Saturday, April 18, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Susan Paddon



Susan Paddon was born and grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, attended McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and lived overseas in Paris and London before settling in Margaree, Nova Scotia.  Her poems have appeared in Arc, CV2, The Antigonish Review and Geist among others. Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books) is her first book.

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 has helped me move through a lot of grief. I wrote it after the death of my mother. I am currently working on a novel. I am working with a lot more characters than I did in my first book and the work is very different because I am telling these lives in a different form. I suppose, however, like in Two Tragedies, my current work does offer a series of snapshots – no, perhaps, it’s not snapshots. Maybe, I could say that before I was writing in snapshots, but I am now working in my novel with a series of short home videos (not my own).

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have always been attracted to poetry. I do write in other forms but for this book, poetry seemed to find its way into my vision of how to tell it. That was the voice that came.

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 think I usually have ideas that develop very quickly, but it is the finishing – the fine-tuning – that really takes the most amount of time. Sometimes an early draft will resemble the finished work and other times, maybe only a line will remain. I make copious notes on anything that can be written on.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction 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 think for my current project, I do have a few smaller ideas that have come together – found their way into this novel. And they keep coming, which is good and not so good. I need to say stop at a certain point because not every new direction is a good one. I often get a line in my head or a situation that I want to explore and the work is trying to get to and from that place.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I just finished a tour for Two Tragedies. It was an amazing experience. I was really nervous about doing so many readings but in fact, the experience made me way more comfortable with sharing my work and saying, yes, this is what I wrote.

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 no idea what the current questions are. I try to question time (how it is changes – particularly, how it is different when you know you have a limited amount left), faith, mourning, public and private death in my work. I think those were my main thoughts writing this first book. I will never forget being in a grocery store line with my mother when we saw a magazine with Farah Fawcett on the cover. The caption said something like, “Only Days to Live!” My mother was also dying.

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 think I write because I can’t not write. I don’t write to publish, although, when it happens it can be wonderful. But what is the role of the writer? Maybe to take us somewhere we couldn’t get to on our own that day. That hour. Maybe somewhere we know well, or have never seen before. When I read, I want to be taken somewhere and to feel like I know that place for the time I’m there. The place can of course be just a new emotion or way of seeing.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. Barry Dempster was a fantastic editor. Stephanie Bolster was also instrumental in getting this book out of my head and onto the page. Of course, I think we are always afraid of being told that something we love has to be let go. But it is also so amazing when someone inspires you into writing something better.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Do your best. I find that very comforting.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
It changes. Generally speaking, I like a clean house and to work at the kitchen table. I covet beautiful desks, but I never use them. One day I’d like to have a huge set of drawers for all of my files and notes. I need to be alone (or if I can’t be alone, I should be in a café with strangers.) I like music. Background music. Too much coffee doesn’t work. Wine usually puts me to sleep. Food doesn’t really work either – while I’m writing, that is. It isn’t good for me to depend on anything that could run out (like almonds, say) or that I could over do it on (like almonds, say).

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
A walk. A playlist. A drive. I always write while I drive. But of course I can’t write anything down until I stop, so I have to go over it over and over again until I have the line or the idea memorized.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Hmm. I don’t understand certain fragrances – like where they come from. My grandmother’s china cabinet, for instance, that I have, still smells like her old house. But what made everything smell like that? I can’t identify the smell. What the heck does it smell like? I live in Cape Breton now. Home smells like fir trees and wood smoke. We have a puppy. Her smell now also reminds me of home.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
 “La Traviata” by David W. McFadden is one of my all-time favourite poems. For me, film, painting, photography and music all influence my work. I wrote my first book listening to Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis 2” on repeat.

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

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Make a stained glass window.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would love to be a potter. I also wish that I had some carpentry skills. I really admire people who can build what they can imagine.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I just started doing it and never stopped. You don’t need fancy equipment or expensive insurance. I get a lot of pleasure out of trying to write what I can imagine.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Johanna Skibrud’s Quartet For the End of Time. I saw Charade on a flight recently and thought it was fantastic.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a novel.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sarah Mangold, Electrical Theories of Femininity




The Machine Has Not Destroyed the Promise

Around 1800, the costumed nightmare on the sofa. Dead brides
and mountaineers. For me they are grammatical. Frontier cleaners.
A circle of tickets this freckled body. But I should be untrue to
science loitering among its wayside flowers. Pulled out and shut
up like a telescope. Let us try to tell a story devoid of alphabetic
redundancies. Immortality in technical positivity. If motion
caused a disagreement of any kind we are regarding the same
universe but have arranged it in different spaces. That is to be
the understanding between us. Shall we set forth?

I’ve long been an admirer of the work of Washington State poet Sarah Mangold, so am thrilled to finally see the publication of her second trade collection, Electrical Theories of Femininity (San Francisco CA: Black Radish Books, 2015). The author of a handful of chapbooks (including works self-published as well as works produced by Little Red Leaves, above/ground press, dusie, Potes & Poets Press and g o n g), her first book, Household Mechanics, was published in 2002 as part of the New Issues Poetry Prize, as selected by C. D. Wright. Electrical Theories of Femininity, much of which saw print in earlier chapbook publications, is constructed as an extended suite of short poems and prose-poems writing “the history of media archeology” to explore the place where human and machine meet. In an interview posted in issue #6 of seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, she describes the collection as one that “contains three recent chapbooks, plus the shorter poems written around the same time as the longer sequences. There is a bit of connecting sections and selecting what fits and doesn’t fit to make a ‘book.’” She later writes that “For Electrical Theories of Femininity I had three chapbooks to incorporate plus individual poems which led to more movement and structural overhauls compared to the one long poem and several shorter poems in Household Mechanics.”

In poems such as “How Information Lost Its Body,” “Electrical Theories of Femininity,” “Every Man a Signal Tower” and “The First Thing the Typewriter Did Was Provide Evidence of Itself,” Mangold explores how systems are constructed, manipulated and broken down, even as she manages, through collage and accumulation, to move in a number of concurrent directions. Through the collection, the “Feminism” she writes about articulates itself as a series of conflicts, observations and electrical impulses, such as in the opening of “An equally deedy female”: “She gathered up the scattered sheets / a non-geometrical attempt to supply information // about what was far and what was important / bringing it down into life [.]” Throughout the collection, Mangold’s language sparks and flies, collides and flows in poems that fragment the lyric into impossible shapes.

Setting the Landscape in Motion

As soon as the incoming stream of sounds
gives the slightest indication
consider the real act of moving
when we figure time as a line or circle
when mechanical gesture takes the place
when automatic operations are inserted
into the automatic world
vowels are uninterrupted streams of energy
and thought is a movement
from acoustic signal to the combination
of muscular acts
saints and pilgrims
sewing machines and machine guns
made their appearance

This is as much an exploration of perspective, authority and various forms of both real and imagined power, composing her mix of fact, language, theory and obvious delight in regards to sound, shape, meaning and collage. As she writes in “I expected pioneers”: “What people forget about the avant- / garde  forwards and backwards. The Pre-Raphaelites wanted / to bring the background forward. The tyranny of perspective / they wanted all views at once [.]” Further on in the collection, she opens the short prose-poem “Mothers Must Always Prove Their Readiness” with this dark bit of information: “Most missing girls are dead girls.” Mangold’s poems might be filled with an unbearable lightness and sense of serious play, yet remain fully aware of, and critique, what women are still forced to endure.

Custodians of a Fractious Country


They are depicted with great scientific suit sleeves


A single faculty, dandelion, don’t get him started


She’s on pasting chunks of text, sewing collars from the wool of country life


Repeated tones:                       white bread   letters   accent
                                                philosophical hedgehogs


But for Spencer evolution was going somewhere


His requests to see the surface tailored but unobtrusive opened my jaws rubbed my neck


Riots erupt


The improbably handsome


A welcomed guest


Insincerity in a culture brings to mind the most mysterious numbers


Three volumes of German-language units to say: (blanche your beans, then ice them)


Her parcels supplement mules with shows of sincerity still in combat


He saw American movies fell for them


You nervous     this one is dancing     Be a woman


You’re not striving to think of Darwin but he’s thrown in


My stomach was pages and gaiety


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amber McMillan

Amber McMillan is a teacher and writer living on Protection Island BC with her partner, daughter and two cats. Her first collection of poems We Can't Ever Do This Again is out this spring with Wolsak and Wynn.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Having made a book at all means that what I wrote will make it into the hands of someone other than me, and that makes me feel grateful. My most recent stab at things is a collection of short fiction that I haven't finished. I don't know how it's different yet because it has a lot of the same feelings as a book of poems. I know it is different, but I can't figure how just yet.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I'm still thinking about the distinctions between those genres and what they might mean, but put simply, poetry generally comes in smaller, more manageable sizes, and for that reason, was a good starting point for me. By contrast, a novel is a pretty daunting undertaking to my mind. I don't know how people write them, actually. It's very impressive to me that they do.

On a more personal level, the thought has crossed my mind that I prefer to write poetry because I don't have the creative or intellectual stamina to commit to anything longer, and that this might point to a character flaw in me that is worth considering.

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?

The "project" and the writing can come quickly. The slow parts are the periods where doubt comes in and I'm forced to turn over, defend, and sometimes toss out things that can't be pushed through to the other side for any number of reasons. But that's not really about writing; that process happens in all kinds of different areas in a person's life.

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 beginning is usually a line or a few particular words that I then try to bed into some coherent context. I haven't yet been able to begin a poem with the first word or first line and then write it to the end. I don't think I even want to do that. And I usually write a bigger poem then what I end up with. I write a bunch and then cut out a bunch and then it's done. I can't speak much more on the subject because I've only written one book and I'm not 100% sure how that actually happened.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I realized early that I would never make a good criminal because I'm a person that gets very nervous and clumsy when I feel there are too many eyes on me for any reason, like a public reading or a noon-hour bank robbery, for example.

I hope reading in public gets easier for me, and with that, comes with more pleasure than it does now, but I'm not convinced it ever will. On the other hand, I've noticed that there are folks that seem really comfortable reading in public and what they give is so confident and full that I can't help enjoying the experience of watching. These are people with a lot of practice and some natural talent for humour and sincerity, and that is something to see.

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?

Maybe the current questions are something like: What's important to say? What's worth putting out there? Why? Then what?

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?
It's just one way to talk about things. One way among lots and lots of ways. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think it's essential because everyone needs an editor, but I also think it can be difficult. But so what. Difficult is good too.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
For all its simplicity, "People will always do what they want to do" has turned out to be a very complicated truth, and has given me understanding into many of my life's frustrations. That one's from my mum.

Also, "Just be a nice person." - The Flaming Lips

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

I don't have a routine. A typical day is about getting my kid ready for school, going to and from work, grocery shopping, sweeping, feeding the cats, paying bills, and sourcing out ways to get time to myself. 

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Alcohol, insomnia, vulnerability, quiet and boredom.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Wood stain and varnish. My Opa was a carpenter and had a furniture store in London, ON where he built chairs, tables, etc. He also used the store to show off the unfinished Mennonite furniture he would drive for hours to pick up in his truck. My cousins and I spent a lot of our weekend and after school hours in the furniture store because it was a family-run business and all of our parents worked there. Needless to say, Opa's workshop at the back of the store, the store itself, and the inside of his truck, all smelled like wood shavings, wood stain, and varnish. Even years later, when I no longer went to that store anymore, those smells were always around: on my family's clothes, in the garage, in Opa's second or third workshop that he kept in my mum's backyard. Just all my life.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
My ordinary influence is to address my own troubles by writing them out and trying to solve some menacing, nagging question. So, in that way, nature or music or science can be rigged up to serve any manner of metaphor to achieve that solution. Or to appear to solve. Or to come close to solving.
David W. McFadden also said, "Neither apologize nor forgive," which helps too.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I'm probably in the minority here, but reading criticism at university was the single most important reading I've done. I'm talking about scholarly essays by hardcore academics and theorists. Then later as an instructor, re-reading and discussing that criticism with my students doubled its importance. That kind of reading taught me how to organize my thinking in ways I have leaned on ever since.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I just really want to get over my fear of dogs. It's so inconvenient and makes me feel like such a weirdo.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a doctor. I didn't have the grades though and so my parents encouraged me to go to art school.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I tried a couple of other things first like being in bands and studying drawing in college. These decisions brought good things and I don't regret them, but there's something unobtrusive and civil about writing poems that I couldn't achieve in my earlier attempts at art.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
So, I live with a man who had written a book before I met him. This book contained a life story close to his own. When it was published, I didn't read it and then I didn't read it for a year after it was published. The next year I read it and it was the last great book I read; Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986-2011, which has since won the ReLit Award in the category of fiction, so I guess I'm not the only one who thought it was great.

19 - What are you currently working on?
A collection of stories about living on Protection Island, BC where I've just spent a year. This looks like non-fiction/fiction/poetry and it's hard to do. I've had to face and tread through a lot of questions about the ethics, integrity, goals for, and hidden motivations of having chosen to write this.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, April 13, 2015

Boca Raton: trilogy,



Our third annual Boca Raton visit, at father-in-law’s condo. We spent a week in sunny Florida, arriving in April instead of our usual February [see last year’s reports parts one and two, and the year prior here, as well as a link to the recent chapbook that appeared with poems composed during that first visit], given some of Christine’s recent work-stuffs. Easter in Florida was interesting, although it flummoxed some of the plans that mother-in-law and dear sister might have had for us (Easter lunch/dinner), heading here on the immediate heels of Washington D.C. [see that report here]. Given that Washington was a work-trip, we of course had to return home before flying out again the following day. By the time we arrived on the Florida ground, I was so done with airplanes.


Upon arriving, we spent a few days with father-in-law and his wife, Teri, doing things such as going to lunch on the beach, going to the beach, and simply lounging about. We even found a park with a carousel [a park that, once Rose is a bit bigger, I imagine we’ll be spending plenty more time at]. Rose enjoyed the carousel and the running, the running, the running. She marvelled at the other children, as she does (somewhat confused and intrigued by them). And the running.

I poked at some poems, read some of the books [top photo: Susan Howe's Frame Structures: Early Poems 1974-1979] picked up on our Washington trip (among others), and generally tried not to move around too much. Worn out after an extended period of intense work (see my thirty Jacket2 commentaries, for example) and rather intense few days in Washington (again, see here). Once home, I plan to hit the ground running on poems and fiction and possibly some other schemes, both new and old, but for now, I am deliberately moving at a rather slow speed.

I move through Susan Howe, and Damian Rogers' second poetry collection. I had the wee lass colour upon a variety of postcards with crayon, to send to folk back home. Including a couple to big sister Kate.

We spent time on the beach. Rose, with her beach toys. Me, with my book(s).

Over the past week-plus, Rose was completely thrown off her nap and sleep schedule. Had a meltdown through the Ottawa airport coming here (which really never happens). Full-blown meltdown. At least they shoved us through security super-fast (an unexpected benefit, I suppose). Washington was what it was, so attempting to get her at least closer to her proper schedule while we’re down here. Hoping. Nearing the end of the week, we were starting to return to almost-normal. A couple of wee meltdowns. Hoping we can calm her within a day or so of home.

And then, of course, on Tuesday, we drove down into the bowels of Disneything.

I could have lived without Disneything, and had to be convinced. We spent the entire day there on Wednesday, with the morning at the Magic Kingdom and the afternoon into the evening at Epcot, and I enjoyed it far more than expected. Rose, of course, loved it; she eventually managed to sleep in her stroller, but didn't really let us sit down at all. At all. After ten hours of walking and wandering, rides, feeling overloaded by park and/or attempts to wander through gift shops, we were bone-tired. Sore upon sore.

Rose, who slept during the period between Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

The "Small World" ride was rather iconic, admittedly (I'm one of those who believes it was all 'better before Walt died,' and have good associations with some of the older films, productions, etcetera). I may be aware of some of the newer characters, but could really care less. 

The gift shop overwhelmed. Every time I entered one, I felt as though I was beginning to shut down. Too much, too much, too much.

Don Quixote in the "Small World" ride, tilting. Ever tilting.

I saw Quixote references in Washington the week prior, also. Is this a push that I should be working to re-enter that novel-in-progress? Finally?
I admired the efficiencies of the Disney landscape. The workmanship and the cleanliness. They must employ a million billion people.

I felt overwhelmed by the range and the scope of their reach. Too much, too much. An American version of the city-state, much like the Vatican. Too much.

We wandered the park and rode the monorail (singing, "monorail. monorail. monorail..."). We ignored the characters, given that Rose doesn't know who any of them are anyway. She was happy to run, and sit on the occasional ride. She enjoyed eating.
She enjoyed looking at the fish in the "Finding Nemo" ride. 

She enjoyed running. Running. Running.

And in the German Pavillion, where Christine had booked us dinner: misreading the menu and discovering we'd ordered MASSIVE MAGICAL BEERS. The food was incredible, as was the space and the music. I could have ignored the rest, and simply spent the day there.

Back, to hotel: where we almost immediately crashed. Removed footwear as in a cartoon, peeling back layers like a banana, hot steam rising from our sore, red toes and feet. Wooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooshhhh.









 
Three-plus hour drive each way from the condo. Two nights. Rose and Christine some time in the kid-pool before we got into the car. Aiming the drive each way to her afternoon nap (which mostly worked).

Thursday night, upon home, hosting Mark Scroggins and his lovely family for dinner. Given we'd been hosted by them the past two years, we only figured it fair we'd offer our turn. And apparently not everyone else is at AWP (as facebook has suggested). Looking forward to this new critical book he's got forthcoming soon, which I recall him discussing last year.

Our final two days: as little as possible. Sleeping, occasional walks, quietly existing in the condo, aiming to get the wee babe back to some kind of schedule. Slow,

slow, so very slow.

And to Ottawa: to hit the ground running, perhaps. See about re-entering some of those fiction projects...