Friday, November 25, 2016

TtD supplement #66 : seven questions for Norma Cole

Norma Cole’s books of poetry include Win These Posters and Other Unrelated Prizes Inside, Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988—2008, Spinoza in Her Youth and Natural Light, and most recently Actualities, her collaboration with painter Marina Adams. TO BE AT MUSIC: Essays & Talks made its appearance in 2010 from Omnidawn Press. Her translations from the French include Danielle Collobert’s It Then, Collobert’s Journals, Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France (edited and translated by Cole), and Jean Daive’s A Woman with Several Lives. A new translation of Daive’s first book, White Decimal, is forthcoming from Omnidawn. She lives in San Francisco.

Her poem “I Got Word” appears in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey. Another poem, “DISTRACTION,” appeared in the first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “I Got Word.”

A: Because memory is fiction, “the past” is suddenly very bright and horizontal. There was no impulse (genre, form, idea) behind this writing. I just had these three words in my mind after reading an email from Claude (Royet-Journoud) where he told me that Ludovic Janvier had died. I had met Janvier because Claude had put me in contact with him. When I saw that he had died I was “thrown back” to that moment (whatever moment means). Memory opened, opened me up to this moment now and I could write about that moment then. The words as thoughts began to branch out, rhizome-like (orchid/wasp) and I noticed that this is one way writing can happen.

Q: Have you composed other memorial pieces over the years? How do they differ from your other works? And how does this piece, if at all, fit in with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I’ve done several memorial poems, for instance for Robert Duncan, Jacques Derrida, Leslie Scalapino, Hélio Oiticica. The Derrida poem was one I never imagined or though of, it just happened. They all “just happen,” but Derrida? It’s in my book, Do the Monkey, “In Memoriam Jacques Derrida” which also has my “Dear Robert.” “ESTAR for Hélio Oiticica” is in Spinoza in Her Youth. These poems are also in my selected, Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008 (City Lights). The poem for Leslie is in a journal but I can’t at the moment remember where, so I will enclose it here. But as you see, “I Got Word” is in a different register altogether from these poems.

When Push Comes To Shove
Elegy for Leslie Scalapino

Nevermore is just a word
The crease of life
Rain’s sweet scent or
The erasure of rain
Localized deafness—

As the wind folds other things
Go, go out and play
The nothing that stops
Time—check it

Fresh as rice powder
In the wind, perfect
Memento, remember
She lives

Q: I think the poems are best when they, as you say, “just happen.” But do you ever feel as though, when someone you admire dies, that such a poem is required, simply because you’ve done such for others? (The idea is reminiscent, slightly, of a quote I once heard about how Robert Creeley felt as though he spent the last third of his writing life composing obituaries for his friends.) Also: how and why does the tenor shift? I know Vancouver poet George Bowering has long worked an open-ended series of prose poems as tributes to poet friends, as has Toronto poet Victor Coleman. How have you managed to retain the individuality of such pieces?

A: To respond to the first part of your question, “But do you ever feel as though, when someone you admire dies, that such a poem is required, simply because you’ve done such for others” when a person dies, I always cast about in my mind to see whether I have something right there to say, to write. Usually, nothing comes to mind. It is not “required.” No requirement for the poem. Every conversation is so particular (poetry is a conversation), and the conversation I am having—still with that person—will occur, but when? That’s the weird thing about this piece, “I Got Word.” It was so immediate. Maybe because I was not exactly writing TO Ludovic Janvier, I was kind of writing, back-channelling, to Claude Royet-Journoud. Which brings me to your next question, “how and why does the tenor shift?” And I say because it is so individual. Your questions here had me thinking about “celebration poems,” to honor someone. You know, the poem for a festschrift to honor the poet’s 80th birthday or something. There, I do have a “usual” procedure, in that I go to the poet’s work, and I write from a book or even a single poem from that person’s work. For instance, “For Rosmarie Waldrop, Eighty Words from Splitting Image.”

For Rosmarie Waldrop, Eighty Words from Splitting Image [Zasterle, La Laguna 2005]

One heart conceals accuracy a line the snow very deep its views like beauty is felt out loud at angles grooves sound reflecting language as water like love structures time magical awkwardness

Blue apple make possible abstract values breath the gift signals letters jazz in collusion color stirs and time flying like overtones beyond sun edge moon mirror measure field of warm snow

Invisible images all forms each enable unraveling winged clarity

Q: I suppose the question I was asking did relate to the “celebration poem,” in that often the response to a poet’s death, other poets write poems in homage, or, as you say, conversation. Robert Kroetsch often referred to literature, including his own writing, as a “conversation.” Is there an element of that in the larger arc of your own work? Or only for those pieces composed for others?

A:  Robert Duncan spoke of poetry as a “serial collaboration,” and as a “grand collage.” Robin Blaser had his great companions. I have the on-going conversation, in particular, and in the larger arc of my work.

Q: You’ve published an enormous amount of work over the past three decades, from books and chapbooks of your own work to anthologies edited and numerous translations. With thirty-some years of production so far, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I laughed out loud this time, truly I did, when I read your question, simply because I have no answers. The second question first—a case in point—at the turn of the year, 2015/2016, I had no idea, writing? It was a blank slate. I thought I would still be working on a book translation I hadn’t really begun. I wanted to write something from my recent trip to Southeast Asia but hadn’t. And then I wrote “I Got Word.” And rather quickly a lot of things happened. I was asked or invited to do things that meant different writing or translating, for conferences etc. And was asked to teach a seminar in June. Right now, I am writing a prose piece (there it is, more prose) for Art Practical, an online journal. The piece begins with my 8th grade English teacher. Never would I have thought of that, about starting there, if I hadn’t had this one moment sitting in a cafe last week hearing Miles Davis and my notebook on the table. And that popped into my mind and I started to write. I guess this is my way of saying it’s in the moment. Body/mind conspiring. Neuroscientists say that one begins to do something, anything, before one consciously knows. And the first question, how the work has developed, I would say “more mindfully,” but I don’t yet have the means to explain what that means.

Q: A worthy answer! More should simply admit when they haven’t a clue about a specific question or point. But to ask as follow-up more specifically: how do you construct your books? Is there a unifying theme or project-based structure that pushes a manuscript forward, or are books constructed entirely on a case-by-case basis? How do your books begin?

A: Case-by-case basis. But the books all begin with a beat, a syllable, a word, a fragment, more fragments, building a something, eventually a poem. And then another. When I have several, looking at them, I begin to grasp that they are telling something, telling me something. My friend the artist Stanley Whitney said something pertinent in an interview last year. “When you paint, you want to paint something you don’t recognize. But then, you don't recognize it, so it’s hard to see.” It might take a while. But we have time, we wait.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Someone just asked me (actually several people have asked this) if I went to writers’ retreats or artists’ colonies to “get away” and write. I’ve never done that. It seems that I like to stay with the familiar in order to go far away in imagination. As far away as can be. So I’ll take a walk, or go to a cafe to sit for a while. Sit for a while reading whatever I have on hand. It could be a book of poetry, old or new; or philosophy, neuroscience, a book about a painter, dancer, filmmaker. I am reading, slowly, Robert Duncan: An Interview (by George Bowering & Robert Hogg, 1969). About to read To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolution, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Autonomedia 2016) and Kapusta by Erin Moure (House of Anansi, 2015). 

It seems I go back to Forces of Imagination (Barbara Guest), Nathaniel Mackey’s prose (Discrepant Engagement, Paracritical Hinge) and Idea of Prose (Giorgio Agamben). And I’m reading for the millionth time Beckett’s version of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau ivre.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

TtD supplement #65 : seven questions for Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy is the author of The Redcoats, Down with the Ship, and Millbrook (forthcoming from Black Dress Press). He has received grants and awards from the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Chelsea Magazine, The Fund For Poetry, and The New York State Foundation for the Arts.

His poems “Untitled 5,” “Untitled 7,” “Untitled 8” and “Untitled 9” appear in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Untitled 5,” “Untitled 7,” “Untitled 8” and “Untitled 9.”

A: I’m not sure what to tell you about them specifically, but I can say that they are part of a longer sequence that centers around my return to my home town in New York’s Hudson Valley after living elsewhere for the past 18 years—so in part I think they are about a kind of dislocation with a familiar landscape, and allowing those images to re-introduce themselves in to my vocabulary.

Q: How does this work differ from the work you’ve done prior?

A: Well, the landscape has changed, which certainly changes the language. And I think that these poems are a bit more stripped down than work I have done in the past.

Q: Is being influenced by your surroundings an element of your writing, or only one specific to this current sequence?

A: It has always had a lot of influence on my writing. My poems are almost always written about the dailiness of wherever I find myself.

Q: Would you consider yourself a poet who builds books, or individual poems? How are your books usually constructed?

A: I think that I tend to end up most naturally writing sequences, which is perhaps to say, a little bit more than an individual poem, and far less than a book. I think that because generating work is difficult for me, and that moving the words around is so much fun, they tend to grow into multiples.

Q: Do book manuscripts emerge through a process of enough sequences coming together to finally cohere? Through this process, are there sequences that get set aside for another potential manuscript?

A: I tend to hit a kind of critical mass and then try to write back in to, and take things out of, the manuscript, to try to get it into some kind of reasonable shape—its dubious if I’ve ever actually pulled this off successfully...

Q: What writers or works influence the ways in which you write? What poems or poets are in your head when you’re putting a book together?

A: Always Rae Armantrout, Robert Creeley, Louise Neidecker, and perhaps Jack Spicer above all.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I would say that John Ashbery would be that poet who always re-energizes me. Not that we share much of anything stylistically, but his pure imagination and the facility with which he writes is constantly astounding.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

TtD supplement #64 : seven questions for Kemeny Babineau

Kemeny Babineau’s work has appeared in Rampike, Carousel Magazine, PRECIPICe, Stone the Crows, fhole, Damn the Caesars and other publications over the years. His most recent titles are Poems of Days (self-published) and The Blackburn Files (above/ground press). He has one trade publication with BookThug, After the 6ix O’Clock News. Babineau runs an out-of-print bookstore called Laurel Reed Books as well as a poetry micro-press of the same name. Earlier this year he saw the birth of a new book with Angel House Press.

His sequence “The Log of Wonorata” appears in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the sequence “The Log of Wonorata.”

A: It is an erasure poem. The source text is a book I once bought mistakenly due to the author sharing his name with poet Charles Olson. It is an adventure logue.

Q: How does this fit with the work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Funny that you’d ask. It doesn’t fit at all. It does continue some work I did a year or so ago, in a sense, but I haven’t composed in erasure for several years. Lately I have gotten away from games of content manipulation generators and have been chasing more conventionally written poems. Erasure is at the opposite end to that as none of it is written by you.

Q: Is this part of a larger piece or something you see yourself continuing?

A: I am beginning to see outlines of something, but I don’t tend to work that way. I see my process as more aleatory. The shape completes itself. Content and direction are driven by what I do in day to day life and by my interests. I don’t have something in mind to write about; something to write about comes into my mind. So for me patterns and plans are in retrospect.

Q: As the author of a mound of publications over the past decade or so, are your structures entirely informed through intuitive means? Is there a difference at all in the way your chapbooks were constructed, versus your full-length collection?

A: No, not all. I have written teleologically before, or have attempted to, but I tend to fizzle off and become disenchanted with the results. I felt like it was too easy, almost unearned, and I felt the results bordered on the disingenuous. I began to distrust the process based on the results. My most prescriptive piece is The Incomplete Tree Guide published by Wot Press in 2005. I set out to write a poem everyday using a different tree or shrub as the starting off point each morning. I liked some of the results and I am proud of some of the work in it but overall I was dissatisfied so I abandoned both the project and the process. I think I work best in short sequences. Putting together manuscripts for trade publications is a real challenge for me, I don’t see ahead that well and end up just kind of cobbling things together as best I can. It is a kind of poetic myopia I suffer from and no corrective lenses will help.

Q: Given your numerous collections over the past decade or so, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I am headed in several directions at once. Some are what I think of as pure poems, grounded in observation, written in the Nelson Ball style with an emphasis on image, clarity and sound. Other directions are more exploratory. It is difficult to reconcile the two. One of my larger uncompleted projects is a history of Canada in verse, A Furrtive History. This is driven by my interest in history and politics. When I write a piece that I feel fits I find a place to plug it in. It is an unwieldy project but I see it as a life work. Parts of it have been published in other projects but overall it is far from polished. It really is the kind of project that will never be finished, it blows by perfection.

Q: I’ve seen less of your work over the past couple of years. Is that part of that tension between writing and perfection, or are you simply working in further directions? And how does your AngelHousePress title fit into the mix?

A: I have never been a prolific writer, and I am slowing down, but I do really want to say things. My AngelHousePress chappy, The House of Many Words, is totally different from anything else I have done to date. It is written as play, a word play.

Q: When you say “a word play,” what do you mean?

A: Well, it is a play on words, most plays consist of words so they are in a sense all word plays, but House of Many Words is written as a play that isn’t necessarily meant to be performed. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be, there are staging directions provided. Also, part of its structure is punning on characters names. Many Words is a character in the play, along with Nobody, Many People and Land Barren. It is more of a poem than a play, so I call it a word play.

Q: You mentioned poet, publisher and bookseller Nelson Ball earlier as being an influence. What other writers have been important to your writing?

A: Nelson Ball has become a close personal friend over the years and his poetry has rubbed off on me, we are quiet moths in the corner of the room. Charles Olson’s big, open field poetics has also been a large influence. Other strong influences are bill bissett and John Newlove. I want my poems to sing like bissett and weep like Newlove. Jackson Mac Low figures in there too, his book Twenties really opened things up for me.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems, I return to that constantly. It is so huge, like a planet of its own. Dennis Lee’s work contains a lot of energy for me as well, The Unpoems, Yes/No, Riffs, great playful stuff.  But discovering new poets and new work is vital. Latest gems have been Mary Ruefle and Joseph Massey. Just finding that work that really clicks with you, that’s like acetylene.

Monday, October 24, 2016

TtD supplement #63 : seven questions for Buck Downs

A native of Jones County Miss., Buck Downs’ latest book is TACHYCARDIA, available now from Edge Books. His chapbook Shiftless(Harvester) is newly out from above/ground press. Buck is the poetry editor of Boog City, and works at Bridge Street Books in Washington, DC.

His poems “cloud of dust,” “full speed in partial-paradise,” “cabin in the shadows” and “skinny winter” appear in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “cloud of dust,” “full speed in partial-paradise,” “cabin in the shadows” and “skinny winter.”

A: I wonder if what I can “tell” “about” these poems adds anything for a reader. Most of what I know about them is fairly dataesque & not much, poetically speaking.

These were the first pieces to finish in the wake of all the work writing, editing and designing my latest book, Tachycardia. So they were written in early 2013, using a source text generated in 2009-10. Probably that lag is worth a comment, if only to say that it is fairly routine that I will write down an idea for a poem and not get back to doing anything with it for 2-3 years. I make a lot of raw source material, and I work slowly. The backlog is a way of life.

I think they may each be about some aspect of “coming to”; which phrase summarizes for me a quality of the most vivid kind of life: the moment of expulsion and entrance, as in the abrupt end of a dream or other state and a zone of enhanced forward vision and decaying memory. Mental states that are better than memory? Given the role that nostalgia has played in our species’ survival, can there be anything “better than memory”?

Q: When you say “source text,” it suggests your poems are reworked from earlier sketches. Is your process one of extensive editing, or more a matter of cannibalizing lines from unfinished drafts?

A: It is a process of brute-force typing. I have a little box that when I fill it with filled notebooks, I take the box and type up its whole contents, without edits or judgment. That typing yields an ~150pp word document, which I get printed as a bound galley at Lulu, and proceed to erase/cut & paste/collage that typing into drafts.

It is a procedural writing learned from the works of e.g., Ronald Johnson, Jackson MacLow, but moving in a decidedly different direction when the source text is not Milton or Joyce but myself.

Q: Have you worked exclusively from your own source texts, or have you experimented with others as well? And what are you attempting to accomplish when reworking these collages? Are you working to achieve a particular kind of linearity in your poems, whether a flow of logic or sound?

A: The workflow process I sketched out there has been what I've been building and doing since early 2001. I started using Lulu in 2005, because printing out 150pp docs on my inkjet printer & punching them for a three-ring binder is tedious.

The point to be made about the sum of changes and ideas that I now shorthand with the word “workflow”, I guess, is that the instant perception of thought is always a sufficient ground from which to begin.

I got a lot of joy back in the 20th century from learning what I would broadly call an appropriative tradition, from, say, Apollinaire and Tzara to Burroughs, Acker, Ronald Johnson, lots more. I decided to take up the toolkit I got from reading in this tradition, and use it on the artifacts of my own mind, rather than engaging with either the news of the day or works of literature.

I have a lot of faith in the intelligence of the people who read my poems, who read poetry of any sort. That faith liberates me from any obligation to linearity or logical flow, and allows me to concentrate on making something that looks attractive and sounds enticing.

Q: Is this a process similar to the ways in which you construct a poetry manuscript? How do your books get built?

A: I’ve more or less abandoned the idea of organizing a manuscript; one more place where I get to trust the material, and the readers. Poems now are simply stacked in chronological order, and if something seems like it’s out of place, it gets removed.

In writing the three books of Pontiac Fever and then Tachycardia, poems were collected up in batches of 23, and I call that a fascicle, of course. The first poems came to 23 in number and seemed to round off into a nice shape there, so taking the result as the path, I decided to try another fascicle of 23, and then a third. Three fascicles of 23 poems each is 69, enough for a slender volume of verse, and three sets of three fascicles each would be a complete work.

I did that again to write Tachycardia; this time it took three years instead of the eight+ that I spent on Pontiac Fever.

Q: With a small handful of books going back to the late 1990s, how do you feel your poetry has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: While I was primarily exercised in the tasks around designing and publishing Pontiac Fever and another three-book collection, the Assorted Books, I took the time to look at the material footprint of what I was doing, e.g., word counts and similar metrics. One thing that I found was my frequency of profanity was on a steady decline during the ten years 2002-12.

What it means to me is a chance to pause and reflect on the relationship between profanity and vulgarity. I believe strongly in something that O’Hara called “love’s life-giving vulgarity”, and I think I understand now that the class of vocabulary called profanity stands in for vulgarity in a way that pretty much prevents me from getting to where I want to get in the poem.

There’s more to say, perhaps, but really the short answer is enough: less profanity, more vulgarity.

Q: I’m curious about this: can you say more?

A: I’m not sure :) – I am working a hypothesis that profanity is a kind of permitted-but-off-limits-in-scare-quotes form of social expression. It’s a class of words that can have a strong polarizing effect. There’s a use value to that polarization, no doubt, or it wouldn’t persist. But my further hypothesis is that I can get closer to the disturbance and delight of the poem if I don’t settle for the vocabulary designated as “dirty words”.

Put more succinctly: dirty words keep me from getting to the dirt.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Sometimes it feels like I don’t have an appropriate level of devotion to anything that I’ve ever read before. Shouldn’t I be telling people what’s good? Luckily for me I have a pretty robust number of friends and colleagues who do that business a lot more ably than I can.

Name-checking is a kind of polarizing action too, so I’m reluctant to do any more of that than I already have. But I will mention two batches of poetry audio that were galvanizing and pivotal for me when I first heard them, and that continue to open up for me over time.

The first is a cassette anthology published by the Watershed Foundation called Poetry Potpourri: Selections from the Naropa Archives. That’s where I first heard, among others, Anne Waldman’s “Light and Shadow” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Ego Confession”, which are helpful points of entry for those two poets’ works and really delightful readings.

The second is the CD that accompanies the Exact Change Yearbook #1, published by Exact Change, of course. The recording of Notley’s “At Night the States” and Spicer’s “Imaginary Elegies” you find there are more or less everything I could ever want from a poem, I think.

I think you can find their latter-day equivalents at PennSound and/or Ubuweb.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Touch the Donkey : issue eleven,

The eleventh issue is now available, with new poems by Buck Downs, lary timewell, Oana Avasilichioaei, Kemeny Babineau, Ryan Murphy, Lea Graham, kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff, Norma Cole and Sandra Ridley.

Seven dollars (includes shipping). From now on, she's smoking for two!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Touch The Donkey #10 reviewed in Broken Pencil

Touch the Donkey #10 is reviewed by Scott Bryson in Broken Pencil (issue #5 was reviewed here, and the first issue reviewed here). Thanks much! You can see the original review here. He writes:
This tenth issue of Touch the Donkey — editor rob mclennan’s ongoing attempt to “engage with more experimental and avant-garde poetry” — presents a noticeably diverse group, both in substance and style.

Meredith Quartermain recounts a painful breast exam. Renée Sarojini Saklikar contributes a number of enigmatic, bee-centric poems excerpted from thecanadaproject, her “life-long poem chronicle about place, identity, language.” Shane Rhodes supplies poems built from phrases found in the journals of nautical expeditions. Luke Kennard spits out cascading, verbose verses that often read like spoken-word rants: “The realization fell like trochees, like a burlap sack of tchotchkes.”

The most rewarding entries in this collection come from Mathew Timmons. His first submission is two and a half pages of text that reads like the transcript of a yoga instructor’s motivational speeches. His second is a poem that finds innumerable ways to describe sundresses being shopped for online: “Detect those charismatic despicable sundresses online… Gravy those indomitable pitiful sundresses online.” Each line of this poem is capped with a curious four-digit code, which may conceal some deeper meaning, should you care to try and crack it, for example: “fRhC; Zlzk; xHmr.”

Though there’s no particular mood or theme that ties this issue’s poems together, they consistently find a satisfying balance between modernity and mystery.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

TtD supplement #62 : seven questions for Renée Sarojini Saklikar

Renée Sarojini Saklikar writes thecanadaproject, a life-long poem chronicle that includes poetry, fiction, and essays. Work from the project is widely published in journals, anthologies and chapbooks. The first completed book from thecanadaproject is children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections, (Nightwood Editions, 2013) winner of the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry and a finalist for the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award. Trained as a lawyer at the University of British Columbia, with a degree in English Literature, Renée was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1991. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, Renée is currently a mentor and instructor for the university and co-founder of a new poetry reading series, Lunch Poems at SFU. In September 2015, with acclaimed author Wayde Compton, Renée co-edited The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press/SFU Public Square). Renée serves as an advocate on the national council of The Writer’s Union of Canada and is at work on the second volume of thecanadaproject, excerpts of which can be found in the journals Eleven Eleven, The Capilano Review and online at DUSIE and The Rusty Toque. Renée is working on a sequence of bee poems based on her collaboration with well-known biologist, Dr. Mark Winston, some of which recently appeared as a chapbook with above/ground press.

A suite of poems from volume 2 of thecanadaproject appears in the tenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the suite of poems that appear in Touch the Donkey. What is thecanadaproject, and how do you see the work-in-progress volume 2 extending or expanding upon the work of the first?

A: The suite of poems that appear in Touch the Donkey are excerpted from a sequence, “Bartholomew in the compound, the bees” and this suite of poems lies nestled in the second completed series from thecanadaproject, which is a book length poem, the heart of this journey bears all patterns, commonly known as Thot-J-Bap. The Touch the Donkey suite contains pieces of a collaborative work I’ve embarked on with the Governor General award winning scientist, Dr. Mark Winston: he’s given me access to his scientific work on the honey bee and he and I are working on a set of poems and prose readings that we’ve performed in Vancouver. (https://thecanadaproject.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/of-bees-and-wings-reblogging-mark-winstons-essay/)

Thot-J-Bap is populated by a vast connection of characters, a sampling of which you will see in the excerpt included. The journey of Thot-J-Bap, over the course of decades, indeed, even, eons, explores an imaginary territory, Pacifica, loosely based on British Columbia and the Pacific North West/ Cascadia, as well as the cities of Toronto, Paris, Baghdad and Ahmedabad, and that exploration includes an investigation of various shibboleths: East v West, Empire v other, description v representation, and language in translation, the syntax of the fragment.

Parts of Thot-J-Bap appear in issue 7 of The Rusty Toque (http://www.therustytoque.com/poetry-reneacutee-sarojini-saklikar.html) and in issue 17 of DUSIE, http://www.dusie.org/issueseventeen.html as well as in The Capilano Review (issue 3.26) and in Eleven Eleven (issue 19).

thecanadaproject https://thecanadaproject.wordpress.com/ is a life-long poem chronicle about place, identity, language. In it are many things, including published material and works in progress such as a prose poem novel, a series of essays about life from India to Canada, coast to coast as well as many sequences of poems, in part, about the places I’ve lived: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec, Montreal, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. The project will end when I end. It is a series of fragments always asking, when does the poem begin? A way-finding text for my imagining a life-long poem chronicle came to me while at The Writer’s Studio, when a mentor referred me to an essay by Stephen Collis on his work, The Barricades Project. Yeah, after that I was hooked. And in that way that happens, then everything seemed to call out for long poem rendering, such as another important way-finding text, N.Wimmer’s translator’s note on R.Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives.

The first completed series of the project is children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2013), about the bombing of Air India Flight 182 and recently adapted for theatre and music by Turning Point Ensemble, and a group of Irish collaborators with whom I’ve been working: air india [redacted] premiered in Vancouver Nov.6 with five shows running to Nov.11: http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/Music+Review+Contemporary+Unflinching+india+REDACTED/11502335/story.html
Tom Power on CBC Radio’s Q, (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-monday-november-9-2015-1.3310357/ren%C3%A9e-sarojini-saklikar-on-how-we-remember-and-forget-terror-1.3310374 )  interviewed me extensively about children of air india and I mention this because during that interview I was thinking about this very question you’ve asked: how, if in any way, does Thot-J-Bap “extend or expand” on children of air india: short answer, on one level, not at all, mercifully, because writing about the personal/public tragedy of Air India/Canada was/is lacerating; and yet, of course, on other levels, everything seems interconnected and layered, a series of transparencies and tracings, patterns which I only sense and never fully understand, nor perhaps, should I understand, but only to stay open, to be receiver, even as transgressor, juxtaposing and assembling and laying contiguous those things that the world holds must be kept separate and apart.

So the idea of layers emerges as touchstone, a continuing obsession, things that carry over, in the margins, banished from the main stage, discerned as slant. Un/authorized. Off the record. In the gutter of any page, those faint emanations of—for example, the persona character, N, who emerges as a kind of narrative guide in children of air india, and re-emerges, in different guises,  in Thot-J-Bap, where she finds—

Q: You mention one of the triggers of your life-long project being “an essay by Stephen Collis on his work, The Barricades Project” [see his Touch the Donkey interview here]. Was it really that straightforward, or were there other factors involved? What kinds of writing were you working on prior to this, if any, and did it end up being a part of the project?

A: Well, before I even had a consciousness of genre, I was working on memoir/counter-memoir; fiction; non-fiction; jottings, woven into whole cloth, fragmented.

In a series of next steps, some forward and some back, I keep writing about this thing, thecanadaproject which is comprised of: fragments that evoke or describe or investigate places I’ve lived in Canada (from Newfoundland to British Columbia and places in between); individual poems, often triggered by that obsessional trifecta: place/locale; time/dates/occurrences; loss/longing, which, as we’ve discussed, have culminated in the first completed series, children of air india; a work-in-progress, a prose-poem novel, The New Douglas Chronicles; another novel in progress, Winnipeg, 1919; a series of occasional poems, written while on public transit, particularly when riding the Skytrain.

The current series of poems, thot-j-bap (The Heart of this Journey bears all Patterns). To date, it is only very rarely, that a poem will arise that is “outside” the project. Although, I can’t think of even one right now. This is, in part, because I’ve not yet answered a life-long question, when does the poem begin? May I never discover the answer!

So, the idea of a living/lived chronicle didn’t come to me until about 2009, when I entered SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, with Wayde Compton, Rachel Rose and Betsy Warland. I don’t think initial generation of thecanadaproject would have happened without The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, and without the writers there who helped me unlock a way of seeing, of conceptualizing the project, but not directly and I don’t think folks were necessarily either thrilled or interested in some of my ideas: like the idea of mixing into the project, a novel – or novels or ideas for novels: for example, since 2008, those two novels, Winnipeg 1919 and The New Douglas Chronicles – I take excerpts from both and place them inside the narrative arc and structure of different ongoing series of essays/memoirs/poems. Some of these embedded narratives are then extracted for publication.

What I see now, years later, is how much guiding and supporting Wayde Compton gave me, in his light-touch-way: one of the most important influences was an introduction to the work of Fred Wah, and in particular, Diamond Grill. Wayde encouraged me to mimic the style and sequential structure of those lyric/non-lyric bio-texts. The canadaproject, with its leanings and gleanings toward the prose poem, the lyric essay, towards collagist fiction, towards a bricolage approach, towards a life-long poem form, all got their start under Wayde Compton.

And also Betsy Warland, who turned to me, one evening in June, at a student reading, and said, “You may need to transgress, just do that, if you are ready, just transgress.” And that was another clarion call.  All these word-bits, throw-away references, small asides, sentence fragments, how they echo inside me and stay with me and I learn from them, and the learning takes time, months, even years.

Back in 2009, I still didn’t have an understanding of what it takes, day in, day out, to build a writing practice that can then move you toward the “thing itself” – whether novel, lyric essay, or collection of poems. Somehow, someway, after a year of languishing: that is, after a year of holding to myself an idea for a writing project but not knowing how to move it forward, I pulled myself together enough to start reading about long poems and about life-long poems. And then the thing took off. During that phase of the project in 2009, I realized that my vision for the thing was more complex, multi-faceted and profound than I had first imagined.  The project would take much longer than a year.  So, I tried to just be with that realization: that things would take a long time. In the meantime, I attended readings by other writers, I read essays about the craft of writing, I skirted The Academy for scholarly works about the theory of language and I performed my own work. Everything flowed to me in 2009 and I gathered all of it up – each event, each reading, each essay, each poem or prose piece that I wrote, became a site of research. At the end of 2009, I realized: this will be my path. In July of 2010, I graduated with a certificate in creative writing from SFU’s writing and publishing program.


Each day, each week, I discover new paths, new ways of seeing and one pivotal discovery which has spear-headed these notes, as mentioned to you, is the reading of Stephen Collis, “The Life-Long Poem,” (Poetic Front, April 13, 2010): that essay contains not only Stephen’s notes on his own project, but a list of authors he considers as writers of the “life-long poem”: I have printed out Collis’ list of “possible life-long poems” and pasted the list onto the front of an orange notebook which I take to the library: Wordsworth, Whitman, Pound, Williams, Zukosky (I would add Reznikoff), Olson, Blaser, Duncan, bp Nichol, Silliman, Wah, and DuPlessis.


Around the time of discovering Collis’ The Barricades Project, I discovered the fragments of a poem by the writer, M.NourbeSe Philip, in the poem sequence, ferrum, found in Zong! When I read ferrum, a great excitement came over me, and some connection occurred between the words scattered on the page, with its spaces and silences, and my own interests and impulses. I began to study interruptions, disruptions to syntactical order, that at first reading seemed indecipherable, but then became not just intelligible, but perfect.  And then I met the author in Vancouver: November 29, 2009. Transformative. I’m still resonating with /contemplating that meeting, our conversation, six/seven years ago! That’s a good example of what I think of as “in-habitation” within a life-long poem. The way I seem to have to take things in, real slow.

And the idea of a living/lived chronicle more fully came to me after I began to read and am still reading, John Ashbery’s Flowchart. Also, Michael Turner’s essay, “to show, to give, to make it be there” and his curated exhibition, Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969, and all the artists and writers mentioned there and in Collis’ work, and yes, rob, all the poets and their work, and your interviews of them, at your various sites: I try and delve into that learning; and, then, always, there are the guy-poets of that thing once known as Canon: Donne, Chaucer, Dante, Yeats, Eliot, Frost,  that I’m still exploring and learning about.  This morning, on my desk: Renee Gladman’s trilogy: Event Factory/The Ravickians, Ana Patova crosses a Bridge, which I read as a long poem; plus, Baghdad, The City in Verse (Reuven Snir); also a copy of Lionel Kearns’ Convergences, also, a downloaded copy of the Senate investigative report in CIA torture released about two years ago; also, Reznikoff’s Testimony, which my husband has been reading...the beat goes on.

Q: I would also, just off the top of my head, include Robert Kroetsch, Dennis Cooley, Chris Turnbull, a rawlings and jwcurry as potential “life-long poem” practitioners. But I’m curious about your suggestion that the project will stretch beyond a single genre: will novels be part of this project as well? Have you deliberately conceptualized a project that will encompass all you produce?

A: ...yes, yes re Robert Kroetsch (Field Notes a continuing influence) et al. I will have to add a rawlings and jwcurry to my library list

Re other genres: yes, since 2008 I’ve been working (on and off, and for last few years, much more off as I completed children of air india), on those two novels (as per notes below)...and here’s how I see the first three completed volumes of tcp:

Volume 1: children of air india

Volume 2: the Heart of this Journey bears all Patterns (in several books, known as thot-j-bap)

Volume 3: the New Douglas Chronicles

And yes: although I didn’t realize it at first, after conversations about life-long poems and much rumination about chronicle-obsessions, I do conceptualize a project that encompasses all I produce/make.

Q: Given the stretch of the project, how do you see the project developing? Where do you see your work heading? Once the first three volumes are completed, for example, will the project simply open up further, or have you a specific destination (or several) in mind?

A: thecanadaproject seems to contain many more threads, sequences, than I can keep up with: I think this has to do with being permanently in a state of Archive Fever (Derrida), of cleaving to documents, language, bits and pieces:


-a new sequence of prose poems/essay fragments inspired by D.Marlatt’s Steveston, about the village, Paldi, which inspired a series of place-poems that first appeared in children of air india

-different iterations of the collaboration air india [redacted], the music, theatre, poetry, visual projections work that premiered November, 2015.

-a sequence of poems inspired by what Amber Dawn has termed, “femme,” which I interpret as a state of being: “brown, asymmetrical, and silver” aka: Mrs. Downtown Saturday Night

-a new series of “place/transit” poems that seem to arise every time I spend my poet laureate days in Surrey, crossing the Fraser River

-an epistolary sequence, forthcoming in an anthology about public mourning, to be published by University of Alberta Press, “air india un/sent”...

-a research essay embedded with poetry about the life of my father as a S.Asian United Church minister (just started in 2015, we’ll see how it goes)

Always, what drives the poetry forward is a sense of sound/cadence/rhythm as well as images, and the interest, the call, is in how the parts align/dis/align, the gaps between, the possibilities of arrangement, in addition to whatever else the poem demands, word by word, syllable by syllable, line by line.

In terms of where the work might go: the realization of the long poem is always foremost: how to keep the line, how to allow the poem to drive forward across vast distances. There is something “Siberia in Winter” about writing long poems...

Also, the fragment. Also, textures, silences, how to score silence inside language....the surface feel of things, objects: I wish I could figure out a way to be receptive enough to discern how to translate texture into language.

Once the first three volumes are completed: well, it took me five years to complete volume one, children of air india; and I’ve been writing the novels and volume two since 2008, so, mainly, I just think one poem at a time, one sequence at a time, one volume at a time, in terms of ms completion. As for poetry itself, every day is a site of research. Being inside a life-long poem chronicle produces a kind of kinetic energy, easily morphing into anxiety: so much to write, so little time. The only antidote is to do the work.

Q: I’ve long been fascinated by the possibilities of the fragment. What is your relationship to the fragment, and what do you see it achieving that couldn’t be possible otherwise?

A: about working with the fragment: it is, these days, a response to Incoming, the pervasive text, all around us; it is my poet’s relation to the notion of going inside the syntax of language, in order to inhabit a lived space, that is more than description. Something about the times we find ourselves in (have all poets at all times felt this?), that tension between living in relative comfort and security and everything else that the people of this world face, every day; something about the nature of the internet, of the age of digital (what someone once termed, the age of Staccato, in reference to 19th century/20th century advertising); about my poet’s response to fast, rather than to slow and the tension between—

I think the fragment as a means of discourse, for me, is somehow tied into my being so porous, that language rhythms and cadences are caught and held and poured over and ruminated over, and stored for a long time, for decades, and yet the world demands response time measured in seconds, in minutes.

It is about the speed of dissemination and if one is porous, and gathering fragments, how to then represent these fragments—I’m still sorting out my way with the fragment, which is very much involved in how I’m writing volume 2 of thecanadaproject: thot-j-bap: Is there a tension in the fragment between description and representation, between nanosecond and eternity, the way we cannot capture the thing most imminent?

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A:  Friday, Dec. 4, 2015: Dear rob, I write to u from surrey on my new android. Miss my old flip phone. As I begin my new position as Surrey poet laureate, energy these days comes in real-time exploration of place, culture, language: eg, the Punjabi-Hindi tunes playing in the cab I’m in and the conversations I’m having in English about Urdu n Punjabi poetry, with a cab driver who regales me with Surrey stories.

For a list of my current readings, pls see the books cited in our exchange about the books on my desk (Gladman, Kearns, Reznikoff).  Also, Jeff Derksen (The Vestiges), Jaqueline Turner (The Ends of the Earth). In late November, I attended an afternoon salon in Fort Langley with former poet laureate of Edmonton, E.D. Blodgett: was spell-bound in the winter light, listening to his reading of a sequence of poems in his book, Musical Offering (Coach House, 1986).

As well, I’ve started to run in the mornings, very much beginner and I’m contemplating Murakami’s writing on the connections btwn a running practice n a writing practice. 

Also, later today I’ll attend my first Zumba class: so energy comes, ultimately, from the body and as Jack Gilbert says, from the dance most of all.

XRSS October – December, 2015