Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sennah Yee, How Do I Look?




PROM

I bought us pearl earrings for $5 from an elderly vendor in Chinatown. I told him how neither of us had ever owned anything pearl before. He knew they were fake, and so did I, and so did you, but it didn’t matter. Later, you spilled Smirnoff all over the gown you borrowed from your sister. I tried not to stare at the lace and sequins of your bra seeping through the soaked fabric. Having eyes only for you is just a glamorous way of saying that I am blind.

Following the release of two poetry chapbooks through American chapbook publisher Dancing Girl Press – THE AQUARIUM (2014) and THE GL.A.DE (2017) – Toronto poet Sennah Yee’s first full-length collection is How Do I Look? (Montreal QC: Metatron Press, 2017). How Do I Look? is a collection of short, self-contained, observational prose-poems, a number of which reference a variety of degrees of sexual and racial violence, from microagressions and offhanded comments to far, far worse, and the ways in which women are required to constantly be on guard. The short poem “MEDUSA,” for example, that opens the collection, reads:

Beauty, power, and confidence without gaze. Then, a man holds up a mirror and kills her. There is nothing mythical about that.

Utilizing a series of pop culture references, including an array of film titles as poem titles, the poems in Yee’s How Do I Look? are smart, wonderfully playful, precise and straightforward, all the while shining a spotlight on some rather dark corners of how people insist on treating each other. “I want to cry when locals ask me where I’m from,” she writes, in the poem “SIEM REAP,” composing out a short tourist scene from Angkor Wat, “because I know they are trying to bring me closer, not push me away.” In a 2016 interview over at Speaking of Marvels, she writes:

My writing’s evolved closer to creative non-fiction, focusing on racism and sexism. I used to be too shy to write about myself. Now I see value in narrativizing life events, even and perhaps especially the ones that make me feel weak and/ or ugly. Being openly vulnerable can feel very brave and strong. I feel like my writing’s become a more accurate reflection of my identity. I was terrified at first to share my short piece for Poor Claudia’s 10 Sources series about micro-aggressions and anxieties as a Chinese-Canadian woman, but the response was touching and validating. It made me want to write pieces that are more powerful and political in their honesty and anger. I want my writing to wake people up.

The poems in this collection feel intensely personal, and exist as a combination of lyric essay, observational moment and condenced scene-study, and her writing very much has the potential to do something absolutely incredible. I want to see where else she goes.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Charles Rafferty

Charles Rafferty's twelfth collection of poems is The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, O, Oprah Magazine, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review and Per Contra, and his story collection is called Saturday Night at Magellan's. He has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College.

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 earliest work favored rhymed and metered poetry, and my current work is all prose poetry. I used to take great pleasure in resolving a formal constraint placed on the poem. It's the problem of finding a rhyme for "bazooka" and making it seem natural and inevitable. I'm enjoying the comparative freedoms of the prose poem. I feel like they've given me permission to be wild.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry in high school. The Milton and Keats we were reading left me cold, but when I was 15 I got interested in the Doors' music, which led me to read Morrison's biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, which name-dropped all the poets I would have an early interest in (Rimbaud, Ginsberg, etc.), which led me to Ginsberg's poem "Howl," which I found in my older brother's Intro to Literature textbook when he went back to college. The hook was set at that moment.

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?
Everything depends. Some poems are done in 2 weeks; others take 10 years. If I had to guess, I'd say I average about 20 drafts to finish a poem.

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 confess I don't put a lot of effort into the organization of my poetry books. Yes, I want all the poems to be strong, and I generally pick poems that have a similarity of subject matter, narrator, tone, etc. However, I don't care all that much. When I read a book of poetry, I never read it from start to finish. I open it up at random and start there. Usually the poem I start with is short. Or I'll read the first and last poems of the collection, reasoning that this is where the good stuff would naturally reside. There is only a small percentage of poetry books where the order of the poems is actually important. In most cases, you could order them randomly, and I'd be just as happy.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I enjoy doing readings, but it's time away from family and routines. And of course, if I'm giving a reading, I'm not working on my writing projects, so I'm wary. As long as the readings don't disturb the Jenga tower that is my life, I'm happy to give them.

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've never even thought about this. I'm certainly not partial to any flavor of poetry as a reader. The only reason I'm writing prose poetry exclusively right now is that I haven't exhausted my interest yet. As soon as I start to get bored with them, I'll move on to something else.

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?
Poets have no role in the larger culture. Poets in America are fourth magnitude stars, and everybody's night vision has been ruined by cop shows and football.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find it gratifying when it happens. Too often, the editor merely accepts the work for publication, rather than helping to shape it.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Read everything. Write every day – even if it's just a half-hour. Keep everything in the mail.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

It's easy for me to shift between the genres now, but I held off even attempting to write fiction until I was 45. I was a coward.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My goal is to write every day, no matter what. I have a family and work three jobs, so I don't have the luxury of a regular writing pattern. But I'm good at exploiting whatever time makes itself available – commuting by train, waiting in the lobby during my daughter's dance lesson, waiting at the doctor's office, waiting for the spin cycle to finish on the washing machine. I can usually fit in at least an hour of writing per day.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Yeah, I'm very suspicious of the word "inspiration." I always have many works in progress, so it's almost unheard of to have writer's block. If the novel gets tired, I work on my poems. If the poems are going nowhere, I'll revise a story. Etc. If I'm really not interested in pushing a pen across the page, then I'll read – not to get inspiration, but to see how someone else confronted and resolved the same problems I'm working on. If even that's a dead end, I'll go for a walk in the woods. In fact, going into the woods is always helpful. I don't wait for writer's block to occur before entering.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Piles of autumn leaves in the yard.

14 - 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?
Sure. I would say everything. I aspire to be as promiscuous as possible when it comes to influences.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I'm always reading. Because I teach, some of that reading is re-reading the poems and stories I teach. Beyond that, I just want to read whatever I can fit into my schedule. My favorite things to come across are works that I myself could not have imagined.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'd like to publish a novel. I've got one that I just finished, but I'm still in that stage where I'm not positive it's ready. I can't think of anything else to change, but it still hasn't been picked up by an agent or publisher.

17 - 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?
The writer part stays no matter what, but I've also been a teacher and an editor. If I thought I could swing it, I'd become a mailman (the walking around kind) or a forest ranger.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, my first real aspiration was to be a bass player in a rock band. But my bass playing stopped improving at a certain point. Except for the first 6 or 7 years, my writing was always better than my bass playing.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Amy Hempel's Collected Stories. I don't see a lot of movies, and it's been a while since I saw one that was "great." Let's say The Graduate as a safe move.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A novel called "Moscodelphia." A short story collection called "The Blue Piano." A collection of aphorisms called "Oddments." A new, as-yet-untitled collection of prose poems.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, October 16, 2017

rob mclennan reads in Kingston, October 24 : Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre 40th Anniversary

not that I've been doing a ton of readings lately, but I am reading in Kingston next week as part of the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre 40th Anniversary.

I can't even remember the first time I read there, but most likely in the 1990s, thereabouts, and all thanks to Kingston poet and organizer extraordinaire Eric Folsom. You should totally come out! If you are able,


Poetry Evening with an Open Mic

Common Market Café
136 Ontario St, Kingston, ON K7L 2Y4
http://www.thecommonmarket.ca/
7-9pm on 24 October 2017

On Tuesday, October 24 we are pleased to present an evening of poetry organized by Eric Folsom.

Featured poets will include Elizabeth Greene, rob mclennan and Susan McMaster.

More information is promised soon, via their website: http://www.modernfuel.org/news/835


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Trish Salah, Lyric Sexology Vol. 1




Impersonation doesn’t mean what you think. This is the introduction to this book, my introduction, my lyrical sexology. Lyric Sexology. This is one of the things you need to get straight. This is another, you there in your later age, your so-called 21st century: I am not a transsexual. Or an intersexual, or a hermaphrodite. (Hermaphrorditus can write her own damn book.) I am not any of those things you have words for now. You don’t have words for what I am. What I was was this:
I was a dude.
Then I was a chick.
Then I was a dude again.
Hah. You didn’t think we said “dude” or “chick” in what you call ancient Greece, Hellas of the Hellenes, etc. Think again.
Here is what you don’t have words for: What is a seer? What is beyond knowing? How can I write you now, a now impossibly out of joint with your own, knowing you will read this? Knowing you? Or what is a sex in time? Without?
You do not have a word for snakes or gods or sexes. You only think you do.
You do not have a word for the meeting of snake sex god in one word’s divided knowing, a knowing one divided word.

Seven years is what I was as beyond, a beyond, and inside too. So, impersonation doesn’t begin to describe it, but suppose it did. Suppose
I began to describe you. (“Tiresias, impersonated.”)

I’ve long been curious about the work of Kingston poet, fiction writer and critic Trish Salah, a name I first heard during those early 1990s Montreal days of Corey Frost and Colin Christie’s ga press. Salah’s latest release is Lyric Sexology Vol. 1 (Montreal QC: Metonymy Press, 2017), the first Canadian edition of a title originally published in 2014 by New York publisher Roof Books. The author of a previous title – Wanting in Arabic (TSAR, 2002; 2013) – Salah’s Lyric Sexology Vol. 1 suggests the opening salvo of what will continue, at least to a second volume, if not further. There are elements here that read as memoir, something she plays with as she writes through the legendary Greek character Tiresias, and one can make a rather obvious comparison to Anne Carson writing the Ancient Greek figure Griffin in her Autobiography of Red (Knopf, 1998). In Lyric Sexology Vol. 1, Salah composes her own blend of book-length lyric essay and long poem on metamorphosis, gender and expectation, and one that includes references to Ovid, Glee, Ed Wood, Atlantis, high heels, mythologies, National Geographic, Gail Scott’s Heroine and the October Crisis.

Salah’s essay-poem Lyric Sexology Vol. 1 is an ambitious work that combines the lyric with the narrative, writing out poems that wind their individual ways around and through each other; writing out, even beyond gender, the potential elusiveness of identity itself. Through the voice and character of Tiresias, “a blind prophet of Apollo in Thebes, famous for clairvoyance and for being transformed into a woman for seven years.” (Wikipedia), a character mentioned in numerous works by Sophocles, Euripides, Pindar, and Ovid, Salah is able to explore and articulate an identity that was never fixed, but one that evolved as Tiresias did, and as his/her own situations required. As Salah writes in the poem “Godtears”: “Her break with form was primarily intelligible as wanting the impropriety of your hand / in me, sous la table, the exquisite corpse giving way to hewn simply exercises / (spoonerisms) in French or Greek.” In an interview conducted for CWILA: Canadian Women in the Literary Arts by Morgan M Page/Odofemi, Salah writes:

Viviane Namaste talks about the autobiographical imperative, arguing that when non-trans folks approach trans people, not only are they only interested in hearing our autobiographies, but they feel free to discount everything we might have to say that isn’t about autobiography. And on CBC this morning, Janet Mock remarked that the media’s treatment of trans people hasn’t changed significantly since the early 1950s press coverage of Christine Jorgenson. Mock framed her own memoir and media interventions as attempts to push back against the narrowness and othering that has come of treating trans people as if we are solely defined by our transness (as opposed to other aspects of our identities, histories, experience, expertise and interests), and also as if we are curiosities to be known about as opposed to being people one might engage with.  This relates to a point Julia Serano and Talia Bettcher make, that cis folks feel entitled to especially scrutinize and doubt trans folks’ self representations, positioning us paradigmatically as imposters or deceivers. In autobiography we appear as singular beings, at best as exceptional individuals who have triumphed over adversity to actualize ourselves, but more often as curiosities, outliers among humankind, who confirm the normalcy of the non-trans reader.

All that said, yes, it is a problem that there has not been either a critical apparatus or a broader public for our creative work, and that is tied in some ways to Viviane’s critique of the idea that the only or primary reason we might possibly have for writing is to satisfy the curiosity of, and/or educate, a non-trans public.

In a review of the prior edition at Tripwire, Zoe Tuck opens: “Trans women poets: raise your hands if you have written poems about or in the voice of Tiresias? Although I’m not sure if there are enough trans poets AND trans poets who have written Tiresias poems to call them a commonplace, I will cop to having written a few. The figure of Tiresias looms over the search for precedent.” Tuck continues:

The wit masks a real concern that has dogged transgender history and queer history before it: who can we claim, either in the past, or across cultural boundaries, as being  one of us? Put another way: is there a universal category of gender?

Through writing a whole volume through and around Tiresias, Salah is able to write out beyond the purely physical, and beyond the initial, and somewhat expected, poems that Tuck suggests have already been composed; by composing nearly two hundred pages of this first volume of Lyric Sexology, Salah manages to write through Tiresias, as well as utilize the legendary Greek figure, as a way to explore the very nature of fluidity, concerning gender, sexuality and the core root of self, bringing in all the cultural expectation, uncertainty and complications that come along with such shifting.

The simplest equations are subtraction.
A “dog never loses its savour.” Arab slavers.

Fawn smear from the mouth, eye sockets
Tell me about your history, the one to come. (“Tiresias as Cuir (on the run)”)

 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Liz Countryman, A Forest Almost




Dear asshole, I’m writing you
from the fifth hour of a barbeque.

J. has set up a table for flip-cup;
we are celebrating labor.

Everyone misses you.
Everyone has a burger.

I saw today another hurricane’s
coming toward you:

Some networks represent it with a moving point,
others as a black eye covering the Yucatan.

This party is as wild
as a jeep driving down stairs. (“A Few Letters”)

I was quite taken with South Carolina poet and editor Liz Countryman’s first full-length collection, A Forest Almost (Boulder CO: Subito Press, 2017), one of the few books I’ve read in some time that has caused me to jolt, and go back, rereading what had struck in such unexpected ways [she is a poet I apparently noticed back in 2012, thanks to HANDSOME journal; see my review of such here]. I like the mix of structures in this collection, but the poems stretched down the page, constructed with short phrases, rhythm and space, are the ones that stopped me dead in my tracks, whether “A Few Letters” or “When I Excise,” that begins:

Thin remains
a needleless pine
when I strike
your chunk

its fat geography
fat arterial pressing
as yesterday
a ponytail lopped off

and donated.
What’s left
bare as a beach
with its lone

struggling shrimp
face just
out of the sand
blessedly still in movement.

Selected by Graham Foust as the winner of the 2016 Subito Press Poetry Prize, there is a confidence to the poems in A Forest Almost, one that doesn’t feel as much like a first book, suggesting her apprenticeship was entirely off-camera, and not included in the boundary of this collection; or perhaps, she is simply that good, able to produce a book with such confidence and strength, but without one that needs to announce itself. Moving between meditation and observation, these short essay-poems are breathtakingly, concurrently, intimate and objective, articulating such a clarity and precision to get even indirectly to the point. As she writes in the poem “Fireworks Phobia Formation”:

I am an attempt to be clear
while burning out
something almost said the incorrect way.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Greg Rhyno

Greg Rhyno’s debut novel To Me You Seem Giant was published by NeWest Press in September 2017. His writing has appeared in PRISM International, Vocamus Press, and is forthcoming in Riddle Fence. In addition, he has toured and recorded with such rock n’ roll outfits as the Parkas, Phasers on Stun, and Wild Hearses. His music has been licensed to television and film, including shows like Scrubs, Greek, and Dawson’s Creek. Currently, he is an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph. He lives with his family in Guelph, Ontario.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Weirdly, people seem legitimately interested in reading my novel. I love short stories, but they’re usually a harder sell. I think people have some residual bad vibes about the short story from high school. English teachers like me have ruined the form with questions about ‘theme’ and ‘complicating incident.’

2 - How did you come to music first, as opposed to, say, fiction, poetry or non-fiction?
I’m not sure I did come to music first. I wrote a lot when I was a kid, but I put more time and energy into playing music because it seemed like a more obvious way to meet girls.

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?
My first drafts are like big chunks of rock I have to chip away at with the tools of editing.  I like to get a lot of help, a lot of feedback, and I also like to take the time to come back to a piece with fresh eyes. My work tends to laze around the house for a long time before I tell it to get out there and find a job.

4 - Where does a song or work of prose 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?
For me, short stories, novels, and songs all come from different places. Short stories come from square peg moments in my life that are so incongruous or embarrassing that they don’t sit well. I need to find a way to own them. My novel was inspired by real-life events that I collected over time and then completely fictionalized for the sake of the story. Song lyrics can come from a lot of places – a  moment in time, a weird turn of phrase, a guitar player needing something to sing ten minutes before we have to record.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m about to do my first public reading on Thursday, September 7th at the eBar in Guelph, Ontario. All are welcome. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

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 think one of the most important questions in storytelling is, how do you channel voices that aren’t your own? As I step further and further away from the comfort of autobiography, I want to tell honest stories from multiple perspectives. That said, I’m basically Whitey McPatriarchy, and as much as I want my stories to have different points of view, I also want them to be respectful and authentic.

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?
We’re living in this mess of a time when what’s empirically true is frequently being shouted down as false by some very loud, very powerful voices. But then, at the same time, I’m interested in writing fiction and using falsehoods to say things that I think are true. There are some tricky waters to navigate, regardless of whether you’re a writer of fiction or non-fiction. What should the role of a writer be? I don’t know. Rock the boat. Fuck shit up. Shout louder than the liars, or at least use better lies.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’m going to go with ‘essential.’ I love the editing process. I think the only way to get better as a writer is to shelve your ego and really see what your story is and isn’t doing to its reader.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My friend Justin Armstrong once told me that if you can’t write every day, you should at least try to be in contact with your work every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. That’s worked out pretty well for me.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to songwriting)? What do you see as the appeal?
They’re different headspaces, for sure, but in the end they’re both just different ways to play with words and tell stories. I think songwriting has made me a better writer of fiction, because it forced me to think about structure and how language sounds. Also, writing rock lyrics is a real lesson in density. You’ve got about three verses to get it all out.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Now that I’m going back to school, I think I’m going to have an opportunity to write with a real schedule. In the past five years, my routine has been get the kids in bed and start cranking until I’m too tired to see the screen.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Honestly, I just keep writing until something catches. I just hope that the part of my brain that invents stories can stay a few steps ahead of the part of my brain that writes them.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Eau de Pulp and Paper Mill.

14 - 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?
I love movies. I think watching movies- good and bad (maybe especially bad) is an awesome lesson in how plot and character can shake itself out in two hours.  Songs are also huge, not so much for their lyrics, but for their structures. I wish I could write short stories the way Sebastian Lippa structured his songs. Now go look that guy up, he’s awesome.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There’s too many to catalogue, so let me desert island this question. What one artist do I need to get by? Bruce Springsteen. That guy makes it okay to get up most mornings.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
A backflip. I just want to be able to walk into a room and be like, hey, check this shit out.

17 - 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?
One of these days I might take a real crack at being a high school teacher.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It’s something I can do on my own. I think you need something that’s just yours. Or at least, I do.

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

Oh, jeepers. Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi. The last great film was The Lego Batman Movie (Will Arnett is our finest Dark Knight). Did I mention I have kids?

20 - What are you currently working on?
Happiness. Wish me luck.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;