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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TtD supplement #87 : seven questions for Andrew McEwan

Andrew McEwan is the author of If Pressed (BookThug, fall 2017), Tours, Variously (forthcoming from TalonBooks in 2018), and repeater, a finalist for the 2013 Gerald Lampert award, along with numerous chapbooks including Conditional (Jack Pine) and Can’t tell if this book is depressing or if I’m just sad (No Press). He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

His four poems “from Depression Inventory” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the four poems “from Depression Inventory.”

A: “Depression Inventory” is a series of poems from my forthcoming collection If pressed (BookThug, fall 2017), which attends to the atmospheric, economic, and emotional anxieties of language, and maintains an ambivalence about whether the word “depression” describes an emotional or economic state of being.  Formally, the “Depression Inventory” poems are based on Beck’s Depression Inventory, a questionnaire for self-diagnosing clinical depression. Each poem takes on a question category, teases it apart, and blends in language of economic speculation derived from reports of the financial crisis, and speculation about the depression-like economy of the post-2008 era. They’re anxious and speculative poems that aim for, but never achieve, diagnosis.

Q: How does this compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: As the first poem in If pressed “Depression Inventory” strongly relates thematically to the rest of the collection. Formally, the use of systems of categorization, diagnosis, and taxonomy have been interesting to me going back to my first collection, repeater, and continues into my current project, a project titled Nature Building collaboratively written with Elee Kraljii Gardiner. I think these systems of understanding and organizing meaning, phenomena, and experience may be used to great effect as a poetic form in ways that complicate their supposed function.

Q: How did the collaborative project come about, and how are you finding the differences between solo and collaborative projects? Do they play off each other, or are they entirely separate?

A: The collaborative project with Elee came about through an inside joke that developed the first time we met. We joked about nature tropes of Anglo-Canadian anthology verse and how these formed much of the landscape in which we developed our understanding of poetry as youth and students. We decided to pull natural imagery from early Canadian anthology poetry (pre-1950) and send them to each other to write around, through, and into. Since that beginning, we’ve departed from this original premise as the conversation developed. As for your second two questions, I’m still figuring these out. Right now I’d say the difference is that the composition and idea development happen in conversation, and over a prolonged period. There are far more delays in development of new directions and ideas as we wait for the next skype call to discuss them. This has been a really great thing, though, and it’s allowed the project to develop in a very natural way. It’s changed the way I think about my solo writing insofar as it’s helping me to see writing as a conversation with my own ideas over days, weeks, years, and to slow down when ideas need time to develop.

Q: I’m always curious to hear how poets build books, especially those first few collections. What or who were your models for putting poetry collections together, and has the process of putting together your second collection been much different than your first?

A: In putting repeater together I thought of it as one integrated project from the start. Even though there are different poems comprising the appendices to the main poem they function as integral parts of the whole. I looked to models like Robert Kroetsch’s Field Work and Seed Catalogue, Kate Eichorn’s Fond, Jonathan Ball’s Ex Machina, and just about all the work of Erín Moure and Lisa Robertson. I liked the way those writers used the book as a unit of composition for delving into different areas of a central, or central group of, concepts.

Now, If pressed is similar in its book form, but felt very different to write. The poem “Of Matter Diverse and Confused” weaves throughout the collection, but the poems between stray and were written without the book as a unit in mind, just related ideas. I’ve been influenced by Spicer’s use of the serial poem in his later books since I started writing, and I’d say If pressed is slightly closer to that model than repeater was. Through the editing process the poems of If pressed became more and more entangled, so the resulting book might seem similar to repeater’s composition style from outside.

Q: With a small handful of chapbooks and a trade collection, with another on the way, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’m still thinking on that one. My work has been connected by what I’d describe as a research-based poetics in which I mine an archive for language and turn it in on itself or mix it with another register of language. For me this is also an interest in language environments and the types of thoughts, possibilities, and foreclosures they enact. I was interested in the supposedly non-human language of binary and ways of self-reflecting through language in repeater. If pressed takes on the word and concept of “depression” and writes through early medical nosologies and taxonomies, as well as contemporary financial speculation. If pressed is definitely the most pointed and politically charged work I’ve done. My third book, Tours, variously (TalonBooks, release date TBD), goes back to a similar interest as repeater, insofar as it uses language to look at itself and its possibilities. In the case of Tours, variously, the language of guidance and touring and how the spaces it opens up are demarcated by description. My ongoing work with Elee is opening up the biggest change in my writing, as I discussed earlier, but I wouldn’t think of it as a progression, and it bears many similarities to my previous projects.

Q: How did you end up working such a “research-based poetics,” and what does it allow that you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish otherwise?

A: I’ve always gravitated toward writing that digs into a concept and its archives. I’m interested in the resonances of archives and their languages. It allows me inhabit and combine different types language that are not my own in ways that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

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

A: I return to writers like Jack Spicer, Lisa Robertson, Clark Coolidge, Noah Eli Gordon, Caroline Bergvall, Louis Zukofsky, and Erín Moure to immerse myself in a sensuousness of language it's easy to lose an awareness of, especially in the editing stages of a project. I often keep Moure’s O Cididan and Coolidge’s Mine: The One That Enters the Stories out and return to those frequently.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

TtD supplement #86 : seven questions for mwpm

mwpm lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario. The musings of mwpm have appeared (or forthcoming) in filling Station, (parenthetical), Sewer Lid, Otoliths, Sonic Boom, untethered, and MUSH/MUM.

His poems “16/106,” “16/115,” “after socrates” and “cats hate the rain” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “16/106,” “16/115,” “after socrates” and “cats hate the rain.”

A: I’m fascinated by the idea of redundancy. One must be authoritative in order to deem something redundant, because one must know the big picture before attributing the label – what is required, where does it fit, and (most relevantly) how much is too much.

If I had two stomachs, I would have one stomach too many for a human. But if I had four stomachs, I would be a cow.

I began thinking in redundancy-related riddles. Some of which I adapted into poems. But more often than adapting the riddles themselves, I found I was writing in a sort of riddle structure. Gradually I moved away from sentences that complimented each other in terms of clever content, and towards sentences that were complimentary in terms of length, implementing common words or common letter patterns.

The arrangement of these words/letters may be influenced by aesthetic gratification, or they may be arranged to highlight redundancies in sentences like “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” “I’m not laughing at you I’m laughing with you,” or “we don’t know how much we don’t know” in the poem “after socrates.”

“cats hate the rain,” on the other hand, was written explicitly to eliminate redundancies. The poem should be read: “cats hate the rain but they love you.” I have arranged the letters in such a way that repeating letters can be applied to both words, and can thereby be condensed. (“Two birds with one stone” is a horrible cliché, both for being a cliché and for promoting inhumane treatment of animals, but it is undeniably applicable.) Thus a 29 letter sentence is translated into a 23 letter poem. Not much progress, but I am endeavouring to improve upon this economy of letters.

“16/106” and “16/115” belong to a series of poems. My initial goal was to number the poems as a method of tracing the progression of an aesthetic. But ultimately I became too attached to the aesthetic as it appears in “16/106” and “16/115” - in which I break down two sentences and utilize certain redundancies to influence the arrangement of the individual letters, with the hope of extracting new words that do not exist in either of the two original sentences. What began as an exercise in aesthetic inquiry has devolved into yet another redundancy – although I’m not altogether unhappy with the results, reading the poems individually rather than the series as a whole.

Q: How do these pieces fit in with the rest of the work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Aesthetically, I find I’m drawn to fragmentation. There’s something very appealing about breaking down words and finding new ways to arrange letters on a page. Perhaps my true calling is writing crossword and wordsearch puzzles.

The “16/” poems are occasional pieces, drawing from my daily life and whatever I happen to be reading. Whereas “after socrates” and “cats hate the rain” are more deliberate aesthetic efforts. Both feel like prototypes, like blueprints, like cave drawings... My goal would therefore be no less than re-inventing the wheel. If I am disappointed with said wheel, perhaps it is because I am impatient for the advent of the automobile.

Q: Where did your attraction to fragmentation begin? Did it evolve naturally, or are there specific authors that have influenced that direction?

A: For reasons I’m not consciously aware of, I’ve always been drawn to poetry that explores the fragmentation of words; poetry that utilizes inventive techniques that dictate the arrangement of letters on a page. There are a number of anthologies dedicated to this form of poetry, but otherwise I have had to seek out the poets who were so inclined.

I remember scouring libraries for the publishers I knew had an experimental leaning, or for authors who deliberately neglected proper capitalization and punctuation. If the author refused to capitalize their name or their book’s title, then there was a good chance that their poetry wouldn’t be capitalized – which I recognized as a possible gateway to more depraved forms of poetry.

Not surprisingly, my first poems were shameless emulations of the various forms utilized by poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire, E.E. Cummings, and bpNichol. But these emulations were superficial and sloppy.

It wasn’t until I was introduced to Jackson Mac Low that I began to consider the process behind these poems – perhaps owing to the elaborate nature of Mac Low’s chance-based, deterministic methods. So outlandish were Mac Low’s methods that I had to consider the background, the motivation, and whether or not the end is justified by the means.

Q: You say that you’re currently working on a series of poems; how do your poems usually get constructed? As individual pieces or via groupings? How do you see your work evolving?

A: With my series, the “16/” poems, I constructed the poems individually. There was little or no continuity in the content, aside from its resemblance to the aphorisms of someone like... Antonio Porchia. (If my “aphorisms” seem more contrived, it’s because I wanted to stress the importance of formal innovation.) The continuity in this series is derived entirely from the form, and the subtle ways I attempted to adjust the form in order to emphasize a progression.

As I said before, I believe the series to be a failure. The poems may be appealing on an individual basis, but the progression isn’t enough to bind them and form a whole.

Q: I’m curious as to your assertion that you wish “to stress the importance of formal innovation.” Can you speak further on this?

A: The postmodernists asserted that everything has been said. While I don’t entirely agree, it is with this in mind that I strive to embolden new forms of “poetry.” I’m reminded, too, of Marjorie Perloff who, in her afterword to Derek Beaulieu’s Flatland, states: ‘what goes by the name of “poetry” is more accurately defined as a form of short prose.’ By that standard, Beaulieu’s Flatland is not “poetry” but a “conceptual text,” which I find very freeing. Post-postmodern poets are free to pursue new forms of poetry without feeling restricted by the standards imposed by an era of poetry (including the postmodernists). Someone like Beaulieu can publish his scribbles under the pretense that the means justify the ends.

Again, I don’t entirely agree that the means justify the ends. Strictly speaking, I believe the end result should be as compelling as the concept. Beaulieu’s concept is far more interesting than his scribbles, and I don’t think a work should be so uneven. Broadly speaking, what Beaulieu has truly accomplished with Flatland is taking “poetry” so far from “poetry” that he has created a wider range for like-minded poets to work within.

That is the importance of formal innovation. Whether or not we succeed, we are widening the range and expanding the possibilities of “poetry.”

Q: You speak of individual pieces and fragmentation, but I’m curious if you’re consciously working towards some kind of larger grouping or groupings of your poems, whether as chapbook or full-length book.

A: When I started the “16/” poems I had hoped to create a larger grouping that would recognizable as a series or sequence based on a form that would become progressively more fragmented – the words would become more fragmented and the arrangement would become more scattered. My perceived failure may be derived from comparing the later poems to the earlier poems and realizing that someone, unaware of the process, would interpret the early poems as “lazy” or “lackluster” version of the later poems.

I have since reworked the poems, conformed them to a common style. For posterity, I decided to retain the titles – which refer to the year of their composition (2016) and the order of their composition. It may appear cryptic, but the poems themselves are cryptic and deserve cryptic titles.

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

A: Too many to name, but I’ll try.

First and foremost is E.E. Cummings. Cummings is the reason I started reading poetry, and later the reason I started writing poetry. I often return to the selection edited by Richard Kostelanetz, which elevates Cummings to his rightful place as a pioneer “not only in linguistic and typographic inventions, but also in sound and concrete poetry.”

There are a number of poets I read and re-read for the standard they set – Jack Spicer for his poetry sequences from After Lorca to Book of Magazine Verse; Paul Celan and Faye Kicknosway for their tone (disquieting); Barbara Guest for the poems of her impressionistic phase with its generous use of space; Anne Carson and Lisa Robertson for their intelligence and for their ability to not only illuminate any subject but animate any subject in the most unexpected ways.

Last but certainly not least is Souvankham Thammavongsa. There’s something absolutely breathtaking about Thammavongsa’s poetry. In order to describe what I find breathtaking I would have to follow Margaret Atwood’s advice... (Was it Atwood who said that a poem is the best response to a poem? or something to that affect...) Perhaps I’ll do that.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TtD supplement #85 : seven questions for Cody-Rose Clevidence

Cody-Rose Clevidence’s 1st book, BEAST FEAST, was released by Ahsahta Press in 2014. They live in the Arkansas Ozarks w their dog, Pearl. 

Their poem, “[Nope],” “from Poppycock & Assphodel,” appears in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “[Nope],” “from Poppycock & Assphodel.”

A: hahaha no way

Q: Are you willing to talk about the larger project it is part of, “Poppycock & Assphodel”?

A: .... yes..... but, I do t know how to not be cryptic.  I’ve never been a fan of the personal lyric, I mean, if it sounds good, okay, but like, it just has always seemed to me to be a narcissistic waste of space, like the whole world and all of history and all the ideas and struggles and everything is going on around us, anyway so I hate myself for this project, and also I’m a lil prude and have always been quite private in my own self, so fuck me, here I am, out of a shit relationship that made me feel like I was starving to death, trapped in some medieval torture device, & then I’m out of it and... it was like coming back to life all of a sudden the world around me and the colors and the sensations of being were so... I don’t know so real and full of life instead of this bleak and endless pain, and well also uhm I sort of accidentally was also falling in love, w someone I wasn’t rly sposst to be but it just happens, I guess.  anyway lots of things... &maybe we can just say there's a long tradition of queer poets coalescing sexuality w/th experience of nature, or something.  Or any poets but I think queer poets especially because of... well that’s a whole other thought...Anyway so its a fucking personal lyric and I hate myself because there are really important things in this world that are way more interesting and way more pressing, but well I’m stuck here rn so.

Q: How does the work in “Poppycock & Assphodel” compare to, say, the work in BEAST FEAST?

A: Well.... it’s very different... but what happened was this.  After BF I wrote this long, v dense manuscript called FLUNG THROWN &... well I had just read John McPhee’s “Annals of a Former World” and was obsessed with the evolution of early life on earth, & flung. thrown... like I said super dense & well it felt v serious, something about the evolution of consciousness, to feel grief, my friend Amelia Jackie, The Molasses Gospel, has a line “All the pain is worth it/ all the pain is worth it/ just to have one minute/ alive”... & I was like... uhm really cuz... no.  & just something about the vastness of geologic time & to be conscious in whatever way we, as humans, are, in our human consciousness experiencing this tiny sliver of our experienceable world, for like, what, a blip in time, anyway, and also to be honest I got deep into prosody & was just rereading Hopkins, H.D. & Brathwaite, like, trying to learn, on some intimate level, their respective genius’ w regard to, like, how sonic & prosody & meaning can get wove together, anyway, like I said, it’s DENSE (I was also obsessed w this idea that like, if a book of poetry is 18$ dollars, it should... I dunno take more than 20 minutes to read, or like, I wanted, needed, to write something that felt heavy.  so Poppycock & Assphodel became sort of a minimalist jokey slough-off of shit that was too silly to get put in Flung/Thrown, sort of like a catch-all manuscript for one liner's & dick jokes, to like, shake the density out of me.  formally it’s very loose, but where BEAST FEAST isn’t as tight as I’d like it to be, in retrospect, in p&A the looseness was a foundational necessity, like, I had to walk it out or shake it off after the rigor I tried to put into F/Th. and then like I said it’s a totally narcissistic personal lyric, the scope is v close n small, somewhere between my eyeballs & th world, the lines are mostly short & turn v fast, the rhymes are goofy, & like it doesn’t have a bigger philosophical project that underlies it like both BF & F/Th (tried to) do.

Q: How do you feel your work has progressed over the past few years, through BEAST FEAST and beyond? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I don’t know. Not linearly or “progressed.” More like being first possessed in one direction and then another & not knowing which direction next, & more at the whim of it than I used to be, or at the whim of not-it, of not writing, also. I have a project I don’t know how to write, that occupies some of my brain, that I don’t want to talk about because I haven’t even figured out how to think about it, but mostly I feel helpless w language. More than before.

Q: What authors or works have helped influence the ways in which you write, and subsequently put books together?

A: Ronald Johnson, Kamau Brathwaite, H.D., Hopkins, Duncan.  Fin.  Well Paradise Lost a lil.

Q: When you say you feel helpless with language, is this a normal element in attempting to put a book together? How do you work through it?

A: I don’t know.

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

A: I guess to be the most honest, I just find myself rereading those same people over and over. and also sometimes Dickenson, but then I gotta wait a while to clear her out or else I'm just writing Dickenson-wanna-be poems, her prosody's so forceful it sticks in my head. And I reread Tim Early’s Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery sometimes, to be reminded that there can be energy & like, fun, or some sort of vitality in poems & I reread Lance Phillips to sort of shock myself out of, like, being bogged down in some way, either syntactically or with regards to... some sort of structure of meaning in the content, like, when I'm feeling stifled by ways of making meaning that feel dull or that like, dull my senses. But mostly I read science books cuz the worlds so cool & weird. or like, if I'm interested in the world then I'll be interested in writing... maybe... sometimes.... mostly.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

TtD supplement #84 : seven questions for Jonathan Ball

Dr. Jonathan Ball writes fiction, poetry, screenplays, and criticism and teaches literature, film, and writing in Winnipeg. Visit him online at JonathanBall.com, where he writes about writing the wrong way.

His poems “EMILY CARR,” “FRANKLIN CARMICHAEL” and “JESSIE & JAMES FRANCO” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “EMILY CARR,” “FRANKLIN CARMICHAEL” and “JESSIE & JAMES FRANCO.”

A: “Emily Carr” and “Franklin Carmichael” are from a poetic sequence called “Group of Seven,” which is from my manuscript-in-progress, The National Gallery. The book explores the role of art in the construction of our personal, social, and national selves.

At the heart of The National Gallery is a simple question: Why write poems? Each sequence attempts not so much to answer this question as to complicate the question.

“Group of Seven” questions the traditional purposes of poetry and addresses its various failures. Each poem is titled after a member of the Group of Seven (including major affiliates, for a total of 12 poems) but refuses to respond to the work of that artist.

The poem “Franklin Carmichael” is effectively a satire of the worst of our nation’s “Canadian content”-style poems but I try to turn it towards something surreal and disturbing. Gary Barwin’s poems, especially his book The Porcupinity of the Stars, was a massive influence on this manuscript.

With my last book of poetry, The Politics of Knives, I tried to draw influence from filmmakers and I have taken a lot also from David Lynch, who in my view always sacrifices sense for tone. I do that to some degree in poems like “Franklin Carmichael” and “Emily Carr.”

In “Emily Carr” I also take a page from Rilke with the final line — “Take this poem into your heart” — which mimics to some degree the final line of “Archaic Torso of Apollo” — “You must change your life.” A different sequence in the manuscript, about my daughter Jessie, draws heavily on Rilke.

“Jessie & James Franco” is a more straightforward poem about my daughter Jessie. She tagged James Franco in an Instagram post where his photo on her wall was in the background and I thought that was hilarious. A lot of The National Gallery is shaping up to be about my daughters, mostly the older Jessie.

Jessie is 17 now and it has been a difficult few years of late, although that is in no way her fault. We’ve had an interesting life and she’s very much at the age where you find yourself reflecting on life as she nears legal adulthood and you have so many more things to worry about (in the teen years) than you once felt that you had to worry about.

I’ve been very lucky because she’s the best daughter in world history but it’s still an emotional time. So, I’ve found myself writing the kinds of horrible, emotional poems I hate. So I puncture them with humour and horror and surrealistic turmoil.

Q: What do you think it is about the “Why write poems?” question that requires response, even if only complicating more? Is this a question you see currently in the culture, or is this more of an individual query?

A: It’s hard for me to answer this question in an interview, because it is a complex question that I am still thinking through, and the book will be my answer. I will just say that it is a question for the ages, and certainly one for this age, and a constant question for any good poet. (… and also for someone like me!)

Q: I’m curious about your attraction to the book-length project. Did it evolve naturally, or are there specific authors that have influenced that direction?

A: Somebody (I forget who, I think it was derek beaulieu) pointed out that I had done a book about books (Ex Machina) and a book about theatre (Clockfire) and a book that is in many ways about film (The Politics of Knives) and expected I would do a book about visual art next. I brushed the idea off but it stuck, and eventually I noticed that I have a number of poems that mimic techniques from visual art, the way that The Politics of Knives contains some pieces that mimic film techniques. 

I also became very interested in the film Texas Chain Saw Massacre and specifically in how the murderous cannibal family in the film is portrayed as an enclave of creators — they cook, they construct sculptures, decorative furniture, and of course masks from their victims, the film ends with an interpretive dance, and there are odd objects that seem entirely artworks, like a clock with a nail driven through its face that hangs suspended in a tree.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre
is a masterpiece, and was actually somewhat controversially made part of the permanent collection at NY’s MOMA. Anyway, I was thinking a lot when I wrote John Paizs’s Crime Wave about how postmodern art and related aesthetics have vaulted “failure” to the height of something like an artistic value, and seeing TCSM again in a cultural moment awash in controversies made me think a lot about the ethics of art-making, so those ideas started to dovetail towards what I saw myself expressing in poems.

I was also commissioned by Gallery 1C03 at the University of Winnipeg to write a poem sequence about Guy Maddin’s collages, and I have already mentioned that the poems of Gary Barwin and Rilke have been stuck with me over the past few years. I found myself writing more personal poems, but also spinning out strange, dark poems that seem to focus on moods and seem more “painterly” in a sense, like this one, which doesn’t have a title yet:
I walk three hallways
In the first I carry
A cup of blood
And seek my name
In the second the moon
Cannot see
What it loves
In the third I hold hands
With a torch
And its shadow
I promised to meet you
But I’m gone
Natalee Caple gave me some great edits on that poem, and her poems in A More Tender Ocean are other ones that I’ve found myself returning to. Of course, there are the standbys that always influence me, like Lisa Robertson.

I consider myself a horror author, and Tony Burgess and Thomas Ligotti are the two great influences on everything I do at the moment.

The manuscript for The National Gallery has grown much more organically than my other poetry books, which were more concept-driven. However, it’s gotten to the point where I am taking control of its growth and directing it more fully, as it nears something like completion.

Q: I’m fascinated by your work in the ekphrastic, especially since it appears to have grown organically, as you suggest, over multiple book-length projects. What do you feel as though you’re able to achieve through writing poetry around other genres – theatre, film and visual art – that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise?

A: The two main things that I achieve through working in ekphrastic modes are avoiding direct discussion of my emotions — so much so that when I actually address an emotion I’ve experienced, it serves as a shocking turn in the poem — and marrying my academic interest in art with my creative art-making.

I love writing a poem that works as a poem and stands alone but also has an interesting and complicated relationship to somebody else’s artwork. It’s a way to inspire yourself and to create and also be analytical and critical in a sense. I have always been ambitious, and it is also a way to associate yourself with your artistic heroes.

Christian Bök once told me something along the lines that if you open your book with a quote by Kafka, now you are in competition with Kafka. You have to be more Kafkaesque than Kafka. I like the challenge of that concept. When I wrote my poem “K. Enters the Castle” in The Politics of Knives, I was very much thinking in those terms. How can I take what Kafka was doing and extend it beyond Kafka? What would Kafka write if he had watched Tarkovsky’s films, like I had?

I have always loved art and my art-making is fundamentally an expression of that love for art. My first “real” poems came out of transcribing song lyrics. I grew up mainly in a small town far away from anything like a music store and I would get “new” (to us) music when a friend went into the city and brought CDs back and then would record unlabeled cassettes for me.

I always wanted to know the words but I went to high school in the age of grunge and everyone mumbled and slurred. I would lay in front of the cassette player and transcribe the lyrics, stopping and starting, rewinding, playing things back. Eventually, of course, the Internet came, and you could look up song lyrics. When I did, I discovered that I was wrong in many instances.

I remember one specific song — Pearl Jam’s “Ocean” — I was almost totally wrong, like 90% wrong. And I looked at Eddie Vedder’s lyrics and “my” lyrics and I liked my lyrics better. Then I started writing original song lyrics to replace the lyrics in my favourite songs, and moved to poems from there. I had been interested in writing beforehand, but this is when I started to seriously write.

So, in a way, my earliest “real” attempts at writing were very much a form of ekphrastic writing and, in many ways, I have just continued that trajectory.

Q: After a handful of books and chapbooks over the past decade-plus, how do you feel your poetry has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’ve become more interested in poetic sequences and poetic “groups” where you have maybe individual, stand-alone works but also a sense of cohesion or development. I like the juxtapositions between things. With The National Gallery a lot of the poems have titles that don’t relate directly to the content of the poems, and it creates an interesting tension sometimes to puncture or subvert or ironize the more typical title-body relationship. This is something that I stole from David McGimpsey, and in his honour a suite of poems is called “Food Court” and are all titled after fast food restaurants.

I’ve also become more interested in narrative, especially experimental narrative, and I’ve honed in more fully on violence and horror. In many respects my technical approach has broadened and I’ve experimented formally more as I’ve concurrently narrowed my thematic interests.

I find that my work keeps returning to the question of how to live in a world where we feel more and more connected to each other but less and less connected to power. We gain more freedom in our personal lives but feel less free in the world. Then we see violence as a shortcut to connection and control. My work more and more wants to understand that violent impulse as it manifests.

I keep drawing closer to horror. Horror has a clean structure and is ontological in nature. It questions the nature of reality through offering the monster as the truth of reality — a frightful truth that everyone works to deny. The fundamental anxiety that is expressed in horror, at its purest, is Are we wrong? And the answer of true horror is always We are wrong.

In horror, the struggle is less against that monster than against the reality of the monster. The threat in horror is always a symbolic threat, a fate worse than death, and the monster represents the fate worse than death. The challenge of the truly radical horror story is simple and precise but powerful: How do we accept the presence of this monster? How do we accept its truth? How should we suffer the fate worse than death? 

Since I have this increasing interest in narrative, and in horror, all of my writing plans after The National Gallery, and most of my actual writing over that last five years, has been in fiction and nonfiction and screenwriting.

Thematically, The National Gallery keeps asking the question you’ve asked: Where do I see my poetry headed? The answer it keeps returning is Into Oblivion. Maybe that will open a new space, a space of true horror, and I will find that space to be more poetically productive. Or maybe it will be my last poetry book.

Q: Through all of this, what holds you to poetry? You’ve worked in film, and you talk of being drawn closer to horror: why poetry, over moving further into film, or even prose? What is it about the form of the poem that brings you back?

A: Well, in fact I am moving further into film and prose. I’m abandoning poetry. I don’t know if I will come back.

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

A: I read poets, which is perhaps why I have kept coming back to poetry, to follow on your previous question. I feel like poetry is functionally language made strange, defamiliarized, and in poetic works often nothing else needs to happen. There’s a purity of function in some ways. In poetry, I go back to people who surprise me, and who work in long lines and prose poems or sequences, generally. Lisa Robertson, Sina Queyras, Jenny Boully, Erín Moure, Natalee Caple.

That said, there are a few things I keep returning to, often to reenergize, and many of them are not poetry. I have eclectic tastes. This list is going to seem deranged.

I keep returning to a few films: Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Psycho, and In the Mouth of Madness by John Carpenter, for various reasons, and the films of Guy Maddin and David Lynch and John Paizs, who I wrote a whole book about. The Mirror by Tarkovsky as well. A few TV shows, like The Wire and Bojack Horseman and The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development.

There’s a documentary about Jerry Seinfeld called Comedian that I consider one of the great films about the creative process. Comedy in general is something I truly value on a writing level. Steve Martin is my favourite comedian. His act at its height was a brilliant meta-level parody of a stand-up routine where punchlines aren’t the focus or source of the laughs. A lot of other comedians and comedy shows, definitely.

I find rappers fascinating. There’s something about their intensity alongside their wordplay. Poets who don’t listen to rap music are beyond my comprehension. Rappers and comedians are the great poets of our age.

I value intensity. I value tone over sense. I return to a few books and authors religiously. Truly radical horror writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Tony Burgess, Thomas Ligotti. Melville’s Moby-Dick. Kafka’s work. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a perfect novel.

The single thing I seek the most when I feel like I need something new in my work is something new from an author new to me. Something I have not read and have never seen before. Right now, I’m reading A Void, Georges Perec’s novel that doesn’t contain the letter E. I’m listening to Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN. I’m going to watch Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

TtD supplement #83 : seven questions for David James Miller

David James Miller is the author most recently of CANT, as well as the chapbooks As Sequence and Facts & Other Objects. His poetry and critical writing can be found in: Jubilat, ATTN:, Jacket2, the forthcoming anthology Precipice: Writing on the Edge, and elsewhere. He edits Elis Press, and SET, a biennial journal of innovative writing. He lives with his family in Saint Louis.

His poem “Notes on Spatial Acoustics” appears in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Notes on Spatial Acoustics.”

A: “Notes on Spatial Acoustics” is a series which takes as its starting point Pauline Oliveros’ notion of “Deep Listening.” Nearly each part refers to notes I took while listening to particular pieces of music, which I refer to in the footnotes, or they refer to notes I took in response to listening to environmental spaces of some kind—often some kind of ‘natural’ space. I’ve been thinking for some time about how to articulate the act of listening, as it informs so much of my thinking & activity as a poet. These are just a few pieces from a longer series.

Q: How does this compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing?

A: I’m working on a longer project, for lack of a better word, that’s grounded in the act of listening. “Notes on Spatial Acoustics” fits pretty well, in terms of how the poems are linguistically and logically constructed.

Q: Listening can mean a great many things in regard to writing. How do you see the structure of “Notes on Spatial Acoustics” responding structurally or even visually to particular pieces of music?

A: I guess what I was getting at before is more about articulating the act of listening itself, mostly apart from any association with listening for ‘musicality’ or ‘sound’ in rhythm or meter in poetry. Instead, the (musical) pieces I refer to in these poems are all exploratory pieces, very involved with expanding into the spaces around them as sound, through a restrained compositional performance grounded in the act of listening. Listening happens across time, and is grounded in the conscious and bodily experience of and response to sound—often in those particular spaces where sound events occur. Listening remains open, as opposed to passive hearing, and is unique in this way—it’s based in a kind of open consideration that doesn’t insist on asserting a self in the way so much sound does in our current soundscape. This kind of listening recognizes the limits of sound, and it’s a kind of consideration which I also happen to find necessary to several current social and political issues—in this way, listening is a political act. So I do understand the pieces I refer to in these poems to be political, and I understand the poems as reflecting these same formal/compositional earmarks.

Q: How does this compare to some of your earlier work? How do you see your work progressing?

A: I’m still as concerned with listening as I was in CANT, but I think I’m more interested now in also allowing the poetry to articulate the act of listening topically, as much as it also describes the sound events I’m thinking of or encountering when writing.  Which is not to say this next project is only about listening—I’m also very much interested in approaching ecological and political issues more explicitly.  Stylistically, I’m still interested in ways phrasal constructs can generate certain echoic resonances across poems or sections; I think I’m also increasingly interested in bringing in to the poem less condensed language constructs alongside, or maybe contra to, other language artifacts. 

Q: I’m curious about your attraction to the sequence and the longer, book-length project. Did it evolve naturally, or are there specific authors that have influenced that direction?

A: My interest in the possibilities of the serial poem began with lyric poems I found broken into parts—even into only as little as two or three parts. As I eventually began reading longer serial poems (here I’m thinking of John Taggart’s poem “Peace on Earth,” or Leslie Scalapino’s book New Time, for instance), I started thinking of the individual, serial pieces as simultaneous parallels of one another, and also as extensions or expansions of one another. It’s still satisfying to encounter poems incorporating such open possibility, and that challenge the lyric as a limited space. Still, the lyric’s limited space is often as satisfying—I think I try to keep the distance between both of these in mind as I’m writing.

Q: This reminds me of what Michael Ondaatje wrote in the introduction of the first edition of The Long Poem Anthology (Coach House Press, 1979), that the poems can no more live on their own than we can. Given your direction into the serial poem, have you moved away entirely from the single, stand-alone poem? Or is there even such a thing?

A: There’s something to that, which the serial poem explicitly acknowledges. The lyric describes a limit that seriality eludes. My most recent writing is serial mainly because of its subject matter. Although, I do actually write the occasional lyric poem—written from the perspective of a personal “I.” I’m not sure right now that I want to do much more with them other than continue putting them in a folder somewhere. For the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking of the lyric’s particular capacity to describe lived, material experience—this seems more and more important to me, given the trend toward an experience of living that’s increasingly mediated through all things digital. Of course, this is one reason why I’m so interested in the act of listening, which for me is connected with the serial poem (at least for now).

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

A: Gustaf Sobin immediately comes to mind, which is funny to me because his writing is very much grounded in the individual poem, but incorporates the serial, and is also very stylistically and thematically linked—I absolutely love his writing. Also: Etel Adnan, Lorine Niedecker, Leslie Scalapino, Akilah Oliver, John Taggart, Peter Larkin, H.D., Brenda Iijima (I see you just published a chapbook by her, that’s excellent!), JH Prynne, Will Alexander, E. Tracy Grinnell, Michael Cross, George Albon... Also, I really love the recent Chika Sagawa translation...

Thank you rob, it’s great talking with you!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rusty Priske's Reading List now includes Touch the Donkey #9 + #12

Ottawa poet and organizer Rusty Priske was good enough to mention two different issues of Touch the Donkey at his ongoing "Reading List 2017." Thanks so much! He discusses issue #12 here, and #9 here.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Touch the Donkey : fourteenth issue,

The fourteenth issue is now available, with new poems by David James Miller, Jonathan Ball, Cody-Rose Clevidence, mwpm, Andrew McEwan and Brynne Rebele-Henry.




Seven dollars (includes shipping). I’ll be sleeping downstairs in the visitor’s center.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

TtD supplement #82 : seven questions for Marthe Reed

Marthe Reed has published five books: Nights Reading (Lavender Ink, 2014); Pleth, with j hastain (Unlikely Books, 2013); (em)bodied bliss (Moria Books, 2013); Gaze (Black Radish Books, 2010); Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink, 2007). The author of six chapbooks, her collaborative chapbook thrown, text by j hastain with Reed’s collages, won the 2013 Smoking Glue Gun contest (2016). Her poetry has been published in New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, Entropy, New Orleans Review, HOW2, Fairy Tale Review, Exquisite Corpse, BlazeVOX, and The Offending Adam, among others. Her poetry reviews have appeared in Jacket2, Galatea Resurrects, Openned, Cut Bank, New Pages, The Rumpus and Rain Taxi. Reed lives in Syracuse, NY, and is co-publisher and managing editor for Black Radish Books.

Her poem “Albany to Syracuse” appears in the thirteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Albany to Syracuse.”

A: Aboard Amtrak, heading home from the city, I awoke outside Albany. The poem makes its way through that corridor, adopts train’s language, a syntax of movement, of inbetween and alongtheway. Travel by train places one in such a strange space, interstitial: present and absent, seeing and being, but only in moments, place-to-place instant by instant. The solitary nature of train rides, each of us pulled down into sealed spaces, defined and separate, delineated by the newspaper, the laptop, the cell phone. The window remains the only conversant, a dialog in flow, in starts and stops, in the conductor’s voice and ticket punch.

Q: How does this piece, if at all, fit in with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: This piece is of the same character of the work in my Dusie Kollektiv chapbook from 2014, Philip Whalen’s Tulip. It is influenced by reading Whalen’s Collected Poems. I am interested in the simultaneous inward and outward movement of his work, its direct engagement with embodiment and being, the personal fully enmeshed in the quotidian, the political, the environment. His work marries Buddhist mindfulness to a marvelous sense of play. Serious play, playful seriousness: “art as an act of personal delight and as a consolation to solitude.” Solitude, in the aftermath of raising children (staying at home for eight of those years, working while parenting another 15), and as a result of too many cross-continental and cross-Pacific moves, of leaving home-place after home-place, has become an intimate terrain. This poem, like those of Philip Whalen’s Tulip, map a way into a new emplacement. Where am I now? What does that mean to be here?

Q: How does Whalen’s work, for you, connect to that “Solitude, in the aftermath of raising children,” and how does it shift your reading of his work prior to that time?

A: Whalen lived a rather solitary life and that inflects his work. Raising children is very often lonely work, particularly when they are young. All one’s time and attention is given over to them, except when they, and you, are asleep. Though one sees others, all too often it is in the context of the children or navigating their needs. The public library, a play group, swim classes, a playdate. There is little emotional or physical space in which to claim a life of one's own. Nor is this labor particularly valued, further heightening one’s isolation. Knowing now that reality, I would not choose again to live out in the country in a foreign nation with a newborn and a six-year-old! As to how that solitude shifted my reading of Whalen, I don’t think it did. I read him first as an undergraduate as part of a course on the San Francisco Renaissance, but at that point my interests and attention were drawn to poets such as Lyn Hejinian, Leslie Scalapino, and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. It was only much later, in the context of a workshop with Hoa Nguyen, that I immersed myself in his work over a sustained period. Interestingly, it is the parallels between Whalen and Berssenbrugge, in the quality of their attention, that draws me to their work.

Q: With five full-length books over the past decade or so, as well as a small handful of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: The work has numerous impulses, the collections moving in response to rather divergent aesthetic and compositional concerns. Right now I am finalizing a manuscript of work based in my years in Louisiana, work largely documentary in form, often using found and collaged language, as well as handmade maps and other visual elements. The evolving work the “Albany to Syracuse” poem belongs to is more meditative and personal, composed in direct engagement with and response to the landscape and context in which I find myself now. Environmental concerns and place-sensitivity are active in both projects. My most recent published collection, Nights Reading, is an overtly political and feminist one, robed in the garments of language simultaneously sensuous and ironic. I don’t think there is an arc to my work so much as investigative impulse in dialogue with a profound love for this marvel, the spinning world transiting the heavens. Delight and disgust, wonder and horror, an abiding curiosity and (com)passion about all of it, compose the weft of the work, the question How do we live now? always just beneath the surface.

Q: You mention a shift in, as you say, “direct engagement” in your work since moving from Louisiana to Syracuse, New York. Has your work always been influenced by your immediate landscape, or is this something that has become more overt once you moved north? Is this you working to understand your new home-space through your writing?

A: Developing a sense of place, of centering myself in the flows and forms around me has been important to me for a long time, I suppose since I last lived in San Diego. We moved to a north county coastal neighborhood in ‘89 and it was in that context that my attention to the landscape and its history, its weather, the tides, the geography of mesas and canyons, the nexus of human and other-than-human that defines it became explicitly integrated with my writing. Place, however, has always been a means of grounding myself and locating myself, partly in response to moving around so much as an adult. Whether in Bloomington, Indiana, Perth, Western Australia, Lafayette, Louisiana, or Syracuse, the need to know where I am and what that requires of me in return underlies both the writing and daily life, the foundation from which all else proceeds.

Q: When you say this piece is “of the same character” as other work, does that mean there is work you’ve been doing lately that falls outside of this same character? Does your work, then, consist of a single, steady line of composition or a series of ongoing lines?

A: The documentary work for my Louisiana project is driven by a similar impulse, or at least began that way: to find a way into place. But Ark Hive, the Louisiana manuscript, quickly moved into a more investigatory mode, engaged in research, analysis, and questioning, a project informed as much by the archive as by the intimate. This poem, like those in the chapbook, returns to the latter. Though I already suspect the archival impulse will soon enough enter the writing, as well: the way history insistently levers its way through the present moment, reconfiguring what and how we know, how we are and where.

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

A: Ah, lovely question, especially when restoration and reenergizing are so necessary now, post-presidential election catastrophe here in the U.S. Tonya M. Foster’s A Swarm of Bees in High Court has been important this week. Alice Notley, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Laura Mullen, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Bhanu Kapil, Claudia Rankine. I have recently been reading the new kari edwards’ collection succubus in my pocket (EOAGH), and that has been invigorating, as well, and writers whose work is breaking through now such as Mg Roberts, Yolanda Wisher, and Kimberly Alidio. These writers return me again and again to the urgency of writing, its potencies as well as the sheer amazon strength and wonder of language in bearing our fraught, miraculous world into vivid focus.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TtD supplement #81 : seven questions for Sue Landers

Sue Landers’ latest book, FRANKLINSTEIN, tells the story of one Philadelphia neighborhood wrestling with the legacies of colonialism, racism, and capitalism. She is also the author of 248 MGS., A PANIC PICNIC and COVERS, both published by O Books. Her chapbooks include 15: A Poetic Engagement with the Chicago Manual of Style and What I Was Tweeting While You Were on Facebook. She lives in Brooklyn.

Her poems “Oculus Study” and “No Bedrock But In Silt” appear in the thirteenth issue of Touch the Donkey. A further poem, “To protect the world we have, protect the invaluable, our priceless practice” is scheduled to appear in the sixteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Oculus Study.”

A: About Oculus Study:

I work in downtown Manhattan, and my commute takes me through the new World Trade Center transit center each day. Called the Oculus, it’s a train station/mall that replaced the train station/mall that was destroyed on September 11th. Its architect is Santiago Calatrava, who also built the Milwaukee Art Museum. I love the Milwaukee Art Museum; it looks like a bird about to take flight over Lake Michigan.

The Oculus design is in that same, signature, style. At its center, is an eye that opens like a gash exposing the new World Trade Center. It is stark white (requiring constant polishing) and the hallways are full of exposed rib-like support beams. It feels like you are physically walking through the belly of a beast in the figurative belly of the beast of capitalism. Or else it feels like a tomb, which it is essentially, since it’s built atop an actual gravesite. Really, the metaphors just trip all over themselves.

I wrote the poem when right after the building had just opened, when it was not well trafficked since all the stores inside were still under construction and not all the trains exited into it. So, I found myself walking through virtually empty corridors (aside from private security, military personnel, and city cops—all of whom are everywhere). Finding private space (albeit inside a privatized space) in New York is a rare thing. I felt like I was inside some kind of militarized church of capitalism. So, I decided to take notes each day to document its early days. I see “Oculus Study” as a kind of soundscape.

And where I landed in the piece, what I came to realize through writing it, was my own lack of engagement/awareness/protestation of the reconstruction of the World Trade Center complex. After 9/11 I experienced— like so many other New Yorkers —to widely varying degrees—a form of PTSD. And part of that was in response to the attack itself and part of it was due to the immediate, rampant, and dangerous nationalism that overtook both the city and the nation at large. So, part of my coping mechanism was to not visit that area of Manhattan. And not until a job took me there 15 years later, and writing this poem, did I realize how deeply tucked into the sand my head was.

Q: How do these poems fit in with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I have been very focused on the here and now these days and my writing has been taking a kind of day-book form.

This is, in part, an outcome of having just recently published a book that took me four years to write (the book Franklinstein we chatted about in 2016), and the break I needed after completing that capital-P “project.” And it’s also a matter of necessity, in that I have limited time to write since I work full-time and am spending free time resisting my country’s burgeoning kleptocracy. So, observing and writing about my experiences on the way to and from my responsibilities is a way of keeping up with my writing practice.

And practicing this way, through observation, has led me into what I hope will become my next capital-P project: a series of poems about the NYC subway system. I have been riding every train line end-to-end, essentially using the train as studio space, and writing about what I see at a unique time in U.S. history.

The NYC subways reflect the full spectrum of economic and racial diversity in the United States—a spectrum that by extension represents the U.S. at large—and which I draw hope from every day. Solidarity is vital to resisting the current American president and his agenda, and I see my fellow straphangers as a community of power and strength.

Q: You mention your work being project-based. Was this always been the case? How did you get to a point that you were composing book-length projects?

A: Each of my books has taken the form of a book-length project. I envy poets who can create collections of poems, as opposed to series or sequences of poems. But I may have a tendency to perseverate. And series or sequences enable a kind of reiteration, a kind of braiding of poems, which feels more right to me. They give me the freedom and space to work topics through.

Q: What were your models for this particular kind of approach? Have there been specific poets and/or works that led you to composing book-length works, or have even helped you to adapt your approach of the book-length project?

A: Wasn’t it Spicer who said that poets write the same poems all their lives? Something about that sparked my interest in sequences. I think I interpreted that to mean that repeating or reiterating one’s poems enable the work to extend. Then there are Notley’s epics, but particularly Descent of Alette, which showed me how a poet could balance narrative with music. Then there’s Allison Cobb’s Green-Wood, which is a stellar model of investigative poetics, and I take incredible pleasure in its associative flow.

Q: Do you see yourself working on a singular, life-long project?

A: Not exactly. I think I have social and political concerns that will always inform my work. And perhaps my voice will remain similar throughout my writing life. But I think my life-long project is simply to keep writing, to keep thinking through writing, to keep finding insight and beauty through writing. And to continue to evolve over the course of my life as a writer, a thinker, and a poet.

Q: I’m curious as to your mention of the “day-book” form; what is it about the day book that appeals? What can you engage through such that you don’t feel as though you can otherwise?

A: My interest in the day book emerged as I was reading “Studying Hunger Journals.” I was at a writing residency, where I began each day reading Mayer first thing in the morning. For my two weeks there, I followed a pretty strict routine of daily writing, reading, and walking exercises because I wanted to practice behaviors I have a hard time sticking to in real-life. And I found Mayer’s approach to writing about daily life and dreams inspiring.

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

A: I go back to Descent of Alette every few years – its scope, power, and rawness remind me of what poetry can be. I also re-read novels I love because the genre is so different from how I write, it gets me out of my head. There is one I particularly love, a classic Scottish novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It’s one of those gothic novels that tells the story of good and evil from two different perspectives. It supposedly inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; it’s totally awesome.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

TtD supplement #80 : seven questions for Oliver Cusimano

Oliver Cusimano’s writing from an hour before his bedtime, in the basement where he’s lived the last two years, with his things.

His poem “Sautéed” appears in the thirteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Sautéed.”

A: “Sautéed” is the last poem in an invention I began about three years before. It could be because I grew up more in movies than books, but, however, I’d been frustrated with how little I could thicken my writing’s texture. As though nothing I’d written could tolerate a re-reading. The invention: I’d weave three strands of text into the same letters. They are... (1) My vocabulary limited to words drawn from a source text.  So that text’s sound shakes mine. (2) The sequential words of my text. And (3) at least one letter of each of those words is displaced onto its horizontally parallel line. Read these displaced letters sequentially, and they spell a message. At first these messages were quotations from books. Once I became serious, I started a series: words from Jack Spicer’s Language, and displaced letters to spell the names of doughnuts or coffees or coffee shops. Four more of these series, until, just before leaving the invention for something else, I made a few kitchen recipes. The four poems of “Sautéed” store ingredients and equipment for making sautéed onions: “Gallo olive oil,” “T-Fal frying pan,” “Seven white onions,” and “Simply Bamboo cutting board.” That’s a gist of the formal definition. 

Making the poems was just a matter of setting a date with the materials. There, then, I wouldn’t make simply whatever, but whatever I wanted. It was a way I had some time ago to query what I wanted. “Sautéed” is a record of its passage one certain night. ...The hope: the invention’s intersections, most basically, the horizontal of my desire and the vertical of the form, would witness something that could tolerate re-reading...

Q: How does this differ from some of the other work you’ve been producing lately?

A: I turned the page.  For the last eight or so months I’ve been writing something now titled CRITTERCISM. It began with an intention to write a mirror book to Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness – an essay addressed to each of the seven Hollywood Comedies of Remarriage. That explicit content has been completely effaced, although recently rereading parts of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale has helped me to take another step (Cavell chooses it as offering early insight into the remarriage genre). But my growing thing’s vocabulary’s now mostly elsewhere: mammals and feathered dinosaurs; critters and bodies of light/late; rivers and rivals; to spore, score, and pour; arrows and eros; veer/steer, career, queer, near & dear; the para-bolic, sym-bolic, meta-bolic, hyper-bolic, dia-bolic; stupidity, idiots, dummies, being stupefied; the templum and the pro-fane; considerate contemplation and dis-aster...  If the poems were duende-work, this thing’s with an angel…

Q: You’re currently a member of the bpNichol Lane writers’ group. How did you first get involved, and how do you feel it has shifted the way you see your writing, if at all?

A: The writing group has disbanded, although many friendships from then continue, and continue to lead my way in writing and reading. I was first invited to the meetings by Michael Boughn, after being a student in one of his classes, “Contemporary Poetry,” summer 2011. It’s profoundly shifted my relation to writing. Maybe most basically, it exposed me to the experience of readers. I mean, some of the others would hear in whatever text I brought that night to share lines of sense I hadn’t intended, or detected, or meant, or thought could be meant. That’s dynamite. Who knows what it’s done, but because you asked, I’ll say, it shifted where I’d imaginatively located the field of writing and has accelerated my complication of its materials.

Q: What writers and/or works have influenced the ways in which you approach writing?

A: Most significantly, friends in Toronto. Some I first met at the bpNichol thing. Some from U of T classes I’ve audited. Some from neither of those places. 

Q: You’ve published at least one chapbook so far. Are you thinking much about larger groupings of poems as you write? Might there be further chapbooks, or even something larger?

A: The thought of gathering poems from the invention I've already mentioned to as much as a book has been in mind, and if I did, Swimmer's Group would publish it, a marvelous small printing/publishing company in Toronto.  I seriously recommend whoever reads this to look them up.  But at least for now a book of the poems exists only in the thin conditional spheres.  My energy to do with writing in the last few months has concentrated on the work now underhand, CRITTERCISM...

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

A: Emerson and Thoreau again and again. And there are friends in Toronto – I leave our conversations energized. Thanks, rob.

Friday, May 19, 2017

TtD supplement #79 : seven questions for Douglas Barbour & Sheila Murphy

Sheila Murphy has been writing poetry for decades. First trained as a musician, she committed to poetry for the long-term. For the past decade and a half, she has added visual poetry and drawing to her work. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheila_Murphy

She is a partner in the consulting firm Work. Transformed. In that sphere, she blogs at https://www.worktransformed.com/

Murphy lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Douglas Barbour is Professor emeritus, Department of English & Film Studies, University of Alberta. His books include Fragmenting Body etc, Breath Takes, &, with Sheila E Murphy, Continuations & Continuations 2; & the critical texts, Michael Ondaatje  & Lyric / Anti-lyric: essays on contemporary poetry. Listen. If was published by the University of Alberta Press, spring 2017. He was inducted into the Edmonton Cultural Hall of Fame in 2003.

Their poem “Continuations XCVII:” appears in the thirteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Continuations XCVII:.”

Sheila: This piece reflects our long-term creating as a team on the poem sequence aptly titled Continuations. For the past 16 years, we have been writing this work daily together, sharing each six line passages electronically. As I listen to this segment, I hear a more mature linguistic entity. I hear language take on the properties of living being that inflects and shifts its weight as situations spark in situation rooms all around us.

We activate our syllables in the midst of constantly changing political winds, sputtering lifelines, and people grabbing toward ropes that might evoke survival. Still, there is play. There is activation of our own souls, working as one, being in each instant separate from the other, and finding the threads that mean we are invoking an equivalency in atmosphere and yield.

In this piece, I hear admitting the anchoring effect of structures we depend upon in our breathless lives. I sense the flecks of tone that might preempt some other tones, maybe dangers, maybe just unwanted noise. Our sounds agree even as they signal turns onto less expected lanes. We move the piece by willing syllables then answering another tiny or immense wave.

I wonder who we were then, even this little space of years when this section was birthed into the ether. We sound different, yet recognizable to me as we lob recognition over a net that might be invisible, might be agreed upon as such or as some other mysterious thing.

We reflexively have spoken, sung, revealed ourselves perhaps a little as we heard what was to come from the passage each just read and answered here.

Doug: Sheila has summed this up nicely. It’s interesting to go back & look at this one, as we are quite a bit further along, but to where? As there’s no narrative here but for the ongoing writing practice, what occurs/occurred is just what happened at the moment, then, of writing. Certainly, as each of us played off the previous stanzas, especially, each time, the one before, all kinds of snaky connections just happened.

I do note that for some reason (though it happens elsewhere too) popular music allusions keep popping up (in). As well, the ‘method’ (if we can use that term) invites play, continually. I’m not sure what year the was written, but too the political of each country made itself felt, though we try (I think) not to mention it specifically; it’s just that we’re aware, & the allusive venture allows it to play into the ongoing verbal play. We did make the conscious decision, after #L (50), to start playing the lines out across the field of the page more, & the can be seen here, as adding to the move(meant)s of the language, & the little silences we wanted to register line by line.

We continue, & so as we change, it does so with us.

Q: How does your collaborative work relate to your individual works? You’d both been writing and publishing for some time before you began your collaborative project. Do you see your collaboration as an extension of your individual works, or something else entirely?

Sheila: Something else entirely, rob. I recognize that our work together involves a distinctive stepping-off point that has evolved over the 16+ years of our process so far. Therefore, although I am insisting upon something different from “an extension” of what we write individually, your question of “how,” is the point here.

I have been changed as a writer and a person in ways that I suspect are variously conscious and unconscious as Doug and I work together. One way that I find to be highly conscious is in the regularity of our contributions to the long poem. The frequency and the excitement of what we make is part of my life, an important one. Further, the attention to a 6-line piece of writing that begins from a structure means an element of discipline. Such discipline, added to other formatted boundaries I make for myself, generates focus. For me, focus and discipline comprise the framework for many wonderful parts of my writing life and with that my life in general.

Doug’s perception and writing surprise me all the time. The different turns, the viewpoints, the language, the context, deepen how I perceive. The early quiet of my receiving what he writes, then answering, makes it possible to go places I don’t expect to venture.

My own writing is something I forget about during our work. That’s good, I think. I don’t want to think about myself or different work from what we are doing. I pay attention to our flow and our responsorial movement. It’s a pleasure. Imagine the gift of having wider range and being part of something larger, and being inside of that, not just an observer. That’s only part of the gift.

Unconscious features no doubt play a role in this, but I don’t really know what they are. I believe that we’ll find out as we proceed, both together and individually.

Doug: Like Sheila, I say, Something else entirely. She makes a number of important points here that I agree with, & I certainly feel the same gratitude to her & her poetics for the way they push me into the next stanza, next section of this ongoing project, that certainly continues partly as (& because of) an aspect of growing friendship. When it began, I was in a bit of a block, & hoped that the pressure of a collaboration would help to get my own writing going -- & I think it did. But, as Sheila says, the format & the nearly daily push send me (us) into a kind of writing that does differ from what each of us does individually. (On the other hand, the whole reason I approached her had to do with my coming across the title of her Selected Poems, Falling in Love  Falling in Love  with You Syntax, & then the poems within; how could I resist?)

So, yes, there is a discipline attached to both the structure, that 6 line stanza, & the quick turnaround as we pass the poem back & forth via email. And that, of course, is something only possible in the last few decades (by 1999 email allowed for the quick turnaround; had we been trying to do this via regular mail, it just would not have taken off).

Like Sheila, I don't think consciously about my own writing when writing Continuations. But I do think that what happens there certainly affects my other writing, though I’m not sure exactly how. The sense of letting language lead occurs in both, but here the language leading is always other. On the other (other) hand, what I face with each new iteration is a slew of possibilities, & with the very first word I choose they start slimming down (but there’s always a sense of the other possible stanzas left out). And, I think certain themes begin to make themselves felt in each part as it proceeds, never blatant but nonetheless still hovering. Moreover, & this is one of the exciting aspects, Sheila continually surprises me with where she takes my last stanza, & then a kind of renewal begins again as I respond. I like the sense inherent in the process (which I hope comes across in reading them) of never knowing exactly what comes next: her gift to me in the ongoing action of the collaboration.

And, like Sheila, I really enjoy the sense of being part of something larger, some movement of language which stretches my awareness & craft, & in which a friendship continues to grow.

Q: I’m curious, had either of you any models in mind when you first began this project? Were there other collaborations that struck you as possible influences upon what you ended up doing?

When we began the project, both of us had experience in collaborating with others. I also had responded with interest in a collaboration between Dan Davidson and Tom Mandel. This seamless work was particularly good and possessed the sense of a single author that Doug and I have come to value increasingly over the years.

So far as influences, this was not a part of my own experience, in that the fact of collaborating is a very general jumping-off point. It is not inherently a model per se, but a practice. Thus, writing styles that each of us may have admired or admire now might be relevant, especially unconsciously. Doug has used the word “hovering” with respect to themes. That might be just the way to speak about influences. We know they are there, and then we don’t. But so they remain.

It may make sense to say that as one grows in writing, what others are doing become less immediately relevant, but the fact of almost constant reading means that there are mutual influences happening all the time. As social animals, as our mutual (now departed) friend Mary Rising Higgins frequently reminded me, we are functioning in concert with one another all the time. That’s just the way we humans are.

Doug: maybe it’s because we have been collaborating for so long, but I agree with Sheila here. Mostly. My only collaboration had been with Stephen Scobie in performing sound poetry, in which the act of collaboration was in the performance, while the writing of performance pieces was something we each did separately, essentially, & then worked on the performance together, an action that continually developed & changed as we did it. In Continuations, Sheila & I are writing in a kind of jagged tandem, &, as we’ve mentioned before, the ‘voice’ (or ‘sound’) of what emerges is a ‘third voice,’ somewhere in between what each of us does individually, though certainly carrying something of both.

On the other hand, I feel, & I think Sheila’s response points to a similar awareness, that in a way, unless one has never read anything (not a good way to approach any kind of writing), in a way you are always in a kind of collaboration with earlier writing (what that comment from Mary Rising Higgins points to).

In terms of having a model in mind, well, I certainly didn't. Just the concept of finding a way to work together to construct something interesting (to us anyway). And the structure we chose seemed to allow for a give-&-take, the necessary back-&-forth, that (utilizing email) would let us create this ongoing poem.

Q: You’ve very much taken the title “Continuations” as an extended catch-all; when you started the project, what made you decide to build something so potentially large and ongoing, as opposed to working on a series of singular one-off collaborations using different forms?

Sheila: rob, I did not envision any particular term for this project. Doug wisely titled the poem a reasonably short time following our start of co-creation. The continuity that is present represents something important to me. The recent and current mainstream culture lacks connectivity and flow, in my experience. Our work encompasses features of constancy and innovation in response.

Now that we have been moving on our work together for many years, there has been evolution. There have been changes that fit the time we are in. Cultural and political changes are evident in our poem. We are part of our environment, certainly. And within such environment, our thinking and feeling have the possibility of bringing about some shifts in each other and in readers.

Doug: I was going to say, It just growed. Certainly, I didn't plan that it would continue so long; neither did I (nor, I think, we) initially assume any binding ending to it. In fact, as Sheila says, the act of collaboration became an action-in-time, a continuing one, & so an act of continuing friendship as well. Part of what continues to happen is the fluidity of improvisation in a world always changing around us (possibly the fact that Sheila is in the US & I’m in Canada affects both of us in our doubled responses to each other’s new stanzas & to whatever is going on each passing day; the language always shifting gears around us undoubtedly acts as part of the surround within which we write, day by day). And, yes, the poem itself has developed, again not because either one of us deliberately & consciously attempts to impose a change, but because the poem-as-act keeps us on our toes, reacting, writing.

Q: You’ve published two full-length collections of your collaboration to date: Continuations and Continuations 2. How easy or difficult was it to decide where the first volume should end and the second begin (or itself, end)? Was it a matter of a particular number of pages or pieces, or were you attempting to find some kind of natural “ending” to close off each volume?

Doug: I would say that once we decided to try a publisher, we took a look at the general length of each section, & realized that about 25 would make for a fairly long book of poetry. Once the University of Alberta Press generously took the project of the first Continuations on, & we received some feedback from the readers, we fine tuned what we had written, editing down a bit, again in a spirit of collaboration, it ended up being the 130 or so pages each volume is. More or less in agreement, we seem to reach a certain length for each ‘Continuation,’ & so the pattern of 25 sections per book will likely continue, if we are able to publish further volumes.

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

Doug: an intriguing question, as I suspect we both read a lot of new & good poetry (& one is always energized by new & interesting work [& the longer I took to answer the more names came up]). But I certainly go back & read some of a number of poets who were, & remain, important influences: Phyllis Webb, of course (& that marvelous recent Collected is just beautiful to ramble through); bpNichol; Creeley, Duncan, Levertov, & Olson, the New American poets (whole Pound-Williams line) who first excited me. Since the huge Collected came out, I spend a lot of time with Lorine Niedecker. Among the next generation, I keep up especially with Susan Howe & Michael Palmer. The tangled beauties of Basil Bunting. And in Canada: Marlatt, Moure, Newlove, Robertson, Wah, & others; some really intriguing poets of Australia (Robert Adamson among others) & New Zealand (especially Dinah Hawken, Michelle Leggott, & Bill Manhire). I’ve read Paul Celan for years, but am spending time with the huge Pierre Joris translation of his last books. So many younger writers, I can’t keep up, but a lot of them excite my interest. Then some of the elders gong way back (Dickinson, Keats, Wyatt). I’d better stop now.

Sheila: Gertrude Stein’s energy remains a source of magnetic energy, in addition to dazzling my sense of hearing and thinking via sound. Numerous poets captivate me. I read a great deal of brand new work by younger authors in addition to people whose work I have come to know very well. These days, the slower and more deliberately that I read, the more I grow into the work.

Middle English sonority, specifically Chaucer, enriches my hearing. I pride myself on reading Middle English aloud, a process I began in graduate school at the University of Michigan, where I haunted the language lab, practices for adjunct sessions for my Chaucer class.

I am an avid reader in a wide range of fields, including aesthetics, art history, behavioral economics, and statistics. Living at this time in history offers availability of texts due to electronic access and gloriously archived work shared by university and other libraries.

Humor is a huge part of my life, and I deliberately read many mysteries with eccentric characters just to become acquainted with individuals and ensembles who frame life in a shimmering way. I am not particularly interested in what happens, but I am interested in who is doing it.