Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Days and Works

I was driving the wrong car, for some reason got stopped by the police, had to look for car documents, found only multiple old wallets and worn-out purses no matter where, the glove compartment, the well between the front seats, and I did search everywhere—but no registration, no identification, no license. Fed up by this intensifying failure to find what I needed, I was compelled to wake. I’ve got to get out of this year, and seal it by putting a swath of clay over the pages, slip, glaze and irregularity. I need to start a new year now. The date is wrong, but I am ready.

So what if I am having an aesthetic crisis. Who cares? The doppelgänger used to be a very popular idea of how to feel. “The progressive” has devolved, in my time, from the desire for (illusion of) imminent revolution to the struggle simply for memory. That happened in forty-five years (plus or minus) of my simple simple life. Can you imagine how that feels? I don’t think so. Right now, 2014, life has an odd tense peacefulness. Does it? That is what’s called “privilege.” “The borderline between a pile of refuse and an artwork was never more than obscure.”

A volume in her ongoing “interstitial” books is American poet and critic Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ latest poetry title, Days and Works (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017). According to the press release, other titles in the same suite include Interstices (Subpress, 2014), Graphic Novella (Xexoxial Editions, 2015), Numbers (forthcoming from Materlialist Press) and Eurydics (forthcoming from Further Other Book Works). From her trilogy of critical essay collections on gender and poetics to her long poems spread out over multiple volumes – the twenty-six years of Drafts (1986-2012) “in 114 cantos” and her “21st-century long poem” Traces, DuPlessis is one of the very few contemporary poets who sees their work in a sequence of individual and extended threads over multiple volumes. As she writes as part of her “Extended Author Bio”: “But fundamentally, the long poems, the serial poems, the book-length works show a desire or drive to be endlessly making something ‘all about everything,’ inside poesis itself. The desire to be in your own poetic universe, to create a parallel world of form and word accounting for this world, are the pursuits that pursues you. The blessing is poesis. Who can want to mark or to experience ‘the end’?” In her “Author Statement” included with the press release (which can also be found online) she writes:

I’ve always been quite smitten by collage (as a modern visual art practice), and I try to make a parallel dynamic page space in all my poetic work. Then about ten years ago, I began extending my own poetic practice by sometimes making collage poems, or visual texts with writing. This was a big step into a hybrid mode. Days and Works is a poetic work with smaller texts not just cited in them, but glued, in their original form, onto the page. Bits of newspaper articles on many topics—advice, ecological crises, human kindness, human horrors, cosmological thinking about the origins of our universe, questions of economic crisis and poverty—all these topics and more come into the text, most often as a parallel bit of text, interrupting something else and complicating it. Sometimes you can’t tell which is the “central” text—it’s all happening simultaneously, all days and the workings of various events. My intention in placing clippings with poems is rarely ironic (contrasting ideal and real, for instance); it’s more like the bewildering interest of “all these things happening inside the same moments” (and on the same page). It is literally dazzling (awesome and awful)—and precisely this double feeling leads to the meditative intensity of this work.

The effect of Days and Work is curious, almost as a blending of what Susan Howe does in her poetry collections, except without the separation between her prose and her cut-up poems, stitching together the cut-up elements of archive, newspaper reports and her own prose. Writing on creation and movement and theory, Days and Works appears, in structure, far closer to the collage than the hybrid, as DuPlessis composes short bursts against incorporated material that both give the suggestion of linear connection and the effect of disjointed, discrete and even overlapping threads. As she writes:

Thus the necessity for exegesis. And the expectation of surprise. The God of the Covenant was way into drapery, color and texture, into that extra inch of braid on priestly robes, a band alternating golden bells and pomegranates, and into the color of the curtains on His Ark—purple, scarlet, blue. All those details will hide the Hidden with the lavish redundancy of the aesthetic. And all these things—they made this creature more than just Command. More—well, picky. Odd. More duplicitous. More beautiful and more suspect. Quirky and problematic and queerish and moody.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

12 or 20 (small press) questions with James Yeary on c_L books

c_L books began in 2010 with the publication of Phoebe Wayne's Lovejoy. In 2011 he started the c_L newsletter, which ran for nearly two dozen issues. c_L books collaborated with FLASH+CARD to issue Gertrude Stein & Sandra Gibbons' OBJECTS from Tender Buttons, the originals of which are now held by the Beinecke Library at Yale. Forthcoming is A Nomad's Guide to Listening by Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, a co-release with the label Touch (UK).

Apart from his publishing work with c_L books, James Yeary has been involved as editor of the presses spitch and editions plane. With Nate Orton (abandoned bike press, he has authored 15 or so books in the my day series, which are place-based diurnal meditations taking influence from expressionism, psychogeography, the new sentence, science writing, and whatever else. He is a member of the collective-run Spare Room reading series. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works as a bookseller, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

1 – When did c_L books first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process? Started in 2009, by asking an author if she would let me publish a book, and publishing that first c_L book in 2010. That was "Lovejoy" by Phoebe Wayne. My goal at that time was to publish "handmade chapbooks." What does that mean? Quality books without spines I guess, though I've made at least one vertebrate... I think my goals have shifted since then, and shifted back to making handmade books. I want/ed to help bring poetry that I like/d into print. Once I had made Phoebe's book, other people started asking me if I wanted to make books, and now I have made a small amount of books. Under that name, that is.... there have been many other publishing projects and collaborations outside of c_L... 

2 – What first brought you to publishing? I was getting to know a community of experimental poets, my first experience with people taking poetry semi-seriously and it seemed obvious that publishing was a component of that. But publishing was in my blood too... my dad was a "desktop publisher" in the '90s and works for a publisher today. My earliest memories are making handmade books, seriously! Zines throughout college. It was going to happen.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing? Not sure I do. I think the sensibilities should be anarchic, to say the least. It should be a safe place, a place to test ideas, even bad ones. And it is! 

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is? Primarily, literally, publishing the authors that no one else has published, or perhaps publishing the works that hadn't been published yet, or, further, in Morgan Ritter's case, (Who is in Charge, 2013) publishing work she had self-published on a tiny scale that I thought could have more of a circulation... I'm sure there are a lot of presses that are operated by single agents, such as myself, so I know I'm not unique there. But I open myself up to a lot of whimsy (in all things) but especially in design.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world? Well, the internet helps, though I'm not much for managing a web page. Someone tried to do that for me for a little while... but I've sold most of my books via email. Email is good. The rest of the internet can go and take a flying fish.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch? Case by case. When I published Morgan Ritter's book she suggested I actually have fun editing the poems, and that was a unique project. But in general I wouldn't want to edit anyone's poetry, anyone's poetry I intended to publish, that is. Obvious mistakes are another matter. But as a publisher, designer, printer, I like to make mistakes.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs? Email. 126.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks? It's just me, in varying degrees of collaboration with the author. Sometimes the author will have it all designed, as with Lisa Radon's book, Book of Knots (2013) and David Abel's Carrier (2012). Lisa even arranged the binding of the book... all I really did was supply some funds, some paper, and a dry emboss of the title and my press on the wrappers. But it was still lovely to be involved with that. David's on the other hand, while he designed everything, we printed every page together, on his hp!

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing? I don't know if it has - but - when I do publish my own work, I feel I really start to get a sense of it when I start seeing it in multiples, but, that's true for my authors too - I really start to get the work when it's in production. That's because I'm not a very keen editor.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I did a little c_L book of mine, but it was a very small edition of 26 copies. I've self-published a lot of things and hesitated to put c_L on it. I actually have put out an occasional series of chapbooks since 2009 under the press name "spitch" but I haven't put my name on the poems... just my initials. None of this is based on my ethics, only my inclinations.

11 – How do you see c_L books evolving? Well, I'm applying for a grant to do this collaboration with a very well-established label out of London. But, I don't really think c_L is evolving. I'm able to put less and less time into it, because I've got young kids and am going back to school. I'm like the Ramones, and even though I really like avant garde stuff and aspire to be La Monte Young or whatever, as a publisher, I'm the Ramones. Or whatever the confluence of La Monte Young and The Ramones is. I say the Ramones because they were against evolving. Everything I've designed has been in open source software I only kind of know how to use (I'm learning things here and there still). I wouldn't have it any other way! Octopus and Wave make beautifully designed, edgy books, I know Drew Scott Swenhaugen, designer for Gramma and Octopus, and I think he's a genius, mad skills. And I'd love to do something for a press like that. But I would still want to do this in my spare time. When I can't sleep. With no budget. D.A. Levy should probably be invoked here.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration? A book by Sam Lohmann (Lines on Canvas or What I Know or Have Seen of His Life, 2011). Why aren't there more of those? I love that book as a physical object, down to the clumsy design - I didn't know how to translate fonts to the PDF that got sent to the printers, so the opening section was published with the wrong font! And there was all kinds of mess with the letterpressed cover. That's the kind of stuff I like. But Sandra Gibbons' "Tender Buttons: Objects" A box of greeting cards with full-color illustrations of 18 poems from Tender Buttons- that was really well-executed. Co-published with Maryrose Larkin's press. I should have kept more of those. And Morgan's book. I do still have some of those, and I love them so much. That's the segue to overlooked. People overlooked how weird that book is- or maybe they saw how weird it was- and walked away!

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out? At the very beginning, with chapbooks, I was just kind of looking at everything generally and nothing specifically. And I was learning things as I went along, though I did watch what some of my friends were doing. But I was interning at a bookstore, and got to catalogue a collection of mimeographed magazines. I was changed forever... This should reveal something, again, about my design sensibility. Looking at those (Bezoar, A Hundred Posters, Adventures in Poetry, etc.), they led me to do a newsletter, and for a few years that was my life-giving breath.

14– How does c_L books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see c_L books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations? I don't do a very good job at this. I used to socialize with other publishers more and go to more readings, but I'm not doing that much now because of the family. I do what I can but I'm not engaging the community much right now. I have engaged more in other capacities, specifically with Nate Orton's my day, which has more people in my community's attention than c_L does. I hope to start being more engaging, least of all because of the political situation. I think it calls for engagement.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events? Outside of my capacity as a publisher, I mean I have been organizing readings for years with a group called Spare Room, our lineup has changed over the years, but we're a group that have been putting on readings for more than ten years. That has often allowed for my authors to read at Spare Room events... but I don't know if any of those were book releases. I tried to get Nico Vassilakis to come out last year and read from Alphabet Noir (2016), but he couldn't because of school. I think I will get Kyle out to read from Let's Drift... soon...

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals? I send emails to people who buy books.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for? I'm agnostic on submissions. But I think most of my books were 'submitted,' without being requested, yes, easily. I've never asked for submissions, and I haven't solicited much either, and yet!

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special. OK. Well I just published Let's Drift, by Kyle Schlesinger. It's a meditation on the west. The idea of the west, the wild west. But more of a jumping off point than a goal in the author's mind. It isn't big-C or little-c conceptual at all. Kyle's a poet in the tradition of Creeley, Whalen, and Dorn. But also Robert Hunter, and his prose is overwhelmingly good. I don't think it's been published much and it's very cool to see here! Also, there is a squashed bug. It's Kyle's whimsy lighting upon mine. In won't elaborate. Buy the book.

Last year I published alphabet noir, by Nico Vassilakis, and that book is just beautiful. It's longer than anything else I've published and as a result, I spent more time on it. It was on the backburner for years (sorry, Nico). But I think it's just aesthetically a real stunner. It may be my least "naive" work as a publisher. I scrutinized it and for some reason it's still good. The binding is beautiful and ugly at the same time (that's the naivete), but its dust jacket (in the European style) is pretty sweet. Nico, who's known as a visual poet, also writes a terrific prose, and there is a lot of that in this book.

I think the next most recent title is a few years old, but that's Salt Lover by Chris Ashby, and that's a very unique and weird publication. I showed it to someone recently and they pointed out that it would be a great letterpress project, instead of a laser-printed project, but nonetheless... I came across an archive of stuff from a bay area press who did some of the most interesting and unique underground publishing in the '60s and '70s, one of the greatest little presses ever, and there were all these envelopes with a printed image of a sculptural work by [name withheld] on it... the book was by [same], but this is just an envelope. I thought, why should these go to waste? So I took a poem of Chris,' laser printed it on some pretty sheets, stuffed it in the envelope, and then I printed the name of the poem, Chris', and c_L books on the envelope. I tried to contact the artist to get his blessing to no avail.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Friday, September 22, 2017

Jeramy Dodds, Drakkar Noir


My daughter starts dating a dwarf.
They attend a Bergman retrospective;
she gets home after midnight, every night.
My child is nine; the dwarf is ancient,
but short. I recall my child as an infant,
I could talk to her for hours. I can’t quite
remember or quit remembering the dwarf.
He rendered her a pickaxe pendant
from plunder hoarded from past times.
As though a pigeon’s leg only likes love
letters, I let myself think what I think
I should. Last night they saw The Silence
at a drive-in together. The dwarf
made the Sun’s front page. A photo of him
in the back of a squad car tossing
its lasso of cherries around the night.
He was wearing one of my shirts, taken in:
‘Time Traveller Caught with Miner,’
they had obviously made a mistake,
‘To Be Executed at Dawn.’ My child’s
voice is like leaves gnawing on light,
‘Will you be heading to the beheading?’

Montreal-based poet, translator and editor Jeramy Dodds’s second trade poetry collection is Drakkar Noir (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2017), a follow-up to his award-winning Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books, 2004) and The Poetic Edda (Coach House Books, 2014), a translation from Old Icelandic into English. “Drakkar Noir” translates to “black longship,” suggesting both a Gothic and Nordic influence, perhaps gathered from the extended period he spent living in Iceland. His poems reference the grimoire, ambrosia, minstrel and burlap; angels and minstrels populate these pieces, poems that suggest twisted and surreal campfire stories, tales whispered in dark corners or warnings presented to fellow travellers. “What is French for ‘beneath veneer,’” he writes, to open the poem “SOUVENIR,” “this title or my marriage?” There is something curious about the shift in his poems, blending some of what he’d done with his first collection with ancient folk tales or fables. As well, there are dark and almost sensational critiques/commentaries, such as those presented in his poem “CANADÆ,” that include: “Canada, I refuse to take / medication for this depression when we could just / talk about it.” He continues:

I can’t be the way you want me to be every time
Clifford Olson dangles some summer-schooler over
Niagara Falls, or scientists have cloned Robert Pickton
to man our missing persons’ helplines, or Bernardo and
Homolka have Tupperwared the all-you-can-eat buffet,
or Russell Williams becomes the Colonel of Truth, his flak
jacket packet with panties at IUDS. I can’t sail out of a Bell
booth with a six-pack and pecks.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

FENCE magazine, Vol. 18, No. 2 (summer 2017)

Sonnet 12: A Dialogue

“Do you know that it really could be cool
and hot, if we two could cross-pollinate,
could hug and dance and not be home too late
we could forget the past and start anew.”
“I don’t mind if youth lead the movement, and
let us steep our old riffs in their new sounds
never as new as they might think, and round
us, to glow a soul we can understand.”
“You lost me with youth,” “I bet I could be
a kickass step-dad,” “You know you must drum
a goofy & humble tune to win me.”
“I’ll listen and follow.” “As long as some
room’s left for deep clean oceans, I can come
back I always will.” “I love when you hum.” (Chris Stroffolino)

I’m always pleased to see a copy of FENCE magazine, a biannual journal of poetry and fiction produced out of the University of Albany. The latest issue, Vol. 18, No. 2 (summer 2017), includes an editorial by Rav Grewal-Kök speaks of the difficulty of the tasks of reading, editing and writing since the American federal election:

            Not that you have to be an immigrant. Anyone who is at all concerned about racial justice, women’s rights, reproductive rights, queer rights, indigenous rights, the labor movement, anti-Muslim bigotry, the prison-industrial complex, public schools, clean air and water, the climate catastrophe, health care, child care, poverty, hunger, student debt, foreign wars, torture, scientific research, arts funding, or a hundred other causes must recognize that we are living through an emergency. The bad news doesn’t stop. Of course, some tens of millions of my fellow citizens may view the present situation differently—just enough of them certainly voted differently—but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt, at various times since the inauguration, soiled, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

He ends his introduction by writing:

            In rereading the fiction printed in this issue, I’m not consoled. I just feel more like myself. Aren’t all these gestures—reading, writing, editing—also reminders that another life, an intimate life, still exists? I don’t think it’s escapism to reserve a space for gratitude. I will forget that truth, perhaps as soon as I finish writing this note and look at the day’s headlines. So I will have to find a way back to remembering again.
            It has been worse. It will get worse. Let’s go on.

Editorials such as this remind me of the multiple ways in which I am buffered from certain parts of Grewal-Kök’s concerns (I live north of the border, for example, but I know I am not entirely unaffected). I too, am troubled, and have lost sleep and work. What choice have we but to continue, and to resist, and to voice those anxieties, in part to better learn ways in which to resist, and to remain both healthy and sane? And even during periods of madness, can’t one take comfort from seeing those who have persevered through and even despite the madness, providing an example of how it is the rest of us can continue as well? Something I’ve been appreciating about the editorials of FENCE magazine [see my review of the previous issue here] is in how they have been attempting to engage with certain of the anxieties and conflicts surrounding culture, both abstractly and very specifically, and I applaud how they voice their concerns as part of a larger dialogue.

FENCE has long been one of my favourite North American literary journals, not just for the variety but the strength of the material they include, and part of the highlights of this issue includes my introduction to the works of incredible writers such as poets Tom Haviv, Aaron Coleman and Katie Fowley, and fiction writer Noy Holland. Brooklyn poet Tom Haviv’s “Didactic Poem” appears to be part of his first trade collection, A Flag of No Nation, a book newly out and one that engages with documentary and narrative poetics and performance through a sequence of inventive lyric sequences. Aaron Coleman’s prose sequence “Shadows Uplifted,” subtitled “A TRANSGRESSIVE TRANSLATIONOF FRANCIS HARPER’S 1892 NOVEL IOLA LEROY, OR, SHADOWS UPLIFTED,” moves across the page in a curious combination of collage and absence, shifting sections in a compelling use of white space and very specific, seemingly erratic, movement. Katie Fowley’s two poems included in this issue engage an accumulative precision that is really quite breathtaking, and quite compelling. Fiction writer Nov Holland, the more established writer of this quartet, has three very short stories included in this issue, and I am curious to see what else she has produced; as part of his introduction, Grewal-Kök writes: “What I would still give for an ear like Noy Holland’s, who sings of beauty and love right at the edge of the abyss.”

Bitty Cessna

Bluebird day, a fine day to fly. They taxi out, no radio, roiling dust, the airport bleak and uncontrolled. A vulture stands on the head of a cactus and displays its wings to dry. “What’s he waiting for?” the instructor jokes. Of course he’s flirting. Horny, disappointed man, too tall to fly the fighters and color blind besides. He calls her Sunshine. A face like sunshine. First the climb, full on, the big blue he can’t see. She’s to stall, spin, recover. Pretty, a lay, college girl. She lives behind the hangars in a school bus. She turns the plane upside down. Everything in the cockpit is a missile now, launched, flying at their heads. Wallowing, sloppy, sickening plunge—the altimeter sweep, the stick clutched in her hands. “IT’S MY PLANE,” he shouts, meaning, let go, fool. That we may live. May we seem to have lived. He sees again the spines of the cactus, the meaty face of the vulture, ravenous, a dream. Bitty Cessna, yellow as the dress his mother wore. Mother war. Mary. Gone to God. Mine. (Noy Holland)

Over the one hundred and fifty-plus pages of the current issue, there are certainly more highlights, even if I choose but to begin with four from writers I hadn’t been previously been aware of (there isn’t space to discuss everything). I would certainly point out new poems by Jasmine Dreame Wagner, Carmen Giménez Smith, Rusty Morrison, Daniel Borzutzky, Kelli Anne Rufle, Marty Cain and Hazel White, as well as fiction by Hilary Plum and Yanara Friedland, as well as the striking artwork both within and on the cover by Buzz Slutzky. The real question becomes: exactly why aren’t you already reading this journal? And then there’s this short poem by Jason Mitchell, included towards the back of the issue:

good sign

I found two aubergine
Amethysts tucked inside a crushed


Velvet pouch on one of the trails while
Hiking in the rain, and took it as a
Love charm and good sign, and the one


Tinier stone almost jumped out of my
Hand when I first took it out I
Bobbled it a few times before securing it


In the palm of my hand, and read into
The event as the small stone being you
And took that as a good sign too.