Saturday, February 17, 2018

Eléna Rivera, Scaffolding




SEPT. 9TH THE TRANSLATION

“To read what is hidden” the conversation
begins with that, the silence, the cloaked waiting
It must be paid attention to no matter
what—it demands to be first as is its right,
and too much accretion woven around it
will hide instinct’s way if ego’s unwilling
to bond with, to taste the dialogue’s intense
distance—that entering of mind’s divisions,
bringing one tongue forward reading the other’s
silence without unraveling completely,
having a sense of direction a desire
to meet the poem’s density where thickness
clings to a cloaked rendering that doesn’t end
but meets with isolated words: tuff, gorse, edge

Somewhere during the later 1990s, I picked up a second-hand copy of poet and translator Eléna Rivera’s small title Wale; or The Corse (Buffalo NY: Leave Books, 1994) at Montreal’s The Word Bookstore and was immediately struck by the flow of her lyric, and the structure of the book-length poem, and spent years curious about how what she might end up doing next. Given that, I’m very pleased to finally be able to get into her most recent title, Scaffolding (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), a collection of eighty-two sonnets composed as a kind of “day book” project over the space of nearly a year (the dates run from mid-July through to the end of the following April). Composed around the sights, sounds, buildings and figures, both contemporary and historical, of New York City, where Rivera now lives, Scaffolding is well-named, with a collection of sonnets entirely centred around structure. As part of an interview around the book published on the Princeton University Press blog soon after the book appeared, she spoke on the combination of title and her use of the sonnet: “The sonnet form is a kind of ‘scaffolding,’ a structure, for the substance and sounds of the poem, as is the hendecasyllable line. I also like the darker meaning of the word, ‘an elevated platform on which a criminal is executed;’ there was something that felt dangerous about these poems, about what I was doing.” Earlier in the same interview, she wrote:

I’ve always been interested in form, the interplay between form and content, between the inner and the outer. I wanted to experience what it would be like to write discreet poems over time. I had been engaged with writing long poems for a while. I’d work on a piece, playing with different possibilities, until the form would come to me and I knew then that the poem had found its direction (the amount of time I have, and the concerns of the poem, are what dictate the poem’s length). I was interested in the book as form (a love of the epic) and made one-of-a-kind books, and books in hand-letterpress editions (fascinated by the weight of the single lead letter). At first the sonnet seemed the complete opposite of what I had been doing, but really it wasn’t that different, the form got smaller, tighter, and I filled it rather than found it; it shaped the conversation, the music of it. I really became fascinated by the fourteen-line form, what such a compact container could give rise to, and once I committed myself to it I felt compelled to continue.

While some have argued for the limitations of the sonnet, Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell has argued, as others have, the sonnet’s infinite possibilities and endless mutability, which most likely suggests why the sonnet is still in such use. With the form of the sonnet and the idea of scaffolding, Rivera’s Scaffolding exists as a kind of catch-all, able to hold anything and everything, picking up multiple elements from her knowledge of New York City to compose collage-sonnets tight enough that even a bird might land upon them.

OCT. 29TH

It’s madness this falling in love with sadness,
that faint sound a song that keeps resurfacing
between thoughts that Icarus carried too far
seen from the river’s edge painting by Bruegel
She’s able to swim with help from a large dog
(over and beyond tale of the falling youth)
I envy the comfort that she takes from him
(falling brusquely into a dream) bathed in a
sunlit world where “the whole pageantry” deepest
when at my desk voluntarily holding
“it” the absent, the falling, the dangerous
just balances at the edge of the tale, of
dangerous dropping places where “knights” “ladies”
plummet and cannot recover from madness—



Friday, February 16, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Aditi Machado



Aditi Machado is an Indian poet who lives in the United States. Her first book of poems, Some Beheadings, appeared from Nightboat Books in 2017. She is also the translator of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia (Action Books, 2016) and author of the chapbooks Route: Marienbad (Further Other Book Works, 2016) and The Robing of the Bride (Dzanc Books, 2013), as well as texts appearing in Western Humanities Review, Jacket2, Volt, and The Capilano Review, among other journals. She edits poetry in translation for Asymptote.

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 chapbook was called The Robing of the Bride. It won The Collagist Chapbook Contest in 2012 and was published by Dzanc in 2013. At the time, the great change in my life was to have this object in the world that I had made but which was also made by others, physically. It was a gift. But now that you ask this question, I realize also that that was my first long poem—or one that got into the world somehow. I wrote the early drafts for a class called Poetry and History taught by Carl Phillips and it forced me to engage certain materials and ideas for a prolonged period of time, so that the form of the poem was also prolonged. And though I think I write differently now (less narrative, more meditation) I’m still primarily writing long poems. And they keep getting longer.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I was a child I wrote all sorts of things. When I was sixteen I wrote a novel which I was certain would rock the very foundations of “literary fiction.” What happened actually was that I got something out of myself that was necessary to get out, so that I could look at it and realize I had no real affinity for narrative or personality. Toward the end of high school and through college I mostly wrote poems on/for the internet and realized that’s what I wanted to do.

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?
I don’t write often. I used to. But in the past two or three years I’ve slowed down considerably. Typically, I’ll write a few lines or brief stanzas almost every day for several weeks; then I’ll rewrite that material several times, with long breaks between successive drafts. But I do occasionally get certain sections “right” the first time.

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?
The current manuscript I’m working on, tentatively called Emporium, I knew would be a book even as I wrote the first poem. Each poem is fairly long, because an image or line or word gets poured over, re-examined, and transformed over the course of several pages. So I suppose it begins with an image, line, or word. But words, especially. I learned some Old English and Latin recently, which makes me ever more curious about the life of certain words. I told some of my students, thereby shocking them, that I was obsessed with the word “cunt.” But it wasn’t meant to be shocking. The OED entry for “cunt” is fascinating. Among other things, in medieval times, a particular flower was called “cuntehoare” and, at another point in time, the word “quaint” was used as a variant of “cunt.” It remains to be seen whether I’ll work this into a poem …

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

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?
In my first book, Some Beheadings, I think a lot about thinking. I’d been reading Etel Adnan and Geoffrey Hill who are both very philosophical writers whose intellect is incredibly, though differently, sensuous. So I got caught up in this question of what it would it mean to feel your own thoughts and whether those feelings change in relation to different landscapes (it turns out they do). Right now I’m writing more about haptic encounters, especially in marketplaces. And I’m wondering what it does to us to collapse distance as against seeing across distance. The wondering seeps into my non-writing life (if not the other way round), so when I’m shopping, I’ll think about the difference between paying with cash (and how you pay with cash—do you place it on the counter or into the cashier’s hands and how long you take to count your money) and paying with virtual money.

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?
In some ways I think writing is the culture, if one thinks of writing as a kind of making-of-the-world that’s happening all the time, even in speech. It’s just that the culture doesn’t recognize this about itself. I also keep noticing that ideas have been alive in language even before they have put forth as ideas. So maybe all writing is speculative, even when it’s looking at the past, and the role of writers is to speculate and to be always avant, without even knowing it? I mean, let’s be bold.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I can’t think of a single bad experience I’ve had with an editor—maybe I’ve been lucky? I’ve certainly been lucky working with Nightboat, Action, and Further Other Book Works. It’s like having an incredible and detail-oriented conversation about language. I would say good editing is an art and, as art, is essential.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Maybe something like: practice kindness.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Translation is a salve. You get to make all of these intricate decisions at the level of word, syntax, and sound (and, well, more), but you don’t experience the psychosis of the supposed “starting from scratch” that writing your own poems precipitates. Or maybe it’s a different type (pleasanter?) of psychosis. And of course, I don’t really see translating and writing as oppositional moves. This is to say, I’ll often work on translation and my-own-poetry projects simultaneously and sometimes also translate for the sake (=fun) of it.

Critical prose is another matter. I hate most of it and hate writing it. I do love essays and nonfiction, particularly when they’re, at heart, poetic: as in, they make something, or enact discovery or thought in some way. A small amount of critical prose does this and I don’t have a good sense of my own capacities here. The few essays I’ve written that I go back to are about poets I love, so it’s a way of reading them ever more deeply.

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?
It depends on what other work (adjuncting, etc.) I have to do, but I’ve learned to stop feeling ashamed that I don’t have a set routine. I’m answering this question in December, when I’m off-term, so these days, I’ve been writing an hour or so in the morning and I try to do some translating in the evening. It’s lovely.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Books, movies, walks.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Petrichor. Also, there’s a particular kind of soft, humid breeze on a temperate day that is very precisely Bangalore (where I’m from), which I very occasionally experience in the United States.

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?
Maybe not nature exactly, but landscape, yes. I’ve written a few site-specific texts and felt very deeply the thinking I was doing in those places (dense, extremely biodiverse, tropical jungle), and felt it shaped by what was around me. And cinema. I love a lot of French and Russian cinema, and almost everything by David Cronenberg and Todd Haynes. I like movies that are incredibly spare (Robert Bresson) or terribly excessive (Paul Verhoeven)—they seem to operate like poems, with multiple systems of meaning not reducible to elements of narration.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Travel dangerously.

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?
Fine-dining chef. (Would attempt; not inevitable).

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t think I was good at anything else, really.

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

20 - What are you currently working on?
A book of poems tentatively titled Emporium. A translation project that isn’t official yet, so I won’t name it. Various syllabi.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

snow day (further excerpts from a work-in-progress,




                              see an earlier excerpt of the same piece here ; and here


*

How many weeks from now: forty-eight years old. Party ‘till I break a hip.

Where we live on the continent. One remains, most often, where things are most familiar.

What my archive, accumulates. I pack boxes and folders for couriers to collect, sent forth into Calgary. All the way to the foothills.

Correspondence, notebooks, notebooks, postcards. Manuscripts. All apology.

Cole Swensen, On Walking On (2017): “If you walk in complete silence, other beings are not forced // to rearrange themselves into unrecognizable things.”

Ottawa Valley cold. Ontario cold. Cold anywhere. An approaching Arctic air mass.

What one might wish to unfold.

*

Retweet Kaveh Akbar. Retweet Erin Wunker. Retweet Jane Eaton Hamilton. Retweet Eve L. Ewing. Retweet Natalee Caple. Retweet Hazel Millar. Retweet Natalie Eilbert. Retweet Metatron Press. Retweet Zoe Whittall. Retweet Amal El-Mohtar. Retweet Astro Poets. Retweet Christine McNair, the rare time she does tweet. We want significance, relevance. We wish to engage. We want an end to hostilities. We want an end to the dark ends of silence. To remember why we love, why we love poems, why we love writing. To return to that joy of creation, community. Connection.

I want to feel the love I want to love the poems I want the poems that sing and breathe and rage I want the giving and not the taking.

Return to small. Attempt, once more, to discover. What we came here to do. Revisit the idea. Revitalize. Sketch out. Absorb. Why we write in the first place.

Polyvocality is not cacophony. Is not a threat. A thread. Why can’t we listen.

To no longer feel exhausted.

Sometimes doing nothing and doing something exist concurrently, in a single gesture.

*

Today in history.

When I repeat a story. Clickbait.

The days my mother had to force me out. “I don’t want to see you until ____.” A pain upon cheeks as we tore through the snow. Such cold. Wood smoke from the wood furnace up the chimney rolling down to the ground outside to swirl tumbleweed slow across yard and disperse.

“If you saw a bullet hit a bird — and he told you he wasn’t shot — you might weep at his courtesy...” – Emily Dickinson


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristyn Dunnion



Kristyn Dunnion‘s Tarry This Night made CBC’s top twenty list of fall fiction, and Bitch Media's November Must Reads. The Dirt Chronicles (also Arsenal Pulp Press) was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist and ALA Over the Rainbow selection. Recent fiction appears in The New Guard V, Cosmonauts Avenue, and The Tahoma Literary Review. Dunnion lives and works in Toronto with several large cats.

 Upcoming events and appearances include: reading as part of Performance Club 2: Valley of the Dolls with Keith Cole on February 13 (7pm; Super 8 Downtown Toronto; see link here for further information) and as part of Toronto's Chi Series on February 21 (8pm; Round Venue, 152a Augusta Ave; see link here for further information). Also: graduation ceremony and screening of Valley of the Dolls with Keynote Speaker Kristyn Dunnion, receiving an honourary degree from FADO Performance Art Centre, February 27 (7pm; 401 Richmond, Toronto; see link here for further information).
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
When Red Deer Press published my first book, a Juvenile novel called Missing Matthew (2003), I felt like I had been invited into this strange, revered room that was full of unknowns: industry protocol, knowledge, networks, etiquette etcetera. It was a steep learning curve! I still learn with each new book, and of course the industry is undergoing constant challenges and change. My most recent novel, Tarry This Night, is firmly directed to adult readers. It is grim, dystopic, and balanced with strong imagery and powerful prose.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Non-fiction is terrifying and poetry confounds me. There was almost no other option! I’m beginning to dabble in screenplays, however.

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?
A new project can start in a heartbeat. I’m always scribbling in notebooks: ideas, images. I doodle, I paint, I pull Tarot cards. I write many, many drafts. And I come at the writing from a place of open curiosity. I often have no idea what I’m writing about until I’ve done a few drafts. It’s not the most efficient method, but it’s this creative process that hooks me.

4 - Where does a 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?
I’ve focussed on writing short fiction for the past decade, but Tarry This Night (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017) came out of this era. I insisted it was a short, and then a long, story for two years. At last I conceded it was a novella. Finally, a novel. This book began with imagery that formed the skeletal structure: opening and closing images that stayed true throughout each draft. There were specific phrases that precipitated the idea of a story, and a yearning of some kind. That sounds really flaky, but it’s true.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Oh, yes. I like to put my theatre background to work! I love the opportunity to read new work to a juicy audience. It’s risky, but you can really feel what works, what doesn’t. There is no substitute for the actuality of preparing to read to a live audience. I can be really ruthless in an editorial way in these moments!

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?
My concerns are endless. Foremost: how can we dismantle the patriarchy? Can we save this planet? Do we deserve to? Can white people ever truly acknowledge the extent of our privilege and move towards being reliable allies to people from racialized communities? Can we share global resources equitably and fairly and end capitalism? Can we engage with non-human animals in a compassionate and ethical manner? Can we ever be human and humane?

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?
I believe the artist’s role is to disrupt. To examine cultural - social- political circumstance and to record, reflect, critique, and offer creative solutions, if possible. We do this through movement, sound, imagery, taste. We do this through language. We use the senses, the intellect, technology, our emotions and our spiritual connections, to make meaning for ourselves and for others. It’s a vocation, to my way of thinking, revered by some, reviled by others.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It is essential. It can be difficult, particularly if the writer is not able to distance him/herself from the material. It comes more easily with practice. Having a writing group can help in this respect, by setting guidelines for giving and receiving feedback. Sometimes people want others to read their work, only to hear how great it is. Every piece can take improvement.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“If you can find another job, please do so.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to novels to performance)? What do you see as the appeal?
I love genre-bending! Each story must be told its own way. That might be through movement and music and costume; it might happen without uttering a single word. I love experimentation and discovery, so for me it’s essential.

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?
I’ve spent most of my adult life working full time in a demanding unrelated field (housing support for adults with severe mental health struggles), so I take my writing time when I can get it. I use all of my vacation days for writing, for retreats and residencies. I take time away from paid work whenever I can afford to, and literary arts grants have assisted me in this regard, for which I am extremely grateful. I am hungry for time to create and write and to absorb the work of other artists. When I am working on a project (and not in a paid day-job), I never take a day off. I work long hours alone; I rarely speak to other people. I am in an altered state, non-ordinary reality, and I am rarely ever happier.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I always have multiple projects on the go. If one hits a wall (and they do when they need time to ‘marinate’ while I grow or shift in order to return with a fresh perspective), I turn to another piece and dig in. Life is short, folks, and I’m no spring chicken!

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I probably associate food smells with most of my homes. My maternal grandma’s (deceased) would be curry and mothballs and dust. My paternal grandma’s (deceased) would be roast and gingerbread cookies; after she died the house smelled mainly of booze and cigarettes.  My current home in Toronto is vanilla and cinnamon (vegan baking!) or sage from smudging, and sometimes of cat litter – scooping for three cats is a part time job!

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?
All of the above!  Tarry This Night was heavily influenced by the Old Testament, by Doom metal, and by research: quilt making, the American survivalist movement, drought maps, climate change predictions, former and active cult data, etcetera. I worked with Tarot cards for character development, and my spiritual practice influenced some of the writing heavily. I immersed myself in collage and painting during the final year of edits and spent a lot of time looking at, making, and thinking about visual art, movement, music.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m all over the map! A snapshot from my bedside stack: Tove Jansson, Julie Hensley, Josh Weil, Don Domanski, Ottessa Moshfegh, Casey Plett (editor), Anne Carson, Helen Humphreys. Margaret Atwood, Iain Banks and China Mieville have been major influences over the years.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to write and direct a short film. I want to go to Iceland and the Republic of Ireland. Learn to play the cello. I would like to sing in public (despite my fear)!

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?
Hypnotist.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing is cheap. You can do it alone, anywhere. There are few barriers and fewer limits.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been enjoying some television series a great deal: Trapped (Icelandic), The Bridge (Danish/Swedish), American Gods (based on the novel by Neil Gaiman), Rectify, Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale.

20 - What are you currently working on?
“Last Call at the Dogwater Inn” is a story collection set in my Toronto neighbourhood that deals with gentrification and community. “The Fishwyfe’s Fury” is a narrative triptych set in my hometown on the shores of Lake Erie, and it wants a visual component. I started a sequel to “Tarry This Night” called “Glean Among The Sheaves.” My screenplay “Fits Ritual,” based on a story published in Grain Magazine (2012) demands to be made into a short independent film - I’m looking for collaborators to help make this happen!