Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Colonoscopy post:

I had one of those earlier this week. Precautionary, I was told. Being thorough. A camera higher up inside than I could have imagined. And yes, as unpleasant as it was, the preparation – drinking four litres of Peglyte on an otherwise empty stomach – was far worse (fruit flavoured? What would it have tasted like regular? That must have been some very gross fruit). Everything = ugh.

Doctors are good. Precautions are good. One wishes to remain healthy.

Incredible thanks, of course, to mother-in-law for taking Rose to school and watching Aoife, and Christine’s cousin Paul McNair for accompanying me on said hospital excursion.

As I write this (Monday afternoon), things are still a haze, but I thought it worth repeating that infamous poem by the late Daniel Jones, “Things I Have Put Into My Asshole,” a poem that appeared in his poetry collection The Brave Never Write Poetry. Originally produced by Coach House Press in 1985, the book was later reissued by Coach House Books in 2011 (is it worth seeing if there’s enough work for a larger Jones volume, perhaps?), which makes this formerly-lost classic still in print. I had the thought of this poem (a piece that had been plastered around Toronto for years by Nicky Drumbolis, jwcurry and others after he died) mid-point through Monday’s procedure.

In the end, it might have been my only solace.

Things I Have Put Into My Asshole

Saliva & semen & butter & baby oil,
tongues & thumbs & fingers of women,
the cock of an old man,
the cock of a Mexican boy,
the cock of my sister’s boyfriend,
my hand,
candles & felt marking pens,
cucumbers & carrots,
Sandra’s mother’s vibrator,
the intersection of Bathurst & Queen,
Honest Ed’s Warehouse,
Hamilton Ontario,
& just today the CN Tower:

I came all over Bay Street,
as the world’s highest disco
rotated upon my prostate.
It lies limp on the frozen surface
of Lake Ontario.
You can barely see the tungsten bulbs
through the film of K-Y jelly.
The small sacrifice
of a very large asshole.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ongoing notes: latelate January, 2018

[what part of Friday's pd day looked like] In case you hadn’t noticed, the date for the spring edition of the ottawa small press book fair has been announced. And did you know that this month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Factory Reading Series? We already know this year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of above/ground press (there is still time to catch a 2018 subscription, by the by).

Ottawa ON: A number of years ago, Ottawa’s TREE Reading Series opened a series of readings (roughly one a year) of featuring three or four poets instead of the usual one or two, attempting to feature poets not considered ready for a full-length reading as part of the series (I remember disagreeing entirely with the premise when it emerged; why not give them full readings?). Called 'hot ottawa voices,' the series has extended into one they've been calling 'local lights,' for poets without trade collections, but with chapbooks. As part of the most recent of such, held in December 2017, leaf editions, an extension of Tree Press, produced the chapbook LOCAL LIGHTS, featuring work by Chris Johnson, Sarah Kabamba (who was shortlisted last fall for the CBC Poetry Prize) and Rod Peterson (former director of The TREE Reading Series, who began the “local lights” series during his tenure).


he smells like home
but these days home smells like war & smoke
she’s tired of burning & the ashes she carries
in her bones are heavy & all her body knows is to run
some nights her body is a battle ground
landmines going off underneath his touch
he carries bombs underneath his tongue
& kisses her like it’s his last breath (Sarah Kabamba)

There is a lightness to Kabamba’s poems that is quite striking, one that blends very nicely with her subject matter, and allowing her poems not to be weighed down entirely. The four poems by Chris Johnson’s poems in this collection work to explore space and rhythm in more overt ways than I’ve seen in his previous work, moving away from tighter prose-poems to a more open form for a deeper exploration into collage, narrative disjunction and accumulation.

My only real complaint about this wee chapbook: why aren’t there any author biographies included?

if I had two nickels to rub together
I would rub them together

like a kid rubs sticks together
until friction made combustion

and they burned
a hole in my pocket

into which I would put my hand
and then my arm

and eventually my whole self—
I would fold myself

into the hole in my pocket and disappear
into the pocket of myself, or at least my pants

but before I did
like some ancient star

I’d grab your hand.

Compared to the prose-pieces in his full-length box score: an autobiography (Furniture Press Books, 2014), the eight poems included here are relatively straightforward, composed as meditations akin to short essays. I say straightforward, but almost deceptively so, writing out a series of turns and turns, skips and short clips, somewhere between the sharpness of rough sketch and carved, polished stone. I’m curious about the shift, and wonder if a full-length collection is in the works; curious to see the shape such a collection might take, especially after his book-length baseball poem.

two birds

if we can conceive of killing

two birds

with one stone

why not then imagine

leaving it un-

two birds

in a bush, un-
leavened & a stone

in a hand, un-
turned, unflown

Monday, January 29, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw was born and raised in London, ON. His poems have appeared in the Malahat Review, the Gay & Lesbian Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Grain, and the Fiddlehead. He received Arc Poetry Magazine's Poem of the Year award and the Grand Prize in the PRISM international Poetry Contest. His debut collection, Smaller Hours, was published by icehouse poetry/Goose Lane Editions in fall 2017.

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 just came out a couple of months ago so it may be too soon to tell. The book collects several years’ worth of poems and it’s gratifying to be able to hold that effort in my hands. It also feels like I’m now free to move on to explore new ideas, subjects, etc.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Although I had written a few poems here and there as a kid and as a teenager, I came to poetry a bit late. I thought I was going to be a journalist, a fiction writer, and finally a playwright/screenwriter. Poetry always felt like a locked room and I didn’t have the key. It wasn’t until university when I was exposed to more contemporary Canadian writing, and discovered a tradition of queer poetry, that I began to write it more frequently. I also write essays (I’m not a big fan of the term “creative nonfiction”) and I find it helpful to move back and forth between the genres. 

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’m a fairly slow writer. Even short lyric poems often depend on a lot of rumination and notes before I actually get down to the writing (although I can’t tell if that’s a process or just laziness?) I’ve learned to become comfortable with the waiting periods between the initial idea and setting it down on the page, and even then the writing is very often a process of accretion over a few days or weeks. My first drafts rarely look like the final shape.

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?

Poems come from all sources—memories, overheard turns of phrase, experiences, reading, movies. When I first began writing poems they were standalone pieces and I didn’t assume they’d ever end up in a book. It wasn’t until I was beginning to put together a manuscript that I realized I was circling around similar ideas or questions. That realization then fueled more poems. I think a balance of both approaches would be ideal—I’d be more productive, but also open to the surprises.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m always grateful to be asked to read, and especially grateful for the people who come out, and for those reasons I’ve been working to become a better performer of my work. This is likely just my own shyness, but readings weren't my favourite way to share my poems or to encounter the poetry of others (although I do admire those writers who are superstar performers of their own writing.) That said, I’ve given more readings in the past year than I ever have before and it’s been fascinating to hear how audiences respond differently to different poems. I'm enjoying it a lot more.

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?
When I was working on Smaller Hours I was completing my PhD dissertation on LGBTQ writing and censorship. I was reading a lot of queer theory, particularly around time and historiography, and I think that’s definitely in the background of the poems. The questions I was interested in were about history, both personal and public. I often think about gay history as silence or invisibility, but writing these poems became more about trying to recapture the code that had been used for decades to share those experiences that were hiding in plain sight.

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 turn to writers for questions, ideas and provocations, entertainment, comfort (but not necessarily in that order).

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I was fortunate to work with Jeffery Donaldson as my editor on Smaller Hours and it was so valuable to have his impeccable ear. I also workshop regularly with a group of writers in London and find both giving and receiving feedback useful.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

To practice gratitude.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I write essays and poetry and I find they often fuel each other. Critical prose feels quite separate from my poetry, but when I work on a personal essay I sometimes go back and forth in the early stages wondering if what I’m working on is an essay or a poem. One thing I like about prose is that I find I can force myself to sit down and work on an essay but poetry doesn’t work the same way (again—possibly laziness).

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?
My day job is mostly writing and editing in the tech industry and I find it can drain a lot of my creative energy. I pay myself first by getting up early in the morning to write, or to try to write. If I’m lucky, I can get some longer stretches on the weekend.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I keep a notebook of nearly abandoned ideas and lines that can sometimes spur new work. I also have a folder on my computer called “Misfires” that holds drafts of incomplete and/or problem poems. Sometimes one of those can offer a line to send me off in a new direction. A book, film, or exhibit can offer inspiration, but so can dinner with friends.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The hoppy, yeasty smell of the Labatt’s brewery.

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?
Visual art, and particularly film, influences my work more than the others (aside from other books). Paintings and films provide many subjects for poems, but I also like the process of assembling a narrative or at least a poem’s movement by splicing together images, scenes, and snatches of dialogue or text, which I think of as essentially filmic.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
This is not an exhaustive list but some of my favourites in poetry are John Barton, Hart Crane, Mark Doty, Randall Mann, Shane Rhodes, and Bronwen Wallace. And in essays: Joan Didion and the Davids (Rakoff and Sedaris). And then those writers who straddle the line between genres like Anne Carson and Maggie Nelson. I was a voracious reader of Alice Munro as a teenager so she definitely left a mark, and I still return to her stories.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Likely a cliche answer, but I’d like to travel more. 

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?
A chef.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’ve written for as long as I can remember. Like a lot of writers, I think it likely started as a response to a book and thinking: I want to do that, too. Because you have to spend a lot of time alone, I think writing also suits my introverted temperament.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m currently reading Randall Mann’s newest collection, Proprietary, and Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities—I heartily recommend both. The last great film I saw was Oliver Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m taking some time to work more on essays, many of them about food (vicariously living my chef dreams!) I’ve also started slowly working on some new poetry. I had the intention to break away from “the gay stuff” but I just wrote a poem about a men’s underwear ad so I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Rahlia’s Ghost Press: Jake Byrne, Megan Fennya Jones + Beni Xiao

After announcing themselves with no small amount of fanfare, Vancouver’s Rahlia’s Ghost Press opens with their first round of chapbook titles, all three of which appear to be chapbook debuts: Jake Byrne, The Tide (2017), Megan Fennya Jones, Normal Women (2017) and Beni Xiao, Bad Egg (2017). Produced as gracefully designed limited-edition perfect-bound softcovers, by the time I saw copies of these chapbooks, all three were already in their second printings.

There is a brashness to these three collections I quite enjoyed, one that each poet utilizes to announce themselves as self-aware, self-confident and completely present. If this is how they begin, this is a press that will easily be producing multiple works that require your attention (much in the way Montreal’s Metatron has already been doing for a couple of years now). And the same for these three poets; there might be some rough or loose elements to some of this work, but all three writers here are worth your attention, especially for what they might end up doing next.

These push notifications unpushed.

Hard boiled eggs smashed on a silver tray.

Our mutual friends admitted you were dying.

All life is subject to potential hazards.

Some more evident than others.

Millions struck blind.

Millions displaced.

Millions wandering.

I could ruin you.

Eating roots and twigs.

I saw a man with his torso almost severed.

He was still alive.

I did not stop to help. I wanted

To find my mother in the rubble

Before the tide went out.

Montreal poet Jake Byrne’s The Tide is a chapbook-length lyric suite that writes on the crumbling of civilization, and a tide that exists as both destroyer and potential cleanser, removing the potential and possibilities of violence, cruelty and disease. Opening with a quote by Lisa Robertson – “You’ll go to a place that is crumbling in order to watch civilization fall.” – his poem begins: “This is personal as eschatological. // We lost Miami and Riga in the opening salvo. // We lost friends on both sides [.]” Exploring ideas of truth, confession and trauma, Byrne’s poem works to wash away the sins of the world, articulating into words what only then can be properly removed.


This is how George Lucas must have felt about Star Wars: Special Edition.

The film was a flop. Even amongst his cult following amongst fans everywhere: it was doomed.
An untethered spacewalker—useless fumbling
of giant gloved hands

in unending dark—

an asteroid
hurling itself at

at other asteroids.

Vancouver poet Megan Fennya JonesNormal Women is a collection of short lyrics that work to get to the heart of things, working to explore and dismantle the smallest moments and ideas, kicking and searching and confident. As she writes in the poem “BLACK LAKE”: “It’s true that I am inwardly / screaming. I make my heart / into a black lake.” Or, in the poem “ON BEAUTY”: “We are not afraid / of anything.” Although I might question the argument of her short poem “CANLIT”—“In America I hear / writers are plentiful, / beautiful and important. / There are gymnasiums full / of writers publishing real work / and getting money.” (I suspect part of that is the fact of their population being ten times ours and the fact that Canadian media doesn’t discuss dollar figures as easily for successful literary writers)—the poems in this collection twist and turn with a narrative speed enough to injure one’s neck.

hotdog poem

before we even dated Jose told me he had a dream about San Francisco and me

I’m thinking about how dreams never really make sense

Like maybe it was San Francisco but San Francisco is a symbol for hotdogs and maybe it was me but I am a symbol for me eating hotdogs

Jose and I dated for almost 2 years before we broke up but anyways please dream about me eating hotdogs

I still want that

Vancouver poet Beni Xiao’s Bad Egg is a collection of exuberant first-person lyrics with the patter and patterns of texts, composed with the energy of a tweet, and titles that reference pop culture and the complicated measures of how we address each other, such as “Dear God, Can I Have A Designer Purse?,” “apocalypse poem no. 1: a list of thoughts and questions i will wish i had asked somebody before the apocalypse” and “in semester one i watch Buffy in her white dress kill the Master but i still can’t get out of bed [.]” In many ways, this feels the less polished title of the trio, but Xiao’s energy, intelligence and wit sparkle through with enormous potential, enough to allow for a “wait-and-see” on their writing. And how could anyone not love a poem, such as “conditions of staying alive,” that begins:

if you love some don’t give them your heart
i suggest a kidney that way if they
leave you you aren’t heartless
or heartbroken you have a backup kidney