Sunday, May 24, 2015

TtD supplement #28 : seven questions for nathan dueck

nathan dueck is the author of two poetry collections, king's(mère) (Turnstone Press, 2004) and he’ll (Pedlar Press, 2014), as well as the chapbook @BillMurray in Purgatorio (above/ground press, 2013).

His poem “Green Slime” appears in the fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Green Slime.” In your email, you said it was a poem about you can’t do that on television, the young adult television show produced by CJOH-TV in Ottawa throughout Ottawa, infamous in part for introducing Alanis Morrissette, as well as the “green slime,” which has appeared regularly on Nickelodeon over the twenty-plus years since. Why did you decide to write one on an out-of-date kids show?

A: “Green Slime” is a poem from a project I’m working on right now. It’s a series of poems that draws on the pop culture that formed my lazy youth. I was an “indoorsy” child who read children’s books on the same couch that I watched cable TV. I.e., I’m writing poetry that combines childhood stories and shows. “Green Slime” is a poem about you can’t do that on television that I wrote in the form of Lewis Carroll’s “Haddock’s Eyes” from Through the Looking Glass. Because Carroll parodied Wordsworth with “Haddock’s Eyes,” I wrote a parodic poem about a kids’ show. As I was writing, though, I found that legit reference comedy was less fun to write than reverential homage.

Q: How much can you talk about the current project? You seem to work very much on projects that are book-length. Is working in the book as your unit of composition something you do deliberately, or something that evolves quite naturally? How, in fact, do you put a manuscript together?

A: My work-in-progress is tentatively titled “CRTC.” (I'm not sure that I’ll get away with that title.) I’m writing a series of poetic forms and modes about pop culture, but culture that isn’t really “popular” anymore. These are old-timey poems about cartoons, comic books, magazines, video games that have become the white noise of my mind. As I age out of the 18-35 demo, I’m becoming nostalgic for the late ‘80s / early ‘90s static – I can no longer ignore the culture that informed the lifestyle of this slovenly “indoorsman.”

You’re right to point out that I tend toward writing book-length projects. Previously, I’ve written with one eye on the book as a unit of composition, but I’m trying to stop. I’d like to think of “CRTC” as more of a “greatest hits” package, which means I’m focusing on each poem as part of a collection. Who knows, it may turn out to be a book that readers tirelessly flip through like channels during commercial breaks. 

Q: Why are you trying to stop?

A: “Stop” may not be the best word. Maybe . . . reconsider? The reason is, when I look at the book as a unit of composition, I get caught up in writing about particular characters in a specific setting. Reading, then, demands attention for the duration of the book to make sense of any part of the book. I’m interested in developing another sort of aesthetic with this project. I’m trying to write poems that stand on their own.

Q: Your book-length projects so far could each be considered to be response works, from the exploration of Prime Minister Mackenzie King of king's(mère) and the exploration of Mennonite language and culture of he’ll to what you discuss of the new work-in-progress. After two books over the space of a decade and your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’d like to say that I know where my work is headed, but I don’t. I also don’t know why I took a decade between books. I mean, I’m grateful to have published two books, but don't want another decade to pass before the third. I’m interested in your use of “response works” because the phrase relates to the way I try to parody other texts. I’d like to think that my understanding of irony as developed: where I have been caught up in subverting previous texts, I’m now catching on to juxtaposing texts.

Q: What is your attraction to composing texts using parody or satire?

A: I see parody (not satire,* exactly) as a way to acknowledge my texts as texts -- as language, as material, as footnotes of literature far greater than my own.

* These days, I can’t help but cringe while reading satire – I don’t feel bad about that expression, though, because I’m assuming satire is written through a sneer.

Q: I’m curious about your evolution into more traditionally formal exploration of “Green Slime.” Is this the difference, possibly, between your current work-in-progress and your previous works: the attempt to focus more on the individual poem?

A: Yep. I took the form of “Green Slime” as a challenge. Carroll dropped a gauntlet I had to run through – metrically, rhythmically, and tonally. We’re living in the age of avant garde, or post-avant, poetry that is based on constraint, so I base this poem on the constraints of another age. (By the way, is it possible to think of constraint-based lyrical poetry as experimental in 2015?)

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

A: Three books from the last year that just won’t stay shelved are Louis Cabri’s Posh Lust, Jeramy Dodds’ The Poetic Edda, and Rachel Zolf’s Janey’s Arcadia.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Touch the Donkey #1 reviewed in Broken Pencil #67

Touch the Donkey #1 is reviewed by Scott Bryson in Broken Pencil #67. He writes:

The aforementioned sonnets aside – they’re expertly crafted by Camille Martin – several lucid and honest prose entries stand out, in this collection. Across two verses, Hailey Higdon discusses how she has “come to an agreement” with her dog regarding its need to be walked and her reluctance to participate, as she suffers through anxiety (or perhaps agoraphobia). In “Distraction,” Norma Cole examines a variety of memories that hint at the power of silence and absence, and the creativity born from incomplete knowledge.
There’s a consistently bleak – yet oddly gratifying – atmosphere surrounding the majority of these works. Pattie McCarthy sums it up in a way that’s both enigmatic and pitiable, in one of several poems titled “wifthing” (which deal with the history of the wife): “the shape of my midlife crisis is daniel radcliffe.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

TtD supplement #27 : seven questions for Paige Taggart

Paige Taggart is from Northern California and currently resides in Brooklyn. She is the author of two full-length collections, Or Replica (Brooklyn Arts Press, Dec 2014) and Want for Lion (Trembling Pillow Press, March 2014) and 5 chapbooks, most recently I am Writing To You From Another Country; Translations of Henri Michaux (Greying Ghost Press). She has her own jewelry line (mactaggartjewelry.com) that specializes in blinging-out poets.

Her poem “when i dream of a lover a lover dreams of me too” appears in the fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “when i dream of a lover a lover dreams of me too.”

A: The poem attempts to create a transient state of intimacy, not so much personal intimacy directly, but more an intimacy bound to the poem that is carried over into the reader so that the reader is then, hopefully, bound in this way of intimacy too.... Like an infinite reach for the grander, like an echoing of a mathematical sequence. I was opened by music & made willing & vulnerable to write the poem; I was trying to detach from a body, to be an out-of-body experience.

Q: From what I’ve seen of your work, you seem to favour larger groupings of poems as opposed to stand-alone pieces. Is this part of a larger project of some sort, perhaps even a book-length work?

A: Yes, I very rarely write an individual poem that stands alone and not in the company of other various parts or paragraphs. This piece was written all in one sitting and it doesn’t feel like a part of a larger project quite yet. Maybe at some point it will be. But it will probably end up in the most recent work at hand, which is a manuscript made up of many different styles. I call it a mixtape, at this point, but we’ll see.

Q: I like the idea of a poetry manuscript-as-mixtape, which sounds different than the way you built your first two books. How were the first two manuscripts constructed, and what prompted the shift in construction for your current work-in-progress?

A: The work-in-progress is certainly a shift as both of my books were constructed/written with the whole in mind, specifically sections & styles. I worked in sequences and relied on length to fully flush out a concept or idea that I had shaking around in my skull. One example from Or Replica, the prose sections of the book were really concerned with place/location and how memory affects our most current psychological states. Now, it’s fun & flirty to write occasional poems, or poems that work to stand alone, partly because I don’t feel as compelled to put a book out any time soon, so there’s less pressure to think with regard to book form. So I’m being more myself in some ways, and just writing for art’s sake. The potential of the mix tape is that it contains more music than ever my writing has before.

Q: What is it that allows you to put aside the pressure to write “with regard to book form”? Was the pressure of wanting to publish pushing the ways in which you put together your first two collections?

A: Wanting to have a book out in the world made me think about form with more restriction. I have felt so all over the place, inconsistent. The language has always pulled me around, and I felt that if I wanted a book in the ways I’ve always seen books in the world, I’d need to do something different. So I sought control over the text in a way that incapacitated a certain sense of freedom. There are general restrictions for what is & isn’t a “book,” especially for publishing your first book of poetry—like you can’t just do what you want and expect other people to “get it.” After you’ve published several volumes of work, or once your dead, perhaps all the notes, and jumping around is regarded as savant material—and becomes intellectual property in a way it never would upon initially becoming a writer. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have written my first two books, had I been more “free” – I am very grateful that I had wonderful publishers for the first two collections, and these books are fiercely me. But I do feel more attached to the process now that I’ve put aside the pressure to write “with regard to book form.”

Q: I’m not sure how far you are through your “post-book” process, but are you noticing any shifts in your work now that you’ve allowed yourself some freedom from the pressure to publish a book? Is there anything emerging in your poems that you might not have expected? Are there directions you can finally bring yourself to explore that you couldn’t before?

A: I notice the octopus tentacles of varying differences; I don’t really know what I’m writing exactly. A lot of this feels like just “writing” and less like trying to make poems—included is the flexibility to stretch into more an essayistic mode of writing and then I come back to poetry & kind of delve in-and-out of various modes of speech. I wrote a play a long time ago and I’m working on having a few friends act it out.  The performance is not super dramatic. It’s more a dialogue. I also wrote a recent piece that’s kind of a lyric essay that came to me in the form of a dream, and I woke up and wrote the dream down and allowed for various transformations to take place. This piece addresses the very act of writing, which I am deeply questioning. I like exploring that, and I also feel okay with being more political than I used to be.

And about eight years ago I made an attempt at writing a novel, it’s really bad, but I think about doing something with that piece, maybe putting it inside of a memoir type framework—like acknowledging that this happened—ha-ha—that the failure is beautiful! I don’t think I have a particularly interesting life that begs for a memoir, but it is something I think about. I am super interested in memory and the way it plays a role on my current psychological states, and I think a memoir would allow for a kind of vulnerability unmasking, and that maybe it’d help me get over a bunch of my “issues” but I don’t think the writing would necessarily need to be shared or be a book ever! 

Q: What role do you think memory would have in memoir that you aren’t able to explore through poetry?

A: I feel like memory in poetry is something I’m capable of dipping in & out of but I don’t want to occupy that plane for too long. Poetry is quicker & less about perfectly laying out a vision/landscape/place  & persists in that space, occupying all its senses, familiarities & just general formal description. It would be boring for a poem to linger in one place for too long. I like poetic jumping. I like using a memory as a taking off point & then venturing somewhere radically different to keep things in motion—movement & music are key for me in poetry & come way before meaning—looking for meaning means establishing a fixed point with which to attach a concept or idea, often declaring itself through metaphor etc. I want to mean a million things & embody much more space than a narrative allows for. I think if asked to write a memoir of myself it would slow me down. It would be to study specific occasions much more microscopically. 

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

A: I don’t return to any particular writing to reenergize my own work—I always think about other writers and elicit particular moments, phrases, or narratives in my head. I always come back to certain story lines that served as literary experiences for me like in Cesar Aria’s books. After having translated the work of Henri Michaux, I feel fueled by thinking about his work and how it can be read and experienced on so many levels. On a day-to-day basis I quote my boyfriend Sampson Starkweather’s poems in my head or aloud. I listen to music & podcasts to move me out of myself. I think about my friends’ poetry all the time. I don’t have a mentor or a certain fueling agent; it shifts constantly. Every time I read a good book it makes me want to write more. I just finished an excellent first book of poetry, Undercastle by Feliz Lucia Molina.

Friday, May 1, 2015

TtD supplement #26 : seven questions for ryan fitzpatrick

ryan fitzpatrick is a poet and critic living in Vancouver. With Jonathan Ball, he co-edited Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014). He is the author of Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) and Fake Math (Snare Books, 2007).

His poems “What History?” and “Kinder, Gentler” appear in the fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “What History?” and “Kinder, Gentler.”

A: Both of these poems are standalones written mostly using the styles and procedures of my first book Fake Math – the poems funnily live in a folder on my computer labelled “Faker Math” – meaning the poems are loose improvisations or riffs on something (or more likely a few things) I’d been researching on the internet, often using found language from my internet searches. I like writing these one-offs because they’re quick and don’t require me to compose according to a set of self-imposed style guidelines or constraints that I might work up for a larger project. The process allows for quicker composition – I can knock one off in about 15 minutes – which works because it allows me to try things that might not work or, better, that do work because they carry the germ of something bigger.

Q: What is it about the procedures of your first collection that still attracts you? And do you normally work against a series of constraints? And, if you do enough “one-offs” from the same set of procedures, don’t they actually become their own project (and therefore, no longer “one-offs”)?

A: I think this is exactly it. What I like is the way the looseness of the improvisation can lead into something firmer (but doesn’t necessarily). My second book, Fortified Castles, came directly out of a couple one offs where I began to feed I-statements into Google (“I am so frightened” and “I fell asleep last night” were the first couple, I think), working with the search results. I liked the kind of material that came out so I stuck with it, playing with the shape of the poems themselves as I went. Working into a project from the ground up means that I work from a series of compositional problems or questions – questions that don’t emerge without the experimentation of doing something that doesn’t fit in a bigger project.

As for the procedures around Fake Math (which is a loose version of Google sculpting, which is, I think, a variation or inversion of cut up), they’ve stuck with me because of their malleability and the way that they can push me into surprising textual spaces. That said, Google’s algorithms have gotten too good at finding what you actually want, which is a problem for someone not looking for anything specific. So, I’ve been wondering about the usefulness of the practice going forward.

Q: Would you consider your process pure flarf or simply incorporating flarf into your compositional process? Either way, the process of attempting to remove the author is an intriguing one. What is it about the procedure that attracts?

A: I view Flarf as a historical moment rather than an aesthetic style or process, though it carries forward in the practices of a number of writers who weren't directly involved in the original Flarf group, including myself. Flarf was (is?) a messy proposition, caught between conceptual and procedural practices while also deeply invested in improvisation. I'm not sure what a “pure” Flarf might look like, since it was already an “impure” practice, and, to be honest, it was this messiness that attracted (and still attracts) me to the procedures of that original group, at least as I understood them. What keeps some version of these procedures important to my work is a combination of their flexibility, their ability to push the work forward because of a (seemingly) endless pool of material to work with, and the way that, unlike a “pure” conceptualism that staves off transparent expression by making the author the idea-man at the beginning of the process, it turns composition into a game of improvisational editing, chipping away at the mess of the universe to make something messier.

Q: What is, or at least has been so far, your normal process of putting together a manuscript?

A: Do other writers have a standard process for putting together a manuscript? For me, in my handful of opportunities, the process has been different each time, but the aim shared by all of them was making sure that the poems cohered somehow into a larger picture. What that’s meant for me so far is taking a position between the careful editing and sequencing of seemingly disparate material and the conceiving of a pre-written plan, making sense of that position in a way that helps articulate the specific questions and issues at play in a given project. I’ve found that, increasingly, I’ve moved from organizing my scattered material (what I did in Fake Math) to starting with a strong idea for a book-length project (my next project, Field Guide, which is a guide for spotting extinct species), a move that I suspect has to do with both my interest in the long poem as a genre and the way it seems that the book-length project has become the dominant form for contemporary poetry of all stripes in Canada (a move that I suspect has to do with a perceived marketability of projects with strong conceptual and narrative frames). But of course, who knows? I prefer to work through the what, how, and why of a project simulataneously, letting form, content, procedure, and concept affect and infect one another.

Q: After two trade collections, multiple chapbooks and your current work-in-progress over the space of nearly a decade, how do you feel your work has developed?

A: This is a huge question, rob, and I’m skeptical about linear narratives about the development of any artist’s work, but I do think that over the course of the last decade I’ve slowed down and gotten more deliberate in the way I put things together. I’m writing much less than I was in my twenties and things tend to fall into larger projects and sequences that need lengthy periods of editing to make them work.

In the spirit of this, I just wrote and deleted the same sentence three times. The sentence said something about craft and politics and the defended distance between them in the loudest and most reactionary corners of contemporary poetry criticism that sometimes act as if craft and politics aren’t deeply connected (hint: they are). What I wanted to say is that my relationship to these poles (craft, politics) has shifted, but I stopped myself because I’m not sure how. I’ve gotten relationally messier and formally cleaner. I’ve moved to longer forms with more iteration that attempt to retain an unpredictability. I’ve ached to find ways to cut to the chase politically while also smuggling that politics into a seemingly tame package. I’ve moved to uglier content. I’ve gotten more laughs by being more sincere. I’ve tried to undercut expectations through long form set-ups and disruptions. And mostly, I’ve increasingly tried to give myself the time and space to work out increasingly complex sets of ideas that emerge from simple problems and hunches.

Q: You started publishing during your time in Calgary, when you were involved in a vibrant community of writers, publishers and critics that surrounded the University of Calgary and filling Station magazine. Now that you’ve been in Vancouver for a while, are you noticing any difference in how you approach writing, publishing or a literary community? Is there even a difference? And, might the long-dormant MODL Press ever return?

A: Moving from one city to another is tough and I’ve only just started to get my legs in the literary community in Vancouver after three years, which, for a number of reasons both political and historical, is weirdly segmented in ways that I won’t go into here. My community here leans toward the academic, mostly because I’m tied to SFU for school and work, so I find myself hanging out with poets who are also attached to the institution – not only established poets like Jeff Derksen, Steve Collis, and Clint Burnham, but also my grad student poetry peers like Amy De’Ath, Natalie Knight, Joseph Giardini, Deanna Fong, and Chris Ewart (among a bunch of others), which doesn’t include the wider intellectual community I’m involved in. Outside the institution, my field of affinities is more scattered (though it includes a bunch of great, but very different folks like Daniel Zomparelli and Danielle LaFrance), since I don’t necessarily have time to commit to an ongoing organization, publication, or series.

As a result, my collaborations or curations that in Calgary might have been more explicitly literary are far more academic now. I’ve written or co-written a number of papers for academic journals, conferences, and community publications. I’ve collaborated on the organization of last 3 SFU grad conferences with a bunch of fantastic folks. Deanna Fong, Janey Dodd, and myself are updating the Fred Wah Digital Archive that Susan Rudy started at the University of Calgary. Even the humour anthology I did with Jonathan Ball has an academic edge. I find myself moving toward that Poet-Critic hybrid that maybe used to be more common or more recognized. Something like that.

As for MODL, the joke always was that the reason the name is spelled wrong is because it was never a model small press. I’m not ready to give it up quite yet, though I’m on a permanent enough hiatus that I put an end date on my cv. I’m hoping to get my shit together enough to finally finish the Meghan Doraty chapbook I promised to put out a couple years back (I’m sorry, Meghan!). That said, before I left Calgary, I threatened to sell off the press and its assets (a paper cutter and long-arm stapler) to anyone who might be interested for $50 and a flat of beer – if anyone’s interested, they know where to find me.

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

A: No one specific, I try to read a lot and from different sources – my reading habits are largely a matter of public record on Twitter. I gravitate mostly toward poetry, theory, blog posts, and reviews (but not book reviews). But, in the last few years, the most important text for me creatively has proven to be internet comments, the uglier the better. Don't let anyone suggest that you shouldn’t read them, even though, really, you shouldn’t.