Tuesday 31 December 2019

Estlin McPhee : part five

What are you working on?

Currently, a collection of poems engaging with my experience growing up in the Pentecostal church, plus witchcraft, werewolves, and being a gender weirdo.

Evelína Kolářová : part one

Evelína Kolářová is a young, emerging writer from the Czech Republic. She is an undergraduate student at the University of South Bohemia. She writes both in English and in Czech. Her poems have been previously published in literary magazines such as Really System, The Gambler Mag, Red Weather, Genre: Urban Arts or Sink Hollow. Her work has made the finalist list of the Poetry Matters Project's Literary Prize 2019.

Photo credit: Ondřej Cihlář

How does a poem begin?

Either as a lightning strike of inspiration upon some strong experience (which does not necessarily have to evoke the poem instantly) or during a review of writer’s notes as a result of the review and creation process. It is usually the former in my case, exceptionally the latter. A poem has to start somewhere – that somewhere is different for every poem and poet, be it an experience of trauma, catharsis evoked by other literary pieces, a strong sensual experience upon the discovery of the wonders of nature, or inspiration by another piece of literary work. Behind every poem, there is a need for the articulation of human experience. If it is powerful enough that it is written down, if the moment of somewhere is powerful enough, a poem can begin. It is upon the poet to decide whether they want to work with some sort of a structure behind the poem or whether they want to give it the chance to flow autonomously. It is usually that I do not impose any structure on my poems.

Monday 30 December 2019

Brian Henderson : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

OK so ever since I was a kid I’d been listening to my Dad play his classical records on his home-made hi-fi (as it was in those days) with its huge tower speaker thrust into the corner of our various living rooms over the years. I was so enraptured with that music’s ability to reach some deep core in me that I wanted to write music just like it. The only problem of course was I had no idea how to do that, let alone even play an instrument at that time. But I could write, so that’s how it started: poet free. As it turned out I did very little writing of any kind; poetry, though it has affinities with music, is of course not music – it’s so saddled with expectations of referenciality and representation -- but honestly without some of that it just can’t do the sorts of things music can emotionally. And then I read Dylan Thomas in Grade 11. And that blew the doors off.

WCW made an impact on me with the “No ideas but in things” mantra for sure. Here was an opportunity to side-step grand and sweeping statements about the way things are, for the things that actually are and for opening their expressivities. (Maybe an early incipience of what was to became Speculative Realism?)

Duino Elegies launched me into the possibilities of linguistically inventive meditation. Rilke changed my notion of what both thinking and prayer could be. And Wallace Stevens allowed baroque and mannered language to flourish convincingly inside some of that thinking. And then the huge echoic depth and silence of Paul Celan.

And then along came John Berryman and Sylvia Plath and poetry as the possibility of a writing life-path, where one writes oneself into life and possibly even death.

Also The Drunken Boat and “I is another” which totally made me re-think notions of the self, and how performative it might be, the multiplicities of an “I” and the absences, the voids. How can words witness such things? Better how can they be such things?

And then the Canadians excited me in that wonderful explosion in the 60’s and 70’s: Gwendolyn MacEwan particularly with her deeply lyrical myth psychology was a turning point, and Don McKay’s transformative ecopoetic revelations too.

And in the States: Louise Gluck, Mary Oliver, Galway Kinnell, Charles Wright.

And then Hugo Ball, the DADAs and Andre Breton, the Surrealists; Friederike Mayröcker especially, showed how truly electricly freeing language could be.

And the ones I haven’t mentioned: Robert Bly, Robert Hass, CD Wright, Brenda Hillman, Michael Ondaatje, Steve McCaffery, bp nichol, Christopher Dewdney, Anne Carson, Margaret Atwood, Tomas Tranströmer, W.S. Merwin, John Ashbury, Henri Michaux, all of whom have touched my practice in one way or another. It’s an impossible map.

Sunday 29 December 2019

Matthew Gwathmey : part three

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Prose. After reading the whole thing cover to cover to cover to cover, I read just a little snippet here and there, each time I return. Highlights include: the stories/memoirs “In the Village” and “Efforts of Affection: A Memoir of Marianne Moore;” the poems “The Man-Moth,” “The Armadillo,” “Crusoe in England,” and “One Art;” a note she wrote for a talk in Rio: “Writing poetry is an unnatural act.”

Shelly Harder : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When I can no longer recognize it as a thing with which I’ve had much to do, and I’m able to enter it, and the space of it is a place I’d like to be.

Saturday 28 December 2019

Kyla Jamieson : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’m re-reading Sugarblood by Liz Bowen. It’s a gift of a book, a core text in my sick lit lineage that resonates in terms of both style and content. Bowen is a brilliant poet of the body, mind, and heart. Reading Sugarblood felt like finding secret staircases to all the towers of thought and feeling I had sensed but not yet accessed. (Clearly I am also re-reading Harry Potter.)

From Bowen’s poem “no small things”:

how can a woman tell
when her sex becomes hideous
is it in the shift
from caring
to needing care

She asks bold questions about care and gender and illness, and I love the ways her poems move.

Other books on my desk: I have to live by Aisha Sasha John, Renaissance Normcore by Adèle Barclay, Women in Public by Elaine Kahn, An Honest Woman by Jónína Kirton. I had Eileen Myles’ newest book, Evolution, out of the library but had to return it.

I often wish I could read more, but I’m also aware of how much pressure people feel to always be reading/consuming/thinking/processing the external. There’s a taint of ableism in such expectations. I’ve had difficulty reading, have been unable to read for periods of time, and wrote a lot of my book when I couldn’t read. And I just want to say, it’s okay not to read. It really is.

Friday 27 December 2019

Victoria J Iacchetta : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

During my sophomore year of university I discovered that I’m heavily drawn to the Romantics. I can’t really explain why, but I feel an innate kinship with them. When I read romantic era works, especially poetry, I just get it; I feel it. I, and I think most people who know me well, would consider me to be a modern day romantic. My writing, and other art, certainly reflect this.

Thursday 26 December 2019

Amritpal Singh Arora : part three

How does your work first enter the world? Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

Although I started on my own, I have made a conscious effort to try to become part of the local community. It’s helpful that most writers are extremely welcoming and encouraging. I have made an effort to attend workshops, readings etc. I typically try out new material at open mics or will post snippets of poems on social media. 

Wednesday 25 December 2019

James Schwartz : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Vastly. When I began writing poetry in my early 20s my poems were basically juvenile Cavafy influenced. It took me time to find my voice since ‘LGBTQ’ and ‘Amish’ are two very different sections at a library! To want to be a provocative, political artist and come from a conservative background can be both a new and old battle. These days now in my 40s I have more distance and a more objective eye in terms of LGBTQ Amish issues today.

Alex Leslie : part thirteen

How does a poem begin?

Noticing. Discomfort. Strangeness.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Estlin McPhee : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’m delighted to have been reading my friend Alessandra Naccarato’s debut book Re-Origin of Species, which continues to offer new surprises and meaning to me after many readings. I’ve also been reading Billy-Ray Belcourt’s new book NDN Coping Mechanisms, which is truly spectacular. Other recent, mind-bending favourites have been Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen, Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, and If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar.

Monday 23 December 2019

Brian Henderson : part two

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry is evocative. I think the things, the extants themselves, of the world, of this earth, are evocations, evocations of themselves that also call us forth and sometimes within language such that poems can sometimes also be this evocation. Poetry is then a place of being and transformation; its calling opens gaps in language and the world. We know what Auden said about making nothing happen, but really it can actually open that void., and that void is one (languaged) place through which attention lives. It can decentre the self; it can put the fun back in the ontological funicular; it loves to disobey, and it loves to open its arms; it’s a place where non-knowledge happens. Shouldn’t the poem be a shelter for the life of the thing that is beyond our conceptualizing and false sense of mastery? Maybe the world is seriously in need of some of that medicine right now.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Matthew Gwathmey : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I find everything difficult about writing. I often wonder why I do it. But I do. A little bit. Each day. I haven’t dared to take the Rilke challenge and ask myself in the deepest hour of the night, “must I write?” I worry what the answer may be. Also, as an unsatisfied tinkerer, editing requires a computer, a printer, paper, pen, and a dart board behind a closed door. First drafts generally look nothing like final products.

Shelly Harder : part one

Shelly Harder hails from rural Ontario. A first chapbook, remnants, came out with Baseline Press in 2018. Find more of their work at hardershelly.wordpress.com.

How does a poem begin?

Fragmentary impulse, feckless endeavour, erratic outpouring. Whichever, when it happens that I’ve stumbled upon a configuration of words – it could be a brief phrase – that makes a demand, and I can’t ignore it, the words require a place that could be for them a home, then a poem is, at the least, attempting to begin.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Kyla Jamieson : part three

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

To echo Estlin McPhee’s response to one of your questions, I love how poetry can be almost anything. I think/hope that we have fewer ideas about what poetry can/can’t be than we do about prose. I’m thankful that it has become less of a “boys’ club” than, say, screenwriting. I think that says something about the relative accessibility of poetry—I appreciate that it can require very little time and few resources. And in terms of what poetry can accomplish, I admire its ability to hold both complex ideas and uncertainty simultaneously.

Friday 20 December 2019

Victoria J Iacchetta : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Ha… I can honestly say that I can count on 1 finger how many times I truly felt I had finished a poem. One of my biggest weaknesses as an artist is that I’m never satisfied with my work, and therefore struggle with the concept of anything I do ever being ‘complete’. I think it takes a lot of internal growth and development for me to be able to take a poem on a complete journey.

My most complete poem, in my opinion, originated in October 2016 and wasn’t completed and submitted for publication until June 2019. It was then accepted by two magazines in August 2019, which felt amazing.

I know that seems like a long time to spend on a poem, especially when it was only 12 lines or so, but it was worth it when I was able to look at the poem and feel nothing but pure pride and satisfaction. There was a blanketing calm that I felt with it, I just knew it was ready.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Amritpal Singh Arora : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I would say I rarely truly feel a poem is finished. After writing a poem, I will often leave it for a while and return to it with fresh eyes. This process typically remains on loop. I continue to play with punctuation, the poem’s music or form. Once I have return to a poem a number of times and feel there are no further changes to make, I resolve to be content with the (un)finished poem. 

Wednesday 18 December 2019

James Schwartz : part two

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I love reading indeginious voices and Hawaiian / Pacific poetry which is on the Amish forbidden reading list.

You should read Indigenous Literature from Micronesia by an amazing poet Craig Santos Perez.

Alex Leslie : part twelve

Why is poetry important?

Anything that inhibits the process of becoming a robot!

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Estlin McPhee : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I find poetry—especially my own—to be very slippery. The words themselves don’t always summon the magic; sometimes I look at my work and find that meaning, music, or even image have retreated for the day and everything sounds flat. Other times the same words are full and alive. I don’t know why that happens but I find that difficult—knowing that sometimes I just have to wait, trusting that it will come back.

Monday 16 December 2019

Cara Waterfall : part five

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author? 

I re-read Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith. She is masterful in the way she writes about Hurricane Katrina. She inhabits various personas — dogs, elderly patients at a nursing home, and the hurricane itself — and gives voice to the suffering of those left behind and those who survived. She is also gifted at a myriad of poetic forms, including the sestina and abecedarian, and her poetic language is second to none. But all her poetry books are worthy of inspiration.

Paisley Rekdal is another favourite. Imaginary Vessels is a book in which each poem is linked to inhabiting a particular vessel, whether it is a public persona (her Mae West sonnets are incredible) or a rumination on bubbles in a playground, where the narrator’s “thinnest edge / of dream still wavers, the one where the doctor tells me / I am carrying, but will not tell me what / or when.” The “Wartime Devotional” on portraits of skulls unearthed near the Colorado Mental Health Institute is particularly moving.

Brian Henderson : part one

Brian Henderson is a Governor General Award finalist (for Nerve Language, Pedlar Press 2007) and a finalist for the Chalmers Award for Sharawadji (Brick Books, 2011). He is the author of 12 books of poetry including The Alphamiricon, a deck of visual poem cards now online at Ubu: http://www.ubu.com/vp/Henderson.html and [OR] (Talonbooks, 2014). His latest is Unidentified Poetic Object from Brick (2019).

He is a co-editor of the Laurier Poetry Series, https://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Series/L/Laurier-Poetry, and lives with his wife, Charlene Winger, in Grey Highlands, Ontario, Canada.

How does a poem begin?

Really, I have no idea. A poem can begin anywhere, and often seemingly out of nothing: I wake up in the middle of the night with a phrase; I’m out for a walk and there’s a rhythm that loops in a few words after a while; an image mirages as a response to something seen, but even the lines that emerge from seemingly nowhere I believe are at heart a responsiveness to something, if nothing more than the process of being. It’s kind of a spontaneous responsiveness if that’s possible, but just as often these little sparks and pools of light will arrive if I’m mulling something over, immersing myself in a memory, a theory, an event, but it’s almost that I want to say it begins with X. There’s the story of Descartes struggling with some problem which was giving him great grief and so he just finally gave up; but in a carriage on his way home from somewhere weeks later, the answer popped into his head. Researchers have been exploring “self-talk” – that continuous inner voice we’re always hearing that tells us who we think we are – annoying as that can sometimes be. They also though, in exploring this inner voice, have pointed to a condensed inner speech which is highly abbreviated and often even ungrammatical and perhaps even wordless, an inner hearing, a voice not our own at the tip of the unconscious. Hmm. Were poets their subjects in these explorations? Anyway, the poem sometime begins, and if it does, it comes as a gift, and the poem itself (if it happens), only after --Cohen called it ashes -- and only if we’re lucky with further gifts engendered by the first; then there’s the writing, with luck, floating flying delving to maybe dream in words.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Matthew Gwathmey : part one

Matthew Gwathmey was born in Richmond, Virginia and studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. He became a Canadian citizen in 2013 and lives with his wife and children in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he is a PhD student at UNB. 

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I figured out that my first name could be found in my last name (gWATHMEy), I began a lifelong obsession with words and wordplay. Naturally, this led to poetry, particularly after discovering e e cummings. It was round about early high school when I first started writing my own poems. It was round about third-year university when I started getting serious about poetry. Only took me fifteen years to gather enough poems for a book.

Saturday 14 December 2019

Kyla Jamieson : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Time and intuition. I tend to write quite quickly when I am writing, and by the time I reach the end of a poem it’s pretty close to its final form. Letting some time pass after finishing a draft gives me perspective and can reveal the possibility of evolution or recalibration, or bring certainty that the thing is done.

The passage of time also carries me away from the state in which a particular poem was created. I become someone new, and the poem remains the domain of the person I was, and there’s seldom anything I can do, or want to do, to it then. But time can also move in unlikely ways and shapes, in spirals or circles, and bring me back to a space or state of mind/being—for example, after finishing my book I went back and wrote a few new poems for the first section, which is mostly about gendered violence and trauma. In this case it “helped” that the patriarchy and white fragility never stop with their bullshit. It’s easy to follow their trails back to the triggered state I spent most of my twenties in, and write from that place, though it’s not a pleasant one.

Friday 13 December 2019

Victoria J Iacchetta : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

Growing up I had always gravitated towards writing, but it was later in life that I learned how to structure it in different ways. I have a BA in English and History, so I studied a lot of 17th-19th century British and Irish literature.

When I was younger, I had an image of poetry being this unattainable, abstract thing that you either understand or you don’t. It terrified me, and I certainly never thought I’d be where I am with it today. After studying poetry for several years, I sit here now with many published works of my own, and I find it a struggle to disagree with the fears and interpretations formed by my younger self.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Amritpal Singh Arora : part one

Amritpal Singh Arora is a poet and writer of medical nonfiction, working on his first poetry collection. He is a family physician in Burnaby, British Columbia. His work has previously appeared in the Canadian Family Physician and Train: a poetry journal blog.

Photo credit - Pardeep Singh Photography

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on my first collection of poetry. The poems in this collection deal with the intersection of themes of grief, domestic violence, medicine and navigating the world as a racialized person. I’m hoping to begin querying within the next year.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

James Schwartz : part one

James Schwartz is a poet, writer, slam performer and author of 5 poetry collections including The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America.

http://literaryparty.blogspot.com  Twitter / IG: @queeraspoetry

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Growing up Amish and gay meant I had literally no books or poets to identify with at the public library or school and still do not. But there were male writers that were vital to my literary development: Arthur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. Today’s poets as well, look at the groundbreaking, amazing work done by Ocean Vuong, Sam Sax, Kaveh Akbar, Buddy Wakefield. I loved Eugene Gloria’s Sightseer in This Killing City and Tommy Pico’s poetry collections. Not simply gay poetry but interesctioning with other closed communities and cultures.

Alex Leslie : part eleven

How important is music to your poetry?

I’m constantly listening to music. I grew up playing music, in so many bands and orchestras, and abruptly stopped in my late teens, but that programming is deep inside me, of pacing, temporal structure, and rhythm. I took music composition classes as a kid and I remember learning about time signatures and such, and feeling that it was like learning a secret code. I used to try to figure out the time signature that different people talked according to. Most people speak in three-four time, by the way. If someone’s talking in 4/4 time, run!

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Estlin McPhee : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

What I’m really familiar with is the intangible sense that a poem is not yet finished and has instead reached a standstill. But usually I try to ignore that little voice of certainty and I say the poem is done when I want it to be done—when often the poem is still percolating or changing form (and it might need to do that for years to come, which is just very slow). So when that sense shifts and solidifies into a different feeling, then I know a poem is finished. I’ve only written a couple of poems that found their final forms quickly; I am mostly slow.

Monday 9 December 2019

Cara Waterfall : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

I adore The Sleep of Reason by Jenny George. She has this innate ability to write candidly and cleanly (without embellishment), but each line is layered and thought-provoking, and to be honest, deeply unsettling. Her poems stuck with me long after I read them. (The Sleeping Pig will change the way you see pigs forever!)

Oculus” by Sally Wen Mao is a voyage into new ways of seeing and being seen, particularly in the age of social media and too much information. It’s so creative on so many levels, not only with regard to format, but also the many perspectives that come into play.

Late Wife” by Claudia Emerson, where she addresses her first husband, her second husband and the late wife of her second husband, is extremely poignant. The language is exquisite and she expresses her pain in new and evocative ways. This book becomes even more moving when you consider that Emerson succumbed to cancer as the “late wife” did.

Say Something Back” by Denise Riley is a meditation on grief. After her son’s sudden death, she writes not necessarily to make sense of it, but to have an outlet. The book comes at you from all angles in all formats. Her grief is so palpable and there is nothing linear in how she experiences it.

Sunday 8 December 2019

Síle Englert : part five

How does your work first enter the world? Do you have a social group or writers’ group that you work ideas and poems with?

Most of my writing process is quite solitary. My work begins with a lot of time spent alone in quiet rooms and in my own head, which can be isolating. I think it’s incredibly important for writers to connect with other writers and artists, both for their own well-being and the benefit to their work. Sometimes, the seed of a poem comes from conversation with someone else. For example, one of my recent pieces grew out of discussions with two other poets about being vulnerable in your writing and how it feels to put intimate pieces of yourself out into the world for other people to read.

I am lucky enough to have an incredible group of poets with whom I regularly workshop my writing. That’s usually the next step before I try to publish a piece. I’m always learning from them and my work would not be in the in the shape it’s in without their enthusiasm and expertise. They support me, challenge me and inspire me. Another aspect of the writer’s group that I really enjoy is the experience of other people’s process, the privilege of reading what they’re working on and seeing it in a more raw form.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Kyla Jamieson : part one

Kyla Jamieson is a poet and editor who lives and relies on the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Her work placed third in the 2018 Metatron Prize for Rising Authors and was longlisted for the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Is Dead, Room Magazine, The Vault, GUTS, Peach Mag, The Maynard, Plenitude, The Account, and others. She is the author of Kind of Animal, a poetry chapbook about the aftermath of a disabling concussion. Body Count, her début collection of poems, is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2020. Find her on instagram as @airymeantime or on a rock next to a river.

Photo credit: Jeremy Andruschak

What are you working on?

I’m working through my editor’s notes on my first full-length collection of poems, Body Count, which is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2020. I spent years writing and editing the book, and feel like these final steps “should” be easy in comparison, but they’re not.

I’ve been feeling the inertia and anxiety of disability-amplified financial precarity (being sick & broke) more intensely than usual over the past four months, and it’s possible that everything is feeling more difficult than it otherwise would. Or maybe self-doubt is a normal part of the process? I’m trying to think of doubt the way Ocean Vuong described it in an instagram story: “it means u respect what ur trying to achieve.”

Adeena Karasick : part five

How did you first engage with poetry?

From a very young age i was writing. i didn’t really know what poetry was but i was always consumed with the physicality and materiality of letters and saw them as sparks of light, vessels of fiery potential. i loved the way you could make sounds through the juxtaposition of otherness, enabling one to say the unsayable, elevate the mundane, mixing, combing, spinning, twisting reference, syntax, idioms --- providing different avenues of connection…And, though they often get a bad rap, celebrating “the pun” as the highest art form; inhabiting what Freud might call a “psychic economy”, opening up the possibilities for infinite signification. As a young girl growing up in Vancouver, Canada, when everyone else was trading hockey cards, i collected these:

So, i think it’s safe to say that THIS was my first engagement with poetry, and to this informs a sense of parodic commentary / satire that marks so much of what i do.

Friday 6 December 2019

Victoria J Iacchetta : part one

Victoria J Iacchetta is a Puerto-Rican/Italian-American woman, and very much resonates with the role that her ancestral lineage has played in the development of her complex psyche. In 2015, she received a dual Bachelors degree in English and History from The University at Buffalo, and has since found the emotional stresses of working in “corporate America” to heavily influence her artistic direction. Victoria is currently living in London, England, and is working towards a Masters degree in Strategic Marketing. Her first chapbook, The Cubicle, will be published in Season 4 of Gap Riot Press, and prior works have been published in The Gravity of the Thing, Vamp Cat Mag, Ghost City Press, Bottlecap Press, and Peach Mag.

Photo credit: Steve Deisig Photography, Buffalo, NY

What are you working on?

I’m never really working on anything in particular. My poetry is more or less a result of intense bouts of emotions that come and go as they please. I find it hard to just sit myself down and write without any sort of organic need to do so.

For some reason, there are very few environments/places that really foster productivity with my poetry; in the past, most of the poems I’ve written were when I felt trapped and confined (for example, times when I had a particular obligation to uphold, and would do anything to avoid or postpone doing so).

Thursday 5 December 2019

A.W. French : part five

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

Most of what I appreciate about poetry is its depth-in-brevity, the sense in which a poem can communicate so much in such a short space. That being said, I love a good long poem as well. Poetry is also, at least in a contemporary sense, not necessarily bound by the rules of language. When somebody writes prose, they are writing in the same way that prose has been written before – one word after the other, all in a line, so on and so forth… but when I write a poem, I can break all of that if I want to. There’s a space for those fractures of form and there’s a space for more conventional poems, depending on what you want to do. I guess the various options you have as a poet just excites me, and I want to keep trying new things.

I also feel poetry to be more meditative than other forms for some reason. There’s something about it that lets me dwell on things in a healthy way, and that’s just helpful for me as a person, regardless of the quality of what I produce. I’ve written myself through a lot of difficult times in my life, and I’m sure there will be more to come. I can’t imagine doing the writing that I have about the tougher subjects I’ve faced in any other form, for me it has had to be poems. I love writing poetry, and as much as I’m sure I’ll try other forms down the road, this will always be home.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Emily Lu : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Something I’ve been doing recently is writing out a song’s lyrics in its entirety. I go through this process often with a Mandarin pop song, drawn by its structures of meaning. I also like the linguistic distance; it is my first language and I need to look up a lot of words to figure out the song’s whole form. The extra work to find meaning that is required (which is unconscious for me in English) forces me to slow down and pay attention.

Alex Leslie : part ten

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

Yehuda Amichai’s Psalm. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Edmond Jabes’s ‘Book of’ series.

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Estlin McPhee : part one

Estlin McPhee is a writer, magic-maker, and collective organizer whose first chapbook of poems, Shapeshifters, was published by Rahila’s Ghost Press in 2018. For five years, they co-curated REVERB: A Queer Reading Series with Leah Horlick. Estlin's writing has appeared across North America and can be found online at emcphee.com.

How did you first engage with poetry?

I didn’t like poetry as a young person (too boring, too slow!) but was interested in stories and studied creative writing in high school. We had a unit on poetry and my writing teacher—having never instructed us on what a poem was or shown us examples—told us to write a poem by the end of the block. She refused to answer any of our questions about where to start, how a poem should look, etc. I felt so lost at first, sitting there watching the clock tick and trying to come up with a poem, when I didn’t even know what a poem was. Of course then I realized it could be anything, and what a gift that was.

Monday 2 December 2019

Cara Waterfall : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry? 

I need silence to write creatively, but carving out quiet time can be difficult. I work part-time and I have three children under six years old so I often end up editing poems on my iPhone after they are asleep. Any lulls in my writing can be attributed to the encroachment of “real life” on my creative life (which I’m sure other poets experience as well.) That said, because poetry is my only creative outlet, I find ways to make time for it, even if it is only in increments. Those small moments of writing inspire me to continue.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Síle Englert : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Lately, I’ve been fixated on a lot of brave, difficult and dazzling poetry from women. Some of my recent favourites are What to Wear When Surviving a Lion Attack by Paola Ferrante, Past Lives, Future Bodies by Kristin Chang, Voodoo Hypothesis by Canisia Lubrin and Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Cluster.

One of the reasons I love poetry as an art form so much is that it holds space for infinite voices and experiences. Some of the poems in these books draw me in to familiar places but approach them in unusual ways. Others are far outside my own experience, but I have the privilege of sitting with them for awhile and listening. And then there’s the pure delight of their art, how each of these women puts words together on the page.

Saturday 30 November 2019

Adeena Karasick : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

HA! My first book was called “The Empress Has No Closure” and my 2nd book had two front covers – so, closure is not something I’m fond of; ) All to say, even when i think a poem is finished; is published and bound in a collection, i still find myself re-working it, supplementing because the world keeps shifting; new ideas are always coming, the poem is alive, breathing ever-evolving. Often I will live-edit the already published piece in performance / infuse it with variant rhythms textures, sound clusters, puns.

Also sometimes lines that work in the US don’t translate as well in Canada, India, Italy or Prague; needs massaging. Or what works for a jazz poetry bar in NY might need tweaking for a giant outdoor festival. So, yes depending on venue, culture, ambience, i‘m constantly reworking even “finished” pieces. Particularly, this is true in the case of my recent book, Checking In (Talonbooks, 2018) which features a series of faux Facebook updates – i continually think of new lines and now a whole new book is erupting from it. As i think i said in The Empress Has No Closure, “a finish is only a gloss”.

Friday 29 November 2019

Alexus Erin : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Growing up, I was classically trained as a singer. I spent a lot of time in choirs, so sonic resonance and polyphony are both concepts and tools I return to often. As a listener, I often oscillate between emo and rap; both genres use lyrics in ways that feel natural to me as a poet. Third-wave emo was incredibly intertextual, melancholic and tongue-in-cheek. American rap music has an amazing literary tradition, which is also deeply intertextual and political. I am a huge fan of Earl Sweatshirt’s craft. I think he is always leaning to rhythm in expansive and thoughtful ways. And eloquence? Unmatched.

Thursday 28 November 2019

A.W. French : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes, immensely. I began writing poems that I actually wanted to share about three or four years ago, and I saw it then as this isolated practice where it was just me in my room writing stuff down. Some publications helped me to see that other people were writing too, but when I moved back to Vancouver from Ontario in 2018 I started to try to engage with the writing community here, and that’s blown my mind. Starting my podcast, Page Fright, has helped me meet some of the people I look up to in my writing, people I really do consider as literary heroes. The fun thing about contemporary lit is that the people behind books are out there, and they want to talk to you about their writing… that took me so long to figure out.

Now that I’m talking to my favourite writers semi-regularly, I view writing as way more connected than I could have imagined it. Writing is a somewhat competitive thing, but the community is so friendly, and everyone seems to know each other. I remember literally writing a whole (failed) chapbook manuscript in my room in Ontario, whereas now I need to get out and write in response to other writers regularly in order to create something I like. I want to continue to work my way into the literary community, but more importantly want to create spaces for people who haven’t entered that community yet, and to allow them a chance to have their works seen and voices heard.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Emily Lu : part four

How does a poem begin?

With one image / idea /tension finding another unrelated one and trying to imagine the ways they might interact.

Alex Leslie : part nine

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Eyes Bottle Dark with a Fistful of Flowers by Jake Skeets

Hymnswitch by Ali Blythe

I just ordered the Penguin anthology of prose poems that came out recently, and I am ready to geek out with it. I’m soooooooooo excited.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been a bit behind on my reading of new books, as I’m reading a lot of collecteds/selecteds. Here’s some things from recent days: Reinaldo Arenas’s selected poems, Hart Crane’s collected poems, Orchid Tierney’s Ocean Plastic, Zach Ozma’s Black Dog Drinking from an Outdoor Pool, Edgar Garcia’s Skins of Columbus, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ selected poems, Federico Garcia Lorca’s collected poems, Ronaldo V Wilson’s Lucy 72, Adrienne Rich’s selected poems, Sor Juana’s selected poems, and some recent Carmen Gimenez Smith books.

Monday 25 November 2019

Cara Waterfall : part two

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t? 

It allows me to tap into my emotion in the most abstract ways — and it can definitely be cathartic. I find a great deal of comfort in piecing words together in this way. Poetry is the closest I can get to achieving fullness of self-expression.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Síle Englert : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

My ideas around what poetry actually is, have undergone constant, sweeping change since I began to write. It’s been a sort of evolutionary process. When you’re very young, poetry is nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Even into high school, you’re still learning that poetry is traditionally about rhyme and metre. There are rules to follow and there’s some comfort and familiarity in that.

As I read, learn, and develop my craft over time, my definition of poetry gets broader. I find a lot of joy in poets whose work breaks the rules in interesting ways, whether it’s a poem that might be indistinguishable from a very short story or one that is only about sound instead of meaning. I’ve become very interested in the places where poetry blends with other media (like visual art, animation, music), and in experimenting with form and what a poem can look like. In the most recent issue of PRISM International, I found a poem by Charity E. Yoro called “Our Lady of ‘Iolani,” which was written as a crossword puzzle. It was brilliant and beautiful.

As a poet, you study the rules, experiment with them, and then begin to break them in artful ways. Poetry has become a difficult creature for me to define and I think that leaves a lot of room to make incredible art.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Adeena Karasick : part three

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is important because it asks us to navigate the world in new ways. I’m interested in a poetry that’s marked by irony and parody, puns, slips and ellipses, fractures and paradox; a poetry of surprise that asks questions vs providing answers; adopts a wild mashup of idioms, textures; draws from different registers and asks us to crawl inside and revel in its non-normative patterns of syntactic logic, its deliciously luxurious heterogeneity. A poetry that foreground its own labor presents new ways of communicating, helps us to celebrate that sense of otherness in our daily lives. Do i think poetry can heal the ills of society – no, but it sure can and shift reality re-shaping the ordinary into ever-expansive possibilities of meaning and being.

Friday 22 November 2019

Alexus Erin : part four

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

I have been an avid reader of Michael Dickman since I was a teenager. My English teacher gave me her copy of The End of the West on our way to Dodge Poetry Festival; I don’t think a week will pass without me rereading “We Did Not Make Ourselves”. “Valentine” by Lorna Dee Cervantes; I used to perform it on the poetry recitation circuit. Also, pretty much anything by Louise Gluck- in undergrad, I carried a copy of Averno in my backpack.  

Thursday 21 November 2019

A.W. French : part three

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

It’s usually Al Purdy, or at least it has been for a long time. I love Purdy’s writing, and it was one of the first things that drew me to poetry. His collection Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets was one of the first books of poetry I bought, if not the first. I like to return to that book because it reminds me why I started writing, and sometimes that can help get my mind up-and-running. Leonard Cohen is a writer I have a similar relationship to, since he was an early influence. Oddly enough, I started with Book of Longing, which is Cohen’s second-last book of poems. I bought a copy when I was in Bath, England writing a chapbook manuscript, and it’s one of my favourite books on my shelf.

Lately, though, I’ve been looking at Matthew Walsh’s book These are not the potatoes of my youth when I need something to give me inspiration. Walsh’s writing is weird, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. It addresses its subjects with such a delicate transience that I aspire to achieve in my work. It took me a long time to read Walsh’s book, because every poem I read seemed to beg me to reply to it with a crappy draft of my own. I got, and get, a lot out of Walsh’s writing, and am super thankful to them for their creative work, as well as to those who recommended it to me initially.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Emily Lu : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

One area I find difficult to write about in poetry is mental health / medicine. This became clearer to me after attending medical school. I have to think a little harder about how I represent these intersections and if I am doing so ethically, responsibly, in a way that isn’t reductionist or takes advantage of patients’ stories that I have encountered. What exactly is my goal here? Areas where I ought to be unconscious in the writing process I can no longer claim ignorance. For now, it seems an essay in this area would be a more constructive form than a poem. 

Alex Leslie : part eight

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Edmond Jabes, because he was able to write about the Holocaust truthfully, that is nonsensically and beautifully at the same time. Richard Siken, because Crush is just a queer masterpiece. Rita Wong’s poetry for eco justice. Once I saw Joy Harjo read at the Longhouse at UBC, years ago, right after a big death in my life, and it felt like a sacred space.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué : part four

What are you working on?

I’ve just recently finished my fourth collection, tentatively titled Madness. It’s a book about exile, mental health, attachment, cultural rejection, and forms for living. In many ways, it is a continuation of my work in Losing Miami to understand the conditions of cultural shift under threat of global ecological collapse. Since I’m working on sending that around, I’m on a bit of a poetry break, and I am focusing on my graduate study at the University of Chicago where I research the way gay people hone their identities through the media they consume.

Monday 18 November 2019

Cara Waterfall : part one

Ottawa-born and Costa Rica-based, Cara Waterfall’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry, CV2, The Maynard, The Fiddlehead, SWWIM, Rust + Moth and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She won Room’s 2018 Short Forms contest and second place in Frontier Poetry’s 2018 Award for New Poets. She was recently selected as a finalist for the 2019 Coniston Prize. She has a postgraduate diploma in Poetry & Lyric Discourse from The Writer’s Studio at SFU, and a postgraduate diploma from the London School of Journalism.

How did you first engage with poetry? 

My father is a great lover of literature and introduced me to William Blake at an early age, specifically Tyger, Tyger. I also remember a dog-eared copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse. I particularly love the epigraph Stevenson wrote “To Alison Cunningham, From Her Boy” and these lines in particular: “For the long nights you lay awake /And watched for my unworthy sake:/For your most comfortable hand/ That led me through the uneven land”.

M.W. Jaeggle : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When the words reach a state of equilibrium over their reference, when the words are at once faithful to the experience or emotion that prompted their arrangement and working to name an unestablished experience or emotion. Others might call this interplay of conflicting desires a contradiction or ambivalence, but I find the feeling I experience when language is torqued to this state better described by equilibrium. It goes without saying that I have no way of predicting or measuring this process. I just intuitively know when the words sing an experience new.

There’s another, perhaps more simple way of answering this question: I know a poem is finished when it has convinced me that it will survive anonymity, when the poem has made me feel sure it’ll speak to a reader without needing a disclaimer like you needed to be there.

Sunday 17 November 2019

Síle Englert : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Whenever I think about this, I’m reminded of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye: “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?” She talks about a poem as a room in a house, where you have to close the door for awhile and walk away, leaving it alone to settle in and get comfortable with itself. And when you go back to the room, you might move a few things around, rearrange some furniture. That’s what writing poetry feels like, for me. I could keep re-stacking the books and fluffing the pillows indefinitely. I might ask a friend whether the lamp looks better here or there. But at some point, you do get a sense that the room looks pretty good the way it is and you can live in it fairly comfortably.

Saturday 16 November 2019

Adeena Karasick : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is integral to my writing process. When writing I am hearing the cadences, rhythms, textures of language and so the work inevitably highlights its sonoricity, erupting at times into constellations of syntactic collages highlighting what Zukofsky might call “upper limit music”. In Italian the word sentire is both to hear and to feel, and this sense of musicality that runs deep into the subconscious, into the body -- reminds us how language is not just a communicative vehicle but physical, visceral, material and acoustic. Recently, I’ve enjoyed taking the work a step further, and performing with music -- my recent spoken word opera, Salomé: Woman of Valor (University of Padua Press, 2017 and the English edition by Gap Riot ress, 2018), is performed with live music, featuring an original Jewish-Punjabi klezmer-bhangra music score by Frank London, performed with hi on trumpet with Indian percussionist Deep Singh (on tabla and dohl) and Middle Eastern keyboard player Shai Bachar, and presently we’re working on the album which should be out  February, 2020 with Chant Records. Stay tuned!

Friday 15 November 2019

Alexus Erin : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, and Odes by the incomparable Sharon Olds.

Natalie Lim : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is incredibly important to my life in general, so it becomes important to my poetry by proxy. When I listen to songs, I like paying close attention to the lyrics and how they work, which is why I think I gravitate towards musicals so much. In well-crafted musical numbers, every lyric has a purpose. Every line works to move the plot along or reveal a secret or draw you deeper into the mind of a character. I try to bring that same attitude to the editing process, where I look closely at each line of a poem and question whether or not it needs to be there, whether or not it’s contributing to the grander narrative of the piece.

Thursday 14 November 2019

A.W. French : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Finishing a poem is always tough for me. I have so many halves of poems in my notebooks, it’s crazy. I feel like my inspiration usually comes in the form of a line or two, and then I’m left to draw the rest out on my own. It’s that drawing-out process that has been tripping me up lately, but every now and then I can get into a rhythm and produce more than just a line or two that is really inspired by the experience I’m trying to capture in my writing. I think it’s also difficult for me to call any of my poems ‘finished’, since they come from my life and are always susceptible to change as a result of that origin. Maybe if I have a book out in the world some day, my poems will feel more concrete and unchangeable, but I can’t say that there’s much that I’ve published so far that I would consider “finished.”

I also struggle with cliché. I think a lot of first drafts of mine are filled with super cliché lines mostly because I try to write in the language I know and use, and those clichés express a multitude of things quite well. My work is the most fun to create, and I think is at its best, when its playing with common turns of phrase and subverting expectations. That’s a tough thing to achieve, and I don’t think my work does it as well as a lot of other writers, but I like to play with colloquial phrases in my titles especially. I’d like to work more on this, though, because working in my own vocabulary often results in the emergence of cliché.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Emily Lu : part two

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

When I’m writing a poem, I feel more degrees of freedom where I can manoeuvre creatively. Certainly there are no expectations of a beginning, middle, end. It can even get away with being illogical. It feels, at least, like a very efficient aesthetic and a lot more fun.

Alex Leslie : part seven

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Balancing love of form and resistance of misinterpreting the world as a poem.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué : part three

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

When I need focus, as in when the world and my feelings about the world are so jumbled I can barely get a sense of what to think anymore, I turn to poets in whom I find organization of experience: John Ashbery and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge especially. They are phenomenologists as poets. Ashbery’s “Three Poems” helped save me from the most debilitating patterns of thought I’ve ever had.

Monday 11 November 2019

M.W. Jaeggle : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Carl Phillips has taught me how a poem might be a scene of intimacy between poet and reader, poet and memory, and reader and imagination. His poems on the big poetic subjects—change, loss, longing—are shaped by a syntax that makes poetic revelation appear where you’d least expect. I’ve tried to include this form of surprise in my writing.

Charles Wright has shown me how the length of a line and its terminus can do more than complement the words expressed. I’ve learned from him that a line broken at a certain point may downplay the content of the line while echoing or prefiguring another line. Such a concern for the inner relations of a poem is something I’ve tried to apply to my writing. Wright’s playful manipulation of idiom—the sort of formulaic language that often flirts with banality and cliché—reassures me that great poetry involves renewal as much as creation.

I have learned from Jan Zwicky that there is a porous boundary between the sensuous, perceiving body and the intelligence, that immeasurable storehouse of information and knowledge. Before reading her work, I thought that there was a meaningful distinction between these forms of being in the world, that this distinction was better respected than played with in poetry. Zwicky has repeatedly shown me that poetry creates forms of truth out of perceptions likely overlooked by other fields of knowledge. I don’t know where a self-evident truth such as this would be more at home besides in poetry: “When we draw the blinds at dusk / is the moment we most want to open / them again.” She’s given me the confidence to pursue these truths and the forms of knowledge that would assist in their realization.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Síle Englert : part one

Síle Englert is a poet, fiction writer and multidisciplinary artist who dabbles in everything from knitting to tattoo design. She is the author of Threadbare, a chapbook from Baseline Press. Her short fiction won Second place in Freefall Magazine’s 2018 Fiction Contest and has been recognized in shortlists and longlists through Room Magazine and Prism International. Her poetry placed Second in Contemporary Verse 2’s 2-Day Poem Contest and has been featured in journals including: The Fiddlehead, Room Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, Canthius, The /tƐmz/ Review and The Minola Review.

How did you first engage with poetry?

As a child, I loved Anne of Green Gables. I read the books and watched the movies over and over. My first memory of poetry is listening to Megan Follows as Anne reciting “The Lady of Shalott” while she walked in the woods. Words were Anne’s pleasure, her comfort and often her friends. I was enchanted by the expression in her voice, her reverence for the sounds and later, the way she brought joy to other people when she recited. I wanted to learn how to find beauty and solace in written words, like Anne did. That connection was so meaningful to me that I still go back to those same stories from time to time, as an adult, and they can reawaken those same emotions.

Albert Dumont : part five

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins with an experience, one of my own or that of someone else. It begins with an idea which goes from the heart to the mind and back to the heart again.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Syd Lazarus : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I'm currently reading The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand, Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje, There Are Things More Beautiful Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker, and I Become a Delight to My Enemies by Sara Peters.

Adeena Karasick : part one

Adeena Karasick is a New York based Canadian poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of ten books of poetry and poetics. Her Kabbalistically inflected, urban, Jewish feminist mashups have been described as “electricity in language” (Nicole Brossard), “proto-ecstatic jet-propulsive word torsion” (George Quasha), noted for their “cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory” (Charles Bernstein) "a twined virtuosity of mind and ear which leaves the reader deliciously lost in Karasick's signature ‘syllabic labyrinth’” (Craig Dworkin); “one long dithyramb of desire, a seven-veiled dance of seduction that celebrates the tangles, convolutions, and ecstacies of unbridled sexuality… demonstrating how desire flows through language, an unstoppable flood of allusion (both literary and pop-cultural), word-play, and extravagant and outrageous sound-work.” (Mark Scroggins). Most recently is Checking In (Talonbooks, 2018) and Salomé: Woman of Valor (University of Padova Press, Italy, 2017), the libretto for her Spoken Word opera co-created with Grammy award winning composer, Sir Frank London. She teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, is Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, 2018 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award recipient and winner of the 2016 Voce Donna Italia award for her contributions to feminist thinking and 2018 winner of the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” is established at Special Collections, Simon Fraser University. 

What are you working on?

Celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the first commercial flight, and realizing that almost each of my 10 books of poetry features airplanes in some way, I am working on a borderblurring collage essay, called Ærotomania. Between leisure, labor, utility and entertainment, it exposes how the airplane as an erotic theater, a social text of secret motives, is structured like a language. Like the cubism of Picasso and Braque or Gertrude Stein’s “studies in description”, through “a system to pointing” calls attention to the process of recognizing an object and to the role of language in that process”. Its taking up all my time energy passion – every day and night I am obsessed; stealing into language and flying through planes of meaning and being; thinking about how Marshall McLuhan pronounced, “the airplane is an extension of the entire body” --

We are the letters travelling through space.
Seated letters speaking ourselves 
against the sky inverted through flying circuits 
coded ciphers secrets’ shaded silence 
of shuttered truance

We are the letters, the interletters between rows of text
awake / in the flux of discomfiture

The spoken sentence 
between destinations
of dissemblance
liaised in the labor of 
hours aisles eros sorrows aeros

parataxiing down the runway

in the heft of day --

Friday 8 November 2019

Alexus Erin : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Intuition/ asking the poem “what’s the deal here, anyway?” and letting it tell me.

Natalie Lim : part four

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

I have a couple poems I always come back to in different situations. I read Natalie Wee's "Least of All" and Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" when I am trying to hold myself more gently, Danusha Laméris' "Small Kindnesses" on days when I need to be convinced the world isn't all bad, and Ada Limón's "What I Didn't Know Before" when I want to be reminded what love looks like. But my heart poem is "Good Bones" by Maggie Smith—I know every word by memory, and will for the rest of my life.

Thursday 7 November 2019

A.W. French : part one

Andrew William (A.W.) French is a poet who was born and raised in North Vancouver, British Columbia. French holds a BA in English from Huron University College at Western University and is pursuing an MA in English at UBC. His poems and book reviews have recently appeared in Train: a poetry journal, The Lamp, The Hamilton Review of Books, PRISM International, and a number of other journals across North America and the UK. French grills his favourite emerging and established writers on Page Fright: A Literary Podcast.

How important is music to your poetry?

I came to poetry through hip-hop, which was a weird way for me to fall into the form. I’ve always been really into writing, but when I listened to the spoken-word that some of my favourite rappers had done, it got me into poetry. I spent a lot of time as a teenager trying to write bad spoken-word that never showed up anywhere because I wanted to emulate those rappers, and that slowly took me to writing page poems. From that experience I took a sense of rhythm I still consider integral to my work. I learned how to use words more creatively and started to develop a sense of humour in my writing as well from writing in that style. Humour is something I see as being important for my poems, especially given the heavier topics I tend to tackle with what I write.

I do write in a way that most people, I think, would consider independent of music, and I think that’s important to note here. Just because music brought me to poetry doesn’t mean my poems are pulsing with musicality. I like to think I can find some sort of colloquial musicality in the way that I write, but that’s a tough goal to achieve, and I don’t know if I’m actually anywhere near there yet… that’s for the reader to judge. I’d like to write more about music and the songs that have influenced me, and I frequently listen to instrumental music while I write, but I think it would be a bit of a stretch to call my work inherently ‘musical’.

Michael Ruby : part five

Why is poetry important?

There are a lot of reasons, probably an infinite number of reasons, why poetry is important. I’m going to let a few spill out of me. Poetry is an ancient verbal art form, in continuous use for thousands of years. Much of the earliest surviving writing is poetry, including many scriptures. Other verbal art forms, such as narrative, drama and philosophizing, often begin as poetry. Another major verbal art form, song lyrics, is never far from poetry.

Poetry is all of the poetry ever spoken or written, most lost forever, but much not lost, including lengthy poetic traditions in a number of languages. All of those poems to enjoy, be moved by, learn from! In this language alone, English, the poetic tradition is vast, spanning roughly 700 years, peaking in the late 1500s and 1600s. Even with its much shorter history, the American poetic tradition is already vast.

Poetry is memorable language, probably a feature of all good writing. Poetry is often compressed language, without unnecessary syllables, without anything unnecessary. Language that calls attention to itself—to the sounds, the words—not just the meaning. Poetry entrances the listener. Poetry slows down the reader. Poetry is language that is savored instead of consumed.

Like painting and other art forms, poetry is always the same, and poetry is always changing. People can paint the way they always have. Poets can write the way they always have. But in our time, the past 175 years or so, poetry has also become the verbal art form where we are most free with language. Poetry is where language is most free.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Emily Lu : part one

Emily Lu was born in Nanjing. She earned her B.Sc. at the University of Toronto, and her M.D. at Queen’s University. Currently completing residency training in psychiatry, she lives in London, Ontario. Her chapbook Night Leaves Nothing New was published by Baseline Press.

Twitter @yyemilylu

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I was a bit dismissive of poetry those years studying pathobiology, which also coincided with the time I started to write poetry again in earnest. Reading and writing poetry has remained a great joy all this time. Reading in particular occupies a vital space where I live. 

Alex Leslie : part six

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

Compression. Instantaneous connections. Chant.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I try to not let a poem finish “at rest.” What I mean is, I don’t think that a poem should end when its constitutive parts come into some nice and satisfying relationship with each other, or when “conclusions” have been made. I am not trying to induce catharsis in readers; I’m not interested in “moving” readers. I’m interested, more than anything, in the moment where it feels the poem has put its hand into the world and dislodged something, but the something is unclear enough that there is a moment of panic. A poem of mine ends, I hope, with a feeling akin to the feeling that you forgot something, but are not sure what, or the feeling that you are being watched, but are not sure from where, or the feeling that you are anxious, but are not sure what there is to be anxious about. I know a poem is finished when I’ve torqued its parts into that kind of surprise.

Margo LaPierre : part five

How does a poem begin?

With the writing of it. I don’t have a plan for the poem before I start. There may be a sense of an empty room, and the goal is to activate the space—see what happens when I spill words and images. Perhaps they hook or mirror or float or make no sense at all. Most often I write on my laptop which is light and portable, and increasingly I jot poem babies on my Notes app in-between errands, or right before I fall asleep. It’s like my ego has dislodged by that point and I’m finally just a gentle being of erratic expression. In the morning I retrieve those fragments. Here’s one: “Fall in love with someone who has allergy to scoville and farts.” I have yet to find a use for it.

Monday 4 November 2019

Julia Bloch : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Very—and the poetry is important to the music. I come from a family of musicians—pianists, violinists, harpsichordists—so I’m lucky to feel at home in art and art making and especially music. I grew up surrounded by instruments and sheet music and going to performances, chamber music parties, rehearsals. I still practice when I can find the time on the upright piano I found on Craigslist, and I’ve collaborated with my father on a couple of libretti. When a composer with the Network for New Music in Philadelphia wrote a new piece for one of my poems, I was stunned by how much the structures of the music spoke to the structures of the language and how much the song could help the poem say in phrasing, modulation, tempo, all completely reimagined off the page.

M.W. Jaeggle : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

I often compose my poetry to some sort of rhythm, though seldom to anything consciously predetermined. The rhythm of a poem typically appears when the images begin to rub shoulders. Sometimes this friction feels like the experience of music.

I often listen to music while writing, though only when I know the music really well. I can focus on the writing when I know there’s familiar music between me and the world. When I don’t know the music, I shift my attention from the writing to the music. I like to think I know enough music to keep things from growing stale, but my partner would say otherwise.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Albert Dumont : part four

Why is poetry important?

My poetry is important because it allows people who read my poems, a glimpse of my soul.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Syd Lazarus : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Darcie Wilder, Tommy Pico, Billy Ray Belcourt, Sina Queyras, Dionne Brand, Porpentine, and Gwen Benaway are who come to mind. While she's not a poet, Helen Oyeyemi also inspires my work greatly.

However, on a personal level working with Liz Howard was a tremendous honor and did wonders for my voice and courage.

Friday 1 November 2019

Alexus Erin : part one

Alexus Erin is an American poet and performer, living in the UK. Her poetry has previously appeared in Potluck Magazine, The Melanin Collective, The Nervous Breakdown, The Audacity (audacityzine.com), American Society of Young Poets, God Is in the TV, LEVELER, Silk + Smoke and a host of others. She was the 2018 Fellow of the Leopardi Writers Conference and a performer at Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2018). Her screenplay, American Lotus Project, won an award at Temple University’s Diamond Film Festival. Her chapbooks Two Birds, All Moon (2019) and St. John’s Wort (forthcoming- 2019) were published by Gap Riot Press and Animal Heart Press, respectively. Erin’s full-length collection, Cartoon Logic, Cartoon Violence is forthcoming (2020) from Cervena Barva Press.

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

I think structural aspects of lyrical poems have access to the expression of the embodied experience in really resonant ways. So many contemporary poets are also using enjambment, page-space and alinearity in order to interrogate memory and use self-reflection to confront the reader. I saw a wacky meme on the internet the other day that said, “I’m handing out flyers that say ‘confront yourself.’” I think poets that choose to forgo traditional formatting can get readers to do just that: put change to work, use discomfort as an invitation. I think fracturing says a lot. Negative space is your friend. Time is relative and then constructed, etc.

Natalie Lim : part three

How does your work first enter the world? Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

My poems usually start as a bullet point in the notes app on my phone—I write down all sorts of things I’ve noticed or pulled from conversations around me, images that won’t leave my head, the remnants of a dream I’ve just woken up from. These bullet points are the jumping-off point for me when I sit down to write.

I currently have a few close friends that I share my poetry with on a regular basis, although I would love to join a writer’s group at some point in the future!

Thursday 31 October 2019

Michael Ruby : part four

What are you working on now?

From 1999 to 2006, I wrote a book of poems called Compulsive Words, based on a collection of 150 words that appeared repeatedly during automatic writing, often taking over my poems. In 2015, I was able to collect an additional 800 compulsive words that had emerged in automatic writing since 1999, to free-associate on hundreds of those words, to undergo hypnosis on the most frequent words, and even to learn something about neurobiology from a daughter in college. I started a prose treatise, What Are Compulsive Words?, which I work on from time to time. Since I’m nowhere near finishing it, I’m going to take this chance to summarize my main conclusions and “get them out there.” This is what I think I’ve discovered:

1. When we make a surrealist poetic gesture, such as thinking “I’m going to look at the blue ocean water and write whatever words appear in my mind,” many of the verbal areas in the brain light up at once. A large number of the words we know are readily available to us, unlike during conversation, including words in foreign languages and words we don’t know the meaning of. The vast gulf between common and uncommon words is abolished, as in the dictionary, where they mingle on every page. I think this equivalence of common and uncommon words explains the seeming pretentiousness of much unconscious writing—and perhaps, by analogy, the baroque quality of much surrealist and psychedelic art.

2. When we make a surrealist poetic gesture—and perhaps a meditative gesture—of listening to whatever words appear in our minds, something else happens as well: We discover a particular group of words that appear repeatedly, often taking over the discourse. Surprisingly, these compulsive words don’t seem to appear in conversation, conventional poetry or prose. Their existence only emerges in unconscious-based poetry. Like inner voices heard in the last seconds before sleep, they inhabit a rarely experienced stratum of consciousness. If my theory is correct and doesn’t only apply to a few people, everyone has their own trove of supercharged words that can only become visible during surrealist composition. We each have our own very specific private language, but we’re highly unlikely to know it.

3. It’s somewhat troubling that when we make a gesture of Sixties freedom—“I’m just going to write whatever appears in my mind, man, you know?”—a specific group of words forces itself upon us, taking over our discourse, actually hemming us in, unless we consciously reject them or pick and choose among them.

Tanis MacDonald : part five

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I think when I started writing poetry I was looking for a language that would reach farther than I could. I felt small but the language felt ever-expansive. I don’t think I would have said it quite that way at the time, but in retrospect I can say that I wanted a bigger language or a broader canvas. That’s still true for me. The change is that when I first started writing, I would have called that desire for a bigger language merely a personal interest. Now I think of that “personal interest” as being necessarily tied up in the complexities of the world we live in. The personal is the everythingness. 

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Razielle Aigen : part five

What are you working on?

Shifting into the land of concrete/visual poetry, I’m currently at work on a eco-poetic text-based installation, programmed to be showcased as part of a collaborative interdisciplinary event July 2020.

Alex Leslie : part five

How does your work first enter the world? Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

Yeah, I exchange work with fellow writers from time to time. It’s very ad hoc and I don’t really have a stable sense of a reader. More like exchanges that happen depending on who I’m talking to, or who I run into. Some work enters the world through sending it to journals, and having a conversation with the editor. I was very grateful to work with Karen Solie on Vancouver for Beginners. She’s an incredibly sensitive reader.

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué : part one

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué is a gay, Latino Leo living in Chicago. He is the author of Losing Miami (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2019), Jazzercise is a Language (The Operating System, 2018), and Oil and Candle (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2016). He is also the author of chapbooks on gay sex, Cher, the Legend of Zelda, and anxious bilingualism. He is currently a PhD candidate at the /University of Chicago.

Photo credit: Nash Jenkins.

How does a poem begin?

In the spot of least resistance. Anywhere where the real and an imaginary model of the real seem out of joints enough to produce a third space, like the center of a Venn diagram. I try to begin poems with a phrase that won’t leave my head. Here’s a recent opener that I never made into a full poem: “Simply put, …”