Thursday, December 08, 2016

Fence magazine #32 : fall/winter 2016

It’s remarkably rare for the editorial of a journal to respond in such a way as Fence has to one of its own editors, as Charles Valle writes in his articulate and deeply sensitive editorial [see the full text here]:

            Earlier this year, the Fence editorial staff had several lengthy and intense discussions sparked by [editor] Rebecca [Wolff]’s insensitive Facebook comments on the Purdey Lord Kreiden/Michael Taren video and a poem with a racial slur in the title she wrote and read in public. The longest thread ran 56 emails deep. We were hurt and angry and disappointed in various degrees. As a person of color, as a friend, it felt shitty. As a colleague, it felt deflating knowing people would associate and attribute the words and actions of the public face (Rebecca) with the other 15 editors.

Long one of my favourite American journals, I’m pleased to see Fence discussing the actions and words of a single editor, responding to such as an organization, and attempting to move forward. The editorial ends with:

            Earlier in the year when we were reeling from Rebecca’s insensitivities and gross articulations of white privilege, we discussed several actions and proposals. Some of the actions were prescriptive and could be easily and quickly implemented. Others were more radical in scope.
            The consensus is that we do not want any tokenizing gestures. We want action and we want our actions to be intentional and transparent. We want to publish majority POC, majority Queer.
            We recognize a structural problem. We are in the process of a rethinking, a paradigm shift, a self-administered kick in the ass. In the next couple of years, Fence will continue to evolve and iterate. We will take risks. We will make mistakes. We will learn. We will refine. We are committed to making Fence a place that writers of color care about. We need you, dear reader, to hold us accountable.

Obviously, a discussion of the new issue can’t help but include a mention of such an editorial (I was completely unaware of any of this until reading such); while I’m not wishing to pour salt on any wounds or make matters worse, nor wishing to distract away from the actual content of the issue itself, but such a public admission by such a long-standing journal is not only brave, but required. I applaud them for such, and hope they can find their way forward.

On the television
A woman carves from a stack of rice krispie squares
Human breasts.

I feed cut watermelon to my grandmother.

I am low and found; I am high and found.
When I read that part to my mom over the phone she
Cries. It’s sad
She says.

I put my ticket there on her Visa.

The next day my cousin sends me a message.
I read the message.
Then what I do is call my mother.
Now you don’t have any more grandparents!
She’s crying – and good now
I am
Too. (Aisha Sasha John, “In August I visited my Gran.”)

Entirely separately to that, the issue itself holds some damned fine work, and the opening pieces by Toronto poet Aisha Sasha John, “from I have to live,” is just stunning, as are works by Emily Abendroth, Amanda Nadelberg, Henry Israeli, Elizabeth Robinson (a personal favourite) and Debora Kuan. The prose pieces by Khadijah Queen, also, apparently composed as breathless reminiscences, are incredibly striking; I would like to see more of these, please:

I was nine or ten when I met Minister Louis Farrakhan at Mosque No. 27 on Crenshaw

I was nine or ten when I met Minister Louis Farrakhan at Mosque No. 27 on Crenshaw everyone kept saying how he wouldn’t be giving that many appearances anymore because he had cancer & I stood in line with my mother & sister to meet him we had on our white MGT-GCC uniforms my mother was a captain so she had on a fez & my sister & I had pristine head scarves the same thick material as our dresses & starched to perfection the line was really long but we were close to the front so my white patent leather shoes hadn’t yet started to pinch when I climbed the steps of the dais & he held both his hands out for my hands & smiled & his skin was so clear I remember how shiny it was not in a greasy way but a bright kind & he called me little sister & asked my name & said it was the same as his wife’s & he expected me to live up to its greatness

Consider for a moment, if you will, the remarkable fact that American poet Cole Swensen is working on a sequence of poems under the title “LISA ROBERTSON: SEVEN WALKS,” clearly referencing Robertson’s Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. I am very excited to see where and how these poems end up:

The petal was another one; it undid, and then one again, one pale room
over the market turning pink. It is early in the rhythm of the theater of

the soon. We walked the vowel into an archive through windows rent
apparent by bombing, entirely morning – light can seem to strike light in

a spear that breaks, but we are used to the broken, and so built a library. (“The First Walk”)

There is also a numerical work by Kyle Booten, “Laminations (after Ed Ruscha),” reminiscent slightly of the numerical works by the late Canadian poet Wilfred Watson (a kind of writing I haven’t seen anyone replicate or be influenced by, to my knowledge; I fully suspect Booten has never heard of Watson); while the numerical systems (each stanza repeating the cycle of three) might not be connected to the works of the American artist Edward Ruscha, the text itself does seem to be influenced by him, as the poem opens:

1:         Thanks to the doctors. I
2:                     123023 Wilshire B
3:                                        Honey

The issue also hosts a healthy folio of “Other Worlds,” a section of, as folio editors Andrea Lawlor and Trey Sagar call it, “new writing that called itself speculative, or fantasy, or science fiction, knowing that innovative writers have been working inside of and into these genres for years.” The folio includes works by M. Milks, Nathaniel Mackey, Elizabeth Breazeale, Kathryn Davis (as well as an interview with her conducted by Rav Grewal-Kök), Michael Holt, Brenda Iijima and Metta Sáma.

I will die as young as any other man who has ambition. I will die with thirty pieces of silver in my mouth. I will die with gold coins on my eyes. I will die with no hunger …no hunger. I will die filled and flesh-clean …lithe. Leader will call me Traitor …Judas. I will call him Liar. Dragon. Skins made of pounded copper flattened gold mica stolen from lands he called Empty of People. People, Leader said, have Souls. And all Souls Follow Leader. We killed those who refused to flee and Leader called us Holy Warriors. We drank the blood warm from the dying bodies we crushed their bones and fed on their marrow …Dragons, Leader said, we’ll all be Dragons …Too many unrecorded years have come and gone and I am no longer the boy raked from the trash. I am a man. I never believed in Dragons. I am a Man. Leader may no longer eat from my flesh. I am a Man. I will die covered in my sins. I will die a Man. I will die with no shame. I will die a Man. I am a Man. I never believed in Dragons. (Metta Sáma)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press fair (part two,

So many notes! And of course, see my prior notes here, as well as my ongoing notes on Meet the Presses, also.

Ottawa ON: I’m very pleased to see dream punk (A Bywords Publication, 2016), a first chapbook of poems by Ottawa poet and clinical psychologist Ron Seatter, produced as part of The John Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook Series, judged by Matthew Rader and run annually by

I like the meditational quality of Seatter’s poems, the quiet subtlety of his observations. The poems are strongest when they are direct, precise and exploratory, rippling outward in a slow and quiet manner.

no i in buffalo

no we
in sagittarius

saucy riders

border guards

interstates of


ok, there is an ‘us’

admitting the zodiacal

lingual nodules

tons of lawlessness
but deliberate

on chewed highways

Ottawa ON: Natalie Hanna’s battleaxe press, along with producing chapbooks, has been producing small single-poem pamphlets as a broadside series that, at least for now, focuses on Ottawa poets, most of whom I really haven’t read much by. The first four in the series are “I don’t but she do but she ain’t so I won’t” by Liam Burke, “The Child Who Didn’t Make A Sound” by Jennifer Pederson, “the ‘pataphysics of internet dating” Amanda Earl and “civilian” by Mia Morgan, each produced in editions of one hundred copies. The designs for such are rather straightforward (which isn’t a bad thing), and produced on far better paper than most chapbooks I’ve seen lately. I’m intrigued by these, and curious as to see where the series might go next. The end of Morgan’s three-page poem reads:

daddy will always think
in walls
            them versus me
            us versus them


like the ocean
            there versus here


[what some random kid typed on the late William Hawkins' typewriter]

Kingston ON: I’m intrigued by the very small chapbooks that Michael e. Casteels’ Puddles of Sky Press has been producing lately, some of which include but a single poem on a single page. Some of the most recent in the series include Alice Burdick’s CHORE CHOIR (2016), Nick Papaxanthos’ Very Uncomfortable (2016), Lillian Necakov’s ASK (2016), derek beaulieu’s VEXATIONS 2: XEROX WORKCENTRE 5755 (2016), Dale Tracy’s What It Satisfies (2016) and Casteels’ own The Shape of Things to Come (2016), each produced in runs of seventy-five copies.

A black cloud swirls over our city, flies so thick they block out the sun. No one sleeps for the ever-present drone. The moment dinner is served they descend and ravage the meal. We’re left making thin soups with whatever bones we can find. Our repellents are futile. Our coils of flypaper remain bare. We swat at them, but they zip past like tiny spaceships at red alert. They’re evolving faster than we are and soon we’ll be the ones buzzing around the streets looking for something to believe in. (Michael e. Casteels)

There is something quite lovely about the very small chapbook, and not many publishers work to embrace such publications. Obviously, derek beaulieu’s No Press produces such, as did damian lopes’ fingerprinting inkoperated (a press that recently has been known to release the occasional item again, after a break of a decade or more), but they are few and far between. These little items are quite striking, in part because they contain so little text, and thusly, demand a great deal of attention.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is the author of Bone Confetti (Noemi Press 2016). Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can be found or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish Magazine, inter/rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to the Blood-Jet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-Editor of Apogee Journal. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I think: "It has" and "It hasn't." After Noemi Press announced that they were going to publish Bone Confetti, I wrote about the weight of my gratitude here, which is that strange mixture of thanks, exhilaration, guilt, wariness, and weariness that comes with publishing as a writer of color. Since the announcement of the book's publication, I've had the opportunity to talk about and share my work in ways that I haven't previously. I spoke with Corinne Segal for PBS NewsHour here for instance, which is the first time I've discussed grief, politics, and queerness, as subjects of the book and my life, so intimately and publicly, knowing my family would read about it. I'm sure it would be possible to read the book and to treat the post-apocalyptic landscape of two doomed lovers as purely an imagined one without any autobiographical context. But to say it aloud, to offer up that context, I think, is not a disclaimer but an opening for the very intimate knowledge of grief and loss that have always felt like a box in my own life. This includes the failures of queer love and intimacy rituals all the way to the loss of my father to cancer. In my own life, I've never been one to look away from the wound and here, in this book, the wound is pointing back at me and everyone else. To read it, as either stranger or someone who loves me, is to gain some proximity to this grief and loss, to toggle back and forth between a strangeness and also familiarity of feeling. All the while, I'm thinking, what can a first book do? What can it accomplish? For me, it serves as an important conduit for necessary conversations and to lay bare the thing that has been desperate to speak all along.

Bone Confetti is a rendition of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth stuck in a broken record -- it's about two lovers who live and die and live and die again. It's about loss and how to reconcile grief when loss occurs in such rapidity. All of this to me is deeply intimate and political though I don't necessarily know if the individual poems of the project have always been regarded that way.

Perhaps what has changed since the book's publication is that I've become more hyper-vigilant about the politics of publishing, author autonomy, and that testy arena of "self-representation." There have been a lot of conversations with other writer friends about their first books and how they've found that the conversations that happen before and after publication have been just as important as the book itself. I find all of this valuable and I hope to carry their varied knowledge with me for a very long time.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My first genre was actually fiction! When I was six, I wrote a picture book about a monarch butterfly searching for his monarch butterfly community. He kept stumbling upon other non-butterfly creatures. He even came across a really rude moth at one point. He would be so discouraged time after time. In the end, right when he was about to give up, he came across a fellow monarch butterfly and then another. Together, they migrated south. He was never alone from that day forward.

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?
I work best with specific prompts and constraints. It happens fast, usually, if I decide first on a formal constraint. Not very good with free writing and letting it evolve into something usable.

A lot of the poems in Bone Confetti came from the summer of 2014 when I returned from NYC to Baton Rouge after traveling for a month. That summer, I ended up pet-sitting and house-sitting for a good number of LSU English department folks. To break up the monotony, I challenged myself to write a poem a day with the goal to always finish before dinner time. I had a skeleton of a working manuscript at that point. I started to draft a list of poems I wanted to write to fill in the flesh of the manuscript -- a prayer poem, a poem about a ghost factory, a poem to keep an inventory of all things, etc. It gave a sense of directive to daily writing, which is always what I needed.

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?
Truong Tran once said to write towards the book and not the single poem. Since that advice, I've been writing towards the book. I think of the world I want to build and then I think of a box that can hold it. I write towards it, filling it as best I can.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They aren't, admittedly, in terms of what I consider the production part of the creative process. However, I do think community building is an essential part of the creative process and readings are one part of it. For the most part, I do enjoy readings -- doing them and attending -- but I'm also aware that a lot of the times, readings aren't the most inclusive spaces. They can also feel transactional and business-like. I'd love for them to feel more open and inviting. At this point, I'm excited to see how writers and performers are taking back this space and playing with expectations of how to experience a reading other than to sit still for two hours. 

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?
I want to know about affect, what lies beyond the most immediate feeling to explore its ripples. I'm interested particularly in feelings of discomfort and other undesirable upsets in our body spanning panic to grief. I try to name them and their shapes under particular moments of pressure and to examine why this urgency for definition must arise. The study of affect, I always feel, is a way of exploring the sediments of race, gender, sexuality, and other identity politics in such a way that it compels us to look closer at the myriad parts of these social identities, which can feel so removed at times but so deeply intimate all at once. I like to ask myself: Where do you feel pain today? Where does the body go from here? Who are your ghosts and where are they traveling?

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 have many thoughts about this, but the largely contested belief that I hold onto is that the writer must be socially engaged and responsible. I think writers who proclaim "art for art's sake" dismiss their work from a larger social context. It usually means the creation of art for purely the purpose of provocation, which is a very diminishing purpose that inevitably trivializes other significant works of art that converse with the larger social fabric of the world. It feels like a destructive act. It's solipsistic and creates sway only through the enactment of violence by an influential artist body (an act of privilege). It reifies the proprietary quality of art-making that I resist, a quality that insists that one must accept the violence the art perpetuates in order to be a full participant in the art world. I'm sorry, but fuck that.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I've had only positive experiences working with editors thus far, but I count myself very lucky. Most of my relationships with editors have been very collaborative. When editors have returned my work to me with notes, it always feels like a conversation that understands the rules of consent, and I always feel listened to and challenged thoughtfully. Perhaps a lot of this attitude is informed by being an editor myself. I believe a lot in writer autonomy and offer edits only as suggestions that I take care to explain. I recognize that sharing one's work with an editor is a highly vulnerable process no matter the stage of one's writing career, new or more established. I believe in being compassionate when someone no longer feels comfortable publishing one part of their work or decides to alter their direction completely. I try to offer a compromise when those situations arise, and when it doesn't work out, I still believe in supporting that writer's work even if it doesn't culminate in publication through a project I'm involved in.

I owe a lot of my education as an editor to Joey De Jesus, my dear co-editor of poetry at Apogee Journal. Figuring out how to be both a writer and editor takes a lot of trying and messing up from time to time, but eventually I did forge my own ethics. Joey has always given me space to develop my voice in that way and for that, I'm so thankful.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Grace Lee Boggs, an Asian American activist who has been a fundamental part of my politicization once said, "We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously." I think it's very easy to be politically apathetic or to dismiss the important role one can play in social change in the world. What Boggs proposes is that we see these small, localized actions as a part of a larger effort towards change. I believe in how big these small acts can be, how they alter us in terms of how we relate to the world, and how such labor towards community building can connect to larger, systemic change.

10 - 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 have absolutely no writing routine. I leave my computer on as it overheats and write a little bit throughout the day, peppering in time to cook, clean, and wash my underwear. I typically "finish" a piece of writing at night, perhaps by default when the body and mind is worked to exhaustion. I can't stand wasted time so the idea of sitting in front of my computer with extended periods of silence and non-typing make me antsy. It's a different sort of discipline, I think, than those who are able to sit still for long periods of time and produce accordingly to those hours. I give myself deadlines, but the process of getting there is almost always a bit haphazard.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Perhaps this is aligned with my haphazard and scattered way of writing -- I keep inventory of my favorite essays and articles online through an app called Pocket. Throughout the course of one week, I would have amassed a dozen unread essays and articles that I would pour through when I'm feeling stalled in my writing. It helps that the articles and essays range from scientific ones discussing water molecules as carriers of memory to how the film, The Battle of Algiers has been used as part of counterinsurgency education by different military groups. In a way, they're all relevant and present an interesting challenge to see how this assortment of content can be collaged either consciously or subconsciously into my writing.

I also used to hula hoop and wouldn't allow myself to get back to the writing until I beat my previous time.  

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of hot oil. Scallions. Ginger. One of my favorite foods is steamed bass cooked with ginger and scallions and then doused with hot oil and soy sauce. My mother knows this and makes it for me every time I visit her in NYC. I don't know how she does it, but she also makes it just right.

13 - 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?
It seems only natural that we would draw from different genres and forms just as we would pull from different banks of memory or ways of contending with language. For Bone Confetti, myths, folklore, and iterations of ghosts are heavy influences. The post-apocalyptic setting of the book also draws from a whole array of genres such as science fiction and video games that contend with world building.

Artists like Ana Mendieta and Agnes Varda -- their works with silhouettes (residue and erasure) and acts of creative "gleaning," respectively, have also challenged the way I thought about process, making, and political intention. I write often too about Wong Kar Wai, a director whose films are deeply sentimental to me because they are a conduit between one imagination of Hong Kong and my mother's memory of the city.

I'm also invested in trauma and affect studies with particular interest in intergenerational inheritances of trauma and how residues of conflict persist after historical violence. And yes, I'm interested in feelings.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
This is going to be quite a list. I love writers across different fields and genres. Of creative writers who move into critical spaces in thoughtfully inventive ways, I love Claudia Rankine, Bhanu Kapil, Cathy Park Hong, and Maggie Nelson. I'm still very much in love with Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, my first and forever. Also Lydia Davis. Of theoretical writing, most definitely Sara Ahmed, Mimi T. Nguyen, Trinh T. Minh-ha, José Esteban Muñoz, Edouard Glissant, Avery Gordon, and so much more.

I would also like to say that the poets who have been published through Apogee Journal have left deep impressions on my life and work. Fatimah Asghar's "9 of Disks" still floors me with grief with every read. Saretta Morgan's "From Auto Index" is so visually and textually subversive; she is also just an absolutely brilliant soul as well. Cathy Linh Che, with the quiet and powerful disturbance of her poem "I still cannot dress attractively without feeling that I am endangering myself," which rocks you with urgency. Jennifer Tamayo's "Guatavita, La Dorada" -- I still go back to every now and then and adorn my heart with its call for liberation. I wish I had the space to write on each one! But I hope you read them.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Learn to swim. Successfully.

16 - 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?
A botanist.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
In times when it felt like everything hurt, writing felt the closest thing to balm.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I just finished Bhanu Kapil's Humanimal, which gutted me in the best way. The last film I watched was Berberian Sound Studio (2012). It was not great.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Currently, I'm at work on a new project, a hybrid genre revision of "The Little Red Riding Hood" fairytale featuring a half wolf and half girl protagonist. I've been toying with different iterations of the poetic essay, which at this point has played with incorporation of watercolor illustrations and memoir. I'm interested in where the real and the fantastical collide and become one and the same. I'm excited by this project, particularly because it's in its initial unwieldy phase -- this uncertain stage is my favorite part.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, December 05, 2016

A perimeter (New Star Books) : my latest poetry title is now available,

My latest poetry collection, A perimeter (New Star Books), is now available, and actually has been for a couple of weeks. Thanks so much to everyone at New Star, especially the brilliant editor/publisher Rolf Maurer, for incredible support, and for assisting in putting together what might easily be one of my strongest collections.

Maybe someone out there can request a review copy, and/or interview me around the collection, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm? I even had copies at those two recent small press fairs I attended (as well as sending out copies to some of my Patreon supporters), and you can either order directly from the publisher here, or pick up a copy through me (or: send me $20 through paypal and I’ll even mail you one, signed, if you wish; for American addresses, send $20 US; anything further away, send me an email and we shall discuss). I’ve been a month or so thinking about a launch, but haven’t been able to grasp the attention span to actually plan anything. Maybe something in January? As they say: “Watch this space.”

Back in September, my neighbourhood newspaper, Vistas, was good enough to request I do a short write-up on the whats-and-whys of the collection. They published this in their October issue:

rob mclennan, A perimeter

Books are made through and for a variety of reasons. My new poetry collection, A perimeter (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2016), emerged, in part, from our appearance onto Alta Vista Drive three years back. After two-plus decades renting in Centretown, I’ve now been a homeowner for three years, with wife Christine and two girls under three. What does it mean to own property? In a climate increasingly aware of ‘unceded territory,’ what does it mean to be ‘settler,’ or even, owning a house on former farmland? We settle ourselves into arbitrary boundaries, property lines, and hold on for dear life. I’m also now in an area familiar to family history: my maternal grandparents original owners of a house on Kirk Drive, a street later renamed Ridgemont. My parents married in the church across the street from our front door, and relocated nearly an hour’s drive east, near Maxville, to his home property. How do I rewrite myself into this familial space?
Also, the book explores the newness of (new) fatherhood, and include an array of scratched lines that make up all I managed to accomplish during the first three months after my daughter Rose was born. While I’m uncertain A perimeter is necessary built with any quick or easy answers, these are some of the questions and queries I’ve been exploring (and continue to explore). How did I get here? And what and where is here, exactly?