Saturday, October 25, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristin P. Bradshaw

Kristin P. Bradshaw is a language-based writer and artist who works with poetry, collage, photography and soundscapes. Her current critical inquiries converge around fragmentation, uses of language in art, and the tension between immediate and emergent encounters with texts (including artworks, performances) and experiences, and the ways that historical, rhythmic, spoken and visual aspects of the English language are deployed in contemporary poetic writing. Her poems have appeared in journals such as the New Orleans Review, New American Poetry, Chase Park, and No: a Journal of the Arts, and a letterpress chapbook and audio CD, “The Difficult Nature of Contemplation,” is forthcoming from Tiger Food Press/Percival House. She holds an MFA from Brown University, an MA in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and now teaches in the Liberal Arts department at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Burning Deck Press released her first book, Apologies, in October 2014.

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 took over fifteen years to get out into the world (as a book), and over that time, I lived in Providence, New Haven, New York City, and Portland, Oregon. After graduate school, I struggled to find decent work and to get much traction. I wrote a good bit, put together flimsy copies of inkjet printed chapbooks. Later I turned to recording sounds, then photography. I listened to a lot of music (or maybe a lot of the same music over and over again), which is something that hasn’t really changed in my daily life. Right now, some of my most recent work includes more “apologies.” And then apart from “poetry” in book form, I have a separate set of visually based works that meditate on the iterative process of seeing, writing, and thinking. It feels different in that I can work with smaller chunks of text, and therefore I don’t have to wait while my work accumulates into a full series. Technically, I also end up using different computer programs for design purposes, and different machinery (letterpress) in order to fully actualize the work (poem-image-print).

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My cousin is an avid reader, and he gave me a number of books when I was a pre-teen.  One was an anthology that covered poetry in English generally (so Dickinson, Shakespeare, Milton, but also Henry King and James Wright), and the other covered contemporary American poetry including a Denise Levertov poem that I adored. While I read novels, essays, plays and history texts throughout high school, I returned to these anthologies often.

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’m not sure it takes all that long to start a project, but it seems to take forever to finish. Of course, this is not the case for short individual lyric or aphoristic pieces, which come rather quickly and decisively, but for the pieces that make up a series the process seems rather protracted. I used to work more from notes (usually in a notebook and from scraps of paper, envelopes, etc.) and compose on a manual typewriter. Now I compose mostly on a computer.

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?
A poem can begin with a phrase or word, just a fragment of something, or it can begin with a full line. I usually work with the idea of a book or series in mind from the beginning. When I write occasional pieces, they are often short lyric-like poems or quasi-aphoristic text blocks. Sometimes they go on to live in another series, but some are candidates for being employed as part of a matrix for a printmaking or sound project. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m interested in exploring the idea of what a public “reading” can be, what it might look like other than a person reading into a microphone or from a lectern. I’ve always wanted have a reading of a short series entitled “The Difficult Nature of Contemplation” and place a laptop at the lectern (or better yet, in a chair, with a glass of water nearby, and a microphone) and play the accompanying sound project “the difficulty nature” instead of giving a live/spoken reading. Or, what would it be like to record a selection of texts/poems and play them in a loop while “the audience” milled around, sat in chairs, conversed, drank and ate, as if it were an art opening. Audience members could sit and listen to the loop, or chat, or allow any combination of these things to occur at once.

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 have some ongoing curiosities. My current critical inquiries converge around fragmentation, artists’ uses of language, the tension between immediacy and emergence in encounters with texts (including artworks, performances) and experiences, and the ways that historical, rhythmic, spoken and visual aspects of the English language are deployed in contemporary poetic writing.  

For me, in poetic compositions, writers interact with language, sometimes in an attempt to make sense of the real, even if through the unreal or dreamlike, and in some cases to describe visual or aural connections to language, with or without the desire to express sense or meaning or to “pin” anything down. I understand poetry/poetics in multiple ways, as an open genre that accommodates lyric and narrative elements as much as it accommodates fragmentation, collage, systems, and chance. This openness also allows writers to engage the spirit of inquiry, and I think the questions are myriad. The critic Marjorie Perloff has suggested that the contemporary unit of poetry might be the page rather than the line. Following that thinking, I’m curious about where poetic expression might exist—on the page, in LED displays, in paintings, or in any number of screens and devices. This multi-planed understanding of poetry as visual, auditory, verbal and written allows me to incorporate both traditional approaches to writing and to explore the move from the line to the page, and from printed material to digital platforms.

Poetry is a medium through which practitioners of all levels may ask: what can a poem be? and how can a poem or act of poetic writing operate in the world? In what ways can ‘poetry’ be read and constructed out of fragments of the mundane: street signs and voices overhead on the walk home? How is that material transcribed, visually or through sound? What are some of the techniques employed in making a poetic writing work? And what are some approaches to writing poetry in the 21st century? How can methods taken from the long history of versification, from contemporary writings by Paul Metcalf or Jackson MacLow, and from contemporary art practices by artists like Johanna Drucker and Jenny Holzer generate useful ways of interacting with language? Further, what do (and will) new poetic territories look like? I am interested in these questions and how potential answers make an impact on the ways that poetic writing may be composed and considered, and in how language offers a platform (a medium) through which to translate critical thought into a formalized structure of some sort (an essay, a novel, a story, a poem, or image, etc.).

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 suppose that different types of writers will (and should) have different roles in society (and I’m really referring to American society, or a particular slice of it). Perhaps contemporary poetry allows writers to connect with their own capacities to shape words and language to reflect, manifest, or project the semblance of a fractured/fragmented whole as an object-like thing or idea to be considered in ambiguity. Perhaps it is suited to investigations of all types of conflict—matters of the heart, religion, war, political instability — and can reference experiences ranging from the individual to the communal to the universal.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Probably both. I haven’t had much experience with this in the recent past, but I worked closely with an editor on a project a few years ago, and her comments gave me so much insight into my compositional choices (as well as into some of my shortcomings). I spent a great deal of time revising Apologies prior to submitting it to Burning Deck, and before it went to press, Rosmarie Waldrop and I discussed certain aspects of the numbering system, the deliberate gaps, and I was happy to preserve the original numbers, but also I found the feedback invaluable; it helped me better grasp and articulate my intentions.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
CD Wright once wrote this word at the bottom of a short series that I turned in for review: “Onward.”  Indeed. 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry via collage and soundscapes to photography)? What do you see as the appeal?
It has seemed more natural than difficult, and done sometimes out of convenience, to move between poetry, collage, photography and sound recordings. I think the collage work is a sort of hermeneutic strategy/processing of what I’m “reading” around me, and that the sound work that I’ve done has primarily connected back to, or been an expression of, written work that I’d done before, as if the text begged to be translated into a different medium. Photography is usually something I pick up when I need to see (things in the world) differently.

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?
Typically, I get up between 7:30-8am, look over email, attend to administrative things—like obsessing over my calendar—related to my job, and then by 9:30 I am doing some form of class preparation or grading. I teach in the afternoons this term, so I go in to campus around lunchtime. If I am not teaching, I follow the same pattern, but go in earlier than lunch and have meetings or consult with students, and after a few hours I spend time off campus reading for the next class or working on curriculum or working on my own research/work. These days can be especially good for writing. I like to think and write in the afternoon or at night. My process has changed a bit over the years, as I’ve moved from manual typewriters to computer/laptop. I keep a document open over a period of time, and generally get three or four sessions of writing time in during the week. I’m a slow writer; sometimes I write two or three words (that I keep), sometimes a few lines or paragraphs, in a sitting. I sit in a chair and listen to music through headphones. I stare a lot. I sit in a rocking chair and wear my pants out at the calf. I attend to the advances of the dog until I get her settled under a blanket, and then I repel the advances of the cat until she settles on the back of the sofa, or, I fidget with things around me: papers, books, study debris.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Usually I turn to a different medium, like photography or collage.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The scent of coming rain.

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’ve always been curious about the way that music does or doesn’t influence my writing (process).
And I am inspired by visual art, from the Bauhaus masters (I wanted to be like Itten when I was in high school) to Barnett Newman, and from Jenny Holzer to Glenn Ligon, my work is deeply influenced by visual artists.

I started college as a music history major, and while I didn’t want to practice my instrument so much (I much preferred writing and writing and writing), I have always had a special relationship with music (Zukofsky’s “Lower limit speech/Upper limit music”). While I can’t remember everything I listened to in copious amounts while I wrote Apologies, I’m sure the list includes Radiohead, Tori Amos, Roxy Music, Neu, Shostakovich’s String Quartet’s, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie and Gnossiene, and William Byrd’s Masses.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Of the people I know currently, Sarah Jaffe, a musician (formerly of Erase Errata) and writer (first novel forthcoming from Tin House, 2015), and Kate Copeland, a conceptual artist working in printmaking, book arts, and alternative photographic processes.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
So much, especially light projections and multiple screen-based works.

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?
What’s it like to work in a think-tank? I wonder about that from time to time. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
compulsion. possibly hubris. later defeat. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje and Waiting for Godot. Film: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A postcard series. And writings…more apologies, and something else still nebulous.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ryan Eckes, Valu-Plus

no libs

south broad’s valu-plus is closing, everything must go
til day’s reflection is night’s, your passing face barters
for itself against the blackness pulling thru us. threads:
kids from south philly high walk by, their shithole of a
school on their shoulders, not anyone’s. let the asians
and black have at each other, say the old whites, shrug-
ging themselves off to the young whites in their patient
bossworship that builds and builds a box to be gutted
between dollar tree and footlocker. kids are actually
small, smelly goats, terry eagleton, the british critic,
reminds us americans. i look out of my box: no parade
of marxist profs. i would like to be open. hey, if northern
liberties on the other side of town burns to the ground
i’m fine with that, so long as we plant a giant sign in
the middle of all the smoking rubble: AMERICA’S FIRST
SUBURB. sure, crumb cake from kaplan’s and coffee
walking around the ortlieb brewery ruins and the jazz
that came from a corner of it—i’ll sell you the postcards—
i’m selling them right now, in fact, for nothing. but that
giant sign i’ll especially sell you, dirt cheap, and we’ll
make it pretty.

When in Philadelphia recently, we were fortunate enough to catch local poet Ryan Eckes launch his second poetry collection, Valu-Plus (Baltimore MD: Furniture Press, 2014). A follow up to his Old News (Furniture Press, 2011), Eckes’ Valu-Plus is an exploration, often in first-person narratives, of Philadelphia, from the working class ground level of the city to explorations of literary craft and community. There is much here akin to works I’ve seen on and around the City of Vancouver, specifically Michael Turner’s Kingsway (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995), in that both are suites of linked poems that work to articulate something of the physical, personal and psychological urban spaces. Composed in three sections—trudges, slapstick and bluebooks—there is a feel of the notebook to some of these poems, as Eckes records the activities of his immediate city, as well as his own movements, such as the poem “make up,” that includes such observations as “officer i’m just getting / a cheesesteak, i’ll move / the car in a sec” or “the whole year / was a morning / i couldn’t get / enough coffee” to the small rejoinder: “why begin with / romanticism [.]” Valu-Plus includes and responds to seeking employment, cultural and social commentaries, coffee, factories, American poets and the craft of writing.

the deal

The people who are cool are not in a position to hire you, eckes. Write that down on your napkin there. Fold it up and mail it to yourself. Mail yourself. When your doorbell rings it’s either valu-plus or jehova’s witness. Take your chances. Wipe your mouth.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, Canadian poetry included a grouping of poets, led by Tom Wayman, that argued for what they called “work poetry,” attempting to articulate the value of physical labour before falling under not only the weight of their own arguments, but the whittling away of the lyric and poetic line. Ryan Eckes’ Valu-Plus is perhaps one of the finer, and more subtle, examples of articulating the poetic and lyric value of work.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

new from above/ground press: Schapira, Brockwell, Baker + Touch the Donkey #3

Kate Schapira

See link here for more information

Images from Declassified Nuclear Test Films
Stephen Brockwell

See link here for more information

Abject Lessons
Jennifer Baker

See link here for more information

Touch the Donkey #3
with new poems by Gil McElroy, j/j hastain, derek beaulieu, Megan Kaminski, Roland Prevost, Emily Ursuliak, Susan Briante and D.G. Jones.

See link here for more information

keep an eye on the above/ground press blog for author interviews, new writing, reviews, upcoming readings and tons of other material;

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
September/October 2014
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

and don’t forget about the 2015 above/ground press subscriptions; still available!

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal (above). Scroll down here to see various backlist titles (many, many things are still in print).

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request.

forthcoming items by derek beaulieu, Jason Christie, Pearl Pirie, Gil McElroy, Gregory Betts, Kemeny Babineau, ryan fitzpatrick and Elizabeth Robinson!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Bruce Whiteman

Bruce Whiteman was born near Toronto in 1952 and was educated at the University of Toronto, Trent University, and UCLA. He has degrees in English literature, library science, and musicology, and until 2010 worked as a rare book specialist at McMaster University, McGill University, and UCLA.

He has published many books of poetry, including a long poem in several books entitled The Invisible World Is in Decline (1984, 1989, 2000, and 2006, with Book VII, Intimate Letters, just out in the fall of 2014 from ECW Press). A collection of shorter poems entitled Tablature is due from McGill-Queen's University Press in the spring of 2015. Whiteman has also published widely as a book reviewer in both Canada and the United States.

His other books include a study of English publishing in Quebec, a book on Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald, a descriptive bibliography of poet Raymond Souster, and editions of letters of the poets Ralph Gustafson and W.W.E. Ross and of critic and poet John Sutherland, as well as a major exhibition catalogue entitled The World From Here: Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles.

In addition to his own poetry, Whiteman has published translations from French (Québecois poet François Charron) and Latin (Tiberianus’ poem Pervigilium Veneris).

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?

I cannot say that it really changed my life, although it was exciting to have in the world. I did two tiny self-produced chapbooks with a friend in the mid-70s, but I pretty much disown them now. My next two were small-scale affairs as well, but they feel more like my real first books. Cary Fagan did one in an edition of 300 copies, and the other I co-produced with my painter friend Milt Jewell in a larger edition, 500 I think. Those contain the first poems I acknowledge and am not ashamed of forty-some-odd years later.

As for how those poems relate to what I do now, there's very little connection, really. I gave up on the lyric poem in 1980, so the earlier work sounds quite foreign to me now, despite a recent reversion to traditional lineated poetry that Ken Norris fomented a few years ago when I was in a very difficult situation emotionally. The poet who writes The Invisible World Is in Decline has a tough time relating to the poet who in his twenties wrote pretty directly about the usual lyric concerns. Things like love and death are intergeneric, obviously, but my heart is in a different world from the one it inhabited in 1978.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I was certainly reading in all three forms in high school. I was crazy about Joyce and Virginia Woolf, for example. But an older brother introduced me to Eliot's The Waste Land when I was around fifteen, and I was hooked immediately. Its range of reference and intelligence was impressive, but its emotional range was striking too, even if now I see its emotional assumptions as dark and unattractive, dangerous even. Poetry also seemed more accessible for the expression of teenage experiences like unrequited love, family divorce, and so on. Essays were what one wrote in school.

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?
It depends on what I am working with. The long poem is always there, asleep or dozing on my desk, and when I am ready to go on with it, it's more available than other writing because I am not forever starting from nothing, from scratch. That doesn't mean that individual poems can't be hard or problematic; but at least the greater context doesn't have to be invented each time. With every poem, it's always the opening line that is the hardest. Something has to occur, with possibility. Sometimes it does, more often than not it doesn't or gets written with extreme difficulty. But usually, with the first line on the page, the rest of the poem is not so exigent. The ending, again, can be confounding, hard to listen for.

I don't write a lot of drafts. I'm constantly correcting, adding, subtracting as I go along, re-reading what's there, editing on the fly. So usually, when I finish, while the poem may not be perfect, it's pretty close to what I want. I pay very, very close attention to poetic music, and as long as the music is in the poem, it will be close to right the first time.

Poetry rarely comes out of notes for me. It's grabbed out of what Yeats, I think, called "the live air."

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?
Well again, with the long poem it's always a book from the beginning. It will not be pre-planned for the most part, not designed architectonically or anything, because I want the work itself to lead, not to follow. With the sequence that begins Book VIII that I am writing thee days, I did decide on a context, that the poems would engage with the Ovidian text Tristia, which he wrote after Augustus Caesar banished him to present-day Romania, because I needed to explore the idea of emotional exile. I even quite doggedly read the Ovid in Latin and did, for once, make a few notes, recorded a few phrases I wanted to invoke.

With the lined poems, well, they are more occasional and in some sense accumulate rather than being written within a sequence. I have a book of these coming out from McGill-Queen's in the spring of 2015 entitled Tablature, and the construction of the collection is not just random, not at all; but the poems were written more as sighs and groans and out of high blood pressure, so to speak, than to any plan made in advance.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do like reading in public. In part it's because I think poetry needs to be vocalized in order properly to hear its music. But I also like the immediacy of reading to other people, especially to strangers. Feedback is always a good thing, and the questions that listeners come up with, while they can sometimes be banal or repetitive, can also be incredibly provocative. I was asked at a recent reading about melody, and I realized that I didn't really have a take on melody in poetry, despite my constant musical preoccupations. That was great. I'm thinking about it now.

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?
Theory. Well sure. I am never going to write an "Art poétique," but I do constantly think about what poetry is and what it does. I have a slightly dysfunctional relationship to the word "theory" because of its commandeering by the Academy over the last few decades in ways that, mostly, did not interest me much, or rather in ways that produced bad writing. My move from lyric poetry to the prose poem was definitely a theoretical alteration, undertaken because I wanted my poetry to stop witnessing little beyond my personal experiences and to come out of  an engagement with the body, with light, with language as discovered rather than imposed.

But poems that try to answer questions, or that are self-consciously engaged with "the current questions" are usually drab and almost always sound fanées fast. That said, poets, bless them, are usually alive to whatever is of concern to the culture or the zeitgeist, to use an old-fashioned term, and inevitably their poems will engage with "the current questions" even when they are not specifically designed to doing so.

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 these days don't get much respect. The culture is quite adept at ignoring poetry. Just look at the book pages of the three Toronto newspapers: fiction reigneth supreme. I know it sounds dumb, but the role of the poet, really, is to write poems that are engaging and lasting. Poems that are passionate, musical, alive in their language.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The editors I have worked with over the decades have always made my books better. I don't need to be told about comma splices and subject-verb agreement, but when poems are relatively fresh, it isn't always easy to hear them right. Another's perceptions are essential. I would never give a book to the world without having the benefit of an editor.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I don't know about "advice," but I have always liked Basil Bunting's statement in the preface to his Collected Poems: "With sleights learned from others and an ear open to melodic analogies I have set down words as a musician pricks his score, not to be read in silence, but to trace in the air a pattern of sound that may sometimes, I hope, be pleasing." That's a very, very high aspiration for a poet. Hard work ensues.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose to children's poems to classical music writing)? What do you see as the appeal?

The genres fertilize each other really. My interest in classical music is older even than my recognitions in poetry, and I constantly listen to works, write about them sometimes, and let them train and shape my ear. That ear is the essential aspect of writing poetry in my view, so music and poems are forever in a conversation. I am interested in the neuroscience of hearing and recently talked to a poetry class about tone deafness, what scientists prefer to call a lack of pitch discrimination. It seems to be centered in the arcuate fasciculus and is bilateral. I also spent a day or two last month thinking about the possibility of writing a poem in a specific key. Can one write a poem in D-flat major? That may sound idiotic, but it's this sort of cross-fertilization that interests me.

Reviews come out of commissions mostly, but even reviews can be stimulating to the main work. It's good to read all kinds of writing. I recently reviewed Diane Ackerman's The Human Age for a newspaper, and was struck by how wonderfully she puts together sentences. Of course I am hardly the first person to notice that.

As for children's poems, they are a new thing for me, and grew out of wanting to write something that my four-year old twin boys could enjoy. I discovered that I have a talent, I think, for metre and rhyme, something I usually do not think about directly in my poems for grown-ups. It's awfully engaging to write poems that must be direct and comprehensible to children. Not easier, by any means! I go through more drafts of a kids' poem than I do for a piece intended to be part of my long poem, that's for sure.

I taught myself, late, how to write the lyric essay, or an extended version of it, by writing a 30,000-word memoir last fall. It won't ever be published, but it was a good experience in so many ways, not least because the writing itself fell into a genre I had not attempted before, and I learned the arc of a long prose form and how to tie it to lyric moments from a part of my life that was extremely painful. So, again, all kinds of writing feed each other, and moving among them is always a good thing.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beautiful Outlaw: Phil Hall and Mark Goldstein

Phil Hall and Mark Goldstein were recently in Ottawa to launch new titles with Goldstein’s own Beautiful Outlaw Press, a publishing house known for beautiful chapbooks produced in small editions that are gracefully designed, thrilling to read, and difficult to find copies of (unless you can find via publisher and/or an author). Phil Hall’s latest is Essay on Legend (2014), produced in an edition of 52 copies “in commemoration of the second annual Purdy Picnic at the A-frame, Roblin Lake, Ameliasburgh, July 26, 2014.” For some decades now, the late poet Al Purdy has been one of Phil Hall’s touchstones, starting, as he said, as a good Ontario “son of Al Purdy” poet, since shifting towards Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers (1978); from stories and the anecdote to “that purse sound of the vowel.” And yet, this short sequence, cobbled and stitched together from a variety of threads, found and salvaged lines and objects, begins with an anecdote about a dog, utilizing such as a starting-point for a sequence of observations on poetry, anecdote and violence, each circling around the very idea of “legend”:

  Most days Al Purdy

wrote poems as good as Alden Nowlan
  but maybe 30 times Al wrote a poem we now call      a Purdy poem

as if some days his name were All     not Al

  Nowlan also     at times     sawdust flying     achieved a wider name
All-Done-Now Land     or Old In No Land

  they both wrote a lot of friendly crap that sounds the same

if read now     but who can stand to read them exhaustively now
  they were drinkers     & that will get a soul above itself some

as the booze digs under eloquence like surf

  but Purdy seems to have     seen & heard     his over-self
he caricatured Al as All     or was that us

  while Nowlan just kept writing down memories & impressions

without distinguishing small town talk from the bull moose secret life
  so we tend to forget him

What is evident over the past few years is just how fluid Phil Hall’s stunning meditative poems have become, and how he refuses to remain static; most likely, if any of this were to find their way into a trade collection, they would be completely reworked, edited, reshuffled and pared down. Nothing is fixed.

Schwarzmaut was inscribed by Paul Celan sometime after January 30, 1967, the date on which he first tried to kill himself “with a knife (or a letter-opener) that missed his heart by an inch.” The suspected cause, among many forces, was a “chance encounter at a literary event at the Paris Goethe Institute on January 25 with Claire Goll, the widow of the poet Yvan Goll, who some years earlier had wrongly accused him of plagiarizing her husband’s poetry, causing Celan’s first psychic collapse.” At the time of his suicide attempt Celan was “saved by his wife in extremis, and transported to Hôpital Coucicaut where he was operated on immediately” as his left lung was severely damaged. From mid-February until mid-October he was interned at the Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital, where Schwarzmaut was written. Subsequently, it was first published by Brunidor, along with engravings by Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, in a limited edition of 85 copies under the title “Schwarzmaut” in March 1969. In 1970, published by Suhrkamp Verlag, it became the opening cycle of Lichtzwang just three months after Celan’s death.
Blacktoll is a continuation of my transtranslational experiments first begun in After Rilke (BookThug 2008) and continued in Tracelanguage (BookThug 2010). Where Tracelanguage exemplifies a “shared breath” that seeks to break with tired translational orthodoxies, Blacktoll attempts to embrace both old and new methodologies as singular. Whether one approach is wider or deeper than the other, I’ll leave to the reader to decide in full knowledge that there’s no “poem” there. By this I mean that words are encampments around an absence – a field of energy beyond description. (“A Note on the Text”)

Paul Celan’s Blacktoll Schwarzmaut, translated by Mark Goldstein (2013) continues, as Goldstein himself writes, his engagement with what Erín Moure refers to as “transelation”—a poetic translation that openly admits that there is no such thing as the possibility of direct translation, especially for poetry, and runs a gradient of directly including the translator as co-author of the newly-created text. I’m curious about Goldstein’s repeated return to the texts of Paul Celan, specifically, and if this might be an ongoing project of transelation, Goldstein writing himself through the cover of Celan’s own poems. Either way, the short, untitled, meditative poem-fragments, presented in the original on the left, and transelation on the right, are absolutely stunning. One could live inside them, fully.

HE RODE THE NIGHT, coming to himself,
an orphan’s smock as flag,

no more running astray,
he rode straight –

It is, it is, as if the oranges stood in the privet,
as if the thus ridden wore nothing
but his
mothermarked, se-