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AB Series: Currin and Ball

discussion at the AB Series
Jen Currin and Jonathan Ball at the Mercury Lounge in the Q&A

Someone in the audience asked, do you lead with the idea or with the sound? Currin said it is both taking turns to lead. Ball said that he leads with the idea but expects disruption, interaction, inspiration from sound. If a poem goes according to the plan of route and he gets to the destination he thought he would at the start, the poem failed. It’s a disappointment. It would make it just an exercise of a draftsmen.

They discussed what is it that we’re trying to do in writing? Are we aiming to rough up our reader, do violence to their understandings and our own? Is a certain amount of violence necessary in some sense? Are we aiming for a collaborative eureka, put in place what can help them move themselves towards another mental frame? Surrealist such as Buñuel bring violence into the act of creation.

Is it necessary? What does radical mean as we sit in a middle class security? Is a cut up exercise wild and crazy enough to effect any sort of change? Would burning a phone book be more symbolically and psychically radical than to seed non-sequiturs? What would a blow to the historical patriarchy look like these days?

Both poets broker in ideas and sounds rather than an untroubled autobiographical narrative. There’s a common aim to overturn and be diligent but also to do so with a certain amount of humour.

John Ashbery and Alice Notley were major influence for Currin in the American formative period of career. Now immersed in and creating a richness of formations, she teaches and creates a Canadian context at Vancouver Community College. Ball makes his home in the creative hotbed of Calgary where he says he could name 30 major writers active today. The Prairie west is full of literary goodness even if it all doesn’t make the trek this far east often.

Jonathan Ball
Jonathan Ball read a bit from two of his books, mostly from his Coach House Books Clockfire and some from his BookThug title Ex Machina. Ball said in his remarks that he doesn’t like the idea of self-divulgent poems. He like ideas out there and work with them. I can relate to that.

Clockfire is all impossible-to-produce plays. For example, p. 40


The actors take the dreams of the audience. Take these dreams and carry them away. When the audience leaves the theatre, they leave such thoughts behind. They do not cry, and they tell no one, feign sleep.

Ex Machina is a different form of twist of text, a kind of machine-inspired, make-your own-mystery book.

Each line references another line so you can move about the book from page to page or concept to next. p. 42 starts with “Order as arbitrary.” and points to p. 47 which starts “Options exist” which points to p. 3 which starts, “Be aware of these risks”. (A fascinating little verbal-idea toy.)

Or on page 42 you might have go to the next line down “Choice governed by paranoia.” Each page may have between 2-8 references pointing to a different page.

Funny the cross-connections. Ball’s 2nd last book title was the poem title of one of Monty Reid’s poems, read only a few hours earlier at the Apt. 9 launch:

monty reid launching
Apt 9 launch at Raw Sugar April 16, 2011. (More pics from that at the bottom of this page, or you may have seen them already on FB.)

Ball announced he’d read a poem about gardening, the subject of Monty’s 2nd last chapbook In the Garden, part of a series of poems, that one out from above/ground.

The next day was an afternoon matinee with Jen Currin and another Q&A, also hosted by our Max Middle:
Max Middle

Jen Currin
Jen Currin among the Prairie Scene exhibit of Pimâskweyâw at Gallery 101 for her AB Series reading. (The image is by Joi Arcand, one of a few by Aboriginal women of that region of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the show.)

She has published three collections of poetry, The Sleep of Four Cities (Anvil Press, 2005) and Hagiography (Coach House, 2008) and The Inquisition Yours (Coach House, 2010).

The Inquisition Yours, called surrealist lyric by class, started out as questioning war and militarization, to bring back to the body and individual these notions of occluding bafflegab of casualties and drones, take the sword back out of the sheath of words, like terrorist. p. 55

Terrorist Secrets in our Shoes

There will be drinks.
I will sleep in tomorrow.

At ten and every o’clock —

friends of friends miss us and get along.

The soldier, her hypermasculinity,

I’m a category, right?

Like the imaginary novels of the last duchess —

We don’t know the names of the friends
she so desparately wants
to play with

You didn’t have your beard yet.
And birds always call late at night.

I make you up. I can’t help it.

Ah, a poem with airflow thru it, not holes in the pejorative but in the nostrils sense.

The little teases pop — word play like the reassessing the phrase as its spoken from specific to general, “at ten and every o’clock” has more play and more focus than either time alone would have had.

The sensation is up to the reader. I tripped the expected cultural place. As soon as I saw soldier, the connotation male and glossed over the pronoun, straight to hypermasculinity. But hm, truer with her. Male environs and female comrade is a hyping the masculine how much more so than the males already are pushing self to the expected external notions of gender and weaponry of human body.

In the Q&A there was discussion of the conundrum of war, of how we are involved and culpable even if “casualties” are as invisible to us as to the people at the controls of bombing drone planes.

The poem turns on itself and interrogates the idea of terrorist. Who qualifies? How everyday is it, how run of the millstone? Are people categorically similar in any way except outcome? Even in outcome? Culturally we create this meta-person, this artifact of our thinking, this verbal toy, like nation, like race, like gender, and that belief in what we create torques our talk and our behavior. How to be aware of what we are unaware of?

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] Pearl Pirie posted well about my recent trip to Ottawa, so since I’m too exhausted to write about the trip myself, I will let her words stand in for mine. Although I should note that in fact I live in Winnipeg, not Calgary (I did live there, but moved). Ball said that he leads with the idea but expects disruption, interaction, inspiration from sound. I… […]

  2. […] Although I should note that in fact I live in Winnipeg, not Calgary (I did live there, but moved). Ball said that he leads with the idea but expects disruption, interaction, inspiration from sound. I… Comment0 | Share | Tweet | +1 | print | email Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 […]

  3. […] Ball said that he leads with the idea but expects disruption, interaction, inspiration from sound. I… […]