The Guardian’s occasional feature “My Writing Day,” and thought it might be interesting to do a blog of the same, “for those of us who might never make it into The Guardian.”
[note: this isn’t a dig at The Guardian; I just thought it might be fun to play with the format]
So, like a fool, I’ve started a new blog: my (small press) writing day.
The list of current and forthcoming essays include pieces by Amish Trivedi, Colin Morton, rob mclennan, Sonia Saikaley, Amanda Earl, Jean Van Loon, Karl E. Jirgens, Lisa Pasold, Robert Martin Evans, Jennifer Pederson, Carla Hartsfield, Jason Christie, Eleni Zisimatos, Christian McPherson, Chris Johnson, Eileen R. Tabios, Joshua Corey, Claudia Radmore, Oscar Martens, Sacha Archer, Larkin Higgins, Kristina Drake, Kate Siklosi, Jared Schickling, Karen Smythe, Yanara Friedland, Paul Carlucci, Catherine Owen, j/j hastain, Gil McElroy, Adele Graf, Angela Lopes, Adam Thomlison, Brenda Schmidt, Michael Blouin, Jeanette Lynes, Keegan Lester, Jeremy Stewart, Zoë Landale, Jacqueline Valencia, Michael Dennis, Emily Sanford, Jennifer Baker, Aaron Tucker, Chris Galvin, K.I. Press, Nathaniel G. Moore, April Ford, Lily Gontard, Paola Ferrante, Alan Sondheim, Bänoo Zan, Emily Saso, Annick MacAskill, Ian LeTourneau, Jessica Hiemstra, Jessica Sequeira, Teri Vlassopoulos, Matt Jones, Sofia Mostaghimi, Joshua Weiner, Anita Dolman, Alex Manley, Joseph Cassidy-Skof, Ronna Bloom, Doris Fiszer, Maia Elgin, Cora Siré, Ken Sparling, Heather Sweeney, Sarah Crookall, Manahil Bandukwala, Dale Smith, Sara Renee Marshall, Sarah Burgoyne, Suzanna Derewicz, Jenna Jarvis, Missy Marston, Anna Maxymiw, Nicole McCarthy, Tim Mook Sang, Richard Harrison, Barbara Tomash, Nisa Malli, Steven Ross Smith, Frances Boyle, Sean Braune, Conyer Clayton, Ralph Kolewe, Noah Falck, Sharon McCartney, Dara Wier, Geof Huth, Brenda Brooks, David Bradford, Bola Opaleke, Robert Keith, Carl Watts and Shannon Quinn. And submissions are very welcome...
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Saturday, March 17, 2018
When I want to be sweet and light like a blackberry
floating in a bowl of water, instead I am heavy
and awkward. When I want to be strong like a real
sword, instead I just sit here like a blackberry in a bowl
of yogurt. Once, I saw a suit of new skin floating
right in front of me. It was perfect. Just my size.
Sometimes, I spend the whole morning searching
for the morning. It was perfect. All I had to do
was step inside.
New York City resident and Canadian expat Mikko Harvey’s first poetry collection is Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit (Anansi, 2018), a collection of odd lyrics, narratives and fables, as he described recently to Zach Herrod in an interview posted at The Arkansas International:
Maybe a good way to answer the question would be to offer you facts. I wrote the poems in Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit between 2012 and 2017. Most were written in Columbus, Ohio. Several started out as messages spoken into a voice recorder. I spent a lot of time walking down sidewalks pretending to be on the phone but actually muttering lines to myself. One poem was written on an airplane. Several of the poems act like short stories, or fables, and they would begin with a premise: if a bomb and a raindrop could talk to each other as they fell, what would they say? If anxious children were taught to strangle rabbits to treat their anxiety, what would that world look like? This rabbit question turned into the title poem. I’m not sure where the question came from—probably simply from my own anxiety, love of animals, fear of hurting what I love, etc. My subconscious is always rearranging these primal forces and offering them back to me in the form of weird little narrative conceits. Thank you, subconscious. At least two poems were written while playing basketball.
The lyrics in Harvey’s Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit unfold and unfurl to reveal succeeding layers of narrative oddities, such as the poem “THIRD DATE,” that opens: “We watched a yellow butterfly bounce, bounce, / then get annihilated by a truck, which cast a wing-sized shadow / over our trip to the state park. It was there, under the sugar / maple canopy, darling, that I learned of your hypoglycemia.” Where does a poem go from there? There are those say that the best thing a poem can do is to explore the already-familiar in an entirely new way, providing a fresh perspective that allows the reader to experience the world with new eyes, and this appears to be what Mikko Harvey brings to the lyric, offering the surreal through a rather straightforward narrative, one that twists and turns even as it holds entirely still, offering a line solid enough that any bird would trust to land upon it. Through Harvey, there is a comfort to the narrative uncertainty, one that reveals an array of surreal experiences and stories, both light and dark, that become entirely familiar, and work to twist expectation, but never unsettle.
I was born in a place where all the people were clean,
where Joanie had no trouble falling asleep,
where Frank was allowed to pay for breakfast
using seashells he’d collected, where ten lizards
arranged themselves in a circle for no clear reason,
where nobody’s wrists were too thin,
and when the man underthe stars with a knife in his pants
examined his reflection in the lake and asked
Is this the night? Is this the night I finally sing?
his reflection replied No, no, not tonight.
So the man curled up in a ball and fell asleep
and dreamt of a place where all the people were dirty,
so dirty, they began to believe they were clean.
Friday, March 16, 2018
Major Jackson is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Roll Deep (Norton, 2015). Recipient of a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship, he is Richard A. Dennis Professor of English at the University of Vermont. He serves as poetry editor of The Harvard Review.
[Major Jackson performs in Ottawa as part of the 8th annual VERSeFest on Sunday, March 25]
1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Cave Canem, Inc. sponsored a book prize that led to my first book Leaving Saturn being published; the book was selected by the brilliant poet and writer Al Young and laid the groundwork for some themes that I would explore in my latest volume Roll Deep, namely community (albeit global), culture, history, and memory. That book prize not only changed my life but the organization itself changed American poetry.
2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
As a young, aspiring writer in his 20s, poetry was simply the most ideal genre for my composing imagination which tends to be textured and associative rather than plotting and omniscient. Somehow I hear more noise in the silence of intense concentration that poetry demands.
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?
Like life itself, most of what I am aiming to wrestle in poetry is diffuse and cryptic. I write into the unknown, so first drafts (as well as subsequent drafts) seem like a narrowing of purpose and intention, a dance towards the center of something that is wild within me. With each revision or draft, I try not to lose the freshness of improvisation which is the trick and seduction of art.
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?
I have several projects that co-exist side by side in my head, and normally I write (to borrow Ellison’s phrasing here) towards whichever jagged grain is worrying my aching consciousness on any given day. The starts and delays is about survival, of course, but also where I hear loudest the music emerging from within.
5 – Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings prepare me to return to the page; I cherish the isolation as much as I cherish casting spells and rhythms of language.
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?
Theoretical concerns? Questions? Probably not, but I do know I am intrigued and possessed by this ongoing concern: can we evolve so that we are more humane to each other? Can we get inside language so that we can rewire and reconfigure our fears and proclivities away from tribalism and towards a new reality in human relations, a new way of engaging each other and the planet that is not about exploitation or hate or destruction?
7 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Normally, binge watching the movies of Ingmar Bergman or listening to the complete recordings of Louis Armstrong or a day hike in the mountains near my home does the trick.
8 – What fragrance reminds you of home?
Normally some brand of en’s cologne which growing up lined my grandfather’s bedroom dresser.
9 – 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?
I will not disagree as most of my books play out this interrelationship with other modes of knowing and seeing. I actively work to reference or allude to a world beyond my own interiority, that which most often shapes my imagination either.
10 – What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There’s a whole Transatlantic tradition of black intellectuals who have stamped their critical insights on my work. Also, too, early 20th century Russian poetry, not to mention the creative and critical writings of Toni Morrison whose web-like influence on art and critical scholarship, we will retrospectively discover, will rival that of Eliot’s during modernism.
11 – What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Someday I’d like to teach myself to play the upright bass.
12 – 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?
That’s easy, an etymologist, a hunter of origins.
13 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
A complete fascination with the notion that I could write a phrase or sentence that has never been uttered before in the history of the English language and that utterance might further us into a new consciousness or thinking.
14 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas is pretty phenomenal. I will be reading it for some time.
#WakandaForever. While I had some issues with the portrayal of the Black nationalist, Black Panther felt truly ground-breaking. Also, four years later, I am still thinking about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;
Thursday, March 15, 2018
My tag-line for the party we held over the weekend: “party until I break a hip” (which didn’t happen, fortunately). Responding to an email on same, my birth mother wrote, only: “You’re funny.”
Of course, I produced a chapbook as a handout for the event, the poem “snow day,” which makes up the entirety of my writing production from January to the opening of March (I did post work-in-progress excerpts on the blog if you missed). You can order a copy here, if you wish. I’ve already been sending out copies to various of my Patreon supporters.
At the party itself: we were there early, which meant Rose and Aoife ran laps around the tavern, slamming themselves into the wall and laughing, laughing. Before they arrived, I spent the afternoon downstairs in my usual spot, working on short fiction and reviews, thanks to Christine and her mother (which is all I ever want for my birthday, anyway).
What does forty-eight mean? I’m not quite sure. Closer to fifty, I suppose. Aoife turns two in about a month, and Rose is almost four and a half (my daughter Kate, of course, is twenty-seven). It means I’ve been home full-time with children for quite some time now (since Rose was born, basically). During those maternity leave months (Christine had a year with each), we juggled time, but otherwise, I’ve been home full-time, employing an occasional teenager throughout the summer to play with the girls for the sake of writing mornings (which happened earlier this week as well). I work during the two mornings a week Aoife is in preschool, as well as during her naps; Rose is already in full-time junior kindergarten, where she seems to be thriving (she could write her name before school, and, unprompted, has been writing out Aoife’s name also). And I do quite like being the home-person, Aoife and I walking Rose to school in the morning, and collecting her again in the afternoon.
Last year, I managed to start and finish a poetry manuscript, “the book of smaller,” over the course of the calendar year, aiming for very short poems during my shortened attention span (see lots of links to a variety of these online). Once Rose began school, the plan was to return eventually to short stories, which has come far slower. I’m very close to completing and sending out three short stories, but I thought the same of these same short stories, what, six months ago? Everything moves slow, but at least it moves.
I work on a mass of above/ground press items, celebrating this year’s twenty-fifth anniversary. I keep posting essays to my (small press) writing day, many gendered mothers, and the “On Writing” series. I keep posting poems to the weekly “Tuesday poem” series. I keep posting my Spotlight series monthly at Medium. The latest issue of seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics appeared recently, and the next issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club is imminent, as is the next issue of Touch the Donkey. I’m also curating/hosting a series of literary walks around Ottawa this year, as prompted by Arc Poetry Magazine, with the first one next week. There is so much to do.
[Rose and Aoife, upon being asked to smile for the camera] And then the rebuilding of our basement continues, after our Hallowe’en flood. Some two or three dozen boxes of fiction and trade comics returned to our shelves. There is so much more to bring in, but it moves. We return.
Thanks to this week’s childcare, I’m re-entering short stories, albeit slower than I’d like. I’m hoping to get at least one of these stories finished and sent out before the end of the week. Slowly.
Will I make it back to that memoir-in-progress? That novel? One hopes. Slowly. Slow.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Is it a burden to be so perfect
And to have such perfect children
And to have such a perfect marriage
And to look so perfect all the time
And to make every decision perfectly
Cocktails on Thursday with Sammy—perfect
You know your sweater really does look perfect
That mango salad you made—it turned out perfectly
And that car with your shoes
Goddammit that’s perfect
Well it works perfectly
My supervisor—he’s perfect
The desk, it looks perfect
All and all the day was perfect
And lovely and still
What did we do
We walked the earth
So perfect! (“IS IT A BURDEN”)
Following her poetry collections AWE (Wave, 2007), Black Life (Wave Books, 2010), Thunderbird (Wave Books, 2012) and Rome (Liverright/W.W. Norton, 2014) [see my review of such here], New York City poet Dorothea Lasky’s latest is Milk (Wave Books, 2018), a collection of smart, deviously funny, dark and savage lyrics, as she writes as part of the poem “Milk No. 2”:
But when you look at me, I can’t lie
Baby, it’s with love
I never knew what it was to be this way
But then again I never let myself be
Cascade of ocean
The beach was lost and dark
The house was dark dark
I went in, I wasn’t scared
It wasn’t the going in the door that struck me
It was the getting out, or even wandering
What’s behind the hidden doors
Can I find a bed there
Can I set up my electronic things
Can I put this machine on
It’s my armor to protect you
I have nothing
You are in a glass house
The fall of it
Orange hearts one after the other
My true love is sleeping
I tell him, don’t rest
I find another
Another with the moon
Lasky’s poems are incredibly visceral, long known for being straightforward and fearless, pushing unflinchingly through some rather dark territory. Her poems are constructed as accumulations, with phrases stacked upon another, moving further and further, heading off into directions unknown that managed somehow to exist simultaneously linked and trailing off into some unknown distance; lost, somehow, and yet connected. Part of the rollercoaster thrill of reading her poems is in seeing just where the poem might end up, often a far distance from where it might open. The poems in this collection are centred on domestic concerns, writing of babies and breastfeeding, of loss, loneliness and miscarriages; she writes of solitude and lovers; she writes from some dark places, and being “fucked up,” from poems ranging from the oddly hilarious “WHY I HATE THE INTERNET” and “KILL MARRY FUCK,” to “MILKING THE REST OF IT” and “POEM FOR THE MOON MAN,” that opens:
Have some mercy Dottie
No sex, just milk
Is the only thing I have to show for all my hormones
A little vulnerable, not a jerk
Is what he said about you
I am starting to think I am profoundly fucked up
And the only one who can save me is the one I let go in the
river so long ago
Death, death, it’s all death