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, …”

Margo LaPierre : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been reading plenty of chapbooks, thanks to rob mclennan’s above/ground press to which I absolutely recommend getting a subscription (the 2020 season is just beginning). I recently read Adam Sol’s “How a Poem Moves,” a collection of essays. Favourite collections this year: Trauma Head by Elle Kraljii Gardiner, Charm by Christine McNair.

Monday 28 October 2019

Julia Bloch : part four

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

Bernadette Mayer’s “The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica” is a pretty big touchstone for me. I love the looseness of the lines, the way the lines break kind of haltingly, raggedly. I love the research-informed creative practice—Bernadette is thinking about what the Antarctic explorers went through and, in a way, questioning their story—and the links between past and present. I love how each line, each sentence unit, is like a little essay in itself, turning inside an argument, all accumulating like snow.

M.W. Jaeggle : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes, very much so. When I first started writing, I wanted to write poetry that startled people out emotional torpor, what I thought was the result of the best writing to come out of the Beat Generation. My writing wasn’t any good by any measure, mainly because I understood a desire to shock as giving me license to write about whatever so long as the writing was in a shrill tone. Eventually, I grew into a person who realized that this was all ego, the result of grossly undervaluing the emotional intelligence of others while overestimating my powers of observation. I like to think I have put a lot of distance between the poet I was and the poet I am today.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Albert Dumont : part three

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

Renewal of my creative energy for me, is found in any forest in Algonquin territory. I find answers to all of life’s questions near the trees and in the music of the birds, leaves and rain. In the forest, I am inspired and motivated.

Saturday 26 October 2019

Syd Lazarus : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

WIth the release of my most recent chapbook--How to Lose Friends Without Really Trying (2019) with Frog Hollow Press, I’ve realized that I struggle with keeping what I believe is a consistent voice. I enjoy so many styles of poetry and often want to explore all of them, however this doesn't always make for a linear read for more longform collections. Due to the fact that I didn’t start writing poetry seriously up until a year or so ago, I feel my work’s voice is still very inconsistent--however, this may be more of a concern than a truth.

Friday 25 October 2019

Natalie Lim : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t really know how to explain it—by instinct, I guess, as lame as that sounds. Sometimes I’ll sit back and look at a poem and just get this feeling that it’s done; other times I’ll realize that I need to stop working on a particular piece and come back to it later.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Michael Ruby : part three

How important is music to your writing?

Very important now, though not initially. In the 1980s, modern art had the most influence on my poetry. But in the 1990s, I started listening a lot to postwar classical composers such as Iannis Xenakis and Morton Feldman and Sofia Gubaidulina and Philip Glass while I was revising, and that probably contributed to the increasing abstraction in my poetry. I started listening to the blues then, too, and other 20th century American vocal music. By 1999, I was enjoying the vocal music so much that I wanted to work poetically with lyrics, taking a Free Jazz approach to them. That year, I began my book American Songbook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013), based on recordings of 75 songs from the 1920s until 1999. For more than a decade, I was constantly listening to singers I liked in many genres, always on the lookout for a song I wanted to work with poetically. And when I was composing the poems, I might play a phrase over and over until I was happy with the words it displaced within me. I think I made at least one significant observation: Nonverbal sounds such as ooh and ah, woo and hoo, grunts and exclamations directly engage the listener’s “unconscious.” The most popular song ever, “Billie Jean,” has the most nonverbal sounds of any song I’ve ever heard.

When I finished the book in 2013, I was well aware there were countless great singers and songs I hadn’t used, didn’t even know. This knowledge has bothered me through the years. It’s probably a foolish thing to do, and I might never get around to it, but here are some singers and songs I would likely use if I wrote more of these poems: Lonnie Johnson’s “Blues Is Only a Ghost,” Big Bill Broonzy’s “C.C. Rider” and “Black, Brown and White,” T-Bone Walker’s “T-Bone Shuffle,” Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” Tampa Red’s “Let Me Play With Your Poodle,” Blind Willie McTell’s “I Got to Cross the River Jordan,” Memphis Slim’s “Life Is Like That,” The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Patsy Cline’s “South of the Border,” Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World,” Buck Owens’s “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” Gene Chandler’s “You Don’t Love Me No More,” The Staple Singers’ “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray,” Bessie Griffin’s “Too Close to Heaven,” Martha Reeves’s “Love Makes Me Do These Things,” Ronnie Spector’s “Be My Baby,” Brenda Holloway’s “I’ll Always Love You,” Teddy Pendergast’s “You Can’t Hide From Yourself,” Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” Johnny Lee’s “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” And I have to do something by Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Albert Collins, Willie Nelson….

Tanis MacDonald : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I read Elee Kraljii Gardiner’s Trauma Head recently and love the way she uses language in that book-length poem to write about the experience of having a mini-stroke and recovering. Through this exploration, the book becomes a narrative of sense-making and dissociation, and is underscored by the protagonist’s navigation of the medical system. It’s a text that makes use of slippages and phonetic play of all kinds but still adheres to a narrative of injury and healing, so that a reader can follow the narrative while checking out the risky language use. Since I am always re-reading, I returned to Dionne Brand’s thirsty a little while ago, and was struck anew with how tender and fierce her writing is. That’s not a new thing to say about Brand, but after reading a lot of prose, returning to Brand’s rich and exacting poetics feels like breathing a different kind of air. Nobody writes Toronto the way Brand does; in thirsty, she calls the city “the feral amnesia of us all.” 

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Razielle Aigen : part four

How does a poem begin?/How do you know when a poem is finished?

Disclaimer: This question will be answered with an unabashed overuse of the ellipses . . . my second favourite form of punctuation; the first being the semicolon.

A poem begins in the ether … and in some sense, you could say it never properly “begins” nor “ends”… rather, it exists as a continuum some-where in the metaphysical 4th dimension…That said, it is also very physical …very much of this world … beginning with a trace, the mo-ment you put pen to paper — literally: ink on the page! This is the po-em’s access point of entry into this reality… As for when or how a poem definitively ends, harder to say…

Alex Leslie : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yeah. When I started out, I was very attached to a sense of pacing, phrasing, creating a certain feeling. Now I’m equally interested in poetry that is abrasive, or startling. I try to read very broadly. I don’t have a unified sense of what poetry “is.”

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Margo LaPierre : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Punctuating it! It seems to be a point of individual style and I haven’t found my punctuation voice. I change my mind often. The terminal point, the comma, the question of capitalization. Maybe I’m uptight and have a hard time letting go of prose rules. It makes me feel like I’m going to a party trying to decide which hat to wear but none of them look right. Maybe just don’t wear the hat. In my new work I barely use any punctuation or line breaks and it’s freeing.

Monday 21 October 2019

Julia Bloch : part three

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

Poetry requires only a writing surface & tool (or device); it’s a very accessible art form. But it can also draw us so close to the structures of language and teach us how to be mindful, critical, suspicious of them. It helps us think about scale and stillness and movement. Other art forms can do these things too, in different ways, sure—but I’m pretty partial to the space of poetry, what others have called the field, the compositional field, the sense of possibility, even if you’re writing a poem about how inescapable something like the Western medical complex can feel.

M.W. Jaeggle : part one

M.W. Jaeggle’s writing has appeared in The Antigonish Review, CV2, The Dalhousie Review, Vallum, and elsewhere. He is the author of two chapbooks: Janus on the Pacific (Baseline, 2019) and The Night of the Crash (Alfred Gustav, 2019). He lives in Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish territory.

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins as a perception that breaks the normal, unnoticed flow of things. Something I have experienced interjects into the rhythm of my day and promptly declares, “I am significant.” As I give more attention to this rupture, as I question its significance, I recognize my thinking making the sort of associations that I experience when reading or hearing poetry. These associations then travel to a notebook where they sit for a while. When I return to these associations with sufficient time, then I’m shaping the perception and its attendant thoughts into a poem.

Sunday 20 October 2019

Albert Dumont : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A poem is considered to be finished by me, when my heart responds to hearing its stanzas recited out loud. If a poem doesn’t touch me emotionally or spiritually, it tells me that more work needs to be done.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Syd Lazarus : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes. So much. When I started with poetry I was mimicking what I saw and thought was “standard”--I felt that my voice would only be listened to if I expressed my pain. Superficially, I knew ruminating in my suffering was not the only kind of poetry, but I could not separate from it. Now I know poetry is not just a device for vocalizing one’s own, and ingesting other’s suffering, it is a companion, it is meditative, it is funny, it is thoughtful and sometimes it is just in good fun. I also read poetry more than ever, I love to attend poetry readings more than ever, and this allows me to feel more free with how I write.

Friday 18 October 2019

Sarah A. Etlinger : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem begins with a phrase, image, or idea that won’t leave me alone. If I think of something and it’s still there in a few hours, I write it down and try to use it. Often when I am driving I get inspired by landscapes, so many poems begin there; sometimes poems begin when I am thinking about something I’ve read or encountered, and I want to explore it.

Many other times, poems begin in phrases or stories from other people. I’m fascinated by language in any form, so when I hear a phrase I think is interesting (even if it’s ordinary to the person) or particularly distinctive or rich, I often write it down so I can use it. One example that comes to mind recently is a conversation I had with my best friend where he said “faith is for the gaps”; that phrase is eloquent and interesting and provocative, so I included it a few weeks later in my poem “Transfer.” Another example comes from a conversation I had with a close girlfriend; we were chatting about various things that women tend to talk about, and after our conversation I turned that into “Girl Talk” where I tried to mimic our speech patterns and subject matter the best I could. I’ve also woven in stories or anecdotes from other people into poems; these become details or subjects or even entire poems, sometimes. For instance, the poem “Pieta Reimagined” (from Little Human Things) has as a central conceit a story my mother told me about her friend dying in high school, along with a part of a conversation we had a couple years later about how she wants to be buried. Without those stories, the poem just wouldn’t work.

And of course I would be lying if I didn’t credit other poets/poems I have read that I want to imitate. Kaveh Akhbar’s “River of Milk” was such an incredible poem that stuck with me; particularly, the image of crushing fireflies in his teeth haunted me for weeks. It turned into my poem “The Timekeeper” in which the subject is shaving time beads down to gain more or less time; the final image in that poem includes the speaker watching a time bead being crushed in between her lover’s teeth. A nod to Akhbar, there.

But whatever it is, poems begin for me in language, whether it’s a single word I want to use (recently, “erosion”; “duvet,” “date palm”), a story/ anecdote, or an image I want to explore in some way. The feeling has to be right and the muse has be ready, but poems always begin with words.

Natalie Lim : part one

Natalie Lim is a Chinese-Canadian writer based in Vancouver, B.C. She won the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize and has work published or forthcoming in Room Magazine, Honey & Lime Lit, PRISM international, and more. She is a recent graduate of Simon Fraser University, an unashamed nerd, and a believer in good bones. You can find her on Twitter @nataliemlim.

How did you first engage with poetry?

I’ve been a writer since I was very young, but the world of poetry was truly revealed to me in high school when I stumbled across YouTube videos of spoken word poetry. The lyrical, personal nature of that style resonated deeply with me (and still does), and I owe a lot of my inspiration to poets like Sarah Kay, Sierra DeMulder and Shane Koyczan.

Thursday 17 October 2019

Michael Ruby : part two

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

When I was in college in the late 1970s, my friends and I worshipped the poetry of Wallace Stevens, especially his later poetry. I would subsequently “tergiversate” and prefer his first book, Harmonium. More lines of late Stevens are imprinted in my brain than of any other poet. I reflexively quote Stevens lines to myself in situations that sometimes require far more than renewal, sometimes far less. Here are some of those lines.

When I left work in the early morning hours on election night in 2010, 2014 and 2016, I thought this line from “The Auroras of Autumn”:

                                  The cancellings,
The negations are never final.

I think this on the occasion of the big defeats in life, the big losses, even the ones I can’t recover from. I want to think it.

On a summer afternoon when big clouds fill a vast blue sky and what year it is in my life briefly doesn’t matter, I think these lines, also from “The Auroras of Autumn”:

It is a theater floating through the clouds,
Itself a cloud, although of misted rock
And mountains running like water, wave on wave...

By the way, how about the title “The Auroras of Autumn”! And yet, when I recently re-read the poem, I blanched at a likely racist line, which I will not quote.

When someone disses me, I try to walk away thinking Stevens’ late title, “A Clear Day and No Memories”.

When my mother was dying in 2012, as an experiment, I pulled out my favorite poetry books to see which would have the most beneficial effect on me. Normally, I just listen to Mahler’s 9th and 10th symphonies at such a time. Nothing spoke to me more than the opening lines of “To an Old Philosoper in Rome”:

On the threshold of heaven, the figures in the street
become the figures of heaven,…

Sometimes when I think back to my teens or early twenties, I think of the penultimate stanza of “Long and Sluggish Lines”:

…Wanderer, this is the prehistory of February.
The life of the poem of the mind has not yet begun.

Another phrase from that same poem I find myself thinking more and more:

…one has been there before.

In the subway, trying to describe what my relation is to an unknown person I’m observing, I often settle on the famous final phrase of “The Snow Man”:

the nothing that is

I wrote a paper as a college sophomore about one of Stevens’ last poems, “Of Mere Being,” that includes these lines:

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.

I use these lines to explain anything I can’t explain.

Tanis MacDonald : part three

Why is poetry important?

I was recently at the launch of Textile magazine, a new literature and culture mag based in Kitchener, and the readers for the night were almost all new writers. There was so much poetry was offered passionately, without apology, with a love for the form’s stretch and give. Fantastic to see and hear!

Poetry is important because it is inherently unreasonable, in the sense that it uses language differently than prose does and because poetry demands a different kind of attention, whether you are reading it or writing it. Poetry asks that readers or listeners think of this language as magnified (or amplified or stripped-down or voluble) or otherwise made noticeably different from everyday speech. And since it sounds and looks different, it can also challenge norms of all kinds. Prose can do this as well – in fact, it’d better! – but poetry attracts people with its strangeness. That’s really necessary, especially in smaller communities or places where people need to find what can be life-changing solidarity in all forms of artistic making.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Razielle Aigen : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

John Cage, Agnes Martin, John Ashbery, Fred Wah, Virginia Woolf, Allan Ginsberg, Gilles Deleuze, Gertrude Stein, Clark Coolidge, to name a few… Not sure if all of these writers would technically be categorized as “poets” per se, but the poetics of their writings have significantly left an imprint on my craft.

Alex Leslie : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When it sort of hums.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Margo LaPierre : part two

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

Images crushed up together, hyper-awareness of breaks, white space, caesura, and line relationships seem akin to voice (formed by physical vocal cords) and body language (strength and pain expressed through/against space). There’s natural resistance in self-aware poetry. Poetry may be more mould than content. I don’t see it as an escape or distraction, though I speak for myself. Poetry recognizes you in your awkward body, your messy mind.

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.    

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Razielle Aigen : part two

How does your work first enter the world?

Hard to say. I really don’t know where poems come a from…the oracle speaks and I listen…

Alex Leslie : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I was a voracious reader growing up, but in terms of poetry that engaged me as an aspiring writer, I remember seeking out Anne Michaels’ poetry in high school – books like Miner’s Pond – because we read Fugitive Pieces in class and that book rocked my little world. I kind of spread out from there, reading contemporary poetry, but this very lyrical fiction writer was really the thing that opened the door for me.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Margo LaPierre : part one

Margo LaPierre is a queer, neurodivergent Canadian poet and fiction editor. Her debut collection of poetry, Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes, was published by Guernica Editions. She is a poetry selector for Bywords Magazine and Membership Chair of the Editors Canada Ottawa-Gatineau branch.

What are you working on?

Two things at the moment: a new poetry collection and a novel, both works-in-progress. The poetry collection is strictly structured in form, but its content is wild and energetic. I was inspired by chaos magic and performative utterances, which change reality while describing it. I have bipolar disorder, which makes routine a challenge for me, so to write a collection with specific formulaic rules feels like growth, and it’s surprisingly fun. The novel is set in Toronto thirty years from now and follows the formation of a young family who navigate mental illness and the world of sex trafficking to create a loving home for their new daughter and for each other. Aside from writing, I’m also a full-time freelance editor.

Monday 7 October 2019

Julia Bloch : part one

Julia Bloch grew up in Northern California and Sydney, Australia. She earned a BA in political philosophy from Carleton College, an MFA in creative writing from Mills College, and a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Letters to Kelly Clarkson, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and Valley Fever. She is the recipient of the Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Award from the San Francisco Foundation, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and other honors. She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania and is an editor at Jacket2. She lives in Philadelphia.

Photo credit: Ryan Collerd.

What are you working on?

I am finalizing the pages of my third book, The Sacramento of Desire, which is being published in 2020. The book is about fertility, desire, and the queer experience of assisted reproduction; Allison Cobb calls it an “horological epic quest poem” and Sawako Nakayasu calls it “an urgent call.” I am also writing a new book, which will be a hybrid critical-creative work that includes poetry, essay, and memoir. It also deals with the political and social textures of assisted reproduction and queer kinship, but includes deep dives into queer theory and climate change grief.

Valerie Witte : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

In Forces of Imagination, Barbara Guest opened my eyes to the possibilities of analyzing writing and art, illustrating how theory (never an interest of mine) could be accessible, beautiful; how a discussion of art can itself be art. (I later became a member of Kelsey Street, which published Forces.) Charles Olson’s essay “Projective Verse” introduced me to his theory of field poetics, giving me permission to view the page as a space where a poet can feel free to create a form that is “an extension of content.” From Gertrude Stein, I learned the possibilities of repetition, and of bypassing the rules of punctuation and grammar to achieve something particular in a poem. At Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, I took a class called “Martian Poetics,” inspired by Jack Spicer’s Vancouver lectures—poetics of the strange. My chapbook It’s been a long time since I’ve dreamed of someone involves a speaker communicating with an alien of sorts and features communication via radio signals—all references to these lectures. I encountered most of these poetic icons at the University of San Francisco—that is where my writing completely changed, essentially from being somewhat traditional to being experimental in form and content—a shift resulting from encountering these poets and others in the program, as well as exposure to the work of my classmates and teachers.

Saturday 5 October 2019

A.H. Lewis : part five

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is the purest expression of self that exists with written words. It is art and honesty and freedom and sound and light and everything in between. Its boundlessness and inclusivity invite people to bleed themselves dry of all that plagues them and offers them a hug at the end. Whether you’re reading poetry, writing it, or both, you’re drawn into the arms of every person who has ever felt anything and you’re reminded that as long as poetry exists, you’re never alone.  Poetry is the ubiquitous articulation of the human condition and there is no element on earth more unifying than that.

Friday 4 October 2019

Sarah A. Etlinger : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

When I was in high school and college, I loved T.S. Eliot (and I still do; poetry often begins and ends in Eliot for me). I admired his intellectualism, his blending of references and allusions, his lovely lines, etc. He still has the power to move me unlike almost any other. Before I encountered “The Waste Land” and “Four Quartets”, I didn’t know one could be so moved by experience and faith and, in many cases, the mind.  And then came e.e. cummings whose beautiful abstractions continue to haunt me. But since then I’ve turned to other poets for various other reasons; W.S. Merwin is a recent influence—his sheer beauty and ability to say something so simply but reach toward the divine is incredible. I also love how he crafts his lines; he eschews punctuation and lets the line/ line breaks do a lot of the work. And he’s a virtuoso of rhythm. Language, in Merwin’s hands, is born anew.
Rilke’s simplicity is increasingly becoming an influence, too, and I’m intrigued by the ways that he blends spirituality with simple diction. His poems are often short, too and this is something I want to work on.

But I also love and admire Gwendolyn Brooks, Eavan Boland, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. They render women’s experiences in everyday vernacular (though Millay and Brooks often turn to sonnets/rhyme/forms) that is so powerful and important. There’s something about the way these women blend memory and the everyday, the mundane and the ethereal, that invites me to visit their work again and again.  And lately I have turned to Jorie Graham for the way she manages to walk the precarious line between abstract and concrete, and yet somehow remains so accessible.

Thursday 3 October 2019

Tanis MacDonald : part one

Tanis MacDonald is the author of several books of poetry and essays, including Out of Line: Daring to Be an Artist Outside the Big City. She is the co-editor of GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times (2018) and the editor of Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt (2006). Her book, The Daughter’s Way, was a finalist for the Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian Literary Criticism. Her latest book is Mobile (Book*hug, 2019). She is the winner of the Bliss Carman Prize (2003) and the Mayor’s Poetry City Prize for Waterloo (2012). She has taught at the Sage Hill Writing Experience, and in 2017 won the Robert Kroetsch Teaching Award from the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs. Originally from Winnipeg, she teaches Canadian Literature and Creative Writing at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Photo credit: John Roscoe.

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

I wouldn’t have figured out a writing practice if it hadn’t been for my first writers’ group in Toronto in the 1990s. I was part of that group for about five years, and we met in person every two or three weeks to read each other’s work; that group was really important to me. I know that this won’t always be possible at all times and places, but I wish for all writers an experience – even just a brief one – in which they can be part of a group of supportive peers who are generous and smart and take care of each other. There’s nothing else like it. And for a long time when I was an emerging writer, I wouldn’t send anything out to a journal that hadn’t been workshopped with these poet friends. But then life invaded: I moved and moved again, to three different cities in a decade, and all those moves pretty much upset the system of small-group writer support I had refined up until then. Online connection is good, but I’m still pretty envious of folks who have writer friends who they can see all the time. I like using Skype (or even an actual telephone call – so old-school!) to stay in touch with writer friends who live far from me.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Razielle Aigen : part one

Razielle Aigen is a Montreal-born writer and artist. She is the author of the forthcoming chapbook, Light Waves The Leaves (above/ground press 2020). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Entropy, Deluge, Contemporary Verse 2, Bad Dog Review, Dovecote Magazine, Half a Grapefruit, Sewer Lid, Fresh Voices, Five:2:One, California Quarterly, and elsewhere. Razielle holds a B.A. in History and Contemporary Studies from Dalhousie/King’s University, and is an alumna of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University.

More of Razielle’s work can be found at and through Twitter @ohthepoetry.

How did you first engage with poetry?

Despite my challenge with setting things in chrono-logical order, I’d say my first poetic engagements started early …probably around age nine, when I first wrapped my head around the phrase, “Today’s tomorrow’s yesterday.” This totally blew my nine year old mind, likely creating channels for an appreciation of the circularity of language, carving out neural pathways for my mind to later appreciate poets such as Gertrude Stein and others whose language is enjoyably disorienting. This moment, or at least this crystallized memory of a moment, shaped the way I relate to the bendy nature of time. In that intuitive, nine year old quantum understanding, I came to realize that we are not necessarily linear beings in that “future-effects-the-past kind of way” — which is, I think, an essential component of the poetic mind’s ability to create disjointed imagistic and temporal mashups, that, despite all rationality, somehow, cohere at some level of intelligibility.

Then, as a teen, I’d say my sense of the poetic was awakened by Bjork. As her deafest fan, it was her lyrical surrealism that shaped the way I later encountered and embraced Breton and the Surrealists….I still think that surrealism is probably my signpost for the magic that signals those other worldly places we are transported to and by the poetry.

Alex Leslie : part one

Alex Leslie has published two collections of poetry, Vancouver for Beginners, out from Book*hug this October, and The things I heard about you, shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch award for innovative poetry. Alex has also published two collections of short stories, We All Need to Eat (Book*hug) shortlisted for the 2019 BC Book Prize for fiction and named a Top 10 book of 2018 by NOW Magazine, and People Who Disappear (Freehand) shortlisted for a Lambda Award for debut fiction.

Photo credit: Johnny Alam.

What are you working on?

Right now I’m working on my first novel.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Lesley Wheeler : part five

Why is poetry important? 

Each strong poem creates a pocket universe you can travel to for a while. I can handle this world more resourcefully when I don’t feel trapped in it.