Monday, November 20, 2017

Happy (fourth) Birthday, Rose!

Our Rose is now four years old, if you can believe it [do you remember that time she got borned?]. Given our basement chaos [see my note on such here], her party is delayed, slightly, but we'll figure it out. One should be very particular about putting together a celebration for a four-year-old...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Marie Buck, Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul




13

Once I was at an ice-skating birthday party. It was the first time I had ever ice-skated.

I felt joyous but wrong.

I went to the bathroom and was washing my hands. I vomited suddenly and tried to swallow it, as I didn’t want to be sent home, though some of it overflowed my mouth and dripped down my chin into the sink. I rinsed my mouth out. I didn’t want to stop skating so I skated more.

Later my friend’s Italian grandmother made us spaghetti to eat. People’s parents were starting to show up and everyone praised the real Italian spaghetti.

But I was different.

After eating the spaghetti, I went down to the bathroom in the basement and threw it up. An adult came to check on me and stayed there with me in the dark patting my hair and then called my mother.

When I’d recovered a bit they brought me back up to see my friend blow out her candles. The cake showed my friend, Michelle, smiling next to Grox. Michelle didn’t really look like herself, but Grox’s scales and fangs were extremely realistic. “Happy Birthday, Michelle!” the cake said, in white icing.

Marie Buck’s third collection is Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (New York NY: Roof Books, 2017), a book of dark, surreal, neurotic and potentially biographical poems exploring the underbelly of childhood. The poems move back and forth between lyric narratives and prose/memoir-ish poems titled via numbers, existing almost as a Greek-style chorus throughout. As she writes: “This story is a disgusting narrative in which I’m converted / from a person I dislike a little to a person I really hate, who / gets even sadder and more neurotic.” Buck’s Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul exists in a strange dream-state, except more strange for knowing how ordinary so much of what is being described actually is. Composed as both witness and an appeal, crying out in rage and pain and frustration, the poems work to unsettle, in part through their matter-of-factness, and includes poems with titles such as “A Baby Elephant Sees the Ocean for the First Time as It Quietly Dies,” “I Feel Like a Flat Balloon Until I see You and You Inflate Me,” “Water and Lava Inside a Closed Mountain” and “The First Time I Ever Really Felt Safe Was Under the Weight of a Wagon Wheel,” that includes:

The second part of this poem gets a little freakier:

it’s a man commanding another man to rise from the dead.

The dead man feels, he feels a strange tugging.
A long hair from his head is trapped between the cheeks
      of his ass,
and the first feeling he has is the hair shifting slightly,
responding to some imperceptible movement he never made
because he was dead.

A shifting where he didn’t expect it,
which causes awareness.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Orlando Ortega-Medina

Orlando Ortega-Medina is a US born British author of Judeo-Spanish descent via Cuba. He studied English Literature at UCLA and has a law degree from Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles. At university he won The National Society of Arts and Letters award for Short Stories. His collection Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is shortlisted for the UK's Polari First Book Prize 2017. Orlando resides in London, where he practices US immigration law.

rob mclennan 1: How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Orlando Ortega-Medina 1: Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is my first published book. Earlier this year it was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize, the UK’s prestigious LGBT literary award. Since then I’ve been featured in the press and locally in the UK on television and radio, which has boosted my writing career and has generated interest in a follow-up book.

rm2: How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
OOM2: I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember.

rm3: How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
OOM3: I’ve developed the ability to write at will. No copious notes and no writer’s block. Messy first drafts pour out of me easily, which I later craft into proper stories. Sometimes the final product resembles the first draft; sometimes there is a lot of overwriting that I have to cut away and re-order to make any sense of it.

rm4: Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
OOM4: It always begins with a protagonist, a setting, and a situation. Once I have these elements, I start writing without plotting anything in advance. The story grows out of the main character who leads the narrative while I follow along in the background. While I used to mainly write short fiction, I now focus on novel-length fiction.

rm5: Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
OOM5: I’m a natural performer. As such, public readings of my work are an enjoyable part of my creative process.

rm6: Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
OOM6: It may seem odd, but I give no thought to theoretical, philosophical, or political concerns in my writing. My only concern is to tell a story as best as possible.

rm7: What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
OOM7: In my view, writers of fiction are primarily entertainers. Those of us who aspire to more sometimes produce great art.

rm8: Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
OOM8: I find that my work so much better when it is professionally edited. I go into the process knowing this and, as such, enjoy the collaboration and support I receive.

rm9: What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
OOM9: Write every day, no exceptions.

rm10: What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
OOM10: I wake up at 5:30 am every day (except Saturday) and write until 8:00 am. My goal is to produce no less than 1000 words during each session.

rm11: When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
OOM11: My writing never gets stalled.

rm12: What fragrance reminds you of home?
OOM12: Orange blossoms.

rm13: David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
OOM13: Without a doubt, music inspires my work.

rm14: What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
OOM14: Salman Rushdie, Yukio Mishima, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Jorge Luis Borges.

rm15: What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
OOM15: I’d like to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

rm16: If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
OOM16: I would have become a painter.

rm17: What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
OOM17: I like to tell stories. I like to see them in print. I enjoy reading reviews of my work. And I love seeing my work in bookstores and libraries. You can’t get that from anything else.

rm18: What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
OOM18: The Magus by John Fowles was the last great book I read; the last great film I saw was Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

rm19: What are you currently working on?
OOM19: I recently wrapped up the first draft of a novel, which is with my editor. And I’m 10,000 words into my next one.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shannon Bramer, precious energy




THE TOY
            after Emily Dickinson

My life stood in corners until
you made us a new home
for playing. At first
I called you owner. You
scolded and commanded me
to be a real friend.
You took me to your room.
You took me to the woods.
You taught me to hunt
soft animals and turn all rabbits
into small coats for our cold hands.
Now I’m so obedient. I smile for you.
I guard your sleeping head.
We share a pillow. Your enemies
are mine. I had none before.
Even a flower
I could hurt now, for you.

Toronto poet Shannon Bramer’s latest trade poetry collection is precious energy (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2017), and is her fourth collection overall, as well as her first in over a decade. Through her assemblage of short lyric narratives, it is lovely to be reminded of what first struck me about her poems in the first place—back to the poems in her first collection, suitcases and other poems (Toronto ON: Exile Editions, 1999)—the ways in which she writes with such intimacy, and deliberate smallness, in a collection that includes breastfeeding, weddings, birds, collaboration, children, mothers, dreams and cancer.

There has always been an unusual quality to Bramer’s poems, one that isn’t easy to describe, whether part dream, part fairy-tale or simply the haze of parental exhaustion. Perhaps the closest answer is, in fact, all of the above, articulating the sharp clarity of a dream that begins to fade as soon as it gains its focus. Who else could write a triptych of poems on towels? As her poem “Precious Energy: A Triptych” includes: “My towels, on the other hand, look like the towels / of someone who has given up. […] I’d rather buy some expensive wine / and drink that and forget about whatever it is I think / I might want.” Her poems are elusive, yet grounded, achieving a kind of magical state that exists between the familiar elements of the domestic blended with the dreamy electricity and dark spaces of fairytales. As she writes in the poem “The Land of Thieves”: “Children steal the bodies / of their mothers; marriages steal doors and closets. A new love / will steal from an old one, the way a cat eats birds, without remorse / or self-consciousness. The story steals the poem.”

EN ROUTE TO THE LAKE WHERE HIS FACTORY
HAS POISONED EVERYTHING

I get on an empty bus and the woman driving the bus

is Anne Carson. She winks at me

when I board so I sit up at the front

to watch her drive.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Natalie Shapero, Hard Child




You Look Like I Feel

Dirt on my chin and I wonder: Am I already
in the ground? Like a toy turned real, I cannot shed
the sense that I have died. The German word

for heaven’s the same

as the German word for sky. On hearing a cruel
prince was in danger, I prayed for him to thrive,
not for his own sake, but for the concubines,

sure to end up buried

along. To my real face, a man once crowed
I RUINED YOU, and though he did, the joke’s
on him: he ruined me only for this world,

and this world is not long

for itself. The earth, that ever-loving
but distrustful kin, keeps leaving us just a little
pocket money when it dies, never the land—

I’m quite struck by many of the poems in Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero’s latest poetry title, Hard Child (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Pres, 2017), a follow-up to her first collection, No Object (Saturnalia, 2013). Predominantly composed as a collection of short, first-person lyrics, there is a performative element to Shapero’s poems, composed as a combination of lyric essay and monologue, each of which are delivered with force, whether a push or a punch. As she writes to open the poem “Mostly I Don’t Want to Have a Son—”: “too many fears. What if he knows the ancients / believed more boys than girls were born in wartime, / to account for casualties in battle, leave / the world in balance?” Shapero’s poems speak of and through an enduring humanity, including death, trauma, shootings, dying, New York in the 80s, religion and those particularly dark days that infect so much else, such as the poem “Seven Wounds in Two People,” that begins: “How Dallas, the name of Dallas, the whole / of Dallas seemed to be tainted after the shooting. // WHAT A BLACK EYE FOR THE CITY, NO ONE / WILL GO THERE.” And yet, it is through that lens of humanity that this wouldn’t be classified as a collection of dark poems, but poems attempting to wade forward, through that dark into the other side, while even acknowledging that the fabled other side might not exist.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Arisa White



Cave Canem graduate fellow Arisa White [photo credit: Nye' Lyn Tho] received her MFA from UMass, Amherst, and is the author of Black Pearl, Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. Her recent collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing that Happened was a nominee for the 29th Lambda Literary Award and the chapbook Fishing Walking” and Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. As the creator of the Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates cultural events and artistic collaborations that center narratives of queer people of color. She serves on the board of directors for Nomadic Press and is a faculty advisor at Goddard College. arisawhite.com

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, Hurrah’s Nest, brings attention to familial traumas and silences; I learned to write from a critically affirming place with that collection. To look critically with love and that then allows for some kind of release to happen, healing to occur. My most recent collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, doesn’t feel different—it’s base is the same; I’m allowing some things to take center stage. You’re the Most centers queer black female experiences and the forthcoming chapbook “Fish Walking” and Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife is quite playful with language. It’s surreal and spiritual. I’ve challenged myself to not rely so much on the metaphor—there’s an unmasking I’m doing, which feels vulnerable, however, now, I’m imagining that all things co-exist in my reality, all ways of experiencing a moment.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry is closest to my way of speaking and being in the world. We are such a perfect match—that poetic eye/I is present in my prose and dramatic writing.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Starting is easy; it’s finishing that’s the challenge. Often I need to go away on retreat to truly finish a project—to get into it and notice the absences, the places where it doesn’t cohere. I need uninterrupted time to relate to it.

My first drafts, that is what I transcribe from the notebook to the screen, come out looking nearly close to its final shape. In my notebook, I’m working out the emotional truth of the poem and whether what it’s communicating is in alignment with my intentions—or sometimes I’m so surprised by what comes out that the poem shifts me.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I have an idea, but first the idea has to make its presence felt in my body before I’m moved to bring it to the page. Sometimes the idea can remain in the head, and I’ll make a note of it. But when my whole body concedes, it’s writing time. Maybe I’m often cross-training—writing individual pieces as they come and writing poems specific to book-length projects.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings and reading my work. When working on a project, and when the poems have stabilized themselves, I’ll bring them to the public. Reading to an audience is so much different than reading aloud to yourself, in your familiar rooms—the work has a chance to bounce off other bodies, take up a different space. It is then that I’m able to experience the work as its own distinct presence. I recognize where it is strong and the areas that need development.  

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Is there a water style? An earth style? I’m considering how the elements can be a way to craft the poem.

What is a queer black female aesthetic? How does it feel when I write out of queerness or blackness? Sometimes the two feel the same. My female body is a constant—it informs my everything. How my body is labeled (by force or by choice) is variable.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
            The role of the writer is to shake us free from master(ing) narratives.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
When an editor is good, she is essential. My editor/publisher Kate Angus was an extraordinary person to work with on my latest collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. Her comments and suggestions for reordering the poems revealed gaps in the emotional arc of the collection. She edits with an understanding of how I like to use language and as a result, the language has extra pop.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Follow your obsessions, the things that catch and hold your attention. And I find this especially helpful on those days when I’m wondering, What do I write?

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
In the past 10 years, I have relied on The Daily Grind (TDG) to give routine to my writing. TDG operates online and each month you sign up and are assigned a group of writers to send work to each day. When signing up, you select if you want to be in a group working on New Poetry, New Prose, Revised & New Poetry, and my favorite is Manic Mixture. There is no commenting on each other’s work. You are showing up each day, sharing writing that you are capable of completing within that 24 hours. Why I like Manic Mixture is because, as my life has broadened as a writer—in addition to writing poetry, I’m writing plays, essays, course descriptions, interview responses, etc.— I don’t need to separate how writing shows up in my life. It is actively a part of who I am.

These past two months, I’ve been beginning my day with meditation. I then check emails, especially on the weekdays, and make a to-do list of the top things I need to get done for the day. Usually, writing comes in the evening, 4-8pm. Weekends, I wake up, meditate, read, and do some writing, but I allow myself to be chill about it, especially if I don’t have any deadlines to meet.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I return to books and art. I return to life, to the people in the streets and bars, to my friends, to the shit going on in the world, to the sun on my face, instead of the glow of a screen. I go for a walk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Egyptian Musk reminds me of my mother, and mothballs remind me of my grandmother.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All things influence my work—my experience of the world (word) is relational, so my work arises from the intersection of all things.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I read a healthy amount of theory, cultural studies, spiritual and metaphysical texts, and enjoy my fair share of popular culture. Poetry is the way I synthesize my various encounters in the world—and I like to imagine myself as the point in which all those encounters intersect.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to live in another country for more than a year. I love the experience of being in another culture, in another consciousness. The world becomes so much larger than where I claim citizenship. I get to step out of the echo chamber of my country, its pathologies, and learn to relate to my body outside of the national discourses that serve to limit how I access and actualize my humanity.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done if not this. I’m very sure I would have been in the arts—maybe a professionally trained dancer. However, I have always wanted to come up with the names for nail polishes and lipsticks.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
            Desire—if my heart isn’t in it, it’s not worth my energy.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a children’s book in verse, which I am co-authoring with Laura Atkins. The book is about Bridget “Biddy” Mason who was enslaved, starting in Georgia, and with her Mormon master, walked to Utah then California where she petitioned for her freedom. Later she became a philanthropist and wealthy landowner in Los Angeles. Slated for publication in early 2019, this is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series, published by Hey Day Books.