Friday, July 28, 2017

Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977-1997, eds. Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian

Why New Narrative and why now? Writers Who Love Too Much arrives in the wake of renewed critical and scholarly attention to the movement; enough, at any rate, to convince us to revisit, reprint and revive some of the original documents of the 70s/80s/90s avant-garde. Founded in the San Francisco poetry scene of the late 1970s, New Narrative responded to post-structuralist quarrels with traditional storytelling practice for reinscribing “master narrative,” and attempted to open up the field to a wider range of subjects and subject positions. It would be a writing prompted not by fiat nor consensus, nor by the totalizing suggestions of the MFA “program era,” but by community; it would be unafraid of experiment, unafraid of kitsch, unafraid of sex and gossip and political debate. Novice writers have been lectured since forever to “show, don’t tell,” but one thing New Narrative did was tell and tell and tell without the cheap obscurantism of “showing.” In the years since 1977 the roots of New Narrative have become obscured, partly because it was an ill-defined movement from the beginning, partly because its point(s) of origin are in debate, and partly because a welcome host of second and third generation writers later altered its character in significant ways. Our anthology will go back to a putative beginning and proceed warily through the decades since Gerald Ford was president, and it will stop twenty years later, right at the beginning of what might be called New Narrative’s second wave. An important anthology from 2004, Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (edited by Robert Glück, Mary Burger, Camille Roy, and Gail Scott), shows that new wave in full flight, with a galaxy of brilliant young writers disparate as Rob Halpern, Renee Gladman, Douglas Martin, Heriberto Yepez; but Writers Who Love Too Much presents work made during the first wave of New Narrative and stops itself only by immense self-control, at a place that fairy demands a sequel. (“New Narrative Beginnings 1977-1997,” Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy)

Constructed, as the back cover informs, as a “new map of late 20th century creative rebellion,” a “movement fueled by punk, pop, porn, French theory, and social struggle” is the massive anthology Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977-1997, eds. Dodie Bellamy and KevinKillian (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2017).  At over five hundred pages, the bulk of the anthology includes prose (whether self-contained pieces or excerpts of longer works), but also includes other writing, interviews, essays and talks by Steve Abbott, Kathy Acker, Michael Amnasan, Roberto Bedoya, Bruce Benderson, Charles Bernstein, Nayland Blake, Bruce Boone, Lawrence Braithwaite, Rebecca Brown, Kathe Burkhart, Marsha Campbell, Dennis Cooper, Sam D’Allesandro, Gabrielle Daniels, Leslie Dick, Cecilia Dougherty, Bob Flanagan, Robert Glück, Judy Grahn, Brad Gooch, Carla Harryman, Richard Hawkins, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Gary Indiana, Edith A. Jenkins, Kevin Killian, Chris Kraus, R. Zamora Linmark, Eileen Myles, John Norton, F.S. Rosa, Camille Roy, Sarah Schulman, Gail Scott, David O. Steinberg, Lynne Tillman, Matias Viegener, Scott Watson and Laurie Weeks. Centred around San Francisco, the loose movement of “New Narrative” is provided thorough context and history through a lengthy introduction, co-written by Bellamy and Killian, and swirls around conversations and “concurrent writing developments” “across the Americas, Asia, and Europe” that include Language Poetry, “French, German and Russian philosophy,” revolution, difference, Canadian writers Scott, Marlatt and Brossard, and the queer community, among other elements absorbed, lifted and borrowed to attempt to write something entirely new. Even for their self-described “definitive sampling of a wide range of original New Narrative texts,” this is such a massive and rich undertaking, one that is deeply personal for both Bellamy and Killian. As they write: “Because we were there, we feel we need this range to display the writings most important to us.”

Bo is called both Bo and Butch. Bo likes to be called Butch but he writes his name Bo. I think it’s a spelling problem. I call Bo “Bo” just because he likes Butch better than Bo. Also I can’t say “Butch” too well, I always end up saying “bush.”

Me though, I’m named Squeaky, after Squeaky Fromme. Squeaky Fromme was an anarchist and killed a movie star. I’m supposed to turn out to be a butcher of stars (butcher than Butch). I’m called Squeaky, Pip-squeak and weasling, which is weasel + weakling.

I’m making my brother into a big porno movie stud so he can be in the Hollywood Wax Museum. Real brothers are big in Hollywood porno movies. (“BO-HUNK,” Richard Hawkins)

Beyond all of that (as if that weren’t enough material to spend the rest of the year sifting through), the anthology also includes pages upon pages of notes at the end, expanding upon editorial choices as well as providing a great deal of context for certain of the pieces. As they write in the notes for “Judy Grahn, Interviewed by Steve Abbott and Dodie Bellamie”: “We wanted our anthology to show more than a series of texts now canonically arranged; for we wanted to present a vivid picture of a particular avant-garde, and we knew that to do so we must include the ephemera. Maybe you’d want that in every anthology, to show the social construction of the writing, but ephemera itself seemed especially apropos to New Narrative writing, which began as a body of work torn, like the Living Newspaper of the WPA project of the 1930s, from the headlines, reacting to social and political actions as they occurred, or as we worked for them to occur.”

GOOCH: Yeah, genre writing. In the classical period poets would do an elegy and then do an ode, then a lyrical poem and everyone knew what they were doing. Now poetry’s gone into this kind of mess in a way—which is good, I don’t mind that—but in writing life there are these very definite kinds of writing: magazine articles, stories, novels.

SA: The 80’s as the pastiche of all these things being thrown together.

GOOCH: That connects with what’s going on in painting. In fact there are these connections between certain kinds of painters and writers I’m starting to see, which I hadn’t thought about much before, and one of them is that, being free to throw in everything, and the other is being free to tell a story again, without having always to be reminding everyone that one knows one’s writing a novel, drawing attention to “this is language”—all that kind of stuff which was popular, which was need, which now we really know. Novels are old-fashioned; and we can just go on and do it anyway.
            I guess I’m interested in the popular thing, not popular like being the most popular person in the class (although that’s all right). I wrote an article for GQ about Dennis and the L.A. poets, about Ed Smith and Jack Skelley, about California and the excerpts from their poems were completely accessible. They were about high school life, that kind of stuff, and anyone in the world could get that stuff. I kind of like that. A lot of writing being done actually is accessible. (“BRAD GOOCH: interviewed by Steve Abbott”)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Andrew Seguin

Andrew Seguin is a poet and photographer. He is the author of the poetry collection The Room In Which I Work (Omnidawn 2017), which was inspired by the life of photographic pioneer Nicéphore Niépce, and of two chapbooks, NN, and Black Anecdote. A former Fulbright Scholar in France, Andrew lives in New York City.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Mostly not much, though it was a real affirmation of work and persistence, and risk-taking, because my first book was actually the third full manuscript I’d written. I had sent the other two around a lot, sometimes with solid leads, and I think that The Room in Which I Work follows naturally from those manuscripts, in that it synthesizes lyric poems with prose and documentary material. What’s different about it is I decided to force or allow all those things to cohabitate—with imagery too—and that the book is really devoted to someone else’s (Nicéphore Niépce’s) life.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
At the level of word and sound, I think. A natural love of language and a sense that it was an enormous forum for play—silly songs with my siblings, lots of nonsense language with friends. Then, in high school, being assigned to read Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and wanting to make a phrase like that, which could take on a subject as large as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

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 depends. The Room In Which I Work really happened in a year and a half, and that had to do, in part, with the duration of the grant I was on while writing it. But I do tend to generate a lot of material, and throw away a lot, and often that is with no project in mind. It’s only after a period of a year or two where I can say, “oh, I’ve been generating a lot of poems about X.” First drafts, for me, do often come close to their final shape, but I think that is also because I abandon a lot of drafts, and they are the rehearsals for the later, better draft, even if they are completely different poems.

4 - Where does a poem 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?
A poem for me begins with a line or phrase that occurs to me after having seen or felt something, and in sound and meaning it somehow has accuracy or mystery that needs to be investigated. I think of myself as more of a short-piece writer whose pieces accrete into a book, but the evidence points to the contrary: The Room in Which I Work was definitively a book project from its outset.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They are neither part of nor counter, I would say. I don’t give a lot of readings, but I really enjoy them when I do, so maybe I should do more. There is something about being able to deliver the poems directly that is really important—the pacing, how I hear the poem in my head. And I have had moments of embarrassment in reading aloud a poem that maybe was not finished, and so knowing, really knowing, I had work to do on it. Embarrassment is a great revision tool, I think.

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?
No theoretical concerns, but lots of questions, both concrete and otherwise: How far can language be pushed to show me or make me (and by default others) feel something truthful and new? How do we make sense of our lives? Has anyone heard this before? What has value? Where are we going as a species? Where can the English sentence go? How much time does the earth have left? What’s the responsibility of consciousness? If it’s absurd to be here, what else is it?

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?
I think it’s the same as it always been: to expand and preserve the province of the imagination.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I have two very close readers that I’ve known and worked with for years now, and I find their feedback to be crucial in revising poems, and in testing out new modes and silly ideas. The value to me is clear: someone with more distance from the work can see things you can’t see.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My grandfather: “Let the knife do the work.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to photography)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s been easy and very natural, though I admit that is changing. I seem to be gravitating more towards writing these days, and am having a harder time making photographic work that I feel has any consequence, but I also know from past experience that that can change, depending on what ideas seize me. The appeal, I think, is in letting go of language when I’m working photographically, and having a purely visual vocabulary to employ. And my photographic work, because I work in a way that requires preparing paper and brushing on sensitizer, has an element of the hand in it, which carries an immensely pleasurable and meaningful feel that does not exist when writing. I think each genre affords me space from the other, and also lessons about the other.  

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?
I try to write something new every Friday morning, and then revise and tinker a bit over the weekend and throughout the following week. On a typical day, I get up at 6:10, make coffee, and read for an hour or so before I have to start my life.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Art, the cinema, and walking around. Visual representation is always provocative for me and helps generate poems. And then I sometimes have to reread a poem such as Wallace Steven’s “The Man on the Dump” to remind myself what it’s all about, or just stroll through the city and let things wash over me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Baseball diamond dust.

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?
Visual art and movies, as I mentioned, and then travel. As of 2015 I have traveled regularly to Senegal for work, and my experiences there have inspired a lot of new poems: making sense—or acknowledging that trying to make sense is my default reaction, and perhaps not an appropriate one—of all the things that comprise a different culture.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
An incomplete list includes Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, WG Sebald, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf, Emily Wilson, Joseph Roth, Herman Melville, Susan Sontag, Gustaf Sobin, Bruce Chatwin, Pierre Michon, Basho, Buson, Issa, public signage, menus, the news …

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Live in a Spanish-speaking country so I can finally become fluent in the language.

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?
I would like to be a woodworker.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I never felt it was a choice. It was always what I wanted to do.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m giving two of each because their intake occurred almost simultaneously: the books were Splay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey and The North Water by Ian Mcguire. The films were Aquarius and Toni Erdmann.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A new manuscript of poems.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Emily Ursuliak, Throwing the Diamond Hitch

Thickened spit clings to the bit and tries to drip, but stretches. The saliva necklace hanging from his horse’s mouth, a prize for the trip back, forty miles from the seismograph outfit. Stanley Burrell pulls out a package, bacon bound up, fat licks the paper wrapping darker. He passes it to his sister-in-law, Mrs. Burrell. She grasps his gift: the greasy cliché brought home. His coming now, a knot of luck in the rope that we blindly follow to learn the diamond hitch. Before he’d come, I asked our question, Mr. Burrell, his brother, unable to name any other, said only Stanley would know how to cross the lines, the knots to tie, for the diamond hitch.

Anne dissuades me from asking Stanley to teach us now. She says nothing when she spots me, darting forward, my mouth half-open to inquire. Our eyes meet and a slight shake of her head and that’s all that’s needed to keep me silent. The man is exhausted after all and the light is failing us anyway. The dusk stains its way up the trunks of the trees as we walk back to the buildings. We share his bunkhouse. Anne and I pile on the mattresses, Stanley lies on a bed of straw. He is the first to slip into dreams. First his breathing deepens, draws out in the length of its rhythms. Then the speaking starts, these soft mumbles Anne and I begin to listen for, interpreting his half-mouthed vowels. The two of us, too fascinated to sleep now, listening to all the odd things a man might say when dreaming. (“Two Kinds of Diamonds”)

Calgary poet Emily Ursuliak’s first trade poetry collection is Throwing the Diamond Hitch (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2017), one of the first two titles in a new poetry imprint produced by University of Calgary Press. In Throwing the Diamond Hitch, Ursuliak writes the 1951 road trip adventures of Phyllis and Anne, as she explains in the notes at the back of the collection:

Phyllis was my granny, and Anne was her best friend. The poems in this book are based on the travel diary they wrote during their 1951 ride. A few liberties have been taken here and there with some minor details, but the quotes accompanying the photographs are taken verbatim from the diary.

Phyllis and Anne remained lifelong friends. Whenever I saw them together it was like they were back in their twenties again, teasing each other and making quirky jokes. At my granny’s funeral, Anne spoke of their 1951 ride and what it had meant to both of them. At the time they told people they had wanted to buy horses, and wanted to take a horseback ride that lasted longer than a day. But Anne talked about how it was a last hurrah for both of them as single women before they settled down and got married. Anne said she hadn’t really known what she was in for when they left on the trip, but it gave her a deep sense of strength and independence that she drew from during her life.

Shifting between prose and lyric, diary entry and poem-sketch, Ursuliak combines fact and occasional fiction alongside archival photos, postcards, artifacts and direct quotations from her grandmother’s travel diary for an exploration of friendship and western adventure. Ursuliak writes her collection as a collage of individual moments and experiences along Phyllis and Anne’s journey, writing out less a linear narrative than a sequence of events, akin to a photo album of short sketches.

As well, there is something curious to the construction of her collection through poetry, as opposed to made into a novel, non-fiction title or play, yet including elements of fiction and theatrical performance that reads as a narrative, and could easily be adapted, say, into a staged production. This structure is reminiscent of those early works by Vancouver poet Michael TurnerCompany Town (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp, 1991), Hard Core Logo (Arsenal Pulp, 1993) and Kingsway (Arsenal Pulp, 1995)—all of which were originally produced as poetry titles, with the second of these, obviously, later adapted into a feature film (and subsequently a graphic novel). In an interview posted at Touch the Donkey, Ursuliak discussed the structure of the collection, writing: “I’m relentlessly attracted to the idea of narrative and it’s interesting for me to explore how I might tell a story through poetry as opposed to fiction.” In the end, the book exists as an intriguing portrait of these two fiercely independent women on an unlikely and unusual journey, portrayed through monologues and character sketches. Part of what fascinates through this collection is the multiple structures the book holds, suggesting a myriad of directions Ursuliak’s work could move in, subsequent to this. Could she write a play, a novel, a collection of lyric poems? Where might she go next?

Welcome to Banff


you cannot camp anywhere but in a campground
you cannot bring your horses to the campground
you cannot leave the horses
you cannot leave
until we say you can

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Helen Dimos, No Realtor Was Compensated For This Sale

I stand before a wall. This wall extends infinitely in either direction and is of course located outside.

A wall that used to be one-foot wide. Is now razor-thin. So thin I can see through it. But not, for reason of its thinness, weaker. May even be stronger.

The desire to pass through the wall.

To the other side. (“THE WALL”)

I’m fascinated by the poems in Helen Dimos’ first full-length collection, No Realtor Was Compensated For This Sale (The Elephants, Ltd., 2017), a collection gathered, it would seem, as much as constructed. Built in five sections—“THE WALL,” “DEAR NOBODY,” “POEMS,” “LANGUAGE OF THE PORES” and “DEAR NOBODY”—the poems in No Realtor Was Compensated For This Sale allow for the sketched-out line—the fragment, the shift and the expansive canvas—creating a book-length work of remarkable nuance and strength, attempting the minutiae of language and the world as part of far larger questions. In sections that shift structurally from a long poem constructed from stanza-fragments and clear statements, a suite of ekphrasic pieces, a collection of lyrics and a short script of scenes, Dimos’ poems feel both restless and incredibly clear, relentless and flawlessly casual, writing and writhing deep into the heart of just about everything. As she writes to open the fourth section: “Is it the language of the pores that can take the shape of molecules?”

Dear nobody

I go to dinner with a writer in Athens. We talk about literature. We talk about politics. We talk about literature. We talk about Greek politics but I’m not sure it matters. ‘It’s more rewarding to talk about literature’ he says as I propped up my face with my hand? While talking of Tsipras. —Maybe more rewarding which isn’t the right word anyway but speaking of literature the world opens acquires endlessness while talk of politics clicks the world shut not the shut-ness of closure but dead-shut, despair

This is totally and completely wrong