Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jennifer Firestone, GATES & FIELDS




This place a concrete place
A place to be bought and sold
A place or stationary object
First come words then memories
Then parting words
The trees!  shhh  The trees!
A whistling has begun   shhh
A whistling has begun
Here and beyond here
Here and beyond (“GATES”)

Brooklyn poet and editor Jennifer Firestone’s latest poetry title is GATES & FIELDS (Brooklyn NY: Belladonna*, 2017), an extended sequence of fragments via nine titled sequences. Composed as a series of indirect missives on grief and loss—“GATES,” “FIELDS,” “SHE,” “LEAVING,” “GONE,” “SHE,” “CHORUS,” “GATES & FIELDS” and “SHE”—there is a sparseness to Firestone’s short sketched fragments, one that packs in an enormous, and enormously restrained, emotional content while utilizing sound, rhythm and repetitions, echoes and precision. On the back cover of the collection, Susan Howe offers that GATES & FIELDS writes “through the fierce silences at the heart of grief.” As Firestone writes: “A lineless horizon with no individual markings [.]” The restraint and tight lyric also brings a slowness to Firestone’s poems, forcing attention on every word in sequence: “The room contains / Feeling, how a room / Breathes / The body fixed / The mind / Unsettles [.]”

And when it flattened the word silence leaving or left the silencing
Though flattened what is seen what movement imperceptible
Spirals, escapes, distills, what we say energy, matter (“LEAVING”)

The extended poem of GATES & FIELDS, skirting up against and through specifics into an allusive exploration on grief is reminiscent of Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley’s Silvija (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here]. Recently shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Ridley’s is another extended lyric exploring grief and loss through a sequence of poem-sections. Where Ridley moves deeper into more tangible details, Firestone’s GATES & FIELDS moves, instead, through the elegiac into a kind of mournful, hopeful song, or even dream-state. There are times that the lyric abstract of Firestone’s poems make me feel adrift, with little to hold on to, but the lyric beauty of the poems are unmistakable.

Monday, May 29, 2017

12 or 20 questions with Jared Stanley



Jared Stanley is a poet, writer and visual artist. His most recent book is EARS (Nightboat Books, 2017).

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Hm. This new one, EARS, loves the world more as the world “order” comes apart.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Prince wrote fantastic, suggestive lyrics, and the shiny compactness of his lines pulled me first in the direction of writing lyrics for songs, and then on to writing poetry. So many lines come to mind… “She had a pocketful of horses / Trojan and some of them used” or “Seems that I was always doin' something close to nothin.". A bit later, one of my high school teachers had us read Prufrock – the patient etherized on the table. Once I knew what ‘etherized’ meant, it really all came together. I liked poetry’s aggressive posture towards what the bumperstickers of my youth called “consensus reality.”   

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It’s important to me to make books in a different way each time. As a general rule, I’m against method, but if an individual poem’s imperatives require a method, then I’ll stick to that. That makes it sound like I know what I’m doing – but I really don’t know how they come.  It’s really like fishing or prayer.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My poems seem mostly to be occasional, now – something happens and I write. Joanne Kyger died, so I’m writing about her. The crisis of white masculinity (ie the Trump “whitelash”) has come around again, bringing the essential violence at the heart of the US up right in our faces, so that seems to be hovering around in my writing. My daughter’s life and future, for the same reasons.  

As for the second question, I am not any kind of author, that I can see at least. I’m sure other people see me as some kind of author.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Reading aloud is absolutely central to my work – I compose by ear, and I want a poem to work whether it’s read silently or recited. I don’t understand writing which isn’t made for the ear. My book is called EARS for a reason. Also, I like to write poems for specific readings. Many of the poems in EARS were written for an occasion – I wrote “Legs” for a reading in San Francisco, so it’s full of references that people who were in San Francisco in the 80s would understand. I take the sonic structures of a poem very seriously. Along those lines, performance is also quite important. I love being in my poem with my body – the romance of coming to love yourself through your poem – and a poetry reading can be a demonstration of such love.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
My poems are pretty confused by the persistence of joy and love. The poems are sober about the ways capitalism and the fears it manufactures destroy the planet and its people, and the ways that we will probably not do anything serious to avert that ‘ongoing crisis.’ That position causes me a lot of pain, which is not theoretical – it results in a specific practice of parenting, for instance. Poetry isn’t really ideas, to me, and when I invoke ‘poetry’ in the abstract, it means ‘life.’  

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
A poet should be a witch and a heretic.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It depends on the editor and the project! In poetry, editorial is great. In prose, I really love being pushed by an editor to go further. I mean, I hate it in the moment, but I appreciate it.

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

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Quite hard actually. I am a poet who writes prose and makes art. Moving from art to poetry is easy, moving from poetry to prose is very hard. I remember a story of guitar player whose right hand was destroyed in an accident, and the guitarist had to re-learn to play left-handed.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Once I have a project going, that project tends to dictate its routine. For instance, lately I’ve been mostly writing prose, and I have a word count of 500 words a day, just to get in and stay in the writing. Poetry doesn’t work like that for me, and art definitely not. And I have a small child, so ‘routine’ is mostly dictated by her schedule, whims, and bowels.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Either tarot cards or a walk. Sometimes I ask my kid (she’s three) for advice.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Redwood duff. Which also reminds me that there will be no redwoods in the Bay Area in a century.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Oh yeah, all of the above. I probably learn more about poetic form from music and visual art. I look to books to learn prose. For me, there’s a bright line between prose and poetry, and almost no line between poetry, music, and visual art.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
This is a long long list, at the top of which is probably Joanne Kyger, whose loss I am still processing.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Finish a novel.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Cordwainer – I love shoes, and I would still love to design and make shoes.

But honestly, if I hadn’t become a writer, I would have become a biologist, I’m pretty sure – though I don’t know if I could’ve done it without anti-depressants.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I write mostly for the pleasure of rubbing two words together, and then three, and four. I’ve come to love sentences, which is a great lesson of prose. I love riding the bus just to hear people talk. Conversation is so musical.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Last great book - The Enigma of Arrival, VS Naipaul. This plotless and brilliant narrative of a colonial writer doing travel writing at an English manor house which was clearly made with colonial money. It’s completely stunning.

Last great film – Get Out. I’m jealous of Peele – you can feel, in that film, how the unity comes out of the premise, how the movie must’ve have written itself as he got going. The character of Logan, the scene in which Chris ‘rescues’ the “grandmother”…so much. I don’t know about you, but Get Out was all anybody in my world could talk about for weeks.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m typing up a few essays and a longer prose thing that I don’t want to jinx by talking about. Apparently a very long elegiac poem about baby boomers is starting to froth up. Also, thinking of writing a poem called “Preschool of the Arts” about how late capitalist parenting (for middle class stressballs) is a real “war of all against all” situation. How tragicomic. Maybe that’s a negative parenting manual?


Sunday, May 28, 2017

C.D. Wright, ShallCross




Imaginary August

If one stood perfectly still. Even in the withering hours

of then. Hair down to here. Being alive and quiet.

One could forget oneself. Forget what one didn’t even recognize.

How mad it felt. Subliminally. One could pick out goldfinches

and mourning cloaks among the dying stalks of cosmos,

and across the ditch of grey wastewater they use to irrigate

the burial ground, a young man in a late-flowering tree

taking our photograph.

The most recent collection by the late American poet C.D. Wright (1949-2016) is ShallCross (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2017), a book she finished editing just before her unexpected death, early last year. With such a book comes an enormous amount of mixed feelings: delight at the possibility of another volume by a beloved poet, and the reminder of just what it is we have lost. The strengths of this collection include what have always stood out in her work: the ability to articulate the most intimate of moments, recording and acknowledging deeply personal stories of human grief and suffering, and turning expectation and language around in the simplest ways, including details such as capturing how “a piano is being moved / by someone not listening / to the rain from one end / of the room to another” (“Poem with a Missing Pilot”) to “A study concluded, for a park / to be successful there had to be a woman. / The man next to the monument must have broken / away from her. Perhaps years / before.” (“Obscurity and Elegance”) to the openings of “Imaginary Suitcase,” that writes: “This belonged to your mother. Now / it is yours though you have no memory / of her and we’ll never know if she wrote it / by herself or copied it down from a book.” The poems and sections of the collection exist in a collage of what Wright did best in her work: allowing her empathy and attention to articulate the heart of what is so often overlooked or taken for granted, writing a series of poems for all the senses, writing: “Whether or not the water was freezing. The body / would break its sheath. Without layer on layer / of feather and air to insulate the loving belly.” (“Imagining Morning Glory”).

The longer poem, “Breathtaken,” extends the elegiac nature of her previous works with the photographer Deborah Luster, “as a corollary to” her Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish.” Through this sequence, as with her previous collaboration with Luster, One Big Self, Wright articulates a series of acknowledgments, recording those who have lost and have been lost through homicide, writing: “[Fabulous, that was her byword] // inside a black Toyota Scion // inside her ransacked house // inside Happy Jack Social and Pleasure Club // lying on the street [.]” Writing out a sequence less one about giving voice than allowing voice, allowing for a particular level of questions and an open grief:

What was your loved one’s best physical feature
Could you draw that feature blind
Did your loved one have a sweet tooth
What was your loved one’s prized possession
Did you keep a piece of your loved one’s clothing
Was your loved one a day person or a night person
Was your loved one a good mimic
Was your loved one a good loser




Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ploughshares : an interview with Robin Richardson on Minola Review

I'm a monthly blogger over at the Ploughshares blog! And my eleventh post is now up: an interview with founder/editor Robin Richardson on Minola Review: a journal of women's writing.

You can see links to all of my Ploughshares posts here, including interviews with Toronto poet Emily Izsak, Ottawa poet Faizal Deen, Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke, editor/critic Erin Wunker, Arc Poetry Magazine Poetry Editor Rhonda Douglas, editor/publisher Leigh Nash on Invisible Publishing, Cobourg, Ontario poet, editor, fiction writer and small press publisher Stuart Ross, Toronto novelist Ken Sparling, Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen and Toronto poet Soraya Peerbaye.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kate Cayley, Other Houses




A Partial List of People Who Have Claimed to be Christ
Ann Lee, 1736-1784

I will not sit in your presence, persecutors. Bare-headed
before you I stand examined, men of English church, men of
holy cloth, but I was a seamstress, snipping lives in my fingers.

I could rip a seam like the ocean, which I aim to cross, leading
my women and men, who sweat alike and walk together, for only
by the sameness of men and women shall either be redeemed.

When I shudder, you will say the fit is on me, and mock me,
but I say you are filth, to see filth. I shake with the Word, myself
Mother Ann, female form of Christ. My babies dead, my womb

blasted, God knew I was for other offers. Not for me
the spindle, the bed. Shake your heads, churchmen. I see
you titter as the rabble does. Do not touch me. I will burn

your hands with holiness. Ask me any point of theology
and I will answer you in tongues. Cut mine out, I will speak.
I will inherit. I will turn the world upside down.

I am intrigued by the narrative precision of Kate Cayley’s lyrics in her second collection, Other Houses (London ON: Brick Books, 2017). I was initially struck by a series of poems that thread through, each titled “A Partial List of People Who Have Claimed to be Christ.” Four poems in all, each poem writes a kind of case history on different historical figures who claimed, in their own way, some version of the divine: Ann Lee (1736-1784), Arnold Potter (1804-1872), William W. Davies (1833-1906) and Laszlo Toth (1938-2012). There is something quite sympathetic in her sketches-as-case-histories, blending elements of irrationality with their own relationships and awareness of the divine, as she writes in the William W. Davies piece, “Everything comes // again, and what is, was.” Cayley’s lines are incredibly precise, pointed and sharp, carving metaphysical queries into character studies, and short sketches that encapsulate the entirety of human history. Utilizing historical research and figures, Cayley’s short narratives write out an exploration of fissures, breaks and even collisions between mythologies and reality, searching throughout the past few centuries for examples of those who broke through to the other side, or were broken in their attempts, and even, occasionally, both. As she writes in the poem “Hans Christian Anderson Becomes Acquainted with / His Shadow”: “There must be a light / somewhere.”





Item 368444, Category 4, 1877

Map

This map is unfinished.

There are no people on the map. Maps are adept at inferring that the people who inhabit a land matter less than the map itself, and so the map aids in the project of disappearance.

It is not known how this map is connected to the disappearance of a specific person, but as the map must have had an owner, we may assume a missing person (or missing people) that the map does not indicate.

There are tooth marks in the map, which may have come from an animal, or, possibly, indicate the cartographer’s foolish wish to eat the world. The attempt was unsuccessful. (“The Library of the Missing”)