Wednesday, December 13, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sennah Yee

Sennah Yee [photo credit: Alice Liu] is from Toronto. She writes poetry, writes about films, and writes poetry about films. Her debut poetry/non-fiction collection, How Do I Look?, was published by Metatron Press in 2017. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Cinema & Media Studies, focusing her research on gendered robot design in media and technology.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book has connected me with more like-minded writers and people experiencing similar microaggressions and insecurities, remembering sneaky cheat codes on The Sims... it’s been surreal and affirming!

My two flash fiction chapbooks before this, The Aquarium and The, have the same dry tone, but otherwise they feel so different from my writing now – the most obvious reason being that they were pure fiction, and my work is mostly non-fiction.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually came to poetry last! Haha. I wrote short stories as a kid (mostly unintentional rip-offs/fan-fic of TV shows I was watching), then studied screenwriting in undergrad. I liked it, but I wasn't that great at it. I turned to poetry because I felt free to experiment without worrying about logistical things like film budget, location scouting, casting, etc.
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?
When the mood strikes, I write VERY quickly, with minimal edits. But this burst is rare, and when it’s over, I don't write anything for a really long time. I need to do more casual free-writing, the way visual artists doodle for fun and practice.

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 definitely write a bunch of short pieces that end up coming together into something bigger. I didn't think any of the pieces in my book were linked until my wonderful editor, Jay Ritchie, pointed out common themes and patterns.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I always get sick with anxiety before reading, but I still love doing them! I like meeting people and seeing who connects to what. But most of all, I love listening to others read their work. Maybe I’ve just been lucky to attend some really magical and moving readings, but lately I’ve been getting even more out of hearing others read than reading their work on my own!
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I’m still navigating how I choose to balance the important parts of my identity so that they are acknowledged and validated, and yet also not wanting myself or my writing to be reduced to those parts. As for the kinds of questions that I am trying to answer with my work: Who/what has control over how I look at myself/the world? In what ways can I return this gaze and reclaim this control? On a larger scale, the question of “who gets to tell stories?” is often brought up in the community – I think this is an important question, but even more important is who is listening to these stories? Who is elevating them and giving them the space to grow and be heard?

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?
Writing is a tool of empathy for me. You can rock people’s worldviews or just get your reader to laugh with you about a bad Tinder date you had. I love that it can do either and both of those things – teach, entertain. I’m not one to tell writers who or what they should be, but I do think that they should be aware of the kinds of power and influence that they can have.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
If we’re on the same page, it’s so easy and essential to me! I thrive on feedback, prompts, and deadlines. I was so lucky to have Jay as my editor for my first book; he made the whole process was a breeze.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In the words of Uncle Ben from Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Hehe, but seriously. That and pay artists for their work, and get paid for your own work.

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?
Sadly I don’t have a writing routine – I mostly write when I'm supposed to be doing something else! A typical day for me is going to school, doing readings, refreshing Twitter on my phone in front of an open Twitter tab on my computer, and Netflix.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Movies! They're both my procrastination and inspiration, which is a bit dangerous.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Cat litter.

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?
As I said earlier, movies for sure are a huge influence on my work – not just the narratives and visuals, but also the art of screenwriting. I love how screenwriting aims to communicate as much information as possible in the most visual, succinct way. It's very poetic!

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Mitski, Jenny Zhang, Ocean Vuong, and Claudia Rankine come to mind instantly. Their work is so gut-wrenching and beautiful. Phoebe Wang’s poetry is also stunning; she has also been an incredible mentor to me and to so many other young writers of colour. Last but not least, the Metatron family are crucial to both my work and my life outside of it! The first Metatron book I read was Pony Castle by Sofia Banzhaf, which I inhaled and knew immediately after that I had to find out more about the press. Ashley has created this incredible community that is so inspiring and supportive; I am forever grateful.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a novella! Something that is soft sci-fi.

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?
I wouldn’t mind being an editor – I liked story editing screenplays a lot during undergrad. I’m currently Interim Arts Editor at Shameless, a volunteer-run magazine for young women and trans youth. It’d be amazing to do something that strengthens the community like that full-time.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It is the only way that I can make sense of things that move me and affect me, for better or for worse.  

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

19 - What are you currently working on?
My homework! Ho hum.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Spotlight series #20: Buck Downs

The twentieth in my monthly "spotlight" series, each featuring a different poet with a short statement and a new poem or two, is now online, featuring Washington DC poet Buck Downs.

The first eleven in the series were attached to the Drunken Boat blog, and the series has so far featured poets including Seattle, Washington poet Sarah Mangold, Colborne, Ontario poet Gil McElroy, Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Ottawa poet Jason Christie, Montreal poet and performer Kaie Kellough, Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, American poet Elizabeth Robinson, American poet Jennifer Kronovet, Ottawa poet Michael Dennis, Vancouver poet Sonnet L’Abbé, Montreal writer Sarah Burgoyne, Fredericton poet Joe Blades, American poet Genève Chao, Northampton MA poet Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer from Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1 territory) poet, critic and editor Joshua Whitehead, American expat/Barcelona poet, editor and publisher Edward Smallfield, Kentucky poet Amelia Martens, Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie and Burlington, Ontario poet Sacha Archer.

The whole series can be found online here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Amy Lawless, Broadax

The first time my mother told me I was patient I nearly lost my mind because I thought she was telling me I was at that moment in the hospital as a patient even though I was in my bedroom. Then months later she and my dad gave my sister a keychain that read Patience in red and gold above the cutest, greenest turtle that you could possibly imagine. I was insanely, lustfully jealous of this keychain. My eyes watered and I asked my parents why I was not given the Patience key chain and said life was not fair and it took forever for them to explain that patience was not the particular virtue I had to work on. Maybe I had to work on the crying or the jealousy or on the phonics skills. They said Molly had to work on her patience. I thought that if I’m so good at patience, then I should be given the keychain as a reward. But that’s not how the pedagogy of parenting works. Parents don’t get it. I’m still waiting for my fucking keychain. But McConaughey’s lecture? He just says patience twice. He says “Patience. Patience.” (“Broadax”)

I’ve been an admirer of the work of Brooklyn poet Amy Lawless ever since picking up a copy of her second poetry collection, My Dead (Octopus Books, 2013) [see my review of such here], a follow-up to her first collection, Noctis Licentia (Black Maze Books, 2008). Her latest, Broadax (Octopus Books, 2017), is a collection that focuses on the prose poem, working as individual pieces grouped together in sequence, as well as through extended suites. I’m fascinated by Lawless’ exploration of the sentence, through both the prose poem and more traditional-looking lyric pieces, and the accumulations, narratives and threads she builds across the length and breadth of Broadax, from dream-sequences, memoir-esque recollections and surreal constructions, with an odd humour that threads throughout. Lawless writes on a variety of subjects, including her relationship with her sister during childhood, a fear of The Incredible Hulk and male rage, and observations on death, lovers and birds. Smart as hell and densely packed, this is easily her strongest work to date, and Lawless’ observations often contain the force of a punch, yet manage to impact without overwhelm. While some of these pieces are as raw as the bone, Lawless writes of rage from an odd distance, recording the details of dark feelings and experiences akin to a journalist embedded with the troops, with one foot on the shore even as the body might be caught up in the ensuing flood. “When the wolf and the deer look at each other,” she writes, opening the first poem titled “The Private Lives of Deer” (composed as multiple poems in sequence sharing the same title), “they both like what they see.”

Sometimes a deer and a wolf combine to form a new being—a being I can’t pretend to have the authority or the tools to name. Deolf? See? That was terrible. Remember when that car was chasing you and trying to run you over? As you tired you turned around almost ready to give up, and you saw that you were driving the car. Talk about a mindfuck. Before falling asleep, put a mirror on the ground so that when you’re on the ceiling you can see yourself during lucid dreaming. There is no need to be afraid. No need at all. A grandiose idea sounds like the bump of a lover falling out of bed in the middle of the night.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ongoing notes: Meet the Presses’ Indie Literary Market (part three,

[myself and prior bpNichol Chapbook Award co-winner Gil McElroy] Further to my previous sets of notes (and, see, I’m writing about the ottawa small press book fair as well), here are some other items I picked up at the most recent edition of Toronto’s Indie Literary Market:

Toronto ON: Toronto poet, fiction writer and editor Margaret Christakos’ latest title is the chapbook SOCIAL MEDEA vs VIRTUAL MEDUSA (Toronto ON: Gap Riot Press, 2017).

A A A A a all although any are as as at
catapulted coin common crowd
feces first
haze horror
I in intentional if if in into is is it
language look
Marble may me money my
of of of of of On out
point proceed push
sides single speed starting stem straight
that there this this throw to to truck
was we

I’ve long been fond of Christakos’ engagement with language, regularly constructing manuscripts that play with sampling lines, phrases and entire poems from within (the above piece is reminiscent of that poet who reworked Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as a sound poem, reading all the words of the poem in alphabetical order, included in PRISM International’s sound poetry issue somewhere around 1990 or so; who was it who did that?). A number of the phrases and short stanzas read as familiar, whether taken directly from her own social media postings or simply a further element of the same project in which she has been critiquing social media via social media platforms, and what social implications the growth of such mediums actually have. As she writes: “in a single horror / intentional although I / into a crowd. / is a language // Look at me [.]” Where might this project (somehow, this feels part of a larger, ongoing project, as opposed to a stand-alone chapbook-length work) end up?

[a post-fair group that included (at least in this photo) Stuart Ross, Paul Dutton and Andrew Faulkner, among others] 

Cobourg ON: I’ve been finding it curious lately to realize the amount of first chapbooks that Stuart Ross’ Proper Tales Press has been producing lately, from last year’s Those problems by Sarah Moses [see my review of such here] to more recent titles such as Allison Chisholm’s On The Count of One [see my review of such here] and London, Ontario/Victoria British Columbia poet Tom Prime’s a strange hospital (2017) (all three of whom, as well, he included in the first and last issue of his The Northern Testicle Review [see my review of such here]). Given the ways in which Ross releases chapbooks into the world, predominantly mentioning only on his blog and appearing at small press book fairs in Toronto and Ottawa (among others), it feels like the sort of thing that hasn’t yet been given due credit or attention (not that chapbooks are usually or often allowed either).


there is a
hole in
the side of my
head. I pick at it and
it grows—

it has
grown so large

there are trees,

so large, a
moon orbits

What is interesting in this collection of sixteen short lyric poems is the hair’s-breath difference between the poems that work well enough, and the poems that move beyond that, as though there is nearly something intangible he manages to slip into certain poems, causing them to cling to the attention, bearing repeated readings. While this chapbook is a bit uneven, I am certainly curious to see what he might do next.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

basement update :

In case you missed my earlier post, we had some water in our basement just prior to Hallowe’en, immediately forced to strip our finished basement of everything—books, bookshelves, furniture, kid’s toys, closets and archive—for the sake of tearing out wet carpet. Bah. It has knocked out most of our attentions over the past month-plus, but at least, over the past week, the reconstruction has begun.

Coinciding with a couple of other matters we’ve discovered, or simply decided to finally deal with, we’ve had multiple workers through our house lately, from house movers to the handyman, Keith (who is working the reconstruction), to the window guy, the Ontario power saver guy (who checked our house for heat-leaks), the property assessment guy, the foundation guy and two different plumbers. Whew. Sometimes there would be two or even three people wandering around our wee house checking this or that or whatever (I just stay out of the way).

But this week, Keith has been putting in our brand-new floor, which makes us enormously happy.

Apparently we will have our basement back, but the whole project might not be complete (for a variety of reasons) until the end of January.

And did I mention everything that used to be in our basement is now in storage? Whether storage unit, Christine's office or our sunroom. Sigh.