Wednesday, October 26, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert [photo credit: Adalena Kavanagh] is the author of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems, The Self Unstable and The French Exit. Her poems and essays have appeared recently in Catapult, Diagram, Guernica, Harvard Review, JubilatReal Life, Threepenny Review, and The Smart Set. Her advice column for writers, “The Blunt Instrument,” appears on Electric Literature. Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert

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 like poetry that feels close to philosophy, in that it uses language primarily to construct and engage with ideas and the act of thinking as opposed to, say, images or narrative. But I don’t think I’m trying to answer questions. The thinking is an end in itself.

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 depends on what kind of writer you are. The role of the critic is to demonstrate good thinking. But the poet? I don’t know that the poet has any particular role in culture. I think art exists to create meaning, but it could be any kind of meaning. It doesn’t have to be “relevant,” or even lasting.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find prose much easier to write than poetry. It feels almost self-generating. It’s expansive, digressive, whereas poetry requires distillation. I can only write poetry in a certain mood, a certain mindset. Sometimes I go years without writing it.

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 have no real writing routine. I write when I can and when I want to, which is not every day. Usually late afternoon, when I’m done with my day job, or on weekends.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don’t have a problem with gaps in my writing. Not writing is part of writing. If you’re writing all the time, how do you have anything to write about? In fact, knowing that I’m eventually going to write about something, thinking about it and taking notes, but delaying the actual writing, is a great pleasure for me and seems to make the writing better.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of rain in the desert. I grew up in El Paso and was so sad when I found that rain doesn’t smell that good anywhere else. It’s not just basic petrichor – I think it comes from the creosote.

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?
Definitely science, because it’s so idea-dense. Going to museums, too, but it’s almost more the act of museuming than the art per se. Also parks, concerts, bars, trains … anywhere you see lots of strangers. And I like specialized vocabulary, any subculture that has its own lexicon. Chess terms, sailing terms. I like to write down names of paintings.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Rather than name specific writers I’ll just say novels. I don’t write fiction but novels are my favorite thing to read. I’ve read hundreds of times more novels than books of poetry. I wrote a little about why I love them so much here.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Greece. And Egypt. Also, space! I would love to go to space. I can do without skydiving though.

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?
I already do have another occupation, but if I wasn’t doing that either, I’d like to be a casting director.

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

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m writing lots of essays and trying to figure out how to make them into a book.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Stacy Szymaszek, Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals

you ate
all the


Rachel’s cat
licks my

never a parody
of care i.e.

when there
is ground

sleeps in
own beds (“austerity measures”)

New York poet Stacy Szymaszek’s fourth full-length poetry title is Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals (Albany NY: Fence Books, 2016), a collection built from five extended poem sequences of short lyrics composed as sketched out notes and fragments: “austerity measures,” “late spring journal [2012],” “summer journal [2012],” “5 days 4 nights” and “journal of ugly sites.” Her journal/ notebook poems favour quick thoughts, overheard conversation, observations, description and complaints, and the occasional list, all set up as an accumulation of collage-pieces reminiscent of the work of the late Vancouver poet Gerry Gilbert, as well as various “day book” works produced by Robert Creeley, Gil McElroy and others. There is such an incredible immediacy to the quick notes in this collection, one that manages an intimacy while, as she says in her 2013 “12 or 20 questions” interview, dispenses with persona:

My recent work has dispensed with persona. The longer I live in NYC, the more autobiographical it gets. One idea I have about this is that I had always wanted to live here but I was convinced that I didn’t have what it took, so in my mind this was a city of especially savvy people, a city of heroes—so being here I’ve become heroic, or the persona is now the hero named Stacy. The book I just completed is called Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals and takes up the idea of poetic journalism in different forms. The centerpiece is “Journal of Ugly Sites” which is a year-long journal I kept which documents, among other things, the life, illness and death of a Beagle that my partner and I rescued.

One could say that Szymaszek’s Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals exists as an exploration of the private and the public selves, writing on and around daily elements of internal and external being, from the meditative and the sublime to stretches of grieving and frustration to the mundane, routine and even magical, as she writes as part of “austerity measures”: “cut self / slack day // org. better / be sea- / worthy // five years / before / the mast [.]” Through such quick notes seemingly, and deceptively, jotted down into these accumulated narratives, they begin to provide intriguing portraits of this semi-fictional “Stacy,” in these, as she calls them, forms of “poetic journalism.” How different is this, one might wonder, to the “I did this, I did that” poetry of New York School poet Frank O’Hara? Both poets moving their art through their days in similar ways (his first drafts were also written relatively quickly during lunch breaks), although Szymaszek’s poems read more natural, somehow, which could easily be as simple as the difference between her journal-poems and his poems composed more traditionally as “poems.”

What is interesting, also, is in how Szymaszek shifts the format slightly between each section, as the first section is dateless, but with the note that it was composed “during the months that followed the death of my dog Isabel on July 8, 2011,” the second and third sections include a scattering of dates within, and the final section is composed more as a straightforward (in comparison) poetic journal, with dates opening each section. As the “3.30.13 – 4.19.13” section of “journal of ugly sites” ends:

East Village: breathing into a paper bag before checking email any phone ringing increasing heart rate // photograph revealing how tired I am appearing on all the hot poetry sites with Warhol’s “Gold Marilyn Monroe” sure rub my ugliness in my face // publishing my shit list as a list poem? “Better to keep two chronicles?” (Harry Mathews) // when the poet said thank you for inviting me most people knew he hadn’t been invited so much as he wore me down // “do you make a livable wage? // Arlo as bearer of bad news today announcing “a bomb just went off”

            if burnout is disavowed grief will I come back to life if I publicly admit how bereft I am?

An extension of this project (and its structures) has already been seen in her short chapbook JOURNAL STARTED IN AUGUST (Projective Industries, 2015), making me curious to see just how far she might further her exploration into the poetic journal. Might there be further volumes?

therapist lets me take
notes in session now
that she understands
it’s not distancing

jot down


in 6 days I will be a 43 yr. old
lacking emotional outlets

a protégé

the wasp incident
glory of suffering
burden of an EpiPen
in your purse

get a holster (“summer journal [2012]”)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Queen Mob's Teahouse : my interview with Claire Freeman-Fawcett on Spread Letter

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the sixteenth interview is now online: Epistolary device: my interview with Claire Freeman-Fawcett on Spread Letter. 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 PressFive 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, Brad Casey interviewed byEmilie Lafleur, and David Buuck interviews John Chávez about Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing.

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)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On beauty

Before he was born, we took classes. Multiple classes. We watched videos, practiced breathing and back-massage, spoke of bathtubs and yoga balls, folded diapers in groups and practiced CPR on baby dolls. Some things can never be truly understood until you experience them. In the end, her labour thirty-seven hours from beginning to end. Thirty-seven hours. The midwife compared it to running five marathons. She was exhausted. I was exhausted. Stunned as our newborn pulled himself to the breast. Baby skin to skin as I quietly wept, and our new trio drifted from anxiety to relief.