As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the fourteenth interview is now online: Brad Casey [pictured] interviewed by Emilie Lafleur. Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevost, an interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkham, an interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkham, an interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimor, an interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollari, an interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Frank, a conversation between Vanesa Pacheco and T.A. Noonan, "On Translation and Erasure," existing as an extension of Jessica Smith's The Women in Visual Poetry: The Bechdel Test, produced via Essay Press, Five questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker about Antígona González by David Buuck (translated by John Pluecker), "overflow: poetry, performance, technology, ancestry": kaie kellough in correspondence with Eric Schmaltz and Mary Kasimor's interview with George Farrah.
Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse include: Stephanie Bolster on Three Bloody Words, Claire Farley on Canthius, Dale Smith on Slow Poetry in America, Allison Green, Meredith Quartermain, Andy Weaver, N.W Lea and Rachel Loden.
If you are interested in sending a pitch for an interview my way, check out my "about submissions" write-up at Queen Mob's; you can contact me via rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Now this old man
has ripened sweetly.
Jane Munro, Blue Sonoma
A sextet tale of cats, domesticated. Sing: poly, poly. The sun sets and it rises, also. Made this day from earth. The body stands, like butter. Pounding, chest. Inside that loft, such Nobel composition. Studio, arranged. Head in hands in hands in hand. Tumbler, this knot of bone. Such contradiction: iron fireplace, this heat. Invention of the fur, the furl, paw telescopes. An extra claw. Sea-faring, doubtful mews. A line of craters, causes. Calm things, fathom. Christened. Pronoun, woman. Wife. A hard-back chair. Administers. What we might know of oracles. Penny function. His last red cent.
Every few days another moth appears.
Michael Lithgow, Waking in the Tree House
Meaning carries blood, an impact. Baby laughs. Her fingers lift a leaf, to mouth. Rose and Wren, entangled. Quoting: happenstance. Water, audience. The threat of rain. Angora: tension, pulled. Knelt down, sharpened. Gravity: a zero orbit. Tulips, disassemble. Sweep. Ornamental; tree-lined, narrative. An atmosphere. Sunrise. Flicker, fibre. Trembled. Somewhere, swings. The clouds were mountains. Woolen. My body is a conifer; my heart a sugar maple. As long as there are facts. Dappled, snow-stitched. Cut from whole cloth. Fly wheel, treadle, maidens. A wooden lift. Mother-of-all.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Since building myself a Patreon author page, I've also been posting to a password-protected patron-only blog. I thought it might be worth reprinting the occasional post here, for the sake of general interest. Perhaps it might be worth tossing a ducat or two towards?
Here's a post from June:
Here's a post from June:
For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, again, about the literary memoir. I’ve been telling myself for months that, once my manuscript of short fiction, “On Beauty,” is completed and out of the house (this year, I keep telling myself; this year), I’m going to re-enter and rework my post-mother creative non-fiction project, “The Last Good Year” [a variety of work-in-progress sections are posted here] (and once that done, of course, returning to spend a year or two completing “Don Quixote,” a project I wrote of in this space a few weeks back). Prompted by my mother’s death in August, 2010, I’d spent the better part of three years attempting on a better understanding of her, her life and our relationship, composing a portrait of my mother, both as I knew her, and prior to me knowing her (when she was quite different, I’d learned). I wanted some clarity. And besides, I was getting too old to still carry certain things around with me.Even as I worked on “The Last Good Year,” I was conscious of the fact that I was focusing on her over my father. Sure, it was the point of the memoir/portrait, but there was still the decision of writing one over the other; might I attempt one around him down the road? I was years away from that (and still am, really).I was already aware of other writers who had worked on creative non-fiction, including those brilliant early titles by Ottawa writer Elizabeth Hay, but it was really the anthology The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning (Penguin, 2009), edited by Jean Baird and George Bowering, that gave me a particular kind of permission to finally write after my mother had passed. The prose of Susan Howe’s That This (New Directions, 2011) was also an influence, as was, more abstractly, the memory of American poet Charles Olson’s The Post Office: A Memoir of His Father (Grey Fox Press, 1975), a slim volume I must have read some ten years prior. Since those days, of course, there are brilliant mother-memoirs from Jeanette Winterson and Priscila Uppal, both of which I’d highly recommend.I’ve had my eye on creative non-fiction for some time, finally sitting down to focus on the form during my time in Alberta in 2007-8, after filing away numerous examples and considerations for years. I’ve an unpublished non-fiction manuscript from my time in Alberta, and a subsequent one around my time in Toronto (fragments of both appear as columns during those periods for Open Book: Ontario), both completed (or abandoned) before those few, dark days of August, 2010. It wasn’t until I began “The Last Good Year” that it felt as though the form was really starting to “click” with me; far too often I require a failed manuscript or two in any form before I manage to understand the possibilities of utilizing that form in a useful way, and creative non-fiction has been no different.Otherwise, prompted by discovering the identity of my birth mother and opening an email contact (nothing else yet, for a variety of reasons) some two years ago, I’ve sketched out some scattered notes around some of that, but time (ie: babies) hasn’t really allowed me to focus on the project, let alone the knowledge that I might never be able to have the permission to do anything with it. Some of the stories are not mine to tell, and therefore, I must keep such to myself (but that doesn’t prevent me from writing on any of it, for the sake of attempting to wrap my head around what all of it is and means).On the day our wee girl Aoife was born (April 16, 2016), I finished reading (with a couple hours to spare) Jean McKay’s first book, Gone to Grass (Coach House Books, 1983), a compelling and lively prose work composed around memories of her father. Might I ever write on mine? I certainly don’t want to be in a hurry; such projects are often prompted by death, which also reduces the possibility for certain questions. On Sunday, my father turns seventy-five years old (we’re having a surprise birthday party for him, so shush), so I’m sketching out some short notes this week, thinking I should probably say something. As a writer, I wonder if the responsibilities for speaking at such an event become a little bit more. Should I say anything? Or have I already said enough?
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Megan Pugh is the author of America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk (Yale UP, 2015). Her criticism and poetry have appeared in The Believer, Better, Denver Quarterly, La Petite Zine, The New Republic, The Oxford American, The Village Voice, and other magazines. She grew up in Memphis, was educated at Yale and UC Berkeley, and currently lives in Portland, OR, where she teaches at Lewis and Clark College.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
If I hadn't started writing America Dancing during my PhD program, I probably would have dropped out. I fantasized about leaving to get an MFA in poetry, or to head back South, get a job, and write. But I decided that it would be crazy not to stick around to take my oral exams—I'd get paid to read wonderful books for a whole year! While I was at it, I realized I wanted to write a book about dance and race in America, and that I could do it right where I was. It wasn't going to set me up for a tenure-line job teaching American literature, but that was fine with me—I cared more about writing. So, in a way, the book made me stay in California, where I was lucky to work with wonderful mentors and make some very dear friends it's hard to imagine my life without.
The book shaped my first years as a parent, too. I signed a contract with Yale UP after I'd earned my degree and become pregnant with my son; I turned in the final round of edits when he was nearly two. The first year of his life, we were still in San Francisco, and I only ever left his side to write. Taking any other time for myself seemed nuts. Then we moved to Portland so I could work full-time as a visiting assistant professor, high-tailing it to finish the manuscript nights and weekends. I remember thinking that I should have been overwhelmed, but didn't have time: I just needed to take care of my family, do right by my students, and write. And then, of course, the book came out, which felt great.
At first glance, the writing I'm doing now is pretty different. America Dancing was a big cultural history, told through the work of a handful of dancers across the twentieth century. Now I'm back to poetry, working with a lot of parataxis. But no matter what I write, I can't really shake a concern for details, for the past and its hold on us. There's a lot of cultural history in my poems.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I'm not entirely sure. My mother founded and directs a ballet company, and my father is a psychotherapist, so my sister and I grew up thinking about art and bodies and stories, about what falls into and out of expression. She paints, and I write. She used to proclaim that, when we were kids, our parents told us that while she was "creative," I was "concrete"; good big sister that she is, she knows how to make me squirm! But there may be something to that distinction: she'll make these beautiful paintings, plonking in colors that aren't necessarily "there" with tremendous confidence, while I will obsess over some particular word, trying to get it right. I find it hard to abandon sentences. Or nonfiction, for that matter.
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 almost always move more slowly than I intend to. I take a lot of notes, and make a lot of drafts.
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?
Poems begin in different ways: sometimes there's a phrase I can't shake, sometimes I have a sense that different images belong together, and that I need to figure out how.
The collection I'm working on now started out as short pieces that I eventually realized belonged together. But I'm also working, with my friend Gillian Osborne, on a collaborative project about baseball. My poems for it begin, in part, when it's my turn.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like reading aloud, though I've only done it in public a handful of times. And I like hearing other people read, though I don't do it as much as I'd like: readings are usually at night, and I've been on bedtime duty for the past few years. That's changed just within the last month; lately I've been taking long evening walks while listening to recordings of poets reading, and it's been great.
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 tend to work from the detail up, which means that my theoretical concerns often aren't clear
to me until I'm well into the actual process of writing. Then I'll realize, "Oh, right, there I go again: place and displacement/race and performance/history and how it hurts/commodification of pasts" or whatever else has shown up again.
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?
A writer should do good work. I realize this is vague.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I like editors. How generous for someone to go to the trouble of thinking with you, and then to help you think better, and write better!
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
At my house we've been reading Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius a lot lately. The grandfather tells his granddaughter, "You must do something to make the world more beautiful." I love this children's book, but maybe I should temper it with some Yogi Berra: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
It's hard for me to work on multiple pieces of writing at the same time-- I work best if I can give myself over wholly to a single project. But I think my brain works similarly whether I'm writing nonfiction or poetry: making associations, figuring out why things feel important, figuring out how to communicate that to a reader.
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 usually wake up to my son saying "Huckle!" (He renamed me for the cat in the Richard Scarry book; this morning he asked me where my whiskers were. He calls my husband Lowly, after a very friendly worm.) Once he's out of bed, he wants to read, so we'll sit on the couch with a pile of picture books until he's ready for breakfast. After that, the days vary. I've been trying to write at nights more lately, when everyone else is asleep.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The mere fact that Bernadette Mayer wrote Midwinter Day while caring for her children—let alone that it's a fabulous book—is a perpetual inspiration for me. So are other parent-writers; I love what Mia You and Chloe Garcia-Roberts are doing over at a. bradstreet.
At a more pragmatic level, I read and listen. Or I'll turn back to notebooks I've kept about things I've read or heard, which often jogs something.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Not a smell, but still in the air: humidity.
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?
Dance and music are both big for me.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Lyn Hejinian, Greil Marcus, Geoffrey G. O'Brien, Andy Horowitz, Gillian Osborne, and Tung-Hui Hu have all been various combinations of important teachers, inspirations, sounding boards, and friends. As for writers I know only through their work—I'll stick to poets in an effort to reign myself in, though this list is still going to be too short—Mayer, C. D. Wright, Susan Howe, Claudia Rankine, Edwin Denby, M. NourbeSe Philip, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Robyn Schiff, Elizabeth Bishop.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Tend a small orchard.
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?
According to the Strong Interest Inventory, I have a lot in common with home economists. For a while, I schemed about opening a meat-and-three. I've also imagined working for a radio show, or a museum, or a historical society, or a library. I like public humanities projects.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Gut feelings. I like to write. Though I am doing "something else"—I teach.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I can't remember the order in which I recently read these great books: Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts, Teju Cole's Open City, Anne Boyer's Garments Against Women, and Robin Coste Lewis's Voyage of the Sable Venus. But it was just two weeks ago that I saw a great film: The Fits.
20 - What are you currently working on?
The collaboration Gillian Osborne and I are working on, "The Perfect Game," follows the structure of a baseball series: she bats first, and then takes the field while I bat. We started the project after watching Matt Cain pitch a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants; in the ensuing years, we've both had babies and moved away from California, where neither of us was from to begin with. So there's a lot in there about place, spectatorship, teams, gender—as well as friendship and fellow feeling.
I'm also working on a collection of poems that explore overlapping regional and personal histories—sometimes I think of this work as a kind of chatty seance—and on a long piece that has to do, at least for now, with Roy Orbison, migraines, and women in the nineteenth century.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
I recently judged the National Competition of the 2016 Hillary Gravendyk Prize (named after the late American poet; see my obituary for her here), counterbalancing the judge of the Regional Competition, Megan Gravendyk Estrella. As the Inlandia Institute posted recently on their Facebookpage, the winners have now been announced (I’ve included my selections in bold, although the list of finalists is a combination of lists by both judges). Congratulations to all! The two winning manuscripts (National and Regional) will be published next year. As I wrote of the winning (National) manuscript: “Traces of a Fifth Column,” the National winner of this year’s Hilary Gravendyk Prize, is a manuscript composed as of a series of dense, lively fragments across a wide canvas, each of which are more than capable of carrying the weight of the entire collection. “Traces of a Fifth Column” is a rich, meditative collage of essay-sketches that attempt to comprehend, through exploring meaning, language and being.
Thank you to all who entered. We are grateful for your words.
And thank you to our judges, rob mclennan and Megan Gravendyk Estrella, for choosing this year's books.
Traces of a Fifth Column by Marco Maisto
First Runner Up:
Letdown by Sonia Greenfield
Second Runner Up:
In This Housing by Mary Wilson
Gods Will for Monsters by Rachelle Cruz
First Runner Up:
Eyelets Under Sun by Lauren Henley
Second Runner Up:
Wild Embrace by Tim Hatch
Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm by Elizabeth Acevedo
Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live by Monica Berlin
Maybe To Region by Monica Berlin
FIGHTING EXILE by Terry Brix
Palace of Conferences by Andrew Cantrell
Nimrod in Hell by James Capozzi
Pity the Lifeboat Poems by Colleen Carias
Us Mouth by Nikia Chaney
A Feeling For Good Water by Elizabeth Chapman
Talking to Yourself Is Fine by Sally Dawidoff
An Aperture MC Hyland
Little Yellow Father by Kiandra Jimenez
Light Into Bodies by Nancy Chen Long
Brother Bullet by Cassandra Lopez
Reaper’s Milonga by Lucian Mattison
Of All Places In This Place Of All Places by Joe Milazzo
Working With a First and Second Language by John Miller
Yesterday It Poured by Tim Perez
Lostness by Cindy Rinne
Elegy with Trench Art and Asanas and Other Poems by Jane Satterfield
Generating the Wild by Tyler Stallings
[addendum] by B.P. Sutton
Whales in the Water Tank by Micah Tasaka
Ghost Limnology by Lisken Van Pelt Dus
brightness this by Franciszca Voeltz