Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sarah Pinder, Common Place

Tumbling behind pleasure
on our best behavior,
holding its hands.

The sweeter version:
hollow, ropey, and roaring,
in redux with the truest reds.

Step by step, man in a blue suit,
man with a baby, man kneading the grass,
carrying some matte black apparatus.

Digging the trough for a headstone,
a fleshy neutrality of debt, lymph-tinted.

You can’t pay back flicker –
we’re in a marked space, using
our bottle caps to place
three-minute video calls home.

For her second trade poetry collection, Common Place (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2017), Toronto writer Sarah Pinder shifts her short, dense lyric meditations into the structure of a single, book-length poem. She writes: “We are trying to keep the moment / when the worst seems to have / not happened.”

In Common Place, Pinder writes a suite of seemingly self-contained fragments into a slow, meditative monologue blending self and landscape, the private and the public, as disparate threads that sometimes connect, separate, overlap and even blend. It is intriguing to see a poet long known for her explorations in brevity and the small moment attempt to extend the canvas upon which she writes, allowing every word and line to be part of a single unit, and the resulting book provides a slippery single-portrait, one that shimmers and distorts even as it begins to come into view. What is this book working towards, or doing? I admire the ambition of such a project, and the fragments exist less as a linear suite than an accumulation, and one that doesn’t require every connection to connect to achieve, writing layer upon layer upon layer. Shifting voice, tone and location, perhaps the closest to a description that might encapsulate the entire project comes from the mid-section of the collection, as she writes: “I wore so many layers when we met / and drank doubles, which destines me to say CAPITALISM / again and again like a more diligent newspaper Marxist, / but I did it anyway, pulled the glow on us.”

Before it had been absent, it was a task,
water ready to empty.

I was absent in the tension
throughout my body.

I didn’t discuss it.

When I got to Chicago,
I kept splitting into quarters,
then eighths.

Fingering waistbands,
bag checked and a playing card
slipped in my back pocket.

Five of diamonds
laminated with packing tape.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

m a n y _ g e n d e r e d _ m o t h e r s : f o u r _ r e c e n t _ e s s a y s

many gendered mothers is a project on literary influence featuring short essays by writers (of any/all genders) on the women, femme, trans, and non-binary writers who have influenced them, as a direct or indirect literary forebear.

This project is directly inspired by the American website Literary Mothers, created by editor Nadxieli Nieto and managing editor Nina Puro. While we hope that Literary Mothers might eventually return to posting new pieces, our site was created as an extension and furthering of their project (in homage, if you will), and not meant as any kind of replacement.

We've now sixteen essays posted! Our most recent include:
Doyali Islam on Sylvia Legris

Adrienne Gruber on Brecken Hancock

Ian Whistle on Judith Copithorne

Evelyn Deshane on Wendy C. Ortiz
Please check out our submissions page for more information.

Forthcoming essays include: Dorothy Palmer on Stella Young, Theresa Smalec on Aritha van Herk, Dawn Promislow on Nadine Gordimer, A.H. Reaume on Virginia Woolf and Terry Abrahams on Anne Carson.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Leanne Dunic, To love the coming end

On top of sweaty sheets, I exist without basic order. Order of eating. Of hydration. Of relieving myself of concentrated urine. Buddha says: Existence is suffering. Desire is suffering. To be awake with one’s anxieties is suffering. If I can sleep, then I can survive, but there’s something I desire, something that, in my rest-deprived state, seems attainable. Reunion. Perhaps through dreams? But then there would have to be sleep. Without worry, without unnamed guilt.

Reality is unreality. I have no references to validate my existence. Mornings at nights I pray to other gods, talk to you, think of new superstitions.

5 am, I wake. Hello?

The first published book by Vancouver multidisciplinary artist Leanne Dunic is the poetry title To love the coming end (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2017), a book-length suite of lyric meditations composed as a series of self-contained fragments. While this appears to be a sketchbook composed during foreign travel, this is less a book about travel than one that, through the experience of travel, allows for the removal of the distractions of home, forcing the narrator into an examination of self after “the loss of a loved one.” As she writes: “Even while in Japan, my missing doesn’t thin. Maples and pines root my muscle, call me back to land.” Dunic writes the self-doubt, recriminations, observations and pessimisms that are often associated with loss, writing:

Within me, a gaping crevice. The more I change my environment the more I lose track of myself, yet I traverse. Maybe that’s the point. Nothing is anchored. Today is unstable, easy for people and land to split. Minerals grind a geological dance, the balance of the earth’s axis shifts. Chile, Indonesia, New Zealand, Haiti, Japan. Where next? The unsure crust hectors the Pacific Northwest, evidence of instability buried under substrate. A story, mounds.

Dunic writes of impending natural disasters and impending destruction, questioning how one can continue on such a precipice: “Singapore grows, a city of glass, as if there is no threat of plates and quakes.” To love the coming end is a book about isolation, vulnerability and perspective. She writes on Mishima and travel, Singapore and her “next project,” attempting to find ground even as she deems herself perpetually unsettled. She writes:

I hate November. Especially in Singapore. I’ve given up on aging, on anniversaries. I’ve given up on freshness. Showers are pointless when you step out of the bathroom and into fortified humidity. Despite the heat, I leave the flat to gorge on noodles oiled with meat fat and yeasty goods from BreadTalk. I’m readying for tropical hibernation.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Queen Mob's Teahouse : Sarah Rockx interviews Gary Barwin

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the twenty-fifth interview is now online: Sarah Rockx interviews Hamilton, Ontario writer Gary Barwin (originally written as an assignment for Natalee Caple aspart of the Brock University Creative Writing Program). Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevostan interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimoran interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollarian interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Franka 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 FarrahBrad Casey interviewed byEmilie LafleurDavid Buuck interviews John Chávez about Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing and an interview with Abraham Adams by Ben FamaTender and Tough: Letters as Questions as Letters: Cheena Marie Lo, Tessa Micaela and Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Kristjana Gunnars’ interview with Thistledown Press author Anne Campbell, Timothy Dyke’s interview with Hawai’i poet Jaimie Gusman, Hailey Higdon's interview with Joanne Kyger, Stephanie Kaylor's interview with Kenyatta JP Garcia, and Jaimie Gusman’s interview with Timothy Dyke.

Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse includeGeoffrey YoungClaire Freeman-Fawcett on Spread LetterStephanie Bolster on Three Bloody WordsClaire Farley on CanthiusDale Smith on Slow Poetry in AmericaAllison GreenMeredith QuartermainAndy WeaverN.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, April 23, 2017

Canthius #3 : winter 2017

Title Poem

I regard this poem, this article online, this music video
from the sidelines of my eyes, an unconscious kind

of integration into rationality like swallowing spirits
that disseminates vertically through the chest

instead of in a straight line down the throat. It’s strange
how the fundamental procedure of naming

insinuates itself into literature w the necessity to title.
Poem titles are harder than book titles for the direct

engagement with a smaller amount of text.
Obvious/what’s the connection/strong/descriptive

a prefix of rank implicating social standing or still-standing
water releases an offensive smell. Manuscript is ms.

is a title without marital status. Assignation affixed
to the cover points to the book’s number one verse,

what happens under the covers, this poem is sir,
dr. missus ma’am, but mostly none of the above. (Klara du Plessis)

After going through the third issue of the semi-annual Canthius: feminism and literary arts (winter 2017), edited by Claire Farley and Cira Nickel [see my interview with Claire Farley on Canthius at Queen Mob’s Teahouse], I think that this might be their strongest issue to-date, featuring new writing by Amanda Earl, Doyali Islam, Ariel Dawn, Lisa Richter, Nicole Brewer, Klara du Plessis, Hoa Nguyen, Laura Ritland, Vivian Zenari and Nancy Lee, with artwork by Tafui, as well as a short interview with the artist on her work. Given their journal tag-line, “feminism and literary arts,” the editors have set themselves an ambitious goal for wide-ranging study, and it has been interesting to watch how the journal showcases their explorations into and furthering of feminism through something as straightforward and potentially complicated as producing a semi-annual poetry journal. As Farley and Nickel write in their “A letter from the editors”:

For us, the difference between capitalism and community, between products and ideas. Feminism is about pay equity, access to affordable childcare, improving transgender health care, showing solidarity with all systematically marginalized groups. But it’s also about ideas. In the saturated publishing market, how can we treat women’s ideas with dignity and not as products? The difference between so-called political feminism and marketplace feminism seems to mirror that between communal goals and individual success. A handful of successful women and trans writers doesn’t itself make gender equity. Spaces where a broad range of ideas and expressions are valued and celebrated just might though. Feminist attitudes in this issue treat poetry’s capacity to engage the always-already political. Hoa Nguyen’s work, for example, often treats domestic and political space as one and the same. Amanda Earl’s poem address city planning and the legacy of Jane Jacobs by questioning the very coherence of subjectivity in place. Klara du Plessis dissects categorization by asking, “how the fundamental procedure of naming / insinuates itself into literature w the necessity title.” In shifting our gaze from consumer choice to aesthetic inquiry, how can our ideas give shape to meaningful exchange?

Part of the strength of Canthius is its attentiveness to both the formal lyric and the experimental, and all spaces around and in-between, side-stepping any sense of aesthetic-as-limitation. Canthius is a journal open to content, conversation and collusion, seeking out what might not have been considered, otherwise. There really is some amazing work in this issue, from Amanda Earl’s city-poems, “Grace,” to Klara du Plessis sharp and precise lyric narratives and Doyali Islam’s powerful asides to Nicole Brewer’s expansive staccato-lyric “It Started With the Socks” (perhaps the first I’ve seen of her work, actually). Toronto poet Hoa Nguyen’s work, obviously, is simply magical for its lyric flow and focus on smallness, writing “A place of purple of / Lip balm / Empty breath spray [.]” As well, I’m intrigued by the introduction to work by Ariel Dawn, poetry by fiction writer Nancy Lee and even Brewer, whom I’ve been aware of for some time but hadn’t yet seen the work of. There is an awful lot here to take in, and wonderfully so.

White Meadows

For awhile my love and I live in the valley, basement with the old bed, wardrobe, lace drapes. We wander the white meadows. Barbed wire stretches forest to farm. Near the ditch something wheeled and wooden: a boy told my parents what happened there and then no one believed it, not even the boy. In the valley of lilies. They caught me playing under a pillow; denying it, I was forced to walk the room with my undone zipper. In the valley of secrets, Mother sculpted a dead lover: meticulous bone, muscle, curve of torso. Father hid magazines in his files. Once, in the sea chest, he found my diary. Burned, he said, then pretended he said nothing. Between the hedgerows and the garden a graveyard for cats. My cat died the day I had a medical procedure (what they call it there). Where it is darkest there is a hole in barbed wire. In the forest a car with white flowers around the wings. We sit inside and kiss. It snows. Deep in the valley. The snow spirals and whirls, so the world is raised, it is erased, a postcard, a landscape; this way we live. (Ariel Dawn)