Tuesday, September 02, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Leah Horlick

Leah Horlick is a writer and poet from Saskatoon. A 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry, her writing has appeared in So To Speak, Canadian Dimension, GRAIN, Poetry is Dead, Plenitude, Force Field: 75 Women Poets of British Columbia, and on Autostraddle. Her first collection of poetry, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012) was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award, and a second collection, For Your Own Good, is scheduled for spring 2015 with Caitlin Press. She currently lives on unceded Coast Salish territories in Vancouver, where she co-curates the city’s only queer and anti-oppressive reading series.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
            When Alison Roth Cooley and I made wreckoning, with JackPine Press, it was a process of learning to make a beautiful object and a collaborative work out of a beautiful friendship. We were so *in* each part of the process -- Alison made the ink, we soaked the paper by hand, and bound the books ourselves in her attic. Combined with the thrill of getting an ISBN and having a launch, it felt like we really had made the book. 
             In a lot of ways, Riot Lung was felt very solitary and significant, and something about the object coming through the publisher felt like being taken seriously in a different way. I was so fortunate to have been supported by a network of many women reviewing the book -- in Room, in Arc, in Herizons, and on Autostraddle, and that was a gift in the recent climate of sexism and reviewing in Canada.
            Looking back, the poems in Riot Lung are these little yard lights that say "I'm here, too! Look!" and to have those framed within a book was a real dream. My new work is much more about an emotional landscape, and trying to light that particular path.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
            As a personality, I tend to really fixate -- on images, on sounds, on little chunks of narrative -- and poetry is my favourite way to recreate that fixation and share it as a moment on the page or in performance. I have a hard time creating enough of an arc to write fiction that would satisfy me as a reader, and as for nonfiction -- I need the mask of poetry as a genre because so much of my work draws on personal experience. In many ways, I feel like my poetry is a particular kind of nonfiction organized around stanzas and line breaks.

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?
            My process tends to shift -- I used to write very quickly and edit in a way that was more like playing Jenga -- what can I remove without the poem collapsing? After my MFA, I'm much more of a glacier.  I read and re-read. Poems take a long time. Editing is about whittling things all the way down to the bones.

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?
            Riot Lung was very much a collection -- this little string of fires that had been sort of burning away since I was a kid. My most recent manuscript was the first time I'd played with narrative from the beginning. It was exhausting and I loved it. It was like there was another poem waiting behind each draft that I finished; little nesting dolls of poems.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
             Readings are very much a part of my process. I have to read out loud to make sense of my drafts, and since so much of my writing is about being within and outside of communities. A lot of times I feel like the act of reading the poem out loud -- for audiences to see it as part of my body and out of my voice -- is just as much a part of the poem.
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?
            How do you make art that contributes to collective processes?
            What's worth salvaging from the canon?
            How do you create something beautiful out of trauma and grief?
            Can we dream up something new while telling each other stories about the past?      Is this any good? 

7 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
            "To tell is to resist." Wonderful quote -- it's the epigraph from a graphic novel called Killing Velasquez by Philippe Girard, though I can't remember the original speaker.

8 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
            There needs to be walks and tea and a lot of time, a lot of reading, and not very much talking.
9 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

10 - 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?
            Other occupations I have attempted, almost all in support of writing: tour guide, juice barista, burlesque dancer, children's bookseller, retail doormat, and transcription monkey.

11 - What are you currently working on?
            Polishing up the manuscript I developed during my MFA. Co-organizing a reading series. Sunbathing. Tending to my emergent cat allergies. Living the dream.

12 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
            Compulsion, adrenaline, introversion, and love.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Phil Hall, The Small Nouns Crying Faith

96 pages, isbn 978-1-927040-58-4, $20
Toronto ON: BookThug, 2013

Through nearly a dozen trade poetry collections, Perth, Ontario poet Phil Hall’s poems have the durability and devastation of koans, and the envy of poets who encounter them. Much like the books that preceded it, his eleventh trade poetry collection, The Small Nouns Crying Faith (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2013), is deeply immersed in the world and history, yet contained by neither. The Small Nouns Crying Faith borrows its title from the poem “Psalm” by George Oppen, himself known as a “poet of attentiveness,” a quality easily attributed to the more than three decades of Hall’s work. Oppen’s small poem, originally published as part of the collection This in Which (1965), opens with “In the small beauty of the forest / The wild deer bedding down— / That they are there!” with the fifth and final stanza, that reads: “The small nouns / Crying faith / In this in which the wild deer / Startle, and stare out.” Reading Oppen and Hall side by side, the comparisons run deep—Hall composes poems from his Ontario landscape, shades of his darker past, notes on his literary forebears (whom he refers to as his “heroes”), numerous artifacts, and could just as easily reference, at any point, the importance of pausing to listen for deer.


  Our expedition followed her cold-tea stare

to chunks of boiled turnip wrapped in waxed paper in a lunch pail
  near camp that first night the shortest verse in the Bible

was recorded as her only expletive


  Hectares from where her breast had proffered the warmed bottle
was found a cigarette rolling-machine wrapped in a clown costume


  On our last out-bound day we came upon Royal Family clippings

attached to corn-stalks by bobby-pins   all these items (photos/articles)
  we harvested & catalogued   except the pins (rusted/discarded)   note

little brown saw-marks in the corners of the stiff ceremonies


  From Gab’s-Gift-Unsubstantiated
to Skugog Island an au pair

Phil Hall has long been a poet of deep attention, compiling and collecting into an accumulation of poems that speak of artifacts and smallness, and a humanity rarely lived and articulated so well in Canadian poetry. This is his first trade collection since he won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium Award, aswell as being shortlisted for the Griffin Prize, for Kildeer (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011), a collection of self-described “essay-poems,” published as part of BookThug’s “Department of Critical Thought.” Hall’s latest collection of what have evolved into “essay-poems” continue to practice a folk-local, examining the small, local and deeply specific, composing striking lines and phrases that accumulate into individual pieces, as well as sections of a far-broader canvas. Somehow, his lines manage to self-contain in such a way that even a shift in the order might still make the entire collection no less capable, breathtaking and wise. As he writes in the poem “Plum Hollow”: “The failure of order is the work / disorder is not the work.” The collection also includes a small pamphlet-as-insert, “Faith,” a poem-sequence composed up of words and phrases plucked from the book as a whole, selected and rearranged to reveal both something new, and something about the entire project.

  I would celebrate every detail

now I have changed my thinking on that

  no such thing as not being at sea
the alphabet does not end or begin

  wild yet   this inextricable quickening

During the Ottawa book launch of The Small Nouns Crying Faith on June 2, 2013 as part of the AB Series, Hall suggested thatbeing left-handed, it was easier for him to read from the collection from back to front. There is such a great comfort to the work in The Small Nouns Crying Faith, one that knows the important answers might only emerge from important questions, and the level of self-awareness and self-questioning is remarkably rare and deep. If a pen falls in a forest, might anybody hear?

  They hate me in that province to this day

& I them without reason
  once years ago I was judge for a book award

& didn’t pick the friend-to-all who was dying

  it would have been right to give the prize
to that last-effort by that decent man

  but in those days I was all about the work
the work

  which is not a sacred thing   which is not even a thing

but the tracings of a social pact    almost accidental
  always incidental

grudges age backwards   elixir to plonk

  our vowels are slackened
& the folios unaligned
                                    (“The Small Nouns Crying Faith”)

A version of the second of the book’s five sections, “A Rural Pen,”appeared as a limited-edition chapbook with Cameron Anstee’s Apt 9 Press in 2013, a series of (as the author self-described in his acknowledgements) “hacked scrawls,” lifting its title from William Blake to write short and quick meditations with fireworks-momentum. What is continually astounding about Hall’s writing, via his last few poetry collections, is in the series of shifts, whether gradual or sudden, that bolt through the poems. Move your way backwards through his work to the award-winning Killdeer (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011), to TheLittle Seamstress (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2010) to White Porcupine (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2007) and everything that came previous, and you will begin to understand the differences in tone, mood and question. Urban explorations and a dark rural history have shifted entirely to an ease and sense of peace in a country setting, sketching poems and fences and birds. His recent collections have continued his interest in exploring and questioning through collaged-fragments of turned and twisted phrases, composed as poem-essays, but more recently the poems have shifted into poem-essays that explore the purpose, means and goals of the writing itself. Precision is an essential quality to Hall’s poetry, even as it discusses the impossibilities of such precision. The poems question, respond, reiterate and shift, as the hand that scrapes the rural pen moves throughout the world, working to ask exactly what the meaning precisely means, and if that is even possible.

  It can’t be October

in the stove I burn old New Yorkers
  (but always save the William Steig covers)

lake light quavers
  leaning as it again mulls over
the smoke-darkened Rene de Braux painting

  Chris benisoned walls with / now I get to
a man / a cattle-gad on each shoulder
  half-way / no hurry / a Roman bridge
(double arches / quick weed-hints)

  a stuccoed villa set in along a hillside
Ann has taken the Wolf River apples down to Margaret 92
  mornings I try to read page-shaped ash

a quote my fire preserves all night
  from columns it has only one use for now

riven by passion, not profit. We contin

Hall’s isn’t a poetry carved into perfect diamond form, but a poetry whittled from scores of found material to be arranged, pulled apart and rearranged. The poems are important for what they know, what they ask and reveal, and they might tell you, if you know to listen.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

STANZAS magazine + Missing Jacket magazine: some above/ground press bibliographies

Lately I've been digging through boxes around our little house, given that the scattering of some twenty-plus years of activity are in the same location for the first time, and I've been discovering an enormous amount of material I simply forgot about. Part of this digging around prompted me to post a bibliography of two of the journals above/ground press has produced over the years: STANZAS magazine (forty-five issues between 1993 and 2006) and Missing Jacket: writing & visual art (five issues between 1996 and 1997). Not that much earlier, I posted a bibliography of the above/ground press "poem" handout as well, and one for The Peter F. Yacht Club; its slightly out-of-date, but an updated version of such exists in my new Notes and Dispatches: Essays (2014). Perhaps I should keep digging around, and possibly work on bibliographies for drop magazine, and various of the other odds and sods I've been involved in over the years...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Little Red Leaves Textile Series: Beverly Dahlen + Sara Lefsyk

One of my favourite American chapbook presses, Little Red Leaves Textile Editions are edited, designed and sewn by Houston, Texas poet Dawn Pendergast, with the covers for each title produced by materials found from a variety of sources. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about her chapbooks here, among other posts. I keep hoping she might even answer the small press ’12 or 20 questions’ questionnaire at some point, possibly. First off: I like very much how the poem/chapbook of The Rose: A Poem by Beverly Dahlen (2013) is slowly pulled and stretched apart:

death rose

                        immortal rose

mortal rose

the stink of dying roses    black at the heart

hedged  edged  etched  each petal browning

failing   falling

                                    the invisible worm

San Francisco poet Beverly Dahlen’s second Little Red Leaves title—after A Reading: Birds (2011)—is, according to the website, “dedicated to Jay Defeo’s 2000 lb work with the same name.” The reference intrigues, and the internet explains that the late San Francisco visual artist Mary Joan Jay DeFeo (March 31, 1929 - November 11, 1989) was considered to be part of the Beat Generation, and “The Rose” (1958-66) is considered “her most well-known painting,” and one that “took almost eight years to complete and weighs more than one tonne.” Part of DeFeo’s piece is replicated on the cover of Dahlen’s small chapbook. Given the weight of the piece, the lightness of Dahlen’s poem is even more remarkable, able to articulate something of Defeo’s painting, writing “ghastly / ghostly / acid light,” to “sacred [sacrificial] star / dark star / im / ploded [.]” Furthering Dahlen’s ongoing series of response texts, “A Reading,” into the realm of responding to visual arts, I would be curious to hear some of the author’s thoughts on composing such a piece, if she would consider such a straight response, or something even akin to translation.

I TOLD THIS SMALL MAN: if I had a mule, a parachute and long flowing locks, I would jump out of this plane, put you in my shopping cart and push you clean to Brazil where we would change our names, cut our hair and join the local militia. After that, we would lead a small army of chickens to the sea and, after many days of floating, I would catch a small fish and name it Pavlov. Then, we would all jump into the sea and swim until we reached the large island of Europe, where we would start a mariachi band with my birth family and yours and the sun would set and we would all drink sugar water and go to sleep beneath a large curtain of black air.

Boulder, Colorado writer Sara Lefsyk’s second chapbook, after the christ hairnet fish library (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) is the utterly charming A SMALL MAN LOOKED AT ME (2014). Composed as a sequence of short prose sections, the design allows each paragraph/stanza to wrap over to the subsequent page, allowing for something far more compelling than had everything been standardized. It allows an interesting take on the prose, suggesting a more organic and linked progression from section to section. An imagistic sequence of self-contained pieces, each prose-section works to accumulate slowly into the realm of extremely short novella, heading towards a subtle and soft denouement. Where is this short work heading, exactly?