Thursday, 31 December 2020

Charlotte Newbury : part three

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

Clarity and freedom of image. There’s also something to be said for that specific feeling you get after reading some poems that doesn’t really have a name - it’s a mix between comfort, recognition, and the sensation of being punched in the gut. Poetry doesn’t need you to pull your punches in the same way other forms do. A novel-length work that did to its readers on every page what Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things does, for example, would probably have to come with a health warning.

Noah Falck : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Lately, I’ve been reading more novels and collections of essays, which is rare for me. However, I’ve been slowly dipping into and finding joy in Rick Barot’s During the Pandemic, Mary Ruefle’s Dunce, Matt McBride’s City of Incandescent Light, and Adam Clay’s To Make Room for the Sea. I’ve been returning to W.S. Merwin’s The Lice, Larry Levis’s The Dollmaker’s Ghost, Lucille Clifton’s Collected, & Laura Kasischke’s Space, In Chains


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Jai Hamid Bashir : part two

Why is poetry important?

Poetry reminds us that we are cellular beings composed mostly of emptiness, and at our best, the potential of another elsewhere that resides inside of us. I recently found in The Paris Review the Italian poet, Antonella Anedda said, “I write to intensify reality and at the same time to undermine it.” That is very similar to my negotiations of wanting to write poetry and devote myself to the craft. However, on a level of being a reader, poetry, especially with the way pronouns, and other mechanics of the medium, such as enjambment, allow us a type of embodiment and intimacy. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Carrie Olivia Adams : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I believe, perhaps rightly or perhaps wrongly, that one of my best strengths as a writer comes from being a close editor of others’ poems through my role at Black Ocean. And so, when I look at my own work, I am able to do so about as dispassionately as possible. There are so many times when I’ve gone back to a poem and cut lines or stanzas that were very emotionally close to me—they may have resonated with a specific moment or a particular sensation when they were written—but in the end, they did not live up to the strength of the poem and could not stay. I don’t want to be overly attached to anything in a poem, so attached it prevents me from seeing clearly whether it belongs there or has earned the right to stay. So, for me, there is usually a moment when I re-read a poem in the revision process and it feels like it was written by someone other than me, yet, someone who has intuited my entire experience. When the poem feels like another me speaking to me with the greatest empathy, then I know, it is finished.

Michael Edwards : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Seamus Heaney has always been a strong influence on my writing, in the way the lens of poetry can focus on many subjects, like family, upbringing, myth — His work reminds me that poetry is expansive. More recently Kayla Czaga, my extraordinarily talented mentor at SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, has heavily informed the way I think about writing, specifically poetry. She's helped me to explore other chambers in the poetic dwelling and supported a sort of redevelopment of my personal writing practice. Kayla also pointed me toward reading poets like Raoul Fernandes, Curtis LeBlanc and Rob Taylor, which has felt like a school of poets with which my own work is compatible. I’m constantly finding myself nodding in a “yes, yes, yes” to their aesthetic.

Monday, 28 December 2020

Michael Igoe : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I am really never “all done” with a poem. I review it in a different stage and revise it. I can always clean up anything I write at a later point in time. Rephrasing and structure are very important! 4. A handful of poets have shaped my worldview and my own work. Rimbaud, Whitman, Eliot, Adrienne Rich and Anne Sexton ( to name a few).


Sunday, 27 December 2020

Donatella du Plessis : part one

Donatella du Plessis is a micropoet from Durban, South Africa. Her poetry has appeared in Feminine Collective, Idle Ink, Dust Poetry Magazine and The Write Launch

How does a poem begin?

Poems begin when I see something that disturbs me. Often, it’s something really small, like a dead bird, a vase of flowers, or a cupboard with breathing holes cut into it, but I will spend a lot of time agonising about why that particular object appears that way in that particular moment. 

Pascale Potvin : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Too often, I’ll put together a little collection of words, feel a stop, then send it off somewhere only to add to it, the next day. I’m learning to wait for the sense that my poem couldn’t possibly sustain any more pressure without breaking. Stop signs and red lights, they’re just temporary; a reader needs a car crash.


Saturday, 26 December 2020

Adam Ai : 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?

Poems seem enter from somewhere else and leave in print so they are only mine for a little while and I’m part of a larger process. I appreciate the time I have with them more. There’s so much about the process you aren’t aware of until it hits you. I used to say nobody cared what I have to say so why bother and I guess I don’t have that excuse anymore. I lost a lot of years thinking that way. But it takes what it takes and you can only start from where you are. I realized this too late for my mom to see any of these successes. She knew me as she knew me, and we had little to be proud of. If I had stopped running earlier I might have been able to help us both. Given both of us reasons. Healing. Forgiveness. So the cost of that kind of thinking is high.

I heard a poem isn’t finished until somebody reads it and I’m finding that’s true. Poems I thought I’d probably keep on editing into different forms privately and just not show anyone have become something outside me and really do seem “done” – warts and all. So I’m learning something about letting go in that sense, and it’s a blessing of the process I didn’t see coming and a balm in a year of crisis. My poems were each a moment for me – but a moment I couldn’t let go of – and now they’re a sort of benchmark for how much I’m learning and how far I’ve come.

I really didn’t know the first letter of each line in a poem doesn’t have to be capitalized, for instance. I’m serious. There’s a word for that, but I can’t quite come up with this moment. Naïve will have to do. But that’s what happens when you spend all your time reading Emily Dickinson and other old-schoolers but have no exposure to modern poetry, or know any poets or anyone really interested in poetry. It’s just not my background. I learned what ekphrastic means the other day – I’ve been writing poems about pieces of art in other disciplines for a long time, dudes. A long time to not know that. But again, we all have to start somewhere. 

Nobody sees a poem of mine until I submit it, and since I never simultaneously submit or show the same version of a poem to successive editors it’s always a shot in the dark. I have to trust my instincts and that’s a useful, if rigorous process for a poet I think. I see now that many poets have a circle of people they trust and show their poems so they can get feedback and a sense of how it’ll hit people once it gets into the world. It sounds lovely but it’s not my story. If I leave the house with broccoli in my teeth I have to live with that. The lesson? Poems are never perfect. And they aren’t supposed to be. That’s not the point. Perfect isn’t a reasonable goal. So, I’ll live even if I’m embarrassed and hey, makes me push for the next poem to be even better. 

Anyway I figure the more varied and diverse voices we have in the poetry world the more potential there is we get a shot at saving someone. So I’m okay with being weird. I’m relieved I’m not the only one.


Matthew Carey Salyer : part three

How does a poem begin?

It begins with a line typed on the page and the line has a little tail that hangs down and curls halfway under itself until it becomes the line below. I cut that tail off and it regrows. I cut it off again. It regrows. When at last it winds across another line or two, I can see what kind of animal it is. Then I can begin to see what other kinds of animals it might be able to live around. For me, everything depends on husbanding the growth of that first line, its development into something approximating a stanza. I really do tend to think of it like some little animal that intrudes in the field of vision, a Pangur Bán, because it has nothing to do with my own intention for the page. I admit it to companionship. It comes from somewhere out in the real world – from anywhere, really – but it must be from the real world or I have no use for it. For the better part of this quarantined year, my world has been a ten-block radius, so now all my poems begin at the northernmost terminal of the Jerome Avenue Line. I know whether a particular poem is possible or not through the process of cajoling that line into an initial stanza. Whereas I need to see the first line on the page, the rest of the stanza happens first in the mind and the ear. When it appears in the page, it is pure transcription. I perform little revision of a poem after I draft it but a great deal of variation plays out in translation between the eye’s first line and the ear’s stanza.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Carolyne Van Der Meer : part five

Why is poetry important? 

For me, poetry can often make us see something, realize something, discover something, just in the reading of a short verse. That’s why I think it’s important. I’m looking for the “a-ha” moment that poems often give me, the delight and surprise I can feel when the poet makes me see something in a way that I hadn’t considered before. We need more a-ha moments. They force us to take a deeper look—at ourselves—and at what’s around us.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Charlotte Newbury : part two

How does a poem begin? 

For me it usually starts with a conflict of some kind. If I ever lose sight of a poem as I’m working through it I ask myself, ‘where is the friction here?’ That’s how I get back to the meat of it; the disparate parts that bump together and make me want to write the poem to tease them out in the first place. 

Noah Falck : part two

What are you working on?

My daily water intake. Keeping the idea of the fairy tale alive in our house during a pandemic. The glow in the darkness of it all. The methodology of hide-and-seek. Flexibility both in idea and body. A fitness of empathy. And leaning into the joy of the tiny, of the small, of the momentary. Like the light in the room now, pooling through the window onto another virtual school day and later the noticing of a dog muscling through the magic hour in the field behind our house. Yes too, poems and sentences that are patterned out of the day, out of whatever time we use to build a life. 


Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Lauren Camp : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

I came to poetry in part through years of music-mixing for my local public radio station. My ears had become highly attuned to sounds and the way they organized, and then to the segues I chose to make as I shifted from one song or genre to the next. All those years in the lap of jazz, with its improvisations and eccentric angles, as well as its melodies, crossovers and minor chords. All that aural attention slid right into me and came out on the page. It taught me to wriggle through a poem, creating different “listens” for the reader. 

Jai Hamid Bashir : part one

Born to Pakistani-American immigrant artists, Jai Hamid Bashir was raised in The American West. Jai has been published by The American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Guernica MagazineThe Cortland Review, Academy of American Poets, and others. Jai is a graduate of Columbia University and the recent winner of awards such as Zócalo’s Ninth Annual Poetry Prize.

Photo credit: Jordan Finlay

How does a poem begin?

Poetry and dreams are obvious bedfellows for my practice. Writing is a complex sensory experience. I often observe the poem in what I can best describe as my “mind’s eye,”  and then seek to find the most precise linguistic textures and music for that particular image. I  often position myself as a poet as someone who also trained as a painter and performer, but found poetry to be the best craft and medium by which to share a phenomenon that happens quite naturally.   


Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Carrie Olivia Adams : part one

Carrie Olivia Adams lives in Chicago with her husband and two cats. She is the Promotions and Marketing Communications Director for the University of Chicago Press and the poetry editor for Black Ocean. Her books include Be a thing of memory (forthcoming from Tolsun Books in 2021), Operating Theater, Forty-One Jane Doe’s, and Intervening Absence in addition to the chapbooks “Proficiency Badges,” “Grapple,” “Overture in the Key of F,” and “A Useless Window.” When she’s not making poems, she’s making biscuits.

How does a poem begin?

I wish I knew. Then, I’d recreate it every time I feel lost or unsure of myself. I am a serial note taker. I have a notebook in my mind where I record words and phrases that roll around my thoughts and trip me up in dreams. And I have a notebook on my desk and numerous Google docs of half starts, half middles, half ends. But, in the end, I think I approach a poem similar to how a novelist might approach a story—with research. I am constantly drawn to found text, the work of the archivist, the archaeologist, and the translator.  I get curious about a subject or an idea—medicine, architecture, choreography, cave dwellers, girl scouts—and then I let myself go down the rabbit hole collecting scraps of language, facts, and points of view along the way. And then there’s a vibration or a slow burning fire, and I know the connection has been made between this other world of ideas and my own syntax. Then, I know, it’s beginning.

Michael Edwards : part one

Michael Edwards is a poet, writer, editor and busy dad living in Vancouver, BC on traditional, unceded Musqueam territories. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio Online at SFU (2020), he has been published in various online journals including Talking Strawberries, Cypress, Cabinet of Heed and Headline Poetry. Michael is also the founding editor of Red Alder Review, an online publication focused on building connections between writers and the wider community. michaelwriter.home.blog // Twitter: @michaelwrites1

Photo credit: Erin Edwards

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I think often about what Alice Notley said regarding the difficulty of ‘starting again.’ Each poem demands its own form, its own constraints, its own patterning of language. In starting again, there is a depth of mental resources that is pulled from, in a process that is at the same time labourious and effortless. It’s this kind of a paradoxical venture to write a poem.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Michael Igoe : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

The way I see poetry has changed drastically since I began. I was 15 and was pretty much oblivious. A few musician friends encouraged me to start. It evolved into my lifeblood. 


Sunday, 20 December 2020

Len Gasparini : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Extremely important. A musical note is akin to a stressed or an unstressed word or syllable. It all comes down to rhythm and meter. Everything is rhythm. The life of the cosmos resides in rhythm. I’ve written poems about classical music, rock-and-roll, jazz, and the blues. Most poets nowadays wouldn’t know a dactyl from a doorbell.  If you don’t dance, you don’t know what happens. 

Pascale Potvin : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

Totally. I only really got into writing poetry this year, when I revisited some groupings of words I’ve jotted down over the years. I’m not a musician, but they felt like lyrics at the time since they had distinct melodies to me. It’s in early quarantine that I decided to cut them down to their rawest forms; they still have their melodies, although not as rhyming. 

It’s for that reason I don’t really consider myself a poet, still today. I’ve always just tried to put words together in new ways, to hone distinct impulses.


Saturday, 19 December 2020

Adam Ai : part two

What are you working on?

I bought a copy of Writer’s Market from Barnes & Noble January 1st, 2020 and began submitting poems for the first time. I submitted for about six months, netting 31 acceptances. My mom’s passing has a lot to do with the sudden rush to publish. I figure there’s nothing left to lose – nothing to gain either, but I’m seeing I might be wrong about that. Been carrying them around long enough. After six months I stopped – to catch my breath I think. I never imagined I’d have so many that editors would like what I’m up to. I was just sending everything I had to any magazine I could find with no real idea what I was doing. I figured it out on the fly. My acceptance rate rose as I learned how to be more professional. 

I’ll begin submitting again in the coming weeks. I write every day and I’m reworking older ones, too. I just set up a website – adamaipoems.com – and intend to collect poems I’ve published there. I’m taking my time to put my best work out now that I realize someone might actually publish them! I’m learning so much it’s changed the way I see my poems and I’m growing so much through the process I’m regretful I waited. Now I’m being interviewed about my poems, and how cool is that? I don’t know how it keeps getting better with the poems but it does. I’m humbled with so much to be grateful for and look forward to, when it still feels so often like nothing will ever matter again with mom gone. Not to mention Coronavirus, the riots, and all the other things making this the hardest year. But I’m starting to wonder where poems might take me next – a powerful tonic on days and nights when hope is hard to find. 


Matthew Carey Salyer : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Earlier this year, I read about a sociologist who had managed to walk the length of every street in New York before his death. All five boroughs. Imagine spending a day perched in his ear, how syntactically complex that would be. In metrical terms, this is a trochee cab-hailing town. Queens is anapestic. Staten Island substitutes. Iambs live on the Upper East Side, but who goes there. I think back to F.R. Leavis in The Common Pursuit and elsewhere, his sense of an undercurrent in English poetry that emulates the strangeness, the roughness, of our language as it’s talked: Shakespeare’s “full fathom five,” Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm,” Eliot’s pub-talk about how “Lil’s husband got demobbed.” Those poets who influence my thinking about writing help me translate between the poem-as-occasion and how I talk and what I hear talked. Elizabethans, Jacobeans, Metaphysical Poets. Sir Philip Sidney pushing quantitative meter. I want to hear Method Man reading Astrophil and Stella on the Staten Island Ferry. Richard Howard’s syllabic poems do this for me at a slyer pace. Meghan Maguire Dahn. There are turns in Lucie Brock-Broido, when she talks you “a marmoset getting out of her Great Ape suit,” for example, that inflect this. Roger Reeves. Melissa Green’s Fifty-Two has what I want in a sequence of broken paragraphs. Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns, his “Overlord of the M5.” I can hear it in the cadence of Timothy Donnelly reading Timothy Donnelly at an accelerated rate. I can see it in Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno at mine. The prologue to Langland’s Piers Plowman. Asturo Riley’s Heard-Hoard and “Chord.”   


Friday, 18 December 2020

Carolyne Van Der Meer : part four

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

I don’t know that I want to compare poetry to other art forms in such a binary way. What I like about poetry is the ability it has to tell a story in a very, tight concise manner that can involve multiple layers and many details—through the use of words. I like the way it challenges me to make the story not only rich enough to hold the poem but also powerful enough to jolt the reader’s sensibilities—and to do so in a form that is so short. My goal is to get into the reader’s emotions, to get under his/her skin in that short space. And this is not always a given. It takes work and rework—and more rework. I like all of those ways that poetry challenges me—as a poet and as a reader.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Charlotte Newbury : part one

Charlotte Newbury is a poet from South East England with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter. She likes witchcraft, ecofeminism, and spider plants. Her writing has appeared in LandLocked, perhappened, Rejection Letters, and others. You can find her on Twitter @charnewbpoet.

What are you working on?

Think Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, but written from a voice beyond the climate crisis point of no return. I’ve been wanting to explore this future we’re barrelling towards - we already know so much about what it’s going to look like, operate like, require of us, just not what it’ll feel like. So in the same way O’Hara walks us around his city, frozen in time, and lets us experience those moments with him - that’s what I’m trying to do. It’ll just feel worse, probably. 

Noah Falck : part one

Noah Falck is the author of Exclusions, You Are In Nearly Every Future, and Snowmen Losing Weight. He lives in Buffalo, New York. 

Photo credit: Marcus Jackson

How does a poem begin?

For the most part, the way into a poem is still a mystery to me. I want to say they all begin differently or they all begin the same. Like opening a door to a house you’ve never entered or never even knew existed, but are happy to learn that it does, and you walk through it as if you know exactly where the cookie jar is. Maybe that’s not right. 

Perhaps, it starts with the musicality of the language or an image that keeps appearing in the mind, in the notebook. Sometimes it starts with a question that has no answer or a deep memory that surfaces as to say something more about the self, something more about the world. It could begin in the shower, in a field, in a snowstorm, in bed next to the love of your life. I am certain it begins when you pay attention long enough. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Lauren Camp : part four

How does a poem begin?

It begins because I need to hold something dear or turn over something troubling. It begins with an image, an opening, a dislocation of knowledge. With motion through landscape as much as because my emotional landscape needs to do some unfurling or shifting.  It doesn’t begin until and unless I come crashing into one of these. I don’t write at a set time of day or even every day. I’m not interested in simply filling a blank page. I want what T.S. Eliot wrote, “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” I don’t write to begin. I write to continue. I know this will be a journey because I want the poem to be sensuous even if I am writing about what is not easy or what is, by nature, messy, miserable, or uncontrolled. Every poem is a challenge and every challenge could be a poem. I love that—the sanctuary of such possibility. The uncertainty is a fine motivator.

Jessica Drake-Thomas : part five

How does a poem begin?

I do a lot of research, looking for things that make me feel a certain way. But when I write a poem, it’s because I feel something. It’ll be an overwhelming essence of something ephemeral—like the purplish tint of a twilight, or the grey feeling inside of a haunted house, a spell, a song, or a voice in my mind. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

David Martin : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

I pay quite a bit of attention to the role of sound within my poems, which may not always be euphonious, but I think creates a certain kind of music in the line. Some of the poems that I like  most have bewildered me on my first reading, but I’ve been entranced by the intricacies of their sound patterns. 

Kim Mannix : part five

What poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’m a horror writer too, or trying to be, and a huge Poe fan, so just before Halloween I re-read The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always loved “Annabel Lee” because of how deceptively simple it seems. And it’s beautiful to read out loud.

I just finished Michael Prior’s Burning Province, which was stunning, and thoughtful and certainly a book I will return to again and again. 

I’m on to Word Problems by Ian Williams now. He’s definitely one of my favourite writers, and the wordplay and cleverness of this book, combined with such important and startling content is genius.

I always have Heaven’s Thieves by Sue Sinclair by my bed. I’ve read it cover to cover many times, but there are poems in there that I’d consider comfort poems, the way you come back to favourite songs or foods for familiarity and joy, so I keep the book close at hand.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Michael Igoe : part one

Michael Igoe, city boy, neurodiverse, Chicago now Boston, numerous works appear in journals online and in print. thebluenib.com, dreamnoir.art, minerallit.com, regular contributor to Spare Change (Cambridge MA). Instructor at Boston University Center For Psych Rehab. Avalanches In Poetry Anthology @amazon.com,  National Library Of Poetry Editors Choice Award 1997. Poetryinmotion416254859.wordpress.com; Twitter: MichaelIgoe5. Urban Realism/Surrealism. I like the Night.

What are you working on?

I’m chipping away at a w-i-p, trying to create a full length novel out of an older work-a novella titled Venetian Blind. I’m putting together a chapbook as well. My modus is sending out submissions to online and print journals and I’ve had success in this regard.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Len Gasparini : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Several poets: Rilke, T.S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, John Berryman. One of the most important lessons I learned from each of them was “discontinuous composition”; in other words, the absence of linear transition, or placing separate, often disparate units of meaning one after the other in an elliptical way. Continuity is an illusion.

Pascale Potvin : part one

Pascale Potvin is Prose Editor for Walled Women Magazine and The Augment Review, Assistant Editor for CHEAP POP, and Assistant at One Lit Place. She’s placed her own work in Eclectica Magazine, Maudlin House, Quail Bell Magazine, BlazeVOX, and many others. She has a BAH from Queen’s University, and she is working on a budding book series. You can read more about her at pascalepotvin.com or @pascalepalaces on Twitter.

Photo credit: Robert Charlebois

How does a poem begin?

It’s like—not a heart attack, that’s too extreme—but it’s like a shiver, a condensed emotion that appears first on my skin then my page, almost involuntarily. And I’ve come to realize that some of my life experiences have been less-than-typical, so in the end I find power by reshaping them that way.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Adam Ai : part one

Adam Ai is a poet and U.S. Army veteran from Los Angeles. His work is seen in many print and online publications and now at adamaipoems.com. He lives with a Ghost. Hobbies include time travel and teaching robots love. Connect on Twitter and Instagram @AdamAiPoems.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Writing a poem is being in love. It comes first in feeling. Shots of instinct, like when you meet someone and they feel so good to you and it’s almost like you know them. Like a part of you is in the other and maybe it is. So in that sense you belong to each other a little bit. If a relationship develops – maybe a lot. And you can’t get enough of them and then at times you can’t stand them. It’s just so much. And you can’t get away from it.

I know a poem is mine when I have that feeling. Endorphins, adrenaline. It’s a rush. And I don’t think we choose love but are chosen by love – through instinct, DNA, fate… I don’t know but I guess it doesn’t make much difference – the things that strike us are who we are. Whatever you find in a poem that works for you and unlocks something, that’s all yours. We each take from the world according to our own. Everyone gets something different. A poem is everything and nothing.

I’ve never sent two editors the same poem or done a simultaneous submission. Rejections are my workshop. If a poem is rejected it goes back in the stacks till I’m ready to re-inhabit the headspace with fresh energy and reimagine the poem - from the ground-up, always with a sense of maintaining the central motivation I had to write it in the first place. Usually a specific person. I tend to write poems about specific people, even if it may not seem apparent. All poems have secrets. I think you have to protect them.

Once the feeling flies a poem is finished. I can only hope I’ve been able to fashion enough from the concept to achieve an effect worth sharing. Sometimes the feelings around a poem go for years, like any relationship, even if you’re no longer in that relationship. There are some poems I’ve been working on twenty years that are still alive for me so I revisit them. There are some I look at and can’t see a way into anymore. The Vanishing Poem. Smaller and smaller. Like falling out of love and you see that person again after some time has passed and think, what on Earth was I thinking? I must have been out of my mind. And you were. I’m nuts all the time. But that’s what love is for me. Losing your mind and finding your heart. Because sometimes even madness can save you.


Matthew Carey Salyer : part one

Matthew Carey Salyer is an Associate Professor at West Point. He is the author of a chapbook, Lambkin, and a collection, Ravage & Snare. His work appears in Narrative, Plume, The Common, Massachusetts Review, Florida Review, Hunger Mountain, Beloit Poetry Journal and numerous other journals. He has been a Pushcart nominee, a two-time finalist for the Iowa Review Prize, and a semifinalist for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes in Poetry. 

Photo credit: Fadi Kheir

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

After Derek Mahon’s death, I discovered The Hudson Letter which has the sort of homeward, homeless paradox that marks a long acquaintance with New York. I am interested in those poems of his that run the page like long, tipped-over rectangles filled with thought and sensation. “Chinatown,” for example. I had not thought I’d be drawn to his work, but I am most often surprised by what I’ve overlooked. The same’s the case with Ted Hughes, who I’ve been reencountering. There’s something I’d want to do in a poem like “Dully Gumption’s Addendum” where he turns his hawk’s eye to the civil landscape. To be honest, I tend to read poetry books like first blows in a contention with certain turns of phrase or form, fresh tics of personae or situations. I enjoyed Regan Good’s The Needle, which reads like a cave painting drawn with a very fine bone, and that brought me back to Berryman. Umit Singh Dhuga – a wonderful poet himself – sent me Don Patterson’s incredible Nil Nil and that’s brought me to a certain kind of Michael Donaghy poem. I tend to read individual poems or clusters of poems more than books. I’ve been reading a lot of Welsh and Australian poets recently. I’m not sure how that came about. Perhaps it was David Jones. I’m reading “The Hunt” and The Sleeping Lord. There’s also a poet I keep hunting named Madge Herron. She never had a book, but I know how I came about to reading her: “where the burnt-out heel of the sky cocks a hind leg at God there He keeps me.” Have you ever heard a line like that? 

Friday, 11 December 2020

Jake Byrne : coda

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a title, although those tend to take years to complete. Still trying to find poems for some really fun titles, years later, yet I won’t give up on them.

Some are stitched together from errant lines in a dozen crummy freewrites.

Some – these are the rarest, one in every three hundred times, and almost never when I’m at my desk – some come out fully formed and ready to go. Those are the ones I send to contests.

Carolyne Van Der Meer : 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?

First it trots around in my head for a while. Then, when I finally write, it’s often a big dump. It just comes out, sometimes a bit chaotically. I usually write by hand to start with—into a journal that I really like (I have to really like the journal). I leave it there for a while and then go back to it, often scratching out bits and replacing them with other bits. Finally, once I have played with it enough, I type it up. And once it’s typed up, I usually send it to a poet friend I’ve been working with for about 10 years now. We comment on and critique each other’s work—and this process is so helpful. We have very different strengths—complementary in many respects, so the process is good for both of us. I have been in writers’ groups before—and they’ve always been helpful. But the greatest benefits come out of long-term synergy and not many multiple-person groups can commit to that over years.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Sally Ito : 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?

With my haiku, almost instantly, on FB.  That is what most gratifying about writing haiku on FB. With other poems, it’s the usual process of submitting to a magazine editor or book editor to have them read and critique and put together in a collection with other poems. I don’t have a writers group for poetry, per se, but I do collaborate with others for translation. 

Lauren Camp : part three

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

A poem is an intimacy, a new form of touch, the body of language made fresh and surprising.  Without straight reason, it offers either new vision or comforting familiarity. Because it enlarges beyond a single and exact reading, it pushes the reader to devote time and spirit to hear its perspective and voices. Poems move into every knot or emptiness, exist against complacency. I am perfectly happy when a poem gets to be exuberant in its tragedy, when it mends my heart with its word play and turns. I love that one isolated poem can be a whole world, that it can undo someone—to joy or to sadness. Is there anything better than that?

Jessica Drake-Thomas : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Sara Tantlinger’s Cradleland of Parasites, Cynthia Pelayo’s Into the Forest and All the Way Through, Claire C. Holland’s Not Your Final Girl, Juliette van der Molen’s Confess: The Untold Story of Dorothy Good, Jessica McHugh’s A Complex Accident of Life, Ray Ball’s Lararium

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

David Martin : part four

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

James Longenbach has written a number of books on poetic form and technique, and I’m always energized when I read his work. He has such a fine attention for the details of poetry, such as sound and line breaks, that I come away with new ideas and appreciation for the art form.

Kim Mannix : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

I’ve never considered how music directly impacts my poetry, but I do find much inspiration and emotional respite from listening to music, so in this way I suppose it must have an effect on what I write. I’m not a musician, but I am a big music fan/nerd. The bands or artists that I love the most are often great lyricists on top of being talented musicians. I don’t always listen to music when I’m writing, but when I do, I usually end up choosing something that matches the emotional resonance or mood of whatever I’m writing. Or perhaps it’s the music that help sets the tone for what words come out. 

Monday, 7 December 2020

Paul Pearson : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me a poem always begins with the title. Always. I don't approach a blank page thinking that I have something to say, I am totally driven by imagery. Actually, that's not even completely accurate. I am driven by emotion. I don't write poetry to tell you something or to picture something. I write poetry to make you feel something. And I try to do it in as few words as possible. For me, titles are the purest distillation of a poem. Everything after the title is explanation. This is what made the first part of Lunatic Engine so easy to write, the chapter titles in Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter, which I took for the titles of the poems in the first section of my book, are poetry in and of themselves. These titles led into the matter in the chapters and I took my direction for the poems from both.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Len Gasparini : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The organic fact that you can’t force a poem to happen. You have to be receptive to an unbidden mood, a rhythm, an image, a phrase; it’s something like being in a blessèd trance. Sometimes a stimulant can bring it on. That’s the way it works for me.

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Primessa Espiritu : part five

How does a poem begin?

Poetry falls on me during events, major and miniature. An aftermath of life lived, observed and missed. It can be an emotional response, a question, an accusation… it starts when you fall into a trap and the only way out is through a word.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Jake Byrne : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Junebat by John Stintzi, Pluviophile by Yusuf Saadi, Kyla Jamieson’s Body Count,  Curtis LeBlanc’s Birding in the Glass Age of Isolation, The Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin, A Sand Book by Ariana Reines, The Suitcase Tree by Filip Marinovich, Mythical Man by David Ly, Cloud Game with Plums by Rose Maloukis.

Carolyne Van Der Meer : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes, it has. I used to like writing about emotions—or perhaps I thought that poetry was about—or should be about. But as time went on, I realized that this did not satisfy me and that my poems needed to be grounded in time and place—but particularly place. I think setting is important. Of the poem—and of the poet while she is writing. 

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Jeffrey Harrison : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The most difficult thing about writing poetry is… not writing poetry—the dry spells when nothing is happening. They can be depressing. This is when some poets turn to writing prompts, but I don’t seem to be able to write from prompts. I did do a lot of that in college when I studied with Kenneth Koch and David Shapiro, and of course I’ve used prompts in my own teaching, so I see their value. I just can’t do them myself at this point, the way I’ve never been able to do “role play” at a job interview. It feels artificial. So, I just have to suffer through the arid periods. It is often reading that eventually gets back to writing.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Sally Ito : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I have always been an image driven poet, so I had little capacity and interest in developing the musical side of poetry in terms of rhythm, rhyme, meter.  I also was a poet of the page; in other words, I felt poetry was something you wrote that someone read silently to themselves on the page.  Now, I think more ‘three-dimensionally’ about poetry – it’s still all about words – but ‘words’ spoken, performed, read, sung, translated.  This wider understanding of the ‘word’ has expanded my view of poetry since I began writing it. 

Lauren Camp : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I came to poetry from outside the genre, knowing (truly) nothing about it. I wrote into the walls of my heart, into the noise I was holding. I wrote to pause with how I feel, and to describe and maybe let it go. My early poems were narrative. Now that poetry is less new to me, but no less magical, I strive for that and the integration of greater details, musicality, questions and confusion. My goal is to chase outer attention, risk, losses, our place in the ecosphere. I need to be in it, shattered by it, even. 

Jessica Drake-Thomas : part three

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

Poetry is the abstract art of writing. There’s really no limit on what it can or can’t accomplish. It depends on what the poet would like to express. Poetry is all about finding new ways of expression. The limit does not exist, in short. I really love the work that’s being done in the dark poetry genre right now. Lots of interesting risks are being taken and turning out in surprising ways. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

David Martin : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been reading a great number of poetry books lately, but one that has intrigued me a lot is Christian Wiman’s book Stolen Air, his translations of poems by Osip Mandelstam. 

Kim Mannix : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Right now, it’s time and enough quiet mental space to feel creative. I have kids, who are both learning at home during the pandemic, and a job I also do from home. I’m most creatively productive when I’m feeling rested and calm. This hasn’t happened in months. But in more “normal” circumstances, the most difficult part of writing poetry for me is trying to avoid treading the same path repeatedly in what I write. I seem to address the same topics or ideas, even when I don’t intend to, or use the same language or similar metaphors in different poems. So, finding ways to recognize and avoid falling into these poetic ruts can be a challenge.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Paul Pearson : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Of course music, specifically rhythm, is an integral part of poetry. I'm assuming that kids are still being taught rhythm and meter in school. What I suspect they're not being taught is that the pinnacle of human artistic endeavour is the music video.  If music is  poetry in to time and visual art is poetry in image, then the music video, which combines both of these, is poetry squared - at least when it's done well. Go ahead, try to change my mind ;) 

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Len Gasparini : part two

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

I’m inclined to agree with Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz who said quite succinctly that “one clear stanza of poetry can take more weight than a whole wagon of elaborate prose.” I don’t think an explication is required.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Primessa Espiritu : part four

Why is poetry important?

Is it? If it takes you somewhere, it becomes as important as the journey. It can be transformative. It can also be a joke. Whatever I think it may be is inconsequential. Art is a personal act that can be taken hostage, celebrated and ignored. 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Jake Byrne : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Securing income.

Carolyne Van Der Meer : part one

Carolyne Van Der Meer is a journalist, public relations professional and university lecturer whose articles, essays, short stories and poems have been featured in journals internationally. Her first book, Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience, was published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press in 2014, while her second book, a collection of poetry entitled Journeywoman, was published in 2017 by Toronto-based Inanna Publications. Her third book, Heart of Goodness: The Life of Marguerite Bourgeoys in 30 Poems | Du coeur à l’âme : La Vie de Marguerite Bougeoys en 30 poèmes, for which she translated her original English poems into French, was published by Guernica in 2020. Another collection of poetry, Sensorial, is forthcoming from Inanna in 2021. Carolyne lives in Montreal, Quebec.

Photo credit: Bassam Sabbagh

How did you first engage with poetry?

I first engaged with poetry as a child. I remember reading a long poem version of the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon, which has always stuck with me. Then, as a teenager, I started writing poems about horses because I rode regularly. Images from my riding and dressage work melded with mythology and other influences. And then I started writing love poetry. It was terrible! I got over this phase and left poetry for a long while, to pursue journalism and then short fiction. I came back to poetry as an adult with a small child—and then became very committed, using it to explore the experiences of illness and motherhood. My practice grew from there.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Jeffrey Harrison : part four

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

We often talk about the limitations of language, and of course it is limited. Nevertheless, the language of poetry can do an enormous number of things, and often at the same time. It can be both literal and figurative, pursue sound and sense in tandem, engage simultaneously in syntax and poetic form (especially in the play between sentences and lines). Narrative, argument, description, song, incantation—they’re all there (and I’m probably forgetting something). The images aren’t as vivid as in painting, the sounds aren’t as viscerally affecting as in music, but I don’t think there’s another art form that can do so many things at once. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Sally Ito : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When it’s been read and there’s been some feedback given on it by an editor, or a writing friend.  After it’s published, I don’t go back to it. 

Lauren Camp : part one

Lauren Camp is the author of five books, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press, 2020), which Publishers Weekly calls a “stirring, original collection.” Her writing has appeared in Ecotone, Poem-a-Day, Witness, Poet Lore, and other journals. Honors include the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award, the Housatonic Book Award and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. www.laurencamp.com

Photo credit: Bob Godwin

What are you working on?

I have been musing over and documenting elements of my father’s last four years with Alzheimer’s Disease. Writing poems, rather than a full narrative, means I can focus anywhere I want: an edge, a worry, a pleasing connection. Within the same time frame, I’ve also been writing poems inspired by the quiet, spacious canvases of artist Agnes Martin. I began this latter project shortly after the 2016 election results. I didn’t have a particular determination with the work, just an interior need for ease. I’ve been happy to be in the sandbox with these two projects for a good while.

Jessica Drake-Thomas : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

When I was younger, I thought poetry was a closed loop, one where you’d have to be lucky to get invited in. But, I’ve grown to think of it as a table, one where we can pull up another chair, and add in another leaf to make room for anyone who has something constructive to say. It’s a conversation among writers and readers. Academics would call it a discourse.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

David Martin : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was a university student, I took a year-long poetry survey course, and I also happened to connect with a group of poets in Calgary who met weekly to share their work. This was an important combination for me: studying the history of poetry and also interacting with people for whom it was a living art.

Kim Mannix : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt anything I’ve written was absolutely finished. Even years later, if I re-read something I’ve considered “done” or that’s been published, I’m likely to see things I still want to change or tinker with. But obviously there’s a point where I am content enough with a poem to leave it alone. I can’t explain what exactly makes it ok to leave, other than there’s a kind of stillness or pause after I read it that makes me think, this can stand on its own now. It’s funny, because in my professional life I have deadlines that force me to finish whatever I’m writing, and make peace with how it comes out. There’s simply not time to tweak or second guess. Some of the poems I’m happiest with have also been because of some deadline, maybe for a contest or journal I’m submitting to.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Paul Pearson : part three

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

Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar. I can't think of anything more perfect than that little book. I don't know how many times I've read it yet it remains an almost mystical experience each time I open it up. There is a magic in that book that defies explanation and scoffs at those who try. All of Brautigan's stuff is fantastic, poetry and prose alike - and if you've never read him I envy the discovery you are about to make, but my life is done in watermelon sugar. 

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Len Gasparini : part one

For over a half-century Len Gasparini has been one of the most original voices in Canadian poetry; a life experiencer “who emerged from the counter-culture of Jack Kerouac and the Beats,” as one critic said. Gasparini is the author of two-dozen books, including his Collected Poems, five short-story collections, two children’s books, numerous essays, and a one-act play that drew rave reviews in Montreal. His work has been translated into French and Italian, and anthologized here and in the U.S. Götterdämmerung, his latest book, is an eco-poetic tour de force that reads like a prescient postscript to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland

Photo Credit: Lisa Pike

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I’ve always had a rhythmic instinct for poetic endings; perhaps it was stimulated by my reading of O. Henry’s short stories when I was a teenager. Interestingly, in the Fall 2017 issue of subTerrain, critic Brian Palmu in his review of my chapbook Death and the Maiden, noted that I was “a master of endings”; and he quoted Robert Frost: “Any fool can get into a poem, but it takes a poet to get out of one.” 

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Primessa Espiritu : part three

How important is music to your poetry? 

Instrumentals have been instrumental in uncovering most of my words. Music is definitely as important as my desk. It’s also my shelter… and my ocean. Or is it my spyglass? 

It’s all of the above. Music is a powerful influencer and travel companion. 

Friday, 20 November 2020

Jake Byrne : part three

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

Poetry accomplishes absolutely nothing in the material world—and yet, poetry is also capable of radical transfiguration of the human soul. Go figure.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Jeffrey Harrison : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

You don’t. The reason Paul Valéry’s remark that a poem is never finished, only abandoned, is quoted so often is that it is true. But it’s a little complicated. I tend to believe that you can always make a poem better… though, on the other hand, you can also over-revise a poem, making it feel less natural. Then you have to find your way back to the original impulse, or go back to an earlier version and work with that. Even in those cases, though, I have usually learned something in the process, and there is almost always something in the later version (the one I’m abandoning) that I want to import into the earlier version I’m returning to. One hopes that it’s possible to develop an instinct about when to stop working on a poem— like knowing when to take a child’s finger-painting away while it is still fresh and before it becomes a muddy mess. But your poet friends can also help with that.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Sally Ito : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I had a dream when I was in high school and when I woke up, I wrote it down as a poem. That was my first engagement with poetry. 

Jessica Drake-Thomas : part one

Jessica Drake-Thomas is a poet, fiction writer, book reviewer, and PhD student. She’s the author of Burials, a gothic horror poetry collection. She fills her days with as much strong coffee, ghost stories, and scones as possible.  

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When the poem surprises me. There’s always a turn that appears in the piece when a poem is ready, when it says something more than I originally intended. It almost transcends its original form, in a way. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

David Martin : part one

David Martin works as a literacy instructor in Calgary and as an organizer for the Single Onion Poetry Series. His first collection, Tar Swan (NeWest Press, 2018), was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Book Prize. David’s work has been awarded the CBC Poetry Prize, shortlisted for the Vallum Award for Poetry and PRISM international’s poetry contest, and has appeared in numerous journals across Canada.

Photo credit: Joe Tran.

What are you working on?

Right now I’m finishing up my next poetry manuscript, called Kink Bands, which uses the thematic lens of geology to explore ideas of time and family, language and environment. 

Kim Mannix : part one

Kim Mannix is a poet, fiction writer and journalist from Sherwood Park, Alberta. She has been published in several journals and anthologies in Canada and the U.S. and is a contributing editor of Watch Your Head, a climate crisis anthology. You can find her on Twitter @KimMannix, usually posting about kids, cats and music.

How does a poem begin?

For me, this can happen in a lot of different ways. I’ve had great success responding to poetry prompts, especially during National Poetry Month challenges. Other times it will just be something a person says, or something I notice or remember, that sparks whatever that strange sense is that makes us think, “this could be the start of something.” It starts with a line, or sometimes even just a word and meanders from there.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Paul Pearson : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began? And What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

I'd been writing poetry for a few years, had a couple of pieces published in journals and was really getting into doing readings, before I encountered Doug Barbour and through him the world of sound poetry. As a young poet I was so pleased with my developing ability to craft nifty little lyric poetry with the occasional semi-original image that I completely ignored the pure sonic pleasure of language as a thing that can happily exist completely separate from any sense of "meaning." Reading Doug, or better yet, listening to Doug, encouraged me to pay as much attention to the physical sound of the words I was writing as the meaning. He also drilled into my head a healthy suspicion of the weakness of simile to the point where I sometimes have to force myself to use the word "like" in a poem ;)  

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Rachel Eliza Griffiths : part five

What are you working on?

I’m writing a novel. Visually, I’m working several projects that include photography and mixed media. It’s getting messy and weird (not the novel!), which means maybe I’m doing what I hoped, which is to simply experiment with various materials. Another important and necessary thing I’m working on lately is how to maintain a stronger balance of rest and work during these difficult days. There is so much pressure and pain everywhere. I refuse to surrender pleasure. Joy is always at play for me, something both deeply worked for and also, deeply earned. The work of delight is not to miss all the evidence of daily abundance and the details of how to remember and to recognize it in yourself and others. I constantly engage this muscle because I must. I don’t ever neglect or deny wonder. 

Dennis Cooley : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Finding readers. A lot of poetry seems to fall into a big fat wide silence. 

50 years later 
                                       he sends 
             out words &
     they   barely come back
                                   no answer   no other

        words   only a    small voice
                  small & dampened
                                             talking to itself 

An almost bewildering number of writers appear by the day. Sites such as the ones that rob mclennan runs produce torrents of new writing. The wide and growing activity has got to be heartening, yet where are the readers? How to respond to the writing? Who can deal with the enormity? 


Saturday, 14 November 2020

Joyelle McSweeney : part five

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

When our baby was born with a grievous, unexpected birth defect,  flown to Riley, and lived thirteen days, we had no words to describe what we were feeling. In fact I'm not sure we were even feeling-- a word like 'feeling' might be too comprehensive, and even the word "describe" seems like drawing a line around something that cannot be bound. To gesture towards it, I'd say: the feeling was like falling down the stairs--pain, disbelief, peril, terrible momentum, perceptual intensity, and knowing that it will be worse when it is over. Time went so quick. And yet, it was the time of illness, it was hospital time, so it also distended and dilated, we were inside some stoma of time, bacteria living in the lidless eye of time. 

And our baby in her warm room on her raised white bier began to remind us of an image, from Art--  it was the image of Mario Montez at the beginning of Jack Smith's queer, underground, and notoriously unfinished film, Normal Love. In the opening shots, Mario Montez is black-eyed screen-goddess, in white bonnet, in a bath of pearls and milk. Everything that happens in the film goes away from and returns to this image. And so it was with our baby, in her incredible glamour, under her heat lamps, arrayed on white sheets, her black hair swirling around her white bandages, and tubes cycling all of her holy blood out of her and bringing it back at the neck--  we couldn't take our eyes off her. I would glance at my husband sidelong, and, in extremis, repeat:  

normal love, normal love.

I found at the hospital that Art did not desert me, and I realized then that Art was truly my faith. And, for a creed, lines of poetry, images from film-- when my consciousness could not collect itself to form a thought, my brain relayed images and lines, and it gave me comfort to rub my raw self up against that Art a child rubs a scrap of soft worn shining fabric-- the more drastic the Art, the more it was able to reach me in my extremity. Artaud, Cendrars, Bataille, Breton--all that intensity and frottage. When we finally removed the respirator, when the tube came up from her throat, I was afraid to watch, afraid I would see something ugly that would flap like a black cloth over my whole life. But I didn't turn away. I opened my eyes in the dark (Ro. Bolaño tr. Chrs. Andrews).  I looked on my dying baby and felt a prayer come to my lips:

Let beauty be convulsive or it shall not be at all.

Later, at home,  in the dark, when I could not close my eyes, I would recite: "Night is the insane asylum of the plants."  That's the great Chilean poet Raúl Zurita translated by Anna Deeny Morales. And often are the times I recall this quote by Zurita, translated by David Shook:

I felt that pain and death should be responded to with a poetry and an art that was as vast and strong as the violence that was exercised over us. To place in opposition the limitless violence of crime and the limitless violence of beauty, the extreme violence of power and the extreme violence of art, the violence of terror and the even stronger violence of all our poems.

And often are the times Johannes and I will turn to each other in our Rust Belt kitchen, in our distraught, 100-year-old diva of a house, with the house and the world falling down around us, one dead child, one foster child we love fiercely, two adolescent daughters picking a path through a world of ruins, and we paraphrase a sacred dialogue for Blaise Cendrars and Little Jehanne of France:

--Are we going to go all the way, Blaise?

--Yes, we're going to go all the way. 

And then, like Mary Shelley, we just keep going.


Primessa Espiritu : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When you decide to take a walk or a run, when do you know it’s over? When the road has ended? When your legs hurt? I guess it’s done when you’re satisfied, when you moved within it long enough to know it and appreciate it. 

Friday, 13 November 2020

Jake Byrne : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Haaaaa. I didn’t know when I signed up for this “job” it was going to radically alter my entire conception of the universe. But it did. 

I used to think poetry was just words on a page. It’s not that at all. It’s about listening and speaking to the pain and beauty around and inside you.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Jeffrey Harrison : part two

How does a poem begin?

A poem can come in many ways—from an image, an interesting phrase, the visitation of a memory, a sudden connection between two things, an exhilarating or traumatic experience, a glimpse of something beautiful, even from being pissed off about something—but literally, on the page, a poem begins with a phrase. I like to think of that opening phrase as the angle of entry into the poem, sending it on a particular trajectory that is both syntactical and emotional. Sometimes you have something you want to write a poem about, but without that phrase (which is often a very ordinary phrase), you don’t have a way into the poem, and the poem can’t happen. Sometimes the phrase will come out of nowhere when you’re taking a walk, triggering the poem, or in a phrase you happen to hear on the radio. If a poem isn’t working, sometimes you can find another angle of entry, a new way in that reorganizes everything that follows and perhaps leads to an entirely different place.


Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Sally Ito : part one

Sally Ito has published three books of poetry, Frogs in the Rain Barrel, A Season of Mercy, and Alert to Glory.  She has also co-translated the children’s poetry of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko with her aunt, Michiko Tsuboi in a book titled Are You an Echo: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. Ito lives, writes and teaches in Winnipeg. 

Photo credit: Warren Cariou.

What are you working on?

I work in different genres so I’ll answer what I’m doing as a poet right now.  I’m teaching a creative writing poetry class so I try to do the exercises I assign my students as a way of generating my own work. I also try and write a haiku-a-day on Facebook, usually after taking a walk outside. I work on translation of poetry peripatetically with friends – namely, my Japanese aunt when I translate from Japanese, and German-reading poet friends when I translate from the German.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Regan Good : part five

What are you working on?

I am currently working on fourth and fifth poetry manuscripts simply by putting poems into two sliding and approximate piles.  There could be a sixth book between those two piles that I’m too dumb to see. I’m really not good at the “get your book in order” analytical work.  My heart hurts when I see workshops and the like offered on “How to order your manuscript.”  There is so much commerce around poetry right now, so much junk, I am deeply suspicious—really, I’m a big drag about it.  For God’s sake, just write your poems!  I think Dana Levin Tweeted something the other day like, “Can’t I just call my book, ‘What I Wrote from 2014 Until Today?’” A poem comes when it comes, you can’t make the writing of poems directed and expect good poems; you can not set out to make a product.  It’s all gotten very A+ student out there and A+ students are incredibly tedious and predictable, even those claiming experimentation.  I like some human smell left in a poem—problems, oddities, wildness, even a typo at this point is welcome.  At fifty-three, I am really only now starting to write well.  Or maybe I’m deluded.  I don’t know, life is a dream. 


Monday, 9 November 2020

Paul Pearson : part one

Paul Pearson is the co-founding editor and chapbook designer for the Olive Reading Series. His poems have appeared in Descant and Event, and the anthology Writing the Land: Alberta Through Its Poets from House of Blue Skies. Raised in a mining town in the mountainous back-country of southeastern British Columbia, Paul has since relocated to Edmonton where he lives and writes with his wife and two children. Lunatic Engine is his debut collection.

Photo Credit: Oscar Pearson

How did you first engage with poetry?

I've always known that I wanted to be a writer though I always thought though that I'd end up in science fiction, my first love as a reader. I always liked poetry and did well in it in school but I always considered it something you studied, rather than something you read for fun or, God forbid, wrote. Then, in my first-year University English lit class, I stumbled into Patrick Lane, was struck dumb with "Mountain Oysters." Here was a poet who grew up in the bush in the interior of BC, like I did. Here were poems about people I knew: working people, mountain people, alcoholics and men like my father. I had no idea poetry could actually mean something real, something personal, something now. That was it. From that moment I was a poet. 

Vik Shirley : part five

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

I mainly write with the Russell Edson method of 'blank page and a blank mind', but to get me in the mood and my mind thinking in the right kind of way, almost as a portal to myself, before I start writing, I often surround myself with books I love and read a poem or two from each. Could be Edson, certainly Tate (so this would probably be the simple answer to your question), maybe Jennifer. L. Knox, Kennard, Waldron, Minnis, Kharms. It's a matter of feeding on poetry to make poetry, as I think many people do. If I just want to meditate and lose myself in poetry, then I go for Ashbery. The pleasure to be gained from each line, the juxtapositions, different feelings and atmospheres he creates. I still find his work incredibly moving and overwhelming, even when it's just funny. Its sheer brilliance, alone, can bring me to tears.


Sunday, 8 November 2020

Rachel Eliza Griffiths : part four

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

Toni Morrison – it doesn’t matter what genre I’m working in, including my practice as a visual artist. Her writing and life continues to alter and to inform my own development and understanding of who I am becoming on the page and elsewhere. 

Dennis Cooley : part four

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

I find it hard to say, though I feel strongly that poetry offers experiences that other forms seldom can realize. I am struck by what Isobel Cunninghamm has said: “It lets air in between the dense and sometimes heavy ideas that are in the world.” 

Here’s what I wrote a couple of years ago in “19 Questions”:

But poetry. Poetry above all. Forget the embarrassing sales numbers, disregard the avowed aversions, set aside for the moment your own panicked flight when you were caught unsuspecting at a poetry launch. Poetry's the lucky terrain of what-ifs and just-supposings. It's in poetry that we speak most urgently, most eloquently, most pointedly, most succinctly to our unspoken selves. It is there that we happen upon anticipated or forgotten lives. When you fall in love you want a poem, you might even steal one and hope it will find favour, or at least speak for you. Else why the booming business for greeting cards? They perform a useful function, sometimes skillfully, but they are so generic that they immediately and everywhere become everyone's poem. Sometimes we want more, better songs to sing. When your spouse dies only a poem will do, and you wish you could find one or write one—a good one that says what for the rest of the time you cannot quite say or know how to say or bring yourself to say. No ordinary remembrance will do. You want, at least for yourself, a poem that can give contours to your loneliness and sound to your yearning. A poem to speak in wonder of what might touch you, or delight you, or bewilder you. In reckless moments you might even welcome a poem that challenges your understanding of what language and knowledge is, jolt you open to what strangely has been made and laid before you. You would like something to surprise you, with the sting of a mosquito bite, perhaps, to tip you into intimacies you had not quite realized were yours. When that happens you may feel a small shiver: yes, that's right, that's how it feels. Sometimes poems tell us what we don't know we already knew, and there's that rush of pleasure. Though you might not have said so, you have been waiting for a poem whose wit and rhythm rinses you with newness. You want lines, you hunger for lies, clever and unusual lies, that do not take as irrevocable what at our most tired and resigned and obstinate we suppose is the real and only world. When we are looking for something adequate to our desires we know that literalness and acquiescence won't hack it. We want to be alive to the world and stirred into something more. It's a more expanded and a more charged world we hunger for, even when we don't know it. That's why we secretly want the intensities and misadventures that we call poetry.
https://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-dennis-cooley.html


Saturday, 7 November 2020

Joyelle McSweeney : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The most difficult thing about writing poetry is not writing poetry. Reading about everything the Shelleys sacrificed to make their life entirely about art, thought, and writing, and everything that crashed into their life anyway,  has partly eased my anguish and self-blame. Even with my kids in school and on days which should feel 'free', I spend so much time on the phone with doctors and dentists, time sorting out health insurance, shopping for food, dealing with the foster care system, attending meetings, trying not to look and then looking at the unbelievably bad news crashing in at every orifice--

But I also know: to write is the real drug. To write is to break the law and get kicked out of the republic for whatever little intoxicating grain of time you can find. The more time I actually get to spend writing with any kind of dailiness, the more of that drug I get, and the more I want it, and the happier I am. 

 

Primessa Espiritu : part one

Primessa Espiritu: This person lives and creates in Montreal, Quebec.

How did you first engage with poetry?

Anonymously, through a young web. An online poetry community found me and pulled me out of my shell. It was a long time ago, in a trend far far away. That type of online forum was relatively new and it was wild. Our hearts were full of magic, connecting on many different levels while discovering our voices.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Jake Byrne : part one

Jake Byrne is a queer writer. His poem “Parallel Volumes” won CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize for 2019. His work has appeared in Bat City Review, PRISM international, Lambda Literary’s Poetry Spotlight, The Puritan, and The Fiddlehead, among others. His first chapbook, The Tide, was published by Rahila’s Ghost Press in 2017. He is a Settler based in Tkaronto, on the traditional meeting places of the nations of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, the Haudenosaunee, and the Missisaugas of the Credit River.

What are you working on?

I’m shopping around my first manuscript, wrapping up my second + dismantling it into a couple chapbooks, and the forever-work of trying to maintain a happy balance of life + work.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Jeffrey Harrison : part one

Jeffrey Harrison is the author of six full-length books of poetry, most recently Between Lakes, published by Four Way Books in September 2020. His previous book, Into Daylight, (2014) won the Dorset Prize from Tupelo Press, while Incomplete Knowledge (Four Way, 2006) was runner-up for the Poets’ Prize. His first book, The Singing Underneath, was a National Poetry Series winner in 1987. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, and his poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and The Pushcart Prize volumes. He lives in Massachusetts and can also be found at jeffreyharrisonpoet.com.

How did you first engage with poetry?

I’m sure it started with nursery rhymes, or with my mother reading me some of the poems of A.A. Milne. The poem of his that she most liked to recite, and the one that stuck with me, is called “Disobedience” and begins, “James James/ Morrison Morrison/ Weatherby George Dupree/ Took great/ Care of his Mother,/ Though he was only three.” The poem has a sense of fun that offsets its darker side about the mother’s disappearance. Maybe it was an early lesson in the way form and content can play off each other in interesting ways. And, as we all know, disobedience is much more compelling than obedience. I later found it in other poets too—Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Philip Larkin, etc.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Kristine Snodgrass : coda

I have been thinking, for a while, on the idea of ecstasy. How it is fleeting and yet everlasting. The momentary phenomenon often that drives us into a poem or visual piece. I am addicted to ecstasy. I think that is the driving force in my obsessions (poets talk of obsessions so much, you know?). Even if I cannot find the ecstasy, that too is a moment that has to be brought into a poem, visual or not. The act of asemic writing is so founded for me in a present moment. There is “no meaning” semantically, yet I am thinking as I write. It is like a psychic connection that I hope the reader will get—maybe that is abstract expressionism. I used to think that asemic writing was really a dismantling of meaning, but it is so much more than that. The experience of the language is ecstasy. The hand, so gracefully (have you ever really watched anyone handwrite?) so sexually scratches and pulls. What a dream. When the piece is over, we move on to another, or even lament the loss of the past. I am always driven, in search of that.


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Regan Good : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I can reread it and not feel as Lowell said “paralyzed by fact”…the poem doesn’t feel lurid, garish or grouped.  Words aren’t laid or pasted down, instead the pressurized words form a matrix, a world, and you need to interact with it and be in that mess of potentiality.  If I think I’m beginning to think too much, I stop writing and walk away.  So years may go by before anything is finished.  But when I close them down, I still want the feeling of “no conclusion.”  I was editing someone’s poem the other day and she asked, “Are you as hard on your own poems?”  Oh my God, yes.  Worse.  I have a Supreme Court Justice of Poetry in my head, always, always.  

Monday, 2 November 2020

Vik Shirley : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Definitely. I'm into, what I guess you would call, anti-poetry, now. When I started writing, I thought it was all about displaying techniques, and that you had to have stanzas and rhymes etc, I didn't realise you could subvert the whole damn thing, that a poem could be an absurd parable, a list or a marking scheme (not the first time I've referenced Matthew Welton in an interview.) I'm mainly interested in irony now and subject matters that are considered unworthy of poetry. Although I can appreciate more traditional types of poems, I like ones that don't behave like poems. I find writing poems specifically "about" something tiresome and think of writing as either play, an experiment or a delve into the subconscious. I'm also interested in insouciance, aleatory and irreverence, all of which were celebrated by The New York School of Poets. I find poems that highlight the absurdity of our rituals and mock things we hold dear infinitely more interesting than poems on nature.


Sunday, 1 November 2020

Rachel Eliza Griffiths : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is essential to how poems happen in me. I’d called myself a lyric poet, and I’d also say that my visual art lends itself to the space of what would be called “lyric.”  My ear is my greatest editor – actively listening helps me open and cut the language at the same time. Whenever I’m writing anything rhythm is critical. For me, voice must also be inseparable with the poem’s questions and desires articulated by language.    

Dennis Cooley : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I was mature when I started seriously to write. At that point I had read and taught and read about and written about a lot of poetry, especially twentieth-century poetry, so I was exposed to much that had been done or was being done. Since then I’ve developed a stronger sense of the page as a graphic surface, the letters as scores, the text as digital creation. Poets have lived at the membrane where poetry follows the ear and the eye into music and graphic art. New constituencies have proliferated in the literary world, following their own aspirations and strategies.

There are new opportunities too. The interent has opened exciting new opportunities to do dazzling new things, or things that once could be done only at great expense and effort. In a split second you can reach audiences and in ways that only a few years ago were virtually impossible. That is really encouraging. 

 

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Joyelle McSweeney : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Yeats says a poem should end like a well-made box, closing, but these days I know a poem is finished when I want to go live there, when it doesn't bother me anymore. Close me up in the book, in the vault. And then, like Madeline Usher, I'll spring out! 

  

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Ashley Hynd : part five

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

Poetry is so precise … it can be read in an instant but felt for an eternity … it can continue to unfold inside someone’s heart long after it has graced their eyes … in this sense, poetry can shift opinions, it can open minds to things they were previously closed to, it can bridge gaps in communication across different cultures or classes or lived experiences … it is small enough to slip under one’s defences yet large enough to move the biggest barriers  ...


Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Kristine Snodgrass : part five

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

I do have to pull myself up and back every now and then. I find with my constant creating I go in different directions which is good and bad. I love to experiment, but I still find solace in what I think of as a “base” style for my vispo and asemic work. I talk a little about this style in Brave New Word. When I am wanting to come back, not just with visual work, but to my soul, I look to these poets, mainly. I do love anthologies and will always turn to an anthology in a time of need. I think they are hugely underrated. We should all be reading anthologies daily. 

No More Masks: An Anthology of Poems by Women, edited by Ellen Bass and Florence Howe;  Levertov; Bachmann; Rich.

 

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Regan Good : part three

How important is music to your work:

You mean rhythm and sound combined?  Without music, it is not poetry.  It just isn’t.  It is something else that could be interesting for other reasons, but music is elemental to poetry.  Music is the engine; thought is not the engine.  No music?  You have prose maybe artfully arranged.  To me it is Death.  That is the truth.  Poetic music was first the sound of clapping or feet stamping around a fire, maybe with some chanting or groans added in.  Rhythmic utterance, incantation, dream, intuition, song, prayer.  Music is the most elemental part of the art and I refuse to abandon it.  There are some interesting flat sounding poems out there that do work, so what do I know?  Still, how else does one really reach another place?  You need transport.  It is true that you have to be sure you don’t lie with your music.  Be careful that it doesn’t lull you into saying a half-truth or something sentimental or fuzzy.  I was preoccupied with that at Iowa, how to ensure I didn’t lie.  I was obsessed—and I still am; I wanted my poems to be pure.  In graduate school, I dropped all my dumb, half-understood college girl tools and began to work without any nets at all.  It was a mess but necessary.  (I was reminded yesterday that in high school I had wanted to be a hybrid of Thomas Wyatt and Joni Mitchell!) I’m finally seeing how that ugly period led to the poems I am writing now, the poems I wanted to write 25 years ago.  Things take a long time to settle in art, one’s own art, if you are really putting pressure on your work.  So, please, everyone remember that art is not a race, though our culture makes it seem so.  


Monday, 26 October 2020

Vik Shirley : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The agonising last throes of finishing. I often 'finish' as I'm submitting to mags. So often, I'm there, already after numerous versions and edits, maybe after workshopping or showing friends, and then, as the deadline nears, and you're forced to really get into the minutia, suddenly the whole damn poem is populated with issues and you have to keep going over and over it. This can go on for days after you thought you were ready to submit. It feels like a kind of madness at that point. The easy, fun part is coming up with the idea and getting started. The creative rush is what I'm in it for, really. Then the work begins and I don't like work, it's just got to be done. Sometimes you don't manage to nail it for the submission. The poem gets rejected and you look at it again and say oh no, I can see now what's wrong and it's easy to fix. Some poems come together and get published with no sweat at all, but others ... I had a poem accepted for British mag, The Rialto, recently, which I'd been working on for about three years!

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Rachel Eliza Griffiths : part two

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 haven’t shared poems with friends or writers groups in years. I like to have the intimacy of this work all to myself for as long as possible prior to publication. It’s such a private geography. It also takes time and patience for me to let the poem’s voice really fill the language, however uneasy that feels, however intensely that happens in the work. I have to do it alone, aware that I’m not alone because there are other poets, other readers, living and dead, who are in that poem with me. Mostly, I’m reluctant to ask for a second set of eyes and when I finally do it is likely it will be an editor or my agent who is looking at the work. Many poet-friends in my life are generous and willing to read my work before I publish my poems but I’m aware that they are also trying to balance obligations that factor into the daily living and writing of their own work, day-jobs, teaching, time their families, and their overall health. I would rather they give that extra time and energy to themselves, as it is so needed by all of us, especially during this pandemic. It’s a gift, and I don’t take it for granted, that they will be there for me and vice versa, but I tend to save this sort of request for something that’s very special or where I’m feeling more vulnerable than I usually do.