Monday, 14 October 2019

Julia Bloch : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I’m not sure a poem is ever finished, in terms of the writing/revision process; I think it’s more like hitting a pause button. I push a poem as far as it will go, or maybe as far as it will let me go, and at a certain point either have to halt changes or move on to the next piece. Some poems might be finished but behave more like archives for other poems; they don’t all necessarily wind up getting published. One of the reasons I love writing about long poems, as a scholar, is that they help us think about the ways in which poems refuse being finished—they might interlock with others, or double back on themselves, or pause and begin again, or play with fragment and interruption.

Valerie Witte : part five

Why is poetry important? 

I’ve never considered myself a political writer, but faced with the deep distress caused by the current political administration, I now recognize the importance of poetry more than over. In an era defined by accusations of “fake news” and constant mendacity of the president and his cronies, it’s especially critical to acknowledge that language truly matters, to call things by their true names, as Rebecca Solnit would say. Many, many times over the past three years, when something disturbing has happened in our country or elsewhere, I’ve been convinced that the only way to counter such forces is through art. Poetry is a way to express what is otherwise impossible to articulate, to find common ground and to spark the imagination. It often feels like our only hope.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Albert Dumont : part one

Albert Dumont is an activist, a volunteer and a poet who has published 6 books of poetry and short stories. In recognition for his work as an activist and volunteer on his ancestral lands (Ottawa and Region) Albert was presented with a Human Rights Award by the Public Service Alliance of Canada in 2010. In January 2017 he received the DreamKEEPERS Citation for Outstanding Leadership. Albert has dedicated his life to promoting Aboriginal spirituality and healing and to protecting the rights of Aboriginal Peoples particularly those as they affect the young.

How did you first engage with poetry?

Many years ago I found myself recovering from a bad accident which came very close to taking my life. I was in severe dire straits because the accident left me unable to work at my trade as a bricklayer. At that time, I was celebrating 5 years of sobriety. I had no money to buy a meal in a restaurant for my two daughters, so I decided to write a poem to honour my life as a dad, rejecting alcohol. My girls took the poem to school to show their teacher and the next thing I know, the local newspaper published “The Path my Children Travel”.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Syd Lazarus : part one

Syd Lazarus believes in order to best understand them, you should know they once cried over an episode of Rugrats. Being Disabled, Jewish, non-binary, queer, and a Pisces is an important element of their work. They have been published in print and online publications such as Shameless Mag, Trash Magazine, Lunch Ticket, and Bad Dog Review. They have had the privilege of attending the Banff Centre’s Spring Writing Retreat 2019 and are super thrilled have their first chapbook How to Lose Friends Without Really Trying out with Frog Hollow Press. Feel free to follow them on instagram @lazaruswrites, they are always happy to make new friends.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Usually I know a poem is done when I can’t look at it anymore, other times, it’s when I get this pleasant punch in my gut when I finish looking it over--the flow feels easy, nothing irritates me about it, and it makes me excited to share it. I especially know that feeling is correct when I leave it alone for a month, look back at it, and still get that excitement about the piece.

There are also times when I look at a poem and think: Well, this is a poem, and it will either be published or it won’t be, regardless of whether I think it’s finished. In fact, some poems may be considered “finished” for a moment, only to find things worthy of change later.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Sarah A. Etlinger : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

What’s interesting about this question is that I started writing poetry again around the same time I began studying piano again, so the two seem to be twinned in my mind; this has come out in my work, as well. My poetry coach/mentor is also a pianist, and she has noted several times that my poems are naturally musical and lyrical. And poetry and music are innately related/mutually beneficial: music has beats and sounds and tones and timbres and rhythms, as does poetry, especially when read aloud. So while music is beyond language, language has a music and finding it is important.

I also think that when one studies as much poetry as I have, one begins to absorb its cadences (a musical term as well) that seep into language. So while I have had no formal writing training save for one creative writing course in college, all the reading I’ve done has helped infuse the tradition of lyric poetry into my own work.

Another way I think music and poetry work together in my work is through my increasing attention to sounds and the senses. Poetry, often, can be visual—especially as we tend to encounter it on the page and screen. Yes, we can read it aloud and can hear it, but most of the time, I’d guess, we read it. Given that, I think it’s important to not only listen to poetry, but also for poets to pay attention to different senses than the visual. Lately, I have been trying to incorporate sounds into my lines, both in terms of the words themselves (e.g. assonance, alliteration, etc.) and in terms of sounds I’m portraying.

Finally, there may be a genetic component: I don’t have a musical family at all, except for my great-grandmother on my mother’s side (her grandmother Louise) who, I’m told, played piano by ear. She could hear a song or a jingle and play it, despite having no formal training. I’ve been told I have a good ear for music (by my piano teacher) and for lyrics/words/sounds (by my coach), so I’d like to think that comes from her.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Michael Ruby : part one

Michael Ruby is a poet and journalist who lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of seven full-length poetry collections, including At an Intersection (Alef, 2002), Window on the City (BlazeVOX, 2006), The Edge of the Underworld (BlazeVOX, 2010), Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010), American Songbook (Ugly Duckling, 2013), ebook Close Your Eyes (Argotist Online, 2018) and The Mouth of the Bay (BlazeVOX, 2019). His trilogy in prose and poetry, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill, 2012), includes ebooks Fleeting Memories (Ugly Duckling, 2008) and Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep (Argotist, 2011). He is also the author of the echapbooks First Names (Mudlark, 2004) and Titles & First Lines (Mudlark, 2018), and five chapbooks with the Dusie Kollektiv (2011-2019), including The Star-Spangled Banner. He co-edited Bernadette Mayer’s collected early books, Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words (Station Hill, 2015), and worked with Mayer and Lewis Warsh on other Station Hill books. Recordings of three of Ruby’s books, two performances and a 2004 interview are available at PennSound. A graduate of Harvard College and Brown University’s writing program, he works as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.

Photo credit: Susan Brennan.

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was little, I had a much older half-sister through my father’s first marriage, Kathryn Ruby, who wrote poetry. She was the editor of the high-school literary magazine and the girlfriend of New York School poet prodigy David Shapiro from the nearby Weequahic section of Newark, the setting of many Philip Roth novels. Due to family conflicts, I had no contact with Kathy for many years starting when I was in 7th grade. But I heard all about the anthology she co-edited, We Become New: Poems by Contemporary American Women, published by Bantam five years later. It was one of the first books of contemporary poetry I ever read. Although I had no contact with her when I started writing poetry as a high-school senior, my big sister certainly sanctioned it as an activity for me.

When I was young, I also had an older half-brother through my mother’s first marriage, David Herfort, who wrote poetry. During February vacation in 9th grade, I visited David at college in Ann Arbor and read some of his poems and a prose poem called “The Virgin Land.” That was the first time I ever read any contemporary poetry, any poetry at all, except Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Evangeline” in class the year before. We didn’t study much poetry in South Orange and Maplewood, N.J., which otherwise had a great education system and produced such poets as C.K. Williams, Michael Lally, Paul Auster and my two siblings in the decades before me. Just nine months after I visited David in Ann Arbor, he was killed in a car accident in Spain. I didn’t read many of his poems until I was in my 30s and 40s, when I edited his Washtenaw County Jail and Other Writings for publication, and thus they had little effect on my first decades as a poet. But my dead brother has certainly played an immense role in my psychic and poetic life. Strangely, the piece of writing I remembered, “The Virgin Land,” was lost for 40 years, but finally reappeared in 2012. Writings of his have kept turning up all through the years—and there are more to come, if I’m not mistaken.

In a family with three out of eight children writing poetry, you might think our parents would be interested in poetry. But history and politics were everything to my parents, dominating all family discussions.

Tanis MacDonald : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Short answer: when all the elements work together in the best ways that I can think of.

Longer answer: beginner writers ask me this all the time, and I think they ask because I talk so much about drafting and revising, and they are wondering when they can just stop working on a single poem. Where’s the finish line? 

It’s a good question, and one without an easy answer; it’ll be different for each poem and each writer. But since “finished” is so hard to define, I think it’s a good idea for a writer to pretend to themselves, temporarily, that the poem is finished and walk away for a day, a month, whatever. I find that if I do this and return to the poem, the meaning of “finished” has often shifted significantly.