Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Diana Arterian, playing monster :: seiche

my father and i are preparing a meal

He has to go outside, has
to tend to something

He instructs me not to touch
his ingredients

to continue slicing mushrooms

I do, wielding a knife
too large for my hand

When he returns, I watch
out of the corner of my eye

as he stops to scan
the items on the counter
with heavy pause—

he so certain
I have tampered with them

I recently received a copy of Los Angeles poet Diana Arterian’s debut poetry collection, playing monster :: seiche (1913 Press, 2017), the first poetry title I’ve seen to come with a disclaimer: “While this work renders events from ‘real life,’ the author takes liberty with her representations of events, individuals, timelines, sources, etc., and makes no claim of factual accuracy in the work. Any similarity to any individuals other than the members of the author’s immediate family is coincidental.” 

The disclaimer, in certain ways, is as troubling as the content of the collection itself. Writing on “family violence and childhood terror,” the poems in playing monster :: seiche are disturbingly matter-of-fact, composed in a calm, unadorned and straightforward lyric. This is an extremely dark book, but written in a way that doesn’t embellish. Through her short lyric narratives, Arterian tells and re-tells, exploring the facts and details of what had occurred to the narrator over a period of years, from poems with titles that include 1974 and into the 1980s and beyond, writing of violence against the mother, herself and her siblings, from early fights between the narrator’s parents, to the furthering of violence even after the father is finally convinced to leave. As the poem “while in college” begins: “my older sister / begins to have flashbacks // She remembers / being in my father’s house / late at night // alone with him [.]” Throughout, Arterian’s poems offer no answers or even a resolution, even as the courts eventually take the narrator’s mother’s side, but instead offers a poetry of witness, writing out the details of a series of lives lived in fear, elements of the court system, and the father’s ongoing brutality, even as he extends his reach to starting another family, and starting the cycle anew. As the poem “my mother surprises us one easter –” ends:

It is during this argument
that my mother decides
he must leave—

when he knocks her
onto the bed and puts

his hand over
her mouth

to silence her

She sleeps on the couch
for nearly a year

but it is only
when she agrees to pay
fifty thousand dollars
of his debt
that he leaves
for good

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristi Maxwell

Kristi Maxwell's books include That Our Eyes Be Rigged (Saturnalia Books) and PLAN/K (Horse Less). She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisville 

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 remember getting the call from Janet Holmes in the summer of 2006 telling me Ahsahta Press wanted to publish Realm Sixty-four. After we said goodbye, I threw up in the bushes. So the story about how my first book changed my life begins with how the acceptance of my first book for publication meant I had a new home, one with press-mates who regularly wow me and a publisher who continues to support me beyond that first book and allows me to have a sense of belonging as a poet, who thus free me up to continue to follow language down the various paths it leads me.

My new work is moving away from sound as the guiding impulse (though sound will always be important to my poems). The associative energy, however, feels the same—or at least a continuation of my earlier poems.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I was pretty young, I had to take speech therapy, and my speech therapist had me repeat Gerard Manley Hopkins’ lines to her because his words are so mouth-dense/sound-rich and help a young tongue learn some flexibility and movement. In some very real ways, I consider Hopkins’ poems my first words. I have the first six lines of part 8 of “Wreck of the Deutschland” tattooed on my back, so his words continue to be bound up with my sense of embodiment, with my being-in-language. Poetry is the genre that feels most bound up in the foundational ways I see and say the world.

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 on the day—month—year—decade—impulse—sense of fidelity. One of the writing projects I’m most excited to start writing felt for a while like a corrupted seed, but now there’s a hint of something finally emerging, and the poems will benefit from it—because I’m older, because I have had more encounters with loss and a better understanding of commitment, which are two of the project’s primary investments.

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 usually begins for me with a word or a phrase. The repetition of three letters—“ach”—in “stomachache,” for example. As far as the second question goes, I’ve done it both ways: my two most recent books, Bright & Hurtless and My My, began as individual poems that I ultimately realized were den-mates and then a book of poems. It was a good shift for me: to be writing without expectation, to just be writing—I’m happy (and not too surprised) that a shared sensibility emerged among the poems I was working on in these various segments of time.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings feel more neutral than “part of or counter to [my] creative process.” I have begun to enjoy readings again, though I definitely went through a period when readings depressed me. A lot of the life of my writing is on the page—is visual—and this aspect of the poems is hard to translate into the reading of them.

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 am interested in form as performance—form as something the text does rather than something content is contained within. I remain interested in the unconscious of the text: the “more” that it says, the moments when mishearing and misreading create and complicate meanings and energies. I guess my primary questions always are: what does a word do? What does a word hold? What happens when a word glances at another word? What happens when it stares?

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 one role of the writer is to provide sites for new habits of attention to emerge and/or to model different ways of seeing, noticing, making visible. In a fast-paced world, I think poetry—with its recursive bent—can be particularly useful in reminding us the value of slowing down, dwelling, circling, revisiting.

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. I was lucky enough to have an amazing MFA cohort at the University of Arizona who prepared me for hearing other people’s feedback and choosing when and when not to integrate certain insights into a revision. I’ve been lucky to have editors who trust me and whom I trust.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don’t hold grudges.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Initially, it was a struggle. When I entered the PhD program in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati, I went into one of my professor’s offices at the end of the first semester and told him the graduate committee must have admitted me by mistake because I was an academic fraud. Luckily, he gave me a well-meaning and well-timed eye roll, told me to go do a rhetorical analysis of x, y, and z journals, then to go write my paper. I did, and then I wrote another one and another one, and eventually I started feeling a little more agile in my critical prose. It was a proud moment for me to win UC’s critical essay prize my final year in the PhD program and another proud moment when my piece on footnotes and endnotes as form in Jenny Boully’s The Body and [onelove affair]* got picked up by Textual Practice. I find writing critical prose quite energizing. I have a monograph in mind and now that I have research support at the University of Louisville, I hope to complete it.

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’m a professor, so my writing schedule depends on my teaching schedule. After being on the job market for six years, I’m very lucky to now have a tenure-track job and a 2/2 load (compared to my previous contingent status and 5/5 load)—research and writing are part of my paid workload, which makes an incredible difference (in all the ways). When I’m on a MWF, I make sure to set aside the first several hours of the day on TR for my own writing. If I’m on a TR, then I set aside the first several hours of MWF for my own writing. Some afternoons, I write in the afternoon for 2-3 hours with one of my colleagues: it’s nice to have that kind of accountability, knowing someone else is expecting you to be writing. I don’t schedule writing for the weekends anymore, though I often find myself writing then. I think it’s important to find space to simply take in the world—in that way, the time I’m not writing is always already bound up to my writing time.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The letter, syllable, or a crossword puzzle. I love making a good word chain to get my mind moving and to start seeing and making connections that will trigger a line or series of lines.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
My husband Perry’s deodorant

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, definitely. All the above. I am very open to encounter.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Gerard Manley Hopkins taught my mouth how to move. Also important to me: Susan Howe, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Gertrude Stein, Harryette Mullen, Jack Spicer, Anne Carson, Richard Jackson, C.D. Wright, Charles Dickens, Christine Hume. My writer friends, of course, are important to my writing and my life outside of my work—I wish I could visit Tucson more (Kristen Nelson, TC Tolbert, Annie Guthrie, Frankie Rollins, and Drew Krewer are still there) and time-travel to Tucson in 2003-2012; I wish I could teleport Merinda Simmons, Jillian Weise, and Megan Martin to my house for coffee every morning. I’m very lucky to have great creative writing colleagues, including Kiki Petrosino, Ian Stansel, PaulGriner, and Sarah Strickley, along with poetry scholar Alan Golding.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Greece, which I finally get to do in August. Write a nonfiction book. Make eggplant bacon. Get my tires rotated and balanced. A whole range of consequential and inconsequential things.

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 think I would have made a good surgeon.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I grew up in a library family—my mom convinced us that checking out and reading books was just about the most exciting thing you could do. Reading led me to writing.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just finished Kate Greenstreet’s The End of Something, and I’m in the middle of Michael Rerick’s The Switch Yards and Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book. The last great film: without a doubt, I, Tonya.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently experimenting with the alexandrine for a manuscript I’m calling Undertaken.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Arc Walk Ottawa #1 : Centretown : curator/guide: rob mclennan

Arc Walks Ottawa is a series of guided walks based on poetry themes and capitalizing on the rich poetry history of Canada’s capital. Residents and visitors alike are welcome to join in on the walks to learn and revel in Ottawa’s poetry. 

Join in the first walk on World Poetry Day (Wednesday, March 21st). This walk, led by rob mclennan, will be a contemporary introduction to Ottawa’s literary history, visiting sites significant to poets of the National Capital Region such as John Newlove, William Hawkins, Judith Fitzgerald, Thomas D’arcy McGee, Michael Dennis and jwcurry, among others. 

The walk will begin at 4:30PM in front of 248 Bank Street, and it will continue to visit sites in Centretown. During the hour-long walk, participants will visit five locations where they will hear about some of Ottawa’s contemporary poetry history, and hear from a special guest poet (Jennifer Baker!). Come prepared for rain or snow or shine!

Concluding around 5:30PM, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to grab a bite to eat before VERSeFest’s second day of scheduled events:

See the Facebook event for such here.

For any questions or concerns, contact Chris Johnson: 

Guide Bio: 
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with the brilliant and utterly delightful poet and book conservator Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the CAA/Most Promising Writer in Canada under 30 Award in 1999, the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was twice longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. He has published books with Talonbooks, The Mercury Press, Black Moss Press, New Star Books, Insomniac Press, Broken Jaw Press, Stride, Salmon Publishing and others, and his most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). His next poetry title, Household items, is out later this spring from Salmon Publishing.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

my (small press) writing day : new essays + a submission call,

I’ve been curious for some time about The Guardian’s occasional feature “My Writing Day,” and thought it might be interesting to do a blog of the same, “for those of us who might never make it into The Guardian.”

[note: this isn’t a dig at The Guardian; I just thought it might be fun to play with the format]

So, like a fool, I’ve started a new blog: my (small press) writing day.

The list of current and forthcoming essays include pieces by Amish Trivedi, Colin Morton, rob mclennan, Sonia Saikaley, Amanda Earl, Jean Van Loon, Karl E. Jirgens, Lisa Pasold, Robert Martin Evans, Jennifer Pederson, Carla Hartsfield, Jason Christie, Eleni Zisimatos, Christian McPherson, Chris Johnson, Eileen R. Tabios, Joshua Corey, Claudia Radmore, Oscar Martens, Sacha Archer, Larkin Higgins, Kristina Drake, Kate Siklosi, Jared Schickling, Karen Smythe, Yanara Friedland, Paul Carlucci, Catherine Owen, j/j hastain, Gil McElroy, Adele Graf, Angela Lopes, Adam Thomlison, Brenda Schmidt, Michael Blouin, Jeanette Lynes, Keegan Lester, Jeremy Stewart, Zoë Landale, Jacqueline Valencia, Michael Dennis, Emily Sanford, Jennifer Baker, Aaron Tucker, Chris Galvin, K.I. Press, Nathaniel G. Moore, April Ford, Lily Gontard, Paola Ferrante, Alan Sondheim, Bänoo Zan, Emily Saso, Annick MacAskill, Ian LeTourneau, Jessica Hiemstra, Jessica Sequeira, Teri Vlassopoulos, Matt Jones, Sofia Mostaghimi, Joshua Weiner, Anita Dolman, Alex Manley, Joseph Cassidy-Skof, Ronna Bloom, Doris Fiszer, Maia Elgin, Cora Siré, Ken Sparling, Heather Sweeney, Sarah Crookall, Manahil Bandukwala, Dale Smith, Sara Renee Marshall, Sarah Burgoyne, Suzanna Derewicz, Jenna Jarvis, Missy Marston, Anna Maxymiw, Nicole McCarthy, Tim Mook Sang, Richard Harrison, Barbara Tomash, Nisa Malli, Steven Ross Smith, Frances Boyle, Sean Braune, Conyer Clayton, Ralph Kolewe, Noah Falck, Sharon McCartney, Dara Wier, Geof Huth, Brenda Brooks, David Bradford, Bola Opaleke, Robert Keith, Carl Watts and Shannon Quinn. And submissions are very welcome...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Mikko Harvey, Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit


When I want to be sweet and light like a blackberry

floating in a bowl of water, instead I am heavy

and awkward. When I want to be strong like a real

sword, instead I just sit here like a blackberry in a bowl

of yogurt. Once, I saw a suit of new skin floating

right in front of me. It was perfect. Just my size.

Sometimes, I spend the whole morning searching

for the morning. It was perfect. All I had to do

was step inside.

Maybe a good way to answer the question would be to offer you facts. I wrote the poems in Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit between 2012 and 2017. Most were written in Columbus, Ohio. Several started out as messages spoken into a voice recorder. I spent a lot of time walking down sidewalks pretending to be on the phone but actually muttering lines to myself. One poem was written on an airplane. Several of the poems act like short stories, or fables, and they would begin with a premise: if a bomb and a raindrop could talk to each other as they fell, what would they say? If anxious children were taught to strangle rabbits to treat their anxiety, what would that world look like? This rabbit question turned into the title poem. I’m not sure where the question came from—probably simply from my own anxiety, love of animals, fear of hurting what I love, etc. My subconscious is always rearranging these primal forces and offering them back to me in the form of weird little narrative conceits. Thank you, subconscious. At least two poems were written while playing basketball.

The lyrics in Harvey’s Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit unfold and unfurl to reveal succeeding layers of narrative oddities, such as the poem “THIRD DATE,” that opens: “We watched a yellow butterfly bounce, bounce, / then get annihilated by a truck, which cast a wing-sized shadow / over our trip to the state park. It was there, under the sugar / maple canopy, darling, that I learned of your hypoglycemia.” Where does a poem go from there? There are those say that the best thing a poem can do is to explore the already-familiar in an entirely new way, providing a fresh perspective that allows the reader to experience the world with new eyes, and this appears to be what Mikko Harvey brings to the lyric, offering the surreal through a rather straightforward narrative, one that twists and turns even as it holds entirely still, offering a line solid enough that any bird would trust to land upon it. Through Harvey, there is a comfort to the narrative uncertainty, one that reveals an array of surreal experiences and stories, both light and dark, that become entirely familiar, and work to twist expectation, but never unsettle.


I was born in a place where all the people were clean,
where Joanie had no trouble falling asleep,
where Frank was allowed to pay for breakfast
using seashells he’d collected, where ten lizards
arranged themselves in a circle for no clear reason,
where nobody’s wrists were too thin,
and when the man underthe stars with a knife in his pants
examined his reflection in the lake and asked
Is this the night? Is this the night I finally sing?
his reflection replied No, no, not tonight.
So the man curled up in a ball and fell asleep
and dreamt of a place where all the people were dirty,
so dirty, they began to believe they were clean.