Sunday, November 23, 2014

Garth Martens, Prologue for the Age of Consequence



112 pages, ISBN 978-1-77089-319-1, $19.95
Toronto ON : Anansi, 2014
reviewed by rob mclennan

In his poem “Storm,” Garth Martens writes, “Outside the sun is gone and there is only blackness, a fog of black.” In his debut collection, the Victoria writer attempts through a series of lyric poems to articulate the physical, ethical and human concerns of those who labour in the Alberta oil fields, as well as the implications of the industry for the rest of us.
From the poem “Seizures”: “Here, the lineated darkening sand, the cooling rock, / Laura ten paces ahead. Skimming a foot / in the water as the waves tossed, / she said, I’m hanging / by a thread.” This rough and demanding series of incredibly dense and tactile poems, some of which are composed as character studies, and others as extended scenes, accumulate to form a book stretched out over a wide canvas of various perspectives.
            The Canadian idea of work poetry was loudly championed throughout the 1970s and 80s by poets such as Tom Wayman, Kate Braid and Phil Hall, all of whom still persist in their poetic explorations of that topic, and yet, the conversation around work poetry and work writing has become relatively quiet. That said, this is not the first poetry collection about the Alberta oil fields, after Toronto poet Mathew Henderson’s The Lease (2012) addressed the same phenomenon and was shortlisted for both the Trilliam Book Award for Poetry and the Gerald Lampert Award.
            In light of these two volumes, it will be interesting to see how conversations around work poetry might re-emerge, and to see just how our understanding of work and poetics has evolved. It is curious that Henderson and Martens use formal poetic language rather than the plainer speech of Wayman and his contemporaries, while still acknowledging the value and grace of physical labour.
Some of the more compelling pieces in the collection, such as “Mythologies of Men” and “Dreamtime,” sit on the boundary between prose poetry and short story. There is a linguistic heft to these poems, and even a gymnastic twirl; in the title poem, Martens writes: “We deplanted currencies, tribes. Machines began / to count even the motes of the soul / adrift in the microwavable / avatar country of the digital.”
Unlike a work such as Cecily Nicholson’s 2014 From the Poplars, which turns a highly critical eye to her subject matter, Martens' explorations are more descriptive than critical. Yet his explorations shine an important spotlight on a series of activities rarely discussed in Canadian writing. These are poems very much composed by someone who seems to understand the fields: from what they demand, and just what, in the end, they might cost.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Endi Bogue Hartigan

Endi Bogue Hartigan is author of two books of poetry. Her second book, Pool [5 choruses], was selected by Cole Swensen for the 2012 Omnidawn Open Poetry Book Prize and published in April, 2014. Her first book One Sun Storm (Center for Literary Publishing, 2008) was selected by Martha Ronk for the Colorado Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She published the chapbook out of the flowering ribs in 2012 in collaboration with artist Linda Hutchins, which includes a long poem and drawings stemming from a joint process-based exhibit, silver and rust. She has new work forthcoming in Denver Quarterly and New American Writing. Her poems and selections have been published in Chicago Review, Verse, VOLT, Pleiades, Omniverse, the Feralist, Free Verse, The Oregonian, Tinfish, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, Insurance, LVNG, Quarterly West, New Orleans Review, Peep/​​Show: A Taxonomic Exercise in Textual and Visual Seriality, Yew, Northwest Review, Antioch Review, and other magazines as well as the anthologies including Jack London is Dead (Tinfish, 2012), and Salt (Nestucca Spit, 2005). In recent years, she has created collaborative work as a member of 13 Hats, an artist writer collective, and has been a member of the collective which organizes the Spare Room reading series. She co-founded and edited the poetry magazine Spectaculum, publishing long poems, series, and projects best presented at length. She is a graduate of Reed College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She has lived primarily on the west coast, and as a child, in Hawaii. She has worked for many years as a communications professional in a public policy environment for Oregon's university system. Her home is in Portland, Oregon with her husband, poet Patrick Playter Hartigan, and their son, Jackson.

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 I started writing the poems in One Sun Storm this was the first time I felt a body of work growing together instead of singular poems; the poems were echoing and crystallizing and breaking from each other. One Sun Storm’s landscape was largely at the interstice of the personal with natural and cultural perception, and I was working with lyrical/diaristic forms, but also branching out formally. I was wrestling with singularity, its burning point and dissolve, both in language and experience. This book led me into edges and complications of lyric, some of which were realized there, some which came after.

Pool [5 choruses] felt like a distinctly different space to write in for, though I think One Sun Storm made more multiplicities here possible. In Pool, I was much more oriented toward the public and political world, though continuing to experiment with a particularly porous, fluctuating lyric. A public sense pressed in on me in ways it had never before, during our post 9/11 years of war, economic troubles, etc. I felt that I was writing within the pressure of public “noise” of elections, war, etc. (important noise in many ways albeit a kind of rhetorical pressure), and thinking about what it is to write in a lyrical mode in this context. The chorus came to me as an entrance; engaging multiple voices and layers felt necessary to me in some way in this highly charged language landscape. It was an entirely new and in many ways troubling experimental space to work in and I had to listen to these poems carefully as I wrote them over time to navigate them forward.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have never seriously tried to write fiction or creative non-fiction—I feel like poetry in itself is such a vast territory to explore and inexhaustible in many ways. I started writing in my undergrad years at Reed College and had long been interested in poetry though had only glimpsed it through the trees. I thought I would study physics, but ended up being far more taken by the humanities than by the science, and drawn to writing. I took some time off before finishing my degree there, moved to California for a while, and really began reading poetry voraciously at this time. Once I started reading poetry seriously it became part of my experience of living.

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?

Each of my books took 5-7 years.  I write many notes but what I sift out of them is pretty minimal, and these pieces   crystallize and are remolded into poems over time. Even if the first lines or notes come relatively fast, which varies, the notes stay with me on my desk for some time and transform, and I experiment formally as I do this, so there are so many stages of reading and writing and different finalities.  For a long time in this stage, I wouldn’t even consider it revising so much as listening the piece forward.  Once it gets to a certain point of realization as a poem, then I consider it revising.   I generally like to live with a poem for a while and keep reading it, and reacting to what I hear, before I know that it is there as a poem.

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?
With both of my two books I knew that I was working on book length manuscripts but they were relatively loose groupings, for a long time, with pieces coming in and out of them.  In general I see poems growing in something like constellations, occupying a common space and growing in conversation there. Once I see that forming, I can recognize the space I am writing from in a general way, and there are any numbers of particular streams I can step into and expand from, formal directions or subjects that keep the thread moving. I have three such “constellations” on my desk right now.  Poems often begin from lines that catch in free writing notes, images or sounds or formal methods that I decide to expand, and see where they turn. My sense of project has certainly changed as my life changes. For example, I started writing the poems in One Sun Storm shortly after the birth of our son, Jackson. I think that the intense presence needs of parenting forced me to find ways to dwell in my work even when I didn’t have time to be at my desk, and as a result I found myself carrying pieces with me and percolating over them for longer periods, which changed the work.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes, definitely; and though I’m a bit of an introvert, I get a lot from reading and enjoy it. I hear the poems differently when I read them to an audience and this hearing can be teaching at a certain point in the process. I also read them to myself at my desk, with this in mind. With Pool [5 choruses], I had the chance at one point in writing this to participate in a poly-vocal poetry festival organized by Spare Room in Portland, and it was particularly generative for me have friends join me in reading some drafts of the choral poems. Once a poem or book is finished, the reading becomes a way of entering the conversation of the book and finding out a bit about what touches whom, when, where.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don’t think about answering questions through poetry. I navigate questions, yes, but in the process if I am predisposed to answer something then the poem is lost to me.  One question is probably how to be present, or, what is presence, how does it move? Even from this I can fill in all kind of cascading phrases to presence, like presence in loss, presence in love’s compass, presence in the imagined cusps of possibility, presence in cultural noise or voice or silence, presence in electric sounds or kelp forests, presence in the continual undercurrent of war or the TV graphics of morning news,… you get the picture.  I am also interested in errors of presence, how we can position or over position ourselves, the way that reference or identity has both an imperative and a potential of separating.  I think poetry can give entry-ways and possible modes of being and moving through experience, or as Williams wrote of memory in The Descent, “new places/inhabited by hordes/heretofore unrealized…”

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?

In terms of what a writer’s role should be in our larger culture, maybe the only “should” is there should not be just one answer. I will say that there is a kind of uncharted hope in writing, to be an original experience, or to sing or speak or otherwise use language in a way it was previously unspoken or unsung. We have so much language and information around us now, but the uses of language often come in decided, pre-packaged, inherited phrases that float in the structures around us –(from useful “please pass the salt”   language, to the drum of advertisement slogans, to the stream of data analysis, TV news, spectacle reports, etc.). I think poetry can awaken language in unexpected ways, to pique our sensitivities to how we receive and articulate and move our spirits through this world, a world that holds simultaneously horrors and losses and purple tulips and infant eyes. I’m drawn to poetry’s potential role to navigate modes that cross multiple experiential planes at once— sensory, emotional, cerebral, political spiritual, more, many combinations of which feel uncharted to me. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. The editors of both of my books have been very insightful and professional, first Stephanie G’Schwind at the Center for Literary Publishing, and now Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan at Omnidawn.  I admire much work that these presses put into the world so came to both with great respect, but learned even more from the process and the care that I saw go into it. My books were selected through the Colorado Prize then the Omnidawn Open contest, and in both cases there was close collaboration with me in the production of these books, and I was grateful to be able to benefit from my editors’ knowledge. As one example, Rusty was particularly insightful when I faced some line decision challenges with Pool [5 choruses]—I write on a standard 8.5 x 11 page with widely varying line lengths, and this brought up hard decisions about what to do with long lines in the book size page. She had faced this issue with other writers and had wisdom to offer in terms of strategies. Her care in talking with me through those decisions was extremely helpful, and now when I pick the book up, I don’t second guess those line decisions at all.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I’ve learned from so many people, I couldn’t say what is the best. But here is one nugget of advice that stuck with me over the years—from Jorie Graham. I was finishing my MFA in Iowa and the self-conscious pressure of that environment sometimes felt stilting to me—I was struggling with the intentions I had for poems messing with the poems. I started going to sit in the dark quiet of the university natural history museum and staring at a taxidermied peacock, and writing about/from that image. I shared with her the draft of what I was writing, and I remember Jorie suggesting to me, “Don’t write the poem of the peacock. Write the peacock.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (your own poetry to collaboration)? What do you see as the appeal?
In the last few years I have collaborated more than I ever have with visual artists and other writers, largely through my participation in a group called 13 Hats here in Portland, and also through conversations with the artist Linda Hutchins whom I initially met through that group. It has not been easy, but it has been engaging and generative for me to do so. 13 Hats was a group of visual artists and writers who worked together on collaborative projects and prompts over the course of two years, culminating in several exhibits and publications.  As part of working together, we had regular deadlines for submitting pieces such as at a monthly meeting during which we submitted creations to a “box” project. The biggest challenge for me was letting go of work that felt very much mid-process, letting it enter the collaborative space before it was finished and before I would have been ready, if I was left to my own devices. This challenge was fertile for me in the end—it allowed me to be playful in new ways, and I found that all kinds of cross-pollinations were occurring by the fact of this mid-process exchange.  

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?
I almost always have extended weekend time to write, thanks to my husband Patrick and son Jackson who support me in this. I usually write on Saturday mornings/early afternoons, and also earl weekday mornings before work as often as my body can handle it. I work a regular 8-5 work week, doing communications and policy work for the state higher education system, so that is the focus during my week days. Evenings are devoted to family and reading. The key thing for me is keeping the thread of my poetry projects in mind. Even if I just have a short writing time for a few days before work, part of my mind will keep percolating on it throughout the week. I bring a notebook with me everywhere and sometimes jot down ideas, lines, to take up later. I make most headway on my writing on the weekends though, when there is space.     

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing gets stalled it’s usually because I’m not giving it enough time, or not doing things that feed my imagination like reading and running and staring at an empty white page.  I think even the action of staring at an empty white paper is creative, and I don’t worry about inspiration so much as giving my mind space to work.  In terms of reading, when I am feeling stalled, my strategy is to get out of this century, or this country, or both. I sometimes go back to something very old, Sappho or Sophocles, sometimes Blake or Lorca or Dickinson. Sometimes I’ll look for something in translation from another tradition that I haven’t read before (one recent fortunate find here was Valerio Magrelli). 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
In Portland, the smell of rain or drying rain, many variations. As far as my childhood home in Hawaii, sawdust feels sentimental to me. My dad was a carpenter and there was pretty often sawdust somewhere. 

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?
The natural world is a source of necessary exchange with my imagination. I am not exactly an outdoors adventurer, but I run and walk frequently and I think through my writing during this time. I have certainly been influenced by visual artists in some recent work, but it varies widely by project. I had a very generative conversation/collaboration with artist Linda Hutchins, mentioned earlier, about simultaneity which led us to doing a joint art show together. She drew on the walls of a gallery using all ten fingers simultaneously by drawing with silver thimbles on her fingers, and I wrote and read in the space. This ultimately led to a long poem and collaborative chapbook we produced together, out of the flowering ribs, in which the gestural touch-points of her drawings influenced my thinking about language’s touch-point.  This is my most direct involvement with visual art lately. I am also drawn to the artist Betty Merken’s work, whose painting is on the cover of Pool [5 choruses], and am hoping to find an entrance to it engage it in writing.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many different writers have been critically important for me at different times, so I could probably write a very long chronicle, but I will name a few whose work for one reason or another turned me forward in some significant way. Inger Christensen is important to me lately. Reading Alphabet in particular opened up something for me that I have been chewing on for some time, in terms of engaging actualities through lyric variations. My husband Patrick Playter Hartigan’s poetry has been important to me for many years. Here are just some of the poets who have been important to my work at various times from recent to past: Anne Carson, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Taggart, Nathaniel Mackey, Leslie Scalapino, Wislawa Szymborska, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Jorie Graham, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, W.C. Williams, Wallace Stevens, Federico García Lorca, William Blake. This inevitably feels incomplete.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to think more about incantation. I’d like to simply experiment with new ways to write. In particular, I’d like to try experimentation with constraints to my process such as writing on particular days or in particular locations, marrying these constraints to the particular subject explored. For example a couple years ago I was writing poems on index cards on buses during my daily commute.  This seems to be an interesting challenge/opportunity as my days have become pretty complicated. I would like to let my life be a kind of weather to the poems and see what happens.   

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?
I would like to think I might have been a physicist after all, but I probably would have been a terrible physicist, and my interest in those edges of knowledge was probably largely an entranceway to poetry for me.  Ultimately I would want to focus more on helping people. I’d want to do work that improves the physical and economic conditions and quality of people’s lives, maybe as a doctor or teacher or social worker, so that I could look back on my professional life ultimately and see where my actions touched.  I work for the public higher education system right now, where my work supports initiatives for affordability and student success in the public colleges and universities. I am passionate about public education opportunity, so I see such touch-points there, and I feel fortunate to have this in addition to my poetry.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Reading… the openings and transformations it offered.  My friend Mary Szybist asked me many years ago why do I write, and I remember answering “I write because I can’t.” In some ways that’s still true. I don’t so much mean it disparagingly though there is definitely that; what I meant is that it is inexhaustible, it is a way of exploring and reaching and experimenting and questioning and offering modes of presence to others—there is always the next poem, always something invisible and unrealized and necessary.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I loved Gillian Conoley’s Peace— whose work has such enchanting expanse, perceptive specificity and sense of compassion, it kind of turns me inside out. As far as film, I recently watched again, after many years the Japanese film After Life, a 1998 film by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, and I think I will forever recommend this—great film. The movie takes place in the limbo between this world and the afterlife, which is a ramshackle schoolhouse. The premise is that in order to pass on to the afterlife, each individual has to choose a memory to take with them; there are interviewer/film producer (angels?) who interview each passing person and recreate their memories in a low-budget schoolhouse film to take forward. The movie chronicles each individual’s process of choosing a memory.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I have three “constellations” of work at my desk that I am working on.  One is a manuscript in progress, which I have been working on for several years and it has two different arcs of exploration in it: an exploration of the spectral tug between incantation and report, the draw to describe a world versus the desire to call a world into being; and an exploration of relational spaces i.e. between people, people and animals, people and spiritual states, etc.  A second project is a series on clocks and time and kind of intricate domestic mythologies which I am calling “cuckoo clock magic” – this is where I am working most these days. The third project is a series which uses both margins and explores a sense of asymmetry as a lens for seeing. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy First Birthday, Rose!


Today is our dear Rose's first birthday. Can you imagine a year has passed since she emerged? We hosted a small gathering of immediate family and what-not for her over the past weekend (our house was very crowded), in which she gently mangled a carrot cake of her very own (a separate cake was prepared for "everyone else"). Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins (including both cousins Duncan) and big sister Kate were all in attendance. What do you think of her magnificent crown?




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake [photo credit: Jessica Todd Harper] lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. In 2013, she received a Literature Fellowship from the NEA. In spring 2015, her first book, Mr. West, comes out with Wesleyan University Press.

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

This is my first book so I feel like it’s constantly changing my life right now. I’m scheduling readings and making travel plans. It’s completely different from, let’s say, the last year spent mostly at home, writing, submitting, and taking care of my son.

My more recent poems are starting to appear in journals and they are very different from the first book. Mr. West was a very difficult book to write. It involved a lot of research and a lot of emotional investment that kept surprising me as the years of writing went on. The recent poems had to be a big departure for me. They’re more personal in terms of how they confront interiority and they’re more narrative.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I did a poetry unit in 5th grade and have been writing poems ever since. It has always made sense to me and I love it.

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

I don’t really think of anything as starting. Maybe that helps. I keep writing and I see if anything is taking shape on a large scale a good ways into the process. My writing happens in batches where it comes quickly and then breaks where it doesn’t happen at all.  First drafts appear looking close to their final shape but not final version. Big chunks leave. New parts come. They often get longer. But the shape often follows the first few lines or stanzas (based on the length of the poem). I trust those opening impulses when the inspiration is clear.

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?

A poem usually begins in an image for me. I feel like it’s my job to spring forward from there. For this book, I was an author of short and long pieces that combined into a larger project. I don’t like to think of a “book” until the end. What became difficult for me was to compile the book, send it out, and then to break into it again after it had been accepted to make it the best book it could be.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings. I’ve read at high schools, universities, cafes, bookstores, and I can’t wait to read at more! And I often catch edits I want to make while reading.

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

I try not to think of concerns and questions while I’m writing, but every year or so, I gather what I’ve been writing and I try to think critically about what they’re doing and what they could be doing. Those questions go into my revisions, but they also are in the back of my head when I write in the future. They don’t apply pressure to my writing life but they definitely have an effect that I’m very grateful for. I don’t think I’m ever writing to answer a question directly. I guess I’m not asking those sorts of questions.

My most common questions are: How can poetry be important? How can a poet make poetry a valuable life to have lived? How can I move poetry forward? And then many, many thematic questions that often circle around what it means to be a person in today’s world—a caring person, a happy person, a person trying to be happy.

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?

It’s strange how I immediately think, writer or poet? There are definitely roles a writer can play (I’m thinking of Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, and a few other writers that have pierced the bubble that leads into larger culture). But I’m not so sure about a poet. Not the way things are now in American culture. But that’s not to say the roles a poet can play in smaller cultures aren’t valuable. I think a poet should be a member of any community that’s worthwhile to them. Teach, mentor, read, review, talk, write, continue, continue. I think about all the poets that have touched my life, and I’m so grateful.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. Mostly it’s not difficult either, but sometimes an editor comes in that I’m not used to working with. That starts out difficult, but also ends up essential to the work.

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

These aren’t the exact words, but basically: Write the hard stuff. You have a worthwhile voice from which to write the hard stuff.

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

I don’t do much genre switching, so I guess, not that easy!

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?

I sometimes fall into a routine for a month or so (writing at night when my son’s asleep), but mostly I don’t have one. I do write a lot though, just not in a structured way. A typical day begins with my son waking me up.

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

For this book, I turned to research. I read more and more articles until something struck me. Now, if I really feel like I need to write, I open up a book of poetry. Reading poems online don’t affect me as much as opening up a collection from my shelves.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I have a lot of allergies, so maybe a lack of fragrance reminds me of home!

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?

This book is filled with music, media, pop culture, history, and much more. My more recent poems turn a bit more to nature and science. (Like I said before, I needed a major shift.) I really love bringing all these different things to my work.

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

Lately I’ve been rereading Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Maurice Manning, and Lucille Clifton. I also think about Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina all the time.

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

Write a villanelle. Go to Ireland. The list goes on for days.

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?

A scientist. A civil engineer. A diplomat. I was a math major in college, and I love almost every subject. But I just kept writing and it took over.

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

At the end of college, I told myself I’d keep writing as long as it supported me. It hasn’t stopped yet. I feel very lucky for that.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire by Brenda Hillman. And Pacific Rim. (It should be noted I see about 3 films per year, but I still stand by Pacific Rim.)

20 - What are you currently working on?
A few things. A long poem. A screenplay turned into poems. And many other poems that don’t quite fit anywhere yet.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sarah Dowling, Down



What could make this aesthetics. Would could make me feel that. Make me many. Make me better. What could make me sexless and sexual. Make me better. What could make me sexless and sexual. Make me feel we. Make me feel made. Make me feel us. Make me feel matter. Make me feel this, for one. What could make me feel this commotion, this relationship to energy. What could make me feel this way. (“Sunshine Honey”)

Canadian poet Sarah Dowling’s third poetry collection—following Security Posture (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2010) and Birds & Bees (Troll Thread, 2012)—is the newly-released Down (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2014), a collection that shakes and shimmys, utilizing repetition and a lyric ebb and flow that stretches out across the entire book. What compels about Down is the sheer vibrancy and velocity her poems radiate, managing to break and rebuild expectation and lyric structure. As she opens the poem “I’ve Got To Tell You”: “Can you Can you Can you Can / I promise If we talk and you know / But see / I don’t know if I / shouldn’t tell but if / I let you       can’t I’m talking Are you / I’m not lonely just       Say yes[.]” Hers is a sonic density of lyric and language, one that plays with narrative logic, the fragment, and space on the page. Her coda, “The Process Notes,” that closes the collection, opens:









I’ve been working on DOWN since 2009. It began as different project, Hinterland B. For years, I was writing about a big, bare field. There was a body in it. The newspapers said that someone was gone. The newspapers said that someone had been found. These were not the same person. The TV kept on chattering, people lost interest, the cycle moved on. I was thinking about this field as secondary: not Hinterland A, but Hinterland B.
            I thought that the hinterlands were the most rural and remote places. Turns out, this is not true. A hinterland is more familiar; the waste fields around ports and airports are hinterlands. A hinterland serves as a buffer between sanctioned spaces for living and working and the trade hubs where we are not supposed to go. They are the regions between the everyday and the truly rural lands that we too often imagine as depopulated.
[…]

At the same time that I was working on Hinterland B, I was also working on performance writing using song lyrics. I liked how the repetitions structuring chorus and verse shifted when stripped of their melodic accompaniment. Gertrude Stein said she was inclined to believe that there is no such thing as repetition, only insistence. Frank O’Hara said that what was happening to him went into his poems. This was insistence but with more anxiety.

As she herself writes, she worked to compose poems with the mutability, sincerity and lyric throwaway of pop songs, managing to create an impressive collection of poems that exude a soundless music and stylized lyric flow blended with a series of complex, staggered rhythms, an exploration of the public versus private, and what exactly remoteness means.

        but               his                            Yes, his
saw he says          friend had face as little cop
        , had                    was      fresh soon friend
            had bloodied handcuffed blood as
friend, face    up. and on I
in to cut His bleeding his saw
the the         boy in      , him
backseat window his           was across there
and face full back his was
he
was blood. gash
yelling across

me (“Starlight Tours”)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Profile of Arc Poetry Magazine, with a few questions,

My profile of Arc Poetry Magazine (and their collaboration with Cordite Poetry Review) featuring interview questions answered by Monty Reid, Frances Boyle and Shane Rhodes (among others) is now online at Open Book: Ontario.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Binnie Brennan

Toronto-born Binnie Brennan is the author of three books of fiction, Harbour View and A Certain Grace (Quattro Books). Her novel, Like Any Other Monday, was published in September 2014 by Gaspereau Press.

Co-winner of the 2009 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest, Binnie has also been published in several Canadian and American literary journals. Her novella, Harbour View, was shortlisted for an Atlantic Book Award and longlisted for the 2010 ReLit Award. Binnie is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers, where she was mentored by M.G.Vassanji and Alistair MacLeod.

Since 1989 Binnie has lived in Halifax where she plays the viola with Symphony Nova Scotia.

www.binniebooks.com

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The publication of Harbour View was certainly one of the great thrills of my life. It was a solid nudge that I was on the right track as a writer, which propelled me to complete my short story collection (A Certain Grace).

I’d say my most recent work, Like Any Other Monday, is the one that’s most changed my life – my writing life, anyway. Writing from history wasn’t something I’d considered, nor was writing a fictional portrait of Buster Keaton ever part of my plan. It’s taken me places I never thought I’d see, such as the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, and I’ve absorbed a great deal about two extinct art forms, vaudeville and silent film comedy, which I hadn’t much thought about before now.

Until Monday came along, I’d thought of myself mainly as a short story writer. I love the short form for its distillation of ideas and images, and never really thought I’d be able to cope with the larger canvas of a novel.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I’ve been reading fiction for as long as I can remember. I’m most at home reading and writing fiction, although with the work I’ve been doing on Buster Keaton I have extended my reach towards non-fiction in the way of essay-writing, and some prose-poetry pieces inspired by his two-reel movies.

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?

The first draft is always hard work, sometimes a painful slog. It takes a lot of revising and polishing before I’m happy with it. One of my twenty-page short stories took nine months of continuous writing and rewriting before I had the plot nailed down. However, Like Any Other Monday came in a rush following eighteen months of deep research, copious note-taking (ten filled notebooks) and various writing efforts (see #2). The first draft of the novel took six weeks to write, and I wrote nonstop, night and day. Does that mean it took six weeks, or 19-1/2 months? However you look at it, this was a completely new approach to writing for me. I just wanted to get the words down and sort it out later. It took a lot longer to revise and clean it up than to write the first draft, but the overall shape is the same.

4 - Where does fiction 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?
A lot of my short stories come from newspaper articles, overheard conversations, and in some cases, remembered events that I’ve appropriated and then altered to suit the story. With A Certain Grace I didn’t have a book in mind; I’d written the stories over a six-year period. Harbour View began as linked short stories I sort of got on a roll writing, and then decided to put them together as a novella.

Like Any Other Monday had its beginning as an experimental short story that left me scratching my head, wondering who are these people, and how did they come to be breaking in a new act together on the vaudeville stage? And then what happened? The short story grew longer and longer until finally I realized it would probably turn into a novel.

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

I do enjoy them. Readings are one of the best ways writers have to connect with readers, and I love to read aloud, something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I prepare for readings as I would for a musical performance. I rehearse like crazy, and I underline certain words, add crescendos and breath marks and dynamic markings as I do musical scores. I read aloud to my cat until he’s so bored he leaves the room. And then I do it again. There’s no substitute for being prepared, for having the rhythm set and the words ready in your mouth. It’s not to say I’m spared the butterflies and wobbly knees, but I love the connection between story, writer, and reader, and for me the story is the most important thing in the room.
 
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?

None, really. I’m more of an intuitive writer, and each story brings with it a load of doubt – did this work? Can I get away with it? When I’m writing I don’t think about theoretical matters, form, structure; usually that sort of thing takes care of itself. I’m just happy to get the story down, and I enjoy making stuff up.

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’m not so sure about the role of the writer in larger culture, other than to supply the stories that allow people a chance at time-travel and escapism, and do it well.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve had such good experiences working with Andrew Steeves and Gaspereau Press, and with John Calabro, the fiction editor at Quattro Books. In both cases we were simply after making the stories as good and authentic as possible. This involves leaving the ego at the door and knowing when to try the editor’s suggestions, or when to dig your heels in.

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

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short story to novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’ve only made the move from short stories to novel successfully once, and it wasn’t intentional – the novel came from a short story. I’ve never thought in terms of “graduating” from short stories to longer fiction, of aspiring to write a novel once I got the hang of short stories. For me the art of short fiction lies in the compression of ideas, the economy of style.

Both genres have their appeal. With a short story you can hold the entire thing in your head without too much effort during the writing of it. I might make a few pages of notes or sketches and take it from there. Novels are obviously on a much bigger scale. Once I realized I was writing one, I had to make about a thousand decisions and keep detailed notes just to make sure I stayed on track and didn’t lose anything. The novel allowed me a wide-open space I’d never occupied before, and I enjoyed being there. Still, I found myself economizing, distilling things, and I’m not sure if that was a conscious choice. I don’t think it was.

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?

I don’t have a set routine; it depends on what I’m writing and on my work schedule. With Like Any Other Monday I was up at least five times a night making notes as ideas flooded in, and in the morning I’d try to make sense of them. I hit the ground running (writing) every single day and couldn’t wait to see what the next night’s notes would bring. This went on for weeks, much of it during Nutcracker season. My Symphony colleagues got used to my frantic note scribbling in the pit between pieces, and after the rehearsals or concerts I’d rush home and write some more.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read better fiction than I could hope to write, sometimes a single short story of Alistair MacLeod’s. I take photographs. Look at movies – usually silent movies, where every gesture tells the story. Lately I’ve been reading biographies. One of my favourites is a collection of essays on obscure silent film comedians called Clown Princes and Court Jesters, by James Lahue. One of the comedians, Billie Ritchie, died of injuries sustained on the set of an animal comedy after he was attacked by the ostriches. This was so shocking to me, but also perversely hilarious (what a way for a comedian to go!), that it surprised me into writing a short story.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pipe tobacco takes me back to my childhood home. It’s a rare thing to find these days.

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’ve absorbed much in the way of expression through my musical life – phrasing, structure, pacing. Buster Keaton’s movies from the 1920s have been a revelation in style, simplicity, and economy of storytelling. Visual art inspires me, especially talking to my mum about paintings, art history, and her process as an artist.

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

I first read Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners when I was twelve years old. She showed me that it was possible to tell stories about ordinary people, and tell them beautifully. Alistair MacLeod and Helen Humphreys have been great influences during my writing life.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Sing jazz standards with a smoking hot trio in a nightclub.

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?
Title writer during the silent movie era. They were paid not so much for the number of words they wrote as for the number of words they didn’t write, all the while still telling a story. Talk about distillation and economy!

(Okay, so that’s still within the writing profession...)

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, I did something else: I became a professional musician. Some years later I became a writer. And now I do both.

When I was in high school I was torn between the two, writing and playing the viola. I was a serious music student at the time, but I was also writing a lot, and I loved doing both. A wise person pointed out that I hadn’t really lived enough of a life yet to write anything interesting, so why not pursue music for a while and live a little, and then try my hand at writing? And that’s what I did.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Recently I read Wayne Grady’s Emancipation Day, which I enjoyed very much. I’d say the last great movie I watched was Buster Keaton’s 1924 feature film, Sherlock, Jr. which is a beautifully crafted example of a lost art form.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a few things on the go, including a series of short stories inspired by the early, primitive days of silent movies. But the one that has my attention these days is a novel that has nothing to do with silent movies or vaudeville.

12 o 20 (second series) questions;