Sunday, June 30, 2013

today would have been my mother's seventy-third birthday,

my mother with her sister Patricia (and Pat's tongue),

Saturday, June 29, 2013

12 or 20 (second series) by Jani Krulc

Jani Krulc has an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Concordia University and a BA (Hons) in English from the University of Calgary. She lives with her partner and their animals in Calgary, where she writes and edits professionally. The Jesus Year is her first book.

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?
The book has made this – I mean writing – feel official.

How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I think in narrative – all my ideas appear in story form. Poets fascinate me, how they can avoid or explode narrative and play with language. I tend to lie too much for non-fiction.

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does it 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 write and rewrite many times until I feel I have a caught a part of the narrative. Then I usually realize I’m wrong and I have to rewrite until the story takes the shape it wants to. I began some of the stories in The Jesus Year four years ago. They look nothing like the stories in the book. Maybe the setting or a name or a singular event has survived. There’s one exception – the story just came and then it resisted my rewriting it.

When does a story 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?
Anything can ignite a story - a stranger's gesture on the train, a disaster on the news, my current fashion obsessions. But my stories usually start from something concrete in the world that I can't shake off, that keeps returning to me. For my next short story project, I plan to apply some organizing pressure. It took a while for The Jesus Year to come together as a book. But I never know until I start to write.

Are public readings part or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I read my work out loud all the time – it’s part of my writing/re-writing process. Eventually I imagine reading to an audience and I ask myself – does this sound terrible?  I’m always interested to see how an audience reacts, or what it finds funny, or doesn’t. I’m usually surprised.

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 am a feminist, and this position informs my writing. Is it perceptible in my writing? I’m not sure. I am interested in exploring my characters and their lives as fully as possible, and revealing the messy bits, the rot, as it were, that lies beneath. In the past, I’ve found writing towards theory has swayed my stories, or clouded the direction of my narrative. What I'm mostly interested in is motivation – why do people do what do they?

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?
One possible role of the fiction writer is to pay attention, to hone in on the particular and to rearticulate the “universal.” It is also to offer a story that requires compassion from the reader, and a reexamination of the reader’s subject position. And to break the reader’s heart, if possible.

Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential or both?
A good editor will highlight what you are taking for granted, and tell you when you can stop refining small details. At some point in the process, editing just makes the story different, not better. A good editor knows when that point is. So, yes, working with an editor is essential, and I’m very happy that Jon Paul Fiorentino was mine. He talked me down a couple times.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard?
Kill your babies. Or is it darlings? Either way, if I’m particularly attached to something in the story – a line, a scene, even a character – it’s usually the first thing that needs to go.

What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep? How does a typical day for you begin?
When I'm in the thick of it, I have to write every day. Because I work full time, I also have to fit my writing around my work day, so I usually write at night. I practice yoga most mornings, or I’d write then. I finished writing the book while I was in India. I would practice yoga for a couple hours in the morning and then write throughout the day; it was pretty ideal.

What other writers or writings are important for your work?
The writing community in Calgary is important to both my work and my life – I think it’s essential for writers to congregate and support each other, to commiserate and lament. Also, they’re fun people to hang out with. Reading short stories is very important as well –that’s another good piece of advice I’ve heard: read what you want to write (and if you want to write short stories, then…). I adore Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro, of course, and Sarah Selecky, Lydia Davis, Miranda July, Caroline Adderson, and so many other writers - I go back to short stories over and over to try to figure out how a story works, and to figure out why mine isn’t if I’m having problems. And also because it’s joyous to read short stories. It makes life better.

If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?
An actor. What a terrifying job. More likely, a lawyer.

What made you write, as opposed to doing something else.
I think writing is a compulsion, something I have to do. There are few other reasons, maybe no other reason, to do it.

What was the last great book you read?
Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska. The book is engrossing and terrifying; it asks for a reader’s understanding but never for pity. I’ll say Breaking Bad, even though it’s not a film. I had to take a break from the show, though, because I was becoming melancholic and somewhat paranoid.
What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Travel to China.

When your writing gets stalled…
I write the same scene over and over again until something shifts and breaks open and I can enter the story again. If that doesn’t work, I usually read a story, or I go for a walk, or I practice yoga. I try to shake myself up.

What fragrance…
The foothills where I grew up have a particular nippy, fresh smell in the Spring, like melting ice cubes infused with grass and lilac. Also, my mom is Greek and an excellent cook, so food: garlic, roasting meat (which I don’t eat anymore, much to her chagrin); fresh tomatoes with olive oil, that sort of thing. That’s home.
David W. McFadden once said that books come from books…

I tend to become obsessed with random activities, like finding rental properties on kijiji, researching the best vegan restaurants in cities I want to visit, or imagining the interiors of other people’s homes. These obsessions inform my writing, or sneak in and take over the narrative. I used to play classical piano, and I think my musical background influences the cadence of my prose.  My yoga practice also informs my writing. I treat my writing as a practice, and I try to detach from the results, good or bad. It’s all just play in the end.

What are you currently working on?
A novel.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ongoing notes: late late June, 2013

[evil sleepy Lemonade, sleeping upon his new perch, across on my black jacket]

I presume you’ve been properly checking out the above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, ottawa poetry newsletter and dusie blogs for their various updates? I don’t always have space to tell you everything here (I mean, really). But watch for an upcoming reading by Jessica Smith, Amanda Earl and Marilyn Irwin on July 13 as part of The Factory Reading Series, and another collaborative reading by myself and Christine McNair (our second annual, after last year’s appearance at The Dusty Owl Reading Series) at the In/Words Reading Series on July 31st.

Philadelphia PA: Some of the most attractive chapbooks I’ve seen out of the United States have to be Brian Teare’s Albion Books, the most recent of which, the first volume of the fifth series, is a double-binding, including Rachel Moritz’ “ELEMENTARY RITUALS” alongside Juliet Patterson’s “DIRGE.” There doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason why these two texts are paired, perhaps the authors are collaborators or close friends, writing poems in tandem? Or simply the editor/publisher has joined the two. 

The first bridges were probably made by nature—something as simple as a log fallen across a stream.

The original base of the word, bruw, or ‘log-road.’

Through the window you think of these words standing in the blunt arms of morning: stage, landing, gangway.


Your father was found hanging from a concrete footbridge
a few miles from your childhood home. The bridge

twenty-seven feet high, stretched over a busy thoroughfare, linking
a golf course and a wooded park. (“DIRGE”)

Juliet Patterson’s striking sequence “DIRGE” works through a meditation on the death of her father (or, the narrator’s father; since I know nothing about Patterson, one should never presume) from suicide. Her “DIRGE” scrapes out the heart in long, languid lines. Why haven’t I heard of Juliet Patterson before this? On the other side of the same chapbook, Rachel Moritz’s “ELEMENTARY RITUALS” is another small meditative work, composed out of six longer poems that stretch the loveliest lines that take up small spaces but a large attention. Her rituals, one might say, are startlingly precise, one that is the perfect blend of lyric language and absolute clarity:

In a clearing between loss and literal day-
light, his frame stood empty.

Kudzu trailing the base foundation.
Gutters bedded in leaves.

We passed a threshold the key given
us at the funeral parlor            from his pocket, his wallet,
his coat.

Nevertheless, stirring lights how oddly they flared, as if
shy of inhabitants.

Then it was done, going through an event
so event became abstracted.

Further titles forthcoming in the fifth series include works by Frank Sherlock (5.2), Jean Valentine (5.3) and CA Conrad (5.4).

Mt Pleasant ON: From kemeny babineau’s Laurel Reed Books comes CHORTLING AMERICAN SHOW GOO: thirty three poems by Toronto poet, editor and small press publisher Daniel f. Bradley (2012). Bradley has been an active writer and small press enthusiast for years, author of numerous small press publications going back two decades, including publications by curvd h&z, BookThug, tapt, Outland, Produce Press, above/ground press and many, many others. Given his years of publication, it might be interesting to see someone attempt to wrestle with his years of output for the sake of either an essay on his ongoing work, or a selected poems, to get a sense of just what he has accomplished over the years, through dozens of small-run missives. The opening poem to the collection nearly gives a description of what follows, asking the question of what this might be, as though the author is learning through the same process as the potential reader:

i suppose i could hot wire this thing
flat bread their is no escape
perfect for your boneless
wings failed

your highness you were right
you were right about me
i love my loll pop separated
at the feet almost
empty ignition switch
light reflecting metallic

what’s this all about
everything in a bag
that feeds me a secret

The sequence of pieces that make up the untitled poems of CHORTLING AMERICAN SHOW GOO: thirty three poems feel akin to the poems of American poet Kate Greenstreet for their fragmented structure and collage-aspect that accumulate into something larger, yet difficult to articulate, as the form itself is less static than constantly shifting. As Nic Coivert writes in his review of the collection (included inside the back of the chapbook) from Canadian Poetry Previews Magazine, “These poems are like smashed dreams.” Bradley’s poems also have a dark edge of surrealism, perhaps one more abstract and less of the obvious humour than others in the informal “Toronto surrealists” group, whether Lillian Necakov, Stuart Ross or Gary Barwin. In some of the pieces, there’s something of the single line-breath, as though they’re meant to be read quickly, without break.

three thousand an hour upgrade your family
back into the vault the new death toll
in bad taste this is cronyism all the way
more comedy who grew my soup good bye

horse pills transformation my bathroom of
freedom scurrying people panic setting in
stories of survival washed away telling
the tale twisted areas scrap the idea more

more that not the bottom line two hundred
thousand homes and worth the cost who’s
ruining the economy he broke the door
good old fashion hard work all back
to back snow

Lincoln NE/Portland OR: To understand how much I enjoyed American poet Matthew Rohrer’s small chapbook A SHIP LOADED WITH SEQUINS HAS GONE DOWN (Dkembe Press, 2013), you have to experience the first poem I did in the collection:

He wrote amazing poems because he
was fucking a wizard. This perspective
mutilated all his expectations
and he was naked. The wizard threw him
a small thin towel to cover himself with.
I’m sitting in a small bar in Brooklyn
discussing his next move: surely his wife
will climb the pyramid and leap off it
because she is a butterfly. He is
everywhere down there, in the air. Inside
a tiny black bean. It’s not necessary
to live like this, we decide. We crumble
into our highballs, the city outside
consumes things like an enormous creature. (“SONNET”)

In Rohrer’s six-poem chapbook, four of which are three-sonnet pieces, each titled “SONNET,” that twist the language of the first piece into the second two section, re-working the lines of the first to create entirely different poems with the same language, as here, the second part of the three-part “SONNET” (the first part is quoted just above):

I’m sitting in a small bar in Brooklyn
because she is a butterfly. He is
into our highballs. The city outside
mutilated all his expectations
to live like this, we decide. We crumble
everywhere down there, in the air. Inside
he wrote amazing poems because he
will climb the pyramid & leap off it.
Discussing his next move: surely his wife
was fucking a wizard. This perspective
consumes things like an enormous creature.
And he was naked. The wizard threw him
A tiny black bean. It’s not necessary.
a small thin towel to cover himself with.

Bookending the collection are two longer poems, each composed with short phrases that complete a single, fragmented, seemingly-endless and confused sentence, endlessly continuing. Throughout the poems here, is Rohrer attempting to shock, startle or confound? These poems require a shift in perception and perspective, one that playfully pokes at expectation and collision.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

today is my father's seventy-second birthday,

and yet, he doesn't look much different now than he did then,

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Profile of Suzannah Showler, with a few questions,

My profile of Toronto (formerly Ottawa) poet Suzannah Showler [photo credit: Stephanie Coffey] (with a few questions) is now online at Open Book: Toronto.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair, spring 2013 (part two)

Kingston ON: Kingston poet and publisher Michael e. Casteels participated in the fair this year, bringing a number of publications through his Puddles of Sky Press, including his own work, and Jason Heroux’s recent chapbook In Defense of the Attacked Center Pawn (2013). Reading as part of the pre-fair event the night before the fair itself, he opened with pieces from his chapbook of prose poems, The Robot Dreams (Puddles of Sky Press, 2013):

A Brief History of the Ice Age

The primates spot-checked their harpsichords, spoon-fed the plesiosaur, and garrisoned the tax collectors. It was ravenous, living inside a sarcophagus where steam engines glaciated into place, where imperial moths televised the impasse: the rickety mammoth confronting the equatorial scarecrow. The sabre-toothed polarity of the breeze exempted each Neanderthal. The price war syncopated, the stellular vistas fallowed. Symphonies climaxed, entire marching bands faced extinction. Then, the great scraping—all the numbness of an ice cube, erasing the pyramids and the harpoonists, the lily pads, the approaching storm.

The poems in are tight, surreal pieces that show an obvious influence from Stuart Ross and Gary Barwin (both of whom are thanked at the back of the collection), and I’m very taken with what Casteels is doing with the sentence and the shape of the prose poem; there are some amazing things at play through these small pieces, from “Trimming the King’s Beard” to “Just Like Grandma Used to Bake” and “The Incredible Hulk Goes Bowling.” One can see the influences of Barwin and Ross through the titles themselves, from the humour and odd-surrealism, but there is something about how the surreal aspects in Casteel’s work is more subdued and subtle, not allowing it to overtake or distract, but as a soft, through-line. His other recent work from the same press is cemantics: minimalist & concrete poetry (Puddles of Sky Press, November 2012), a chapbook that is exactly what it describes, including explorations of the short poem, some of which are entirely Nelson Ball-like in their brevity, including one titled “Rain.” Is this another Stuart Ross influence at play?


There is only one sky
in the sky above our heads
and it is full of holes.

Ottawa ON: Always worth paying attention to is the In/Words Magazine and Press table [see my recent piece on In/Words at Open Book: Ontario here], from recent issues of their journal, recent broadsheets they hand out (which echo the above/ground press “poem” broadsides) and their chapbook series. Of their broadsides, they produced a small handful of new publications for the fair, including new poems by Maria Demare (#5, “Catullus 101”), Amanda Earl (#6, “Trieste”), Jeff Blackman (#7, “Song for David Currie”), JM Francheteau (#8, “The Gelding”), Michelle Duquette (#9, “Hello, Nice to Meet You”) and Selina Boan (#10, “Litany”).


You gather slips of laughter on a breakfast tray. Pestle jars of
seed. Under doorways, balanced atop kettles, stuffing hand
to mouth. Abrade your fingers. Busy yourself with home.

You make scarves, a hat, puffy sweaters. Gathered by years,
set to inaccurate frame after frame you bind hair to wool.
Weave them into one another. A reinvention. Ready Mercy.
We find our baby teeth. Look inside a black film canister.
Listen to it rattle: Remember tooth fairies. Remember when
the house filled with lemon zing, you cooking summer heat,
cherry marmalade and rambling chutney.

One after the other we find your missing parts: Dug up or
stuck under a pot, inside an old rice bag, stitched to a mint
green scarf. Absorbed by puffy garments while we try and fit
you. Maneuver limbs, lift soft arms to the sway of prayer as
you imagine glass elephants and elegant ladies lining
windowsills, tell stories about the queen, tuck self to penny
You crumble chutney, remove citrus, dissolve to laughter.

From In/Words poet Chris Johnson also came the chapbook Phyllis, I have never spoke your name (In/Words, March 2013), self-described as “one man’s interaction and internalization of months of reading Phyllis Webb and opening his eyes to the inequalities in the world.” This small chapbook, composed and produced for “Feminists and Feminism in Canada / CDNS 3400/WGST 3812 / Sophie Tomas” is an intriguing response, albeit a highly uneven work. I very much like that Johnson is reading the work of Phyllis Webb generally, and that he is responding to Webb’s work through the space of an extended sequence of poems, as a mix of response, homage and exploration:

Phyllis, I have never spoke your name, but
what kind of night am I to wish for?
When her white skin is locked
behind a door, unbloused yet
untouchable; what kind of night
am I to wish for?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Seth Landman, Sign You Were Mistaken


There is nothing. There is your city.
Right there, the streets out of sight.
Call me a little, pausing funeral; hats off
to the feet set going, the chief element of landscape.
There is nothing. There is the roasted river
when I go, a hand on the universal shoulder
in the face of invisible surveillance, secret dogs,
unaccountable influences. There is nothing
in not ignoring it. What is good? My curiosity
sways on an island with sounds. Things with seas.
Quick and still with wild, inmost, endless,
grand disguises. I am here exactly on this
stage, and there is nothing looming
in the world like snow on the hill in the air.

In his first trade poetry collection, Sign You Were Mistaken (Hadley, Massachusetts: Factory Hollow Press, 2013), Northampton, Massachusetts poet Seth Landman has constructed a series of dislocated lyrics, writing one line that does not necessarily follow the previous, and yet they blend together into something beyond the sums of their component parts. Landman’s is a surrealism based in statement and fact, composed out of a sequence of questions that sprinkle through the collection, such as in the poem “ZONE BY ZONE,” asking “Is the lie of the first part of life / apparent to the duration?” It’s as though Landman’s poems disconnect and connect in that space between the lines, somehow composing poems that exist almost entirely inside the mind of the reader, and nowhere near the page.

The title itself, Sign You Were Mistaken, lends itself to more than a couple of questions. Are we meant to read this as a chastisement, informing the sign that it, indeed, was incorrect? The deeper the reader enters the collection, the more it is obvious that it is impossible to know where you might end up, as Landman dismantles basic tenants to unfold a range of possibilities that might have existed otherwise. Landman is both explorer and guide, composing a certainty into the unknown. Through the prose poem and the sentence, Landman’s poems explore perception, referencing dreams, rifling through metaphor, statement, queries and a wide array of uncertainties. “This is my home town,” he writes, in “SOMETHING GOOD HOLIDAY HUMOR,” “and I am pretty much like it. Now that I exist / is true, I guess, but, anyway, I wish you were here.”


Finally there is the map that continues larger than the folds and beyond shadows and hidden space. It is not enough to describe what is not yet rendered, as a brain fills in lines on the sky. It is not enough to lay the space out flat, to describe coastline as formula, as perfect math of impossible love. Home is oxygen: necessary, corrosive. When it feels terrible in the interior, maps call the outside into view. I pour over them for hours, never leaving my kitchen. Finally, I am unfamiliar with my own house. The routes possible from one spot to another increase geometrically. It is not enough to know inside that I might travel anywhere. Great forces are shifting us and there may be nothing we can do. Each day, if you are okay, if you can remain, you remain. Though you may be cold, you may be the cold water surrounding my continent.