known words literally. the poem interrupts others. the poem tells no lies. the poem not single spies. the poem has impairments in prosody. THE PRECEDING IS CIPHERTEXT. (“Domestic Cryptography Survey I”)

Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy’s fourth trade poetry collection is Nulls (Grand Rapids MI: Horse Less Press, 2014), which is, as the back cover suggests, a four-section “collage of possible meetings which ultimately lead to birth [.]” I’ve only seen a couple of titles from Horse Less Press over the past couple of years, but this is easily the most attractive, and showcases the fact that this is a press worth paying attention to. The first section, “scenes from the lives of my parents,” appeared as a chapbook earlier this year with Bloof Books, and the short poems that make up the section each begin with a small asterisk and opening line. In many ways, the entire suite of short pieces in the first section is constructed as a sequence of footnotes, broadening the scope of information presented within an unseen source. Perhaps the footnotes exist as the real story, the important moments, between the mundane pieces of living. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

*scenes from the lives of my parents:

my father shaved his head in order to write
a letter upon his scalp & waited
(for his hair to regrow)—whereupon
he set off for my mother & there shaved
his head again to reveal the message.
this was a period of history that tolerated
a certain lack of urgency.

Many of McCarthy’s poems over the years have been composed in part from her apparent love of research into medieval subjects, topics and sources, blended with contemporary, personal and familial references, including her children, all of which come through with an incredible, staccato ease (something she recently discussed in an interview posted at Touch the Donkey). Her poems bounce and leap and have such a wonderful sense of sound and play that I don’t see in most other writers (Sylvia Legris, perhaps, or Emily Carr), as well as playing off a repetition and accumulation that build up to something quite magnificent. As she writes to open one of the pieces in the second section: “WHEN I SAY go TAKE THESE SENTENCES ONE AT A TIME—the / poem may laugh inappropriately. the poem may engage in / sustained and unusual repetition. the poem may prefer to be alone.” And yet, as much as McCarthy’s poems can exist as individual units,they are very much built to live with and even against each other, as Michael Ondaatje wrote in the introduction to The Long Poem Anthology (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1970): “Poems should echo and re-echo against each other. They should create resonances. They cannot live alone any more than we can […].” It is as though McCarthy’s work is slowly evolving as a larger, ongoing, singular work of interconnected works, each composed as book-length units.

I can’t do this orally, only headily.
my sleep today was long but thin.
I don’t like the blinding sun, nor the dark, but best I like the mottled
but the butterfly is snowed, snowed with snow.
the long green grass with be yours & yours & yours . (“Domestic Cryptography Survey I”)

The four sections of the collection—“scenes from the lives of my parents,” “Domestic Cryptography Survey I,” “a poem including a brief history of autism” and “Domestic Cryptography Survey II,” as well as a section of “Sources”—extend many of the threads of McCarthy’s prior concerns, structures and subjects, blended together in such a way that expand on what she’s previously accomplished. Her interplay between medieval and contemporary ideas of women, children, birth, courtship and marriage work their ways through four sections, each of which focuses on a different point in a narrative from courtship through to marriage, childbirth and child-rearing, with the additional thread of autism. As she writes as part of the third section:

John Langdon Down, in his 1887 Mental Affections of Childhood & Youth described a type of child ho, when first dentition proceeding, lost its wonted brightness; it took less notice of those around it; many of its movements became rhythmical & automatic; […] anxiety was felt on account of the deferred speech, still more from the lessened responsiveness to all the endearments of its friends. Down notes other children who at second dentition suffer crises of intelligence having night terrors & not unfrequently loss of speech.

after my third child was born, I worried about post-partum depression. my ‘irrational fear’ was that someone was going to come & take the baby away. but if I confessed my irrational fear to the doctor, would that mean that someone would come & take the baby away? would the fear of someone coming to take the baby away be a reason to come & take the baby away? when I read the history of autism, I can taste that fear again.
it is as tough all of my skin can taste it.

Part of what has long appealed about McCarthy’s work is the way in which she manages to combine research and confessional in such a visceral, personal way, pushing inventive language poetry to very personal spaces (something Ottawa poet Brecken Hancock has been doing lately as well, such as in her recent series of pieces at Open Book: Toronto or in her Broom Broom [see my review of such here]). McCarthy is adept at writing about parental fear and anxiety, subjects that still somehow have the sheen of taboo, despite the growing list of poets managing to write such with incredible power, including McCarthy, Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg. The poems in Nulls are composed with such a primal force over an extremely large and complex canvas, and delve both historically and personally deep. “[A]ll words in fact have private meanings,” she writes. As one of the poems in the second section begins:

to give her something to be anxious about, she was taken to the shock room, where the floor is laced with metallic strips. to give her something to be anxious about, two electrodes were put on her bare back, & her shoes were removed. to give her something to be anxious about, z-process. to give her something to be anxious about, re-birthing. to give her something to be anxious about, he was shot to death in the arms of his aide. to give her something to be anxious about, some children will need more than ninety hours of listening. to give her something to be anxious about, a bit like a radio station going in & out of frequency & will change from left to right ear. to give her something to be anxious about, the process of removing heavy metals.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Control Lit Mag was good enough to publish my short story, “Silence” back in June, in their second issue. Given that some of the spacing is off in their journal, I decided to re-post the piece here (and yet, I am extremely appreciative they were kind enough to accept the story). Other stories from the same work-in-progress have been appearing in various places lately (which is enormously cool, including Grain, The Puritan, Matrix Magazine, Atlas Review and Numero Cinq, with another forthcoming in The New Quarterly.

Books themselves take time, more time than most of us are used to giving them.
Ali Smith, Artful


I awoke from a dream of fire. In my dream, I was standing alone in our two-bedroom condo, which morphed into a three-storey Victorian house. The flame was deep. The air sparked.
            White curtains shriveled. The pulse of my footprints burned into the hardwood.
            The fire surrounded me, feral, and grew. It concurrently curtseyed, swung, screamed running, jumped bare boned and stood, stock-still.
I wake, woke, startled. A confusion of tenses. Bedsheets damp at my chest and my belly, smelling of sweat-musk.
Asleep on my left side, I pushed slightly back, jostling against him just enough to hear him grumble, feel his slight shift of torso. Make room.

We settled, both of us, and melted, returned immediately to sleep.


I don’t know anything about you.

At thirteen years old, she salvaged three books of matches her mother had abandoned on the kitchen counter. Each held a busty outline with neon lettering, plucked from her father’s laundry.
            From the back step she caught the firefly of passing headlights sprinkle up from the highway, through summer dark. The evening settled, inch by noticeable inch. She flicked matches, lit, at the moon.
            The moon rose, orange-pink. She did not know the name of it. She did not know that each moon had a name. Pink, Wolf, Harvest. Errant Blue.

The breeze stole the last of the matches and flung it, mid-air, into a stack of cardboard, set resting against the house. Before she could salvage it, flame began to devour. Cardboard refuse smoldering slow from the inside. It took. Burning cardboard, up against brick.
            She panicked. She stomped with her feet and mashed the worst of it out and the rest in succession, ash floating free in small gusts.


What is often most important is what is the most mundane. The jars beneath the kitchen sink. The coupons that created her stockpile. Dish soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cereals, toilet and tissue papers, diapers, wipes, crackers and salad dressings. This is what has kept us, she knows. What stretched them beyond their small incomes. It had helped make them strong.

Her father’s only advice: never pay full price for anything.

She clipped and saved, negotiating the spaces between the world, between commerce and income.

Couponista, she called herself. It was more soothing, even impish, compared to what her husband had named her: crazy coupon lady.


I woke from a dream, which was a dream of fire. My skin was warm, and yet, would not burn. I was hot metal naked, deep through the conflagration. Not a hair on my body was singed.
            In the mirror, I could see only what the fire had left.
            It flickered deep inside me. I felt the flame harden blue, low in my abdomen, resting just on the bladder. The baby kicked, and I became agitated. I feared for my baby, trapped inside with the fire. I clawed at my belly with hands and fingernails, finding little but blood.
            And then I stopped, realizing that the baby wasn’t trapped inside with the fire. He was the fire.
            My skin froze. Water vapour rose from the surface.
            And I was afraid.


According to stories, what Gilles de Montmorency-Laval, Baron de Rais caught first was the smell. It was May, 1431, and he had arrived too late to save the maid, Joan, from her death at the stake.
            The skin blisters, bubbles, burns. Skin blackens, fades and slowly crumbles to ash.

The sight of my old flame: a meaning that didn’t emerge until far later, into the 1840s.
            Joan, burning up into fable, and legend. Cremated, burned alive. De Rais arrived too late, and spent subsequent years killing and burning the bodies of young boys and girls, releasing the scent of burnt flesh. He might have killed hundreds.

He, who has been falsely identified as the model for Bluebeard.

He killed, savagely. By recreating the loss, he had also recreated the moment immediately preceding that loss, when his life with his near-lover Joan was still possible. He burned.
Is this love turned impossibly ugly, or a form of pure narcissism?

Whatever might have been beautiful in him had been broken.


I don’t think I am afraid of my unborn child. A flutter, evolved into a kick. The sensation is impossible to describe, but for what is obvious: the feeling of being kicked from the inside.

I dream cannibal dreams. Sometimes I am ravenous, violently attacking everyone around me, and feeding off the remains. Sometimes I am the one being consumed, from the inside. Like some dark version of Victorian consumption, a cough bleeding into white linen. To waste away in a sigh, the back of my right hand affixed to my forehead.

I am afraid of what I do not yet know. I am afraid of fire. This soft, growing flesh within coincides with but one of those fears.

Most days I am certain which one, but other days, I am not sure.


It is not uncommon for pregnant women to dream of being devoured.
Geena Davis in The Fly (1986), and her nightmare of giving birth to larvae, the result of her husband’s terrible metamorphosis.

They say to know a person is to read what they’ve written. I write in my journal, daily. I wonder what it might say about me.

There is a lonely teenage boy in every pop song.


The way you can see heat in the air outside, shimmer. My father, who once melted aluminum siding along one side of the homestead, unaware of the potential heat generated from the back of his barbecue.

From my third-storey vantage point, a sequence of neighbourhood cats skulk about, each with their own shady purpose. This Saturday afternoon deck, and the yard behind ours, as small children scream through their turns on the swingset.

I am learning to filter out everything.

Monday, July 21, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Steven Seidenberg

Steven Seidenberg [photo by Kevin Killian] is a San Francisco based writer and artist. His first book of lyric, philosophical prose, Itch, was released from RAW ArT Press in January 2014. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, most recently Null Set from Spooky Actions Books, and is co-editor of the poetry journal pallaksch.pallaksch.

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

Constitutionally dissatisfied with the reception of his work, Kierkegaard postulates a readership only brought into existence by the advent of the work itself, an ideal reader ineluctably surrendered to its pull. He fails to suggest, however, the ways in which the artist is reciprocally conscripted into novel pathways of provenience by the same communal forces, fixed to fit the community such supplication seeks, regardless if that posture takes the form of approbation or rebuke. I wrote in relative isolation for many years before seeking public airing in the past few, and though I can’t entirely delineate the ways in which the turn from the prospective possibility of readers to an actual attempt at the inveiglement of such has changed the nature of what I’ve done since, the distortion of the work by its reflection in a readership–no matter how limited–ongoingly transforms my picture of the project limned by that reflection.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry and philosophy at the same time, other forms of narrative too, which in youthful isolation seemed all ‘of a piece’, an early insight still intrinsic to my work, prose and verse alike. My life as an academic philosopher–now behind me–was equally structured around a reading of the canon as narrative, and the pursuit of the Husserlian epoche–eccentrically understood as the first moment in the construction of a ‘Naturphilosophie’–by chiefly lyric means.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Everything I’m doing responds to what I’m reading, and I often begin with a reading agenda that can take years to complete. Sometimes the writing is coincident with that project, sometimes what happens in coincidence is subsequently appropriated to some other end. In all instances, the product comes from long periods of working and reworking–in the case of Itch, it was a full 5 years of continuous, daily writing and revision.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Fragments composed in aggregation. I almost always conceive of poems in cycle, although I don’t always need them seen within that generative consecution. As a prose writer, I’m interested in exploring a form between lyric aphorism and argument laid out in propositional series–the ‘plot points’ of the fiction turn on the transition from premise to conclusion, to premise again, and the same text read as didactic prose presents fleeting renderings of visceral states as both material for and manner of deduction.

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

I think of reading as its own work, requiring its own preparations, goals etc. To this end, the enunciation integral to the act of composition is distinct from the ostensive performance of the same.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

The centrality of philosophical literature to my practice brings such concerns to the forefront, but also makes them difficult to explicate to those not similarly possessed. One begins at the beginning, at the risk of appearing impossibly pedantic and obscure: Kant’s germinal position in pursuit of the limits–thus the possibility–of philosophically coherent knowledge equally yields the confines of any meaningful engagement with ontological concerns, whether of exhortative or aesthetic nature. The system thereby underpinned reveals the compulsory character of the question posed most effectively by Leibniz, most famously by Heidegger (Why is there something rather than nothing?), but with the concomitant realization of the essential failure–the ‘fallacy’ or ‘amphibology’, in Kant’s polemical formulation–that confounds any stab at intelligible answer. A joyous, desperate wallow in the aftermath of this disaster directs my particular brand of lyric eschatology, conceiving of the material superfluity of representational forms as a loophole in the metaphysics of imaginative reasoning.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I don’t see any one role for the writer, nor any singular culture that can be similarly circumscribed. There are multiple roles in every next cultural convergence, each requiring some new variance of acculturations–an infinite regress of shifting foci, set on shifting grounds. The least common denominator, the dying need not admit of their condition to realize the benefits of hospice.

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

Neither–not particularly difficult, occasionally useful.

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

‘Every position is a failure. The successful failure reveals its necessity.’

(Advice given to me by the philosopher John Findlay, claimed by Findlay to have been given to him by Wittgenstein.)

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to lyric prose to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
All three genres have always been a part of my practice. I do find differences in the character of query available to each, thus the continuing drive to write both poetry and prose. The poetic voice addresses what the narrative voice discovers, and visa versa. My commitment to critical prose has waned in recent years, and generally requires some kind of outside motivation–a request or advantage emanating from some otherwise indifferent quarter.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

It depends on what I have to pay for, what I have to do for pay, and where I am in various reading agendas, set considerably in advance. When I’ve outlined a project, I’ll write for a certain number of hours a day, wage labor permitting. If I’m between contracts, I’ll read for a couple of hours/write for a couple of hours/repeat, and sequester time for visual work.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read and reread. I pace. Play music. Reading while pacing helps.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Pavement drying in the sun. Camphor and old paper.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I also work as a visual artist, and on projects in contemporary archaeology in collaboration with my wife, who’s an archaeologist by trade. In short, I find challenge and novelty in the work of many painters, sculptors and photographers; in various forms of artifact collection/classification; and in simultaneously pursuing material culture analysis through a distillation of aesthetic judgment and analysis of the aesthetic through a distillation of the mechanisms of production.

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

It changes in accordance with each present project/focus.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Trout fishing. Learn to use a lathe.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Some form of inductive work, another indulgence of my intermittent (seemingly autonomic) obeisance to the delusion of revelation.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I write in addition to other practices, and each involves an attempt to respond to the quandary (or set of quandaries) explicated above, in relation to which one wants to give to others what one has gotten from them–an ecstatic surrender to this dialectic of antinomies.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Words in Blood, Like Flowers, by Babette Babich

Recently saw ‘The Third Man’ in theatre.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m in the process of revising another book length prose work, called Situ, and in the middle of a long cycle of poems called ‘Exile,’. Also in preparation for a show of photographs.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Renée Sarojini Saklikar, children of air india


This is a work of the imagination.
This is a work of fiction, weaving fact in with the fiction,
merging subject-voice with object-voice, the “I” of the author,
submerged, poet-persona: N—
who loses her aunt and uncle in the bombing of an airplane: Air India Flight 182.

This is a sequence of elegies. This is an essay of fragments:
            a child’s battered shoe, a widow’s lament—

This is a lament for children, dead, and dead again in representation. Released.
This is a series of transgressions: to name other people’s dead, to imagine them.
This is a dirge for the world. This is a tall tale. This is saga, for a nation.
This is about lies. This is about truth.

Another version of this introduction exists.
It has been redacted.

And so opens Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s first poetry collection, children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Gibsons BC: Nighwood Editions, 2013), recent winner of the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry. children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections is an investigative book-length study into the facts and fractures of what has been referred to as “Canada’s worst mass murder”—the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985 that killed 329 people, including 82 children. Working from a vast archive, from newspaper reports to personal stories, Saklikar’s investigation through the material left behind and generated by such an event to create a rich and complex tapestry of grief, absence, rage, incomprehension, compassion and all the internal and external systems that surrounded the trajedy, including the “Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182,” which wasn’t released until 2010, and the subsequent trial and acquittal of the accused: “there is not reconciliation. There is plausible and implausible. / Catastrophic and unreasonable, / Eighty-two children under the age of thirteen. There is time-consuming and / inconvenient. / There is manual and reasonably balanced. There are costs.” (“from the archive, the weight—”). Throughout the collection, poems exist as examinations of what remains, composed as a sequence of autopsies, archaeological studies, explorations and regret at such a loss of human life and potential, reported to and by the narrator, described only as “N”:

Informant to N: in the after-time

My name is [redacted] and my mother was [redacted].
I was three months old when my mother died.
I am without memory of my mother. I am not familiar with this record of events.
June 23, 1985 and after.
I get older. I am her only child.

For such a weighty subject matter, Saklikar’s thoughtful questioning works through language as much as it does through subject, managing a playful display of sound and shape, allowing form and function to ebb and flow, strike and slice as required. Saklikar’s book-length investigation of such a tragic event through poetry is reminiscent of other recent titles by Vancouver poets, including Jordan Abel’s The Place of Scraps (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], Cecily Nicholson’s From the Poplars (Talonbooks, 2014) [see my review of such here] and Mercedes Eng’s Mercenary English (Vancouver BC: CUE Books, 2013) [see my review of such here], each of which explore, engage and challenge a series of dark histories through various experimental poetic forms. As Saklikar writes in the poem “C-A-N-A-D-A: in the after-time, always, there is also the before…”: “each story-bit / a laceration / inside her deep down / secrets / dismembered / one limb after another— / incident as saga, saga as tragedy, / tragedy as occurrence / so what a plane explodes / so what people die, they die every day / in her body, blast and counter blast / (Air India Flight 182) / her story and the stories of other people / interact—a toxin?” As Saklikar, who lost an aunt and uncle in the attack, responded in a recent interview conducted by Daniel Zomparelli for Lemonhound: “My hope for children of air india, which by the way comes to me only now, after the fact of writing it, is that readers/listeners will view it as a site of query, of contemplation: what does it mean to lose someone to murder, on both a micro-level, that is, on a personal level, but also within a macro-context, within a public event.”

Testimony: her name was [redacted]

She was seven years old.
Her mother said: she was full of life.
Her mother said: she was very pretty.
Her mother said: she loved to dance.
Her mother said: she loved music.
Her name was [redacted].
She was seven years old.