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Poems at Play

What is the unit of composition? The line? The phrase? The sentence? The argument? The image? Life-wide? Sound? Form? Metaphor? Rhythmical unit?

When I look at how I think poetically, or generally, there’s a lot of constraint, but also a pattern of deconstructing and reconstructing strategies. I like to take words apart, dissect ideas. What I write is about what tickles, matters to me in some way, both in process and in result.

Incorporated into some poems in the pet radish, shrunken (BookThug, 2015), and Well That Puts generator page (or some autoposting to twitter on the hour), I am looking for words embedded in words that aren’t the root word. These give a little pleasure burst. These matryoshka words may break across the original syllables or change the vowel sound like, “Well, at the heart of improper is rope.” or “Well, that puts the cane in buccaneer.” The bot phrases it as if it has found a truth of the roots. This amuses me because of how sure people are in general about perfectly foolish things, mixing up cause and effect and coinciding events, but are equally sure of etymology because the dictionary vouches for it as real. The bot questions the real, tongue in cheek.

I have had a chapbook underway for years which plays false etymologies of words or phrases. For example, to stagnate: to be like a stag deer. How that metaphor would expand if we pretend a folk anecdote of etymology were true? The nonsense appeals partly because sensical narratives don’t make sense without a shadow of everything chaotic around it.

It seem like nonsense yet you can’t fully step outside of sense. Even the most absurd thing reads as symbolic truth, foils it, is tea leaves of it. It is obliquely true as much as it tries to be false and I find that a little fascinating. The back door friendliness of it, the casual friendship with language instead of trying to make it be your mouthpiece. We are always the mouthpieces of things bigger and older than ourselves.

I like surrealism partly because things are more fluid than fixed. There’s a dream state of possibilities where I can transform things from un œuf into un neuf into a 9 into a 6 into a comma or back (as a poem in the pet radish, shrunken). I like where boundaries blur between what is, what is something else, what is believes and what is make-believe.

I guess that framing started further back with Boathouse (above/ground, 2008), (pronounced oath in the boathouse). No, wait, it started further back in playing scrabble and trying to extend words from other words.

And that migrated to poetry. When I scrape word combination that come from different purposes, such as scrabble boards, I may use 20-40 boards and how words cross and touch each other as if saying a prayer. What could the combinations mean? There’s a rhythm. There’s a skew, depending on who one is playing with, towards uncommon words or monosyllabic words. If you collect words as the game proceeds, you get matryoshka words. If you play anti-scrabble you can mix in words and “non-words”. You can scaffold by affixes to know grammatical structure and put new parts of the world in juxtaposition. It gives a semblance of meaning.

I played with rhythm units and scrabble word combinations and spin-off debates in making polyphonic choral of civet tongues and manna (unarmed, 2014). The mind argues for resolution with itself regardless of input given. It tries to make sense from random incongruity because that is the same process as living globally.

In poems made for 2nd Iteration of Roman Feuilleton with AB Series, I used homophonic translation of Michele Provost’s surreal text. Roman Feuilleton, a surrealist text which Provost herself has composed out of lines from four of Québec’s literary landmarks; Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska, Michel Tremblay’s La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte, Réjean Ducharme’s L’avalée des avalés, and Une saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel, by Marie-Claire Blais.

The results of that will be in a reading with several of us and how we each responded is on January the 29th.

For my part I tried to reconcile sounds as if heard by a deaf person, a sort of whispers game where the assumption is that there is a narrative when the source text has no narrative or continuity. I presumed I am listening to an English text when the text is French. What doesn’t make sense to the confirmation bias is distorted or thrown out.

So here, for example, is part of texte-s, heard on slant, aided by the computer reading with its anglo software that gets confused by any diacritic.

1. Soudain, de proche en proche, le ciel est ébranlé. « Silence ! » crie le prêtre, et il
1.0.1. susan the brioche of the brioche, the seal is buttery silence. gruel was prepared and it
2. referme son livre. Sa main éprouvait la vibration de la sonnerie par petits coups
2.1. reaffrimed our life. some man proved the vibratio of the sound in little hits
3. décroissants. Ses sœurs au regard sauvage et aux lèvres boudeuses approchaient sur
3.1. of croissants. hunger regards us all as savages and the lip buds that approach tehm
4. la pointe des pieds. Six d’entre elles étaient dans le début de la vingtaine et ne
4.1. like tiptoes. six appraoch them like stars in the bright sky, like Susan Sontang and
5. savaient pas ce qui les attendait, et la septième, qui aurait pu être leur mère, le leur
5.1. a savant who seems not to pay attention but on the september 3 orally put butter’s mother and lemur
6. expliqua. Sera-t-elle fidèle pour si longtemps ? Sa piété excessive, les privations
6.1. who explained that sara will fiddle for as long as she can, a pity would be an undue a privacy for a family meals
7. qu’elle s’imposait, attiraient l’attention de la Supérieure, qui n’aimait pas que l’on
7.1. which impose themselves and attract extra attention (for this isn’t Paris where good food is taken as a rule) the love of rot
8. dérange l’ordre établi par des élans personnels. Surtout ne pas passer en jugement !
8.1. that destabilizes the order with corn sugar, part of one’s personal touch. over everything. but who passes judgements
9. Sur le balcon, Thérèse, Richard et Philippe riaient comme des petits fous.
9.1. on the bacon. theresa, richard and philip react by scarfing back petit fours.

And then the second step of transformation to a more internal consistency.

hunger regards us all as savages

on the high end of the flakey scale, Susan,
the brioche of the brioches, was sealed
in her buttery silence. Sara would fiddle
as long as she could with her little hits
of croissant and crossness. pout faces tire.
at least she didn’t have to take recourse
to coarseness or crassness, but for the lower classes
of the poor, outcasts, freaks, a gruel was prepared
and that would reaffirm our pale lives. our lip buds
approach the spoon like stars in the bright sky,
lean like Susan Sontang under trailer fluorescents.
she observes the spillage, corn syrup strands
as part of one’s personal touch over everything.
theresa, richard and philip react to her hand, steady
cam, by scarfing back grocery store petit fours.

An interesting side effect of it is that some of the poems read with a French flavour. Because I am mapping to match syllable stress and directly or by effect the grammar I get a lot of prepositional phrases. I get a structure that isn’t typical for me as I tend to have more stressed syllables per line than English and this makes it all softer, more floating with less stressed syllables.

It is new for me and yet within the normal of how I process. I like looking at components. I like scavenging for elements. I like using what is there to collage. What is there may be any content. In over my dead corpus (AngelHouse, 2010) I ran search strings through years of my reading notes files, for example, every instance of “ack” was collated, the grab going around the words on either side.

In that process I’m selecting for interesting word combinations without an eye of how it could all possibly fit together. Dragged elsewhere, making a new context it works agains the original intent, works as material. The logic is that if something stood out to me, surely the end product using that material will also be interesting to me if I mix all the elements. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a sauce with too many ingredients. As a by-product, the poems that result have built-in a higher than odds assonance or consonance because of the root.

To demonstrate, I went thru half a current notes file and pulled out “ack-strings”,

• the market isn’t going to offer anything affordable off the rack that varies enough
• feedback animation
• young when he died. wonder what I can pull back.
• seems to mean a backhand compliment
• indicate on package: Ottawa
• videos here will be tracked by YouTube/Google.
• all is white noise and background radiation
• isn’t somewhere you can get back to
• pack, to silent again,
• Mackenzie shared
• black comedy but it’s terribly earnest
• stuck onto the back of
• The instructor’s adorable, a snack of chocolate pretzels
• still tarp as a shack
• acknowledge resistences
• lack of trust in
• get your vegan snack attack on
• flashback by refusing to release from
• paperback backwards
• Not that I have anything against the fine and noble animal, the jackass.

The puzzle gets shuffled until a click. Maybe all the pieces aren’t the same puzzle. Maybe it’s 2 or 3 pieces. Maybe it generates something else interesting, sparking a springboard idea that becomes a lyric poem. Or a pwoermd. Like, right there in the penultimate string, “paperbackwards”.

I’m also doing a couple week chapbooks from portmanteaus I’ve done; these pwoermds are as addictive as puns.

And there’s puns. The word play, visual or sonic litter my poems. And come out elsewhere. For the food blog I pun a headline whenever I can “beware all who lentil in” or “pretty content” or “grit and bear it” for grits. Taking what is there and twisting it like a lemon is part of the basic elements of poetry but it may be the take-away line, jamming the knife home, or widening to cosmic significance that does the spin. In pwoermds it’s turning around on a time of nanoseconds instead. It’s a variant on pleasure of play.

But back to the exercise of corpus searching, what would I do with an ack-string? The poem by my rules should rate to the core sound, so while ack would be dismay, if the search string were ooh, it would lead a tone of surprise or pleased. So ack:


Mackenzie shared black comedy
but it’s terribly earnest. nothing is more
solemn than satire. non-plussed
at the lack of trust the government
flushes from us, our trust back
seems a backhand compliment.
who all packs themselves to silence
again, aims to become hiss in this context
where all is white noise and background
radiation, set dressing of signal lost.

except that boosted and glossed
by the corporations for public cooperation
with government service. you heard
that videos here will be tracked by
YouTube/Google. their track record is clear.
indicates on the digital package: Ottawa.

yet we ride on, stuck onto the back of the fine
and noble animal, but the jackass market
for information isn’t going to offer anything affordable
off the rack that becomes tortuous grind
of google showing results only of what
was previously primed. a feedback loop
borne for a pessimist who builds
dungeons in the iClouds. what can I pull back
while I’m still tarp as a shack
and remember what danger is.

The sound gives a seed star then a constellation to shape a myth around. Some things drop. Some things give structure to other things. Sometimes it falls flat. It gives time to look at language up close, to consider ideas, to look at language syllable by syllable which allows me to appreciate its strengths and qualities, to emulate or move away from. It allows the ideas to be tasted longer.

In been shed born (Chaudiere, 2010), I did plunder verse and used a poem’s word bank as my set of materials to work with. It is like anagramming at word level. Some of you may recall we made a shuffler game for that that was in line with the composition methods of some poems.

I also did reverse infill plunder verse, where I take a poem by someone else, reading it backwards word by word, taking a phrase from each of that poem and leaving the rest as blank. Some poems under this fell apart, and some were as tightly dovetailed in reverse as forward. That was illuminating of the craft being read.

The phrase from the last line of the original poem is in the first line of mine until we work our way (the poem and I) to the original poem’s top line and my poem’s bottom line. An example of the technique for going somewhere using e.e. cummings, [love is more thicker than forget]

Step 1, find a seed poem, such as his,

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

I might proceed (to poem on the fly) to step 2:

sky the __________
___sky the __________
___cannot it _______
__________most is

_____litter less
begin least _______

And so on. then using it as a framework to in-fill to write towards the phrases as one would with glosas.

With a longer lined poem there’s more wiggle room. To make it work the phrase can be in the line but not the same mirrored place, depending on the needs of the poem that comes. A syntax has embedded possibility. As in If, a collaborative chapbook where we have the grammatical frame of one person writing if something and another writing then something, blind of each other, it adds together into a sort of horoscope-general-true sensical.

What to extrapolate from the syntax here?

By the inversion of phrase, I verb some nouns, and for the sake of this exercise, pretend the original was 6 lines long:

sky the face that pillow-rises
and sky the traces of that yes
narrowed into sleep. cannot it lift itself
centipedal race to maybe. most is
a crack, a hole unseen. litter less
begin least, become wholly seen.

To poem is to think and I like starting with something. A form is just a construction strategy of how to take something large and amorphous as the world and find pieces that fit something so small as a poem’s constraint for what sense is. It may be rules governing a formal structure of haiku or sonnet or cento.

I like cento because is shows just how skewed each eye sees. It demonstrates how we are all blind men with an elephant. Given any texts, we will pull out ourselves. The bane of weak anthologies or magazines where all the content seems all written by the editor’s voice. Or a collection where there is a overriding uniformity to the degree that it all seems one poem. What reflects the fragmentary nature of self, perceptions, nation? Maybe we don’t need to reflect that. Maybe we can’t step outside selves enough to make something unlike self. Maybe that’s good. But with a cento you can be a bower bird and see the poem form before you, surprise you with its reveals as you take chunks of language at the line-level instead of the usual word level, or for some mood level.

If you start with the conscious mind and aim where you want with a poem, not allowing in any leaks or sploogies, you may end up with something hermetically sealed, artificially homogenized, but you want to balance to have order enough that it is signal not noise. If you let too much in, it may be a slippery mess that needs a mop. How much leaping or leading a person can tolerate is part of a person. No poem suits all. But the aim is to be in the writer’s happy medium where you go somewhere you didn’t know you were headed, enjoying the journal and getting something out of the destination. That can come from any process, any compositional method. Hope the ones here sparked some possible routes.

Categories: Poetics.

Cash Value for Time

None of this enter a contest for free business. MyTimeHasValue is kickback against the government competition to design a logo for the anniversary of confederation. Bet that surprised the planners of the feel good about your country campaign.

It fits in nicely with a poem I’ve been ruminating through.

The economics of time is money

“distance is dead” ~ Amy Clampitt

in 3 hours we could be in Cuba. beach and back
in the time it used to take by horse to get to the homestead.
not that I’ve done either. it would take 18 hours
to bicycle home or I can call and fold time.

we’ve made, from a page, a paperless airplane.
poke. it nosedives against your forehead.
its wings are still with me across the city. instant.
like a door thru space. the everyday miraculous.

space may be dead but time is very much kicking
divided across territory left slack by space, doubling
at least, the province of time. the workload.
time as a colonial power is more harassed.

we’re sharecroppers of time. my space pokes you
leaves a trail of x and x and x across your eyes
yet drunken and alive, we live apart but space is moot.
this is not time’s fault. time is off managing time.

the email is unattended, will sit until forgotten
in knotweed clocks and comets of long grass, suckers
of tree’s spring closing over its meaning left derelict.
what’s this big green thing blocking mental space? it’s time.

so the light bulb is out of stock or not carried
in walking distance shops. distance is dead.
China is equidistant with Home Hardware
hometown pride. a skew where ease equals time.

it doesn’t matter who delivers. it is the doing and done
not the personal who. it’s the pace not the place. we’ve
given away our “l” and live in a post-haste-heaven of time.
UK or US or here are equal so long as it’s looked after.

a bookstore is a forty minute bus ride each way
plus the lost geometries of rearranged space.
dead to me. the map of sections changed places.
clerks on breaks. an hour and a half or a click of time.

If we value our life in opportunity cost of dollars, there’s a certain predictable fallout, outsourcing to places with less secure protected labour force, where the cost of living is lower. Labour is the most expensive part of a product because we don’t place much value on non-human lives. In Hollywood some animal actors are paid to a fund to ensure their retirement and health rather than the money going straight to the owner. But all kinds of new considerations in these systems we support.

Categories: Poem draft.

For the love of cocoa

This call for chocophiles only: Poems that rhapsodize the holy bean. Any style. End product would be an anthology chapbook to cocoa by April 2015. So, a.s.a.p. by Valentine’s Day, Send 2 poems maximum in .doc or .rtf to the contact address with the subject: “chocolate”.

Categories: phafours press news.

The State of the Writing Industry

Have you read Pasha Malla’s report?

Some interesting thoughts in his 27 thoughts on CanLit including,

7. Part of the reason for this dismay is that there seems to exist a tacit, unchallenged compact among those of us who work in the literary arts that we are all on the side of good[...]

9. Is a book somehow innately good just because it’s not an app? How does reading a book that extols the virtues of, say, Pol Pot, or regurgitates the same old vacuous narrative and thematic clichés (“unlikely friendships,” “the power of the human spirit,” “World War Two,” etc.) in lazy, insipid sentences, or seems a deliberate ploy to win a prize, qualify as best practices over watching The Wire on your iPad? Is a book still good even if it’s a bad book?
27.. I do think books are good—but if they are to continue to be written and published and read, even in a negligible way, they must offer something that other media cannot. Movies will always do a better of showing-not-telling. The Internet will always allow for greater direct involvement and agency.

The idea that if it poetry it must be healing or building society or new futures is a lazy thinking. It depends. Some isn’t done to those ends but to reinforce the familiar, to comfort in confirmation bias that all is well and divine-purpose-driven. Literacy can give options but it closes options. It shifts things culturally on individual level.

Writing is just head from inside the head as stuff outside the head, not anything more. It’s not more curated any more than everything is, presentations, sense of identity tribe. It isn’t distinct and apart from the any of the forces driving every other conscious and unconscious expression.

Developing a market for reading, for books, why? People read more than any time in history. Text comes in every direction in junk mail, in signs, in phones, in work, at home. People are reading on screen earlier than before, coming to school literate so what is the school to do? Not ABCs to start. What are we aiming to make? Self-reliant beings with the cognitive equipment to make distinctions, be self-informed, to up the collective game to fix the problems without introducing an exponential load of more problems. To be critically aware. The physical book is a lovely useful, no-electricity, potentially untrackable cultural package to move around ideas but the bigger scene is to share information, in a format that people can digest and access. Call it a book, call it a blog, call it an essay, call it a-text, extract cash from it if you can. Fighting over the idea of book is too basic tho.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Morris and Babineau on CKCU

Tonight at 6:30pm on Literary Landscapes: two poets livestreamed or on playback at CKCU 93.1fm.

Tracie Morris is my first guest this evening. She’s at AB Series,

Jan 15th
The Ottawa Art Gallery | La Galerie d’art d’Ottawa
2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6E2

Tracie presents her work extensively as a poet, performer and scholar around the globe and has presented, performed and researched in almost 30 countries and 37 US States. She has contributed to, and been written about in, several anthologies of literary criticism including I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women, American Women Poets in the 21st Century  (2011, Les Figues Press). She also leads her own eponymous band and is lead singer for Elliott Sharp’s group, Terraplane. Tracie is the recipient of NYFA, Creative Capital and other grants, fellowships and awards for poetry and performance.

Eco-language Reader and An Exaltation of Forms. Her most recent poetry collection, Rhyme Scheme, (Zasterle Press, 2012) includes a sound poetry CD. She is also the author of Intermission (Soft Skull Press, 1998) Her next book, Eyes Wide Shut: A not-neo-benshi Read will be coming out in 2015 from Kore Press.

She’s talking about new book, Kubric and performance. In the second half of the show Kemeny Babineau talks about starting in small press and how he got to writing a chapbook about Paul Blackburn. He will be launching The Blackburn Files (2014), his second above/ground press chapbook o the 9th.

He’s Babineau edits an independent literary rag called The New Chief Tongue that appears courtesy of Laurel Reed Books. Babineau’s most recent work is After the 6ix O’Clock News published by BookThug. Kemeny Babineau has been doing Laurel Reed Books since the mid-90s. The bookseller, micro-presser, and poet is reading tomorrow as part of the next Factory Reading:

- Kemeny Babineau (Brantford)
Jason Christie (Ottawa)
+ Chris Johnson (Ottawa)
Friday, January 9, 2015;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

Categories: CKCU.

What Writers Say

Eric Folsom is the Poet Laureate of Kingston. On finding your way to a new poem he advises,

“To start, you want to look for a poem-shaped hole.  Choosing a subject, looking for inspiration, doing piles of research, that’s all well and good.  But what you aim for is the poem and the poem is a wily, elusive creature.  Spend your time watching and waiting.  Look carefully at your surroundings.  If you’ve got the patience you will perceive a space where the poem ought to be.  Just the right shape, the right moment, the perfect environment.  For unexplained reasons, some poem that ought to exist, right there, doesn’t.   That’s what you’re looking for, the missing item.  The poem that deserves to be.

Forget that nonsense about finding your voice.  Who told you that you only had one?  Who said you’d lost it?  You are not finding your voice, you are finding your freedom.  The voice will be ready and waiting for you when you need it.  Trust.

While you’re composing the latest and greatest you, bear in mind the following tiresome, unnecessary identities.

Although you love to party and tell yarns afterward, you are not Charles Bukowski.  There was only one. He’s dead.  Trying to imitate him just makes you look like Rob Ford.

You are not Gertrude Stein.  Modernism is 100 years old, dude.  The phrase “Make it new” first appeared during the Shang Dynasty in China.  (Translation: a long, long time ago.)  Don’t worry about making it new, make it better.  Or better still, make it beautiful.”

You can read it in entirety: Eric Folsom On Writing

Over at the Rusty Toque Gary Barwin is interviewed. In the question on process:

I do find that I get energy from jumping from one kind of writing to another. Prose reminds me what poetry can do and vice versa. Sometimes, though, I do need to burrow deep into something to give it time to develop—this was certainly was the case with the novel—but then after a long writing session, or sometimes intermittently in the middle of one, I’d write something else as a palate cleanser, on a lark as a diversion, or as a kind of footnote to the main project.

I think I write a lot because writing serves many purposes for me. It is a way of figuring things out, a way of working through things, a way of knowing, of experiencing things, of exploring. It is an entertainment, an obsession, a mode of social engagement, of doodling, of spiritual practice, of trying to become a “better” (more thoughtful? more compassionate? more observant?) person, a way of creating, experiencing, and responding the energy and possibility around me and in language.

In terms of process, I don’t know that I have a single mode of creation. Often it is the slow accumulation of work, chipping away at ideas or larger forms. I don’t know where I’m going. I have a place where I start writing, but I always consider that the writing knows more than me so I trust the process of writing itself and where it is taking me rather than my ideas for the project. I try to listen to where it is going. I means lots of revision and recalculating. 

In its absorbing entirety: Gary Barwin Interview at The Rusty Toque

Over at Hazlitt a rare new poem by David O’Meara,

I’m still. That’s how it feels.

I wait all winter for the animal to die,

raise its chin, look

into time. I

lack sun and Lord Tequila. I wonder

where good comes. Here in my head

I’m a herd of one, and rage, slosh unease like brine.
I’m home, low-ceilinged. I too

would grow an avocado, my wooden core

a seed.

If only we were issued writers hats I’d hang up mine at poems like that. Or that stanza. As is have to continue.

Categories: Poetics.

Talking to Myself: Poetics Statements

11 questions of the how and why of poeming.

What do the poems teach?

I hope poetry, along with conversations, blogging, getting to know particular people better, that it keeps my brain in tune to become more aware, astute, observant, knowing how to sidestep bias or discern patterns. They all teach me how to be more articulate and speak and listen to the degree necessary. Rather than locking down an argument they are about being receptive to perceive or look and reexamine. (Part of intellectual rigour is refusing story as much as to tell it even-handedly or well.)

Writing poems is a slow-motion, stop-motion thought. Poems give a space to think through at length. It is easiest to know what I think when I see it in words. When I type I have the distance to see my attitude, or what feelings I’ve been told to project, what I’m reacting against or I generate new to me possibilities. Exploring how vocabulary sets tone (like thrice dotted was saying at the Bot Summit) Memory being what it is, it may be rediscovering what I figured out at several year intervals, but still.

What is the poem necessary for?

Is the poem a material thing?  Jorie Graham was asking after that. Poems are not unique snowflake ideas. I find it hard to believe that a meme is encoded in poetry in a way it can’t be in music or movie or life lived without verbal. Its form limits or specializes where it travels because of bias of people who “don’t do poetry”. I am biased towards poetry because it is more likely to be idea-dense than most language.

The poem can be to soothe or stimulate for the audience. It can be for perceiving and creating for the writer. For either it could be to nod the little ape head among like-minds to confirm bias. Like any communication a certain level of nuance can only be understood within a certain range of dialect. General states can go across species so any being can know an ill beetle or ill tree or a healthy or fearful vertebrate.

What niche is for poetry? Marketing? It probably doesn’t tell a joke as well as stand-up. It usually doesn’t tell a myth as well as a traditional storyteller. It doesn’t rebel like graffiti or like meetings with political representatives. What is it doing with all its diversity? I suppose each poem’s use is in the moment of contact where it causes a reaction or immunity. A poem puts something newly remixed into the world, which is largely more of the same but over time there’s a cultural migration that it rides or is ridden by.

It is necessary as a thinking being to have a disciplined way of thinking. You think you understand something until you express. That’s a further test of what you think you believe or know.

You can process patterns in the exploration of form of a novel’s constraints or through a microscope or telescope or field observations. Or little brother sous-chef, language. It is necessary, as a sensory being, to make beauty, to put patterns in order and to create and reconcile the larger patterns.

Who is the poem for?

The poem is for the parts of myself I want to nourish, reform, learn, or convince to speak. The poem is for the not-me who doesn’t yet know they needed it. It is for the future culture. By being conscious of impact we might be able to make a set of futures where our values perpetuate actions that make a more foresightful, insightful world where people are flourishing in difference rather than blocked and shut out and shut down.

At present I hope that anyone will hop on and become part of the dialogue but lives only have so much slack to play with and some are at full extension with all they have going on as is. They want a poem that’s simple. Some minds leap easily and fast. Some see the same patterns everywhere. Some are only comfortable when heavily cued with adjectives of how they are supposed to interpret then obey by feeling sad or angry or connected or pitying or used or whatever their favorite trip is. I suppose my poems are for those who are more drivers than passengers in that way. People who give themselves permission to laugh or be baffled or bored or spurred to learn something else, look something up, examine assumptions.

What’s your relationship to narrative?

Fine, so far as it acknowledges downside, upside, neutrals and doesn’t end in a bummer.

The thing with narrative is that it simplifies into a fiction. What a story is depends on where you arbitrarily cut off the story for the ending you want. Which is fine, except we forget it’s a construction. That’s why the make-beleive of false etymologies and more overt nonsense is more appealing. Even if someone will take anything at face value. A lot of poetry is representational but what if verbal can also be abstract in the painting sense, or impressionism, and communicate?

Do your poems tell a story?

Some do. Some talk around the margins of a few. Set dressing I suppose. Some are anthropologists observing and making a record of what was related, trying to get into the heads of others. Some are about holding an ephemeral, some about exploring, some about creating.

Many are trying to rework—not sound and stillness—but idea and movement. These are usually called “soundy”, or worse “evocative” which means that the reader is entranced but has no wish to understand. As far as I can tell that reader prefers the dazzle or the sensation of feeling confused as a goal.

What work is the poem doing?

Some poems are play spaces, some are work spaces.  Some are essaying. Poems that are called “oblique” are not trying to tell a story but often to refuse the monoculture of story. They try to generate combinations of words in different relationships with one another, to abut phrases that force new possibilities. They may play and subvert expected phrases to dislocate the usual motion and deflect clichés —which may not work as a process since they still prime the cliché by punning and spinning near it. They try to make pleasing movements in the ear, faster and slower, breaking against their own momentums.

My poem usually isn’t aiming to be random. Life is all random and its only imaginations that imposes most patterns. Random isn’t often adding value. But to avoid the tyranny and boredom which is narrative is something.

All creation is just selecting and ordering. The selection signal boosts an idea, whether “hip-breakers” (those small rugs that nurses and home care notice cause seniors to trip and break a hip) or “disproportional”.  Its work is partially resistance, partly exposure therapy, partly tickles. It is to stretch neurons. I suppose particularly with homophonic translations, I never know what is going to happen next. I’m trying to avoid letting understanding come in. Depending on what I start with there’s no syntax or semantic safety net. What it generates reveals itself to me in the process of translating and editing. Then I can create things I’ve never thought. At least in that way. I can trick myself into not repeating myself, exploring then trying to tether it back into grammatical linked, maybe in-filled surreal story. It’s like a whisper game of what’s in the air and what could be made.

How does it hook or be sticky?

The opening hook tends to be an unexpected tight line. There shouldn’t be a dull word in any phrase. Each line should be able to stand on its own as fresh. (That strength of freshness, I suppose, relies on youth more than considered age. ) The end hook tends to be a twist ending payoff which, even with wisdom-lines creeping in, is more a comedy device.

What is missing is a more considered use of rhythm for effect as in music. Intuition for that, needs to be trained and schooled so it is ready when the ideas need arises.

Born in the post-blank-verse era of self-expression where schoolkids were told any arrangement of intent, words or letters make it poetry, poetry tends to ramble, the movement of ideas laid like railway ties but there’s little tension or formal devices. It’s frustrating because sloppy, blasé and vague things are a violence against curiosity and are a closure of self rather than an opening.

How do different poems relate?

I don’t try to make an internal consistency or coherence. There are many routes to many useful places.

Haiku plays pretend that two things coinciding have an influence on each other and color one another. In this way they are like ghost stories. But they are exacting and muscular. They need to allow interpretation space for the reader and multiple readings, reference the past conventions yet extend, do so without being too verbose or self-referential or sentimental. They may pretend to be objective and remove the subject yet aim to move a reader with something that seems to signify. It is a good exercise for paring down. It presumes there is an ordered universe where bad turns are more the exception to the foil of a kind world.

Surreal poetry allows the play of rope so things can fly wild in a dream-like relationship to one another, be symbolic, allegorical, be revealed by writing while concealing. It tends to allow the speech to the nihilism of depression. It allows one to spiel nonsense and imagine your way out and give back control.

Machine-cooperative and fragment sort of poems—cobbled from a word search of a corpus, pwoermds, found phrases, overheard conversations, matryoshka words, scrabble relationships—all allow words to tumble to play against the idea of the world as ordered as it is. It allows play and it refuses the heroes arc of storytelling. This allows to see more of the possibilities not just the search result of 18-1619 TCX Maroon. That allows more spectrum of questions, answers, discoveries. But then, maybe that’s the sole domain where I remain a hopeless optimist.

What makes you despair in poetry?

Too much poetry gives pain like any excess. Too much of one kind doesn’t work for an omnivore system. I despair most when I want to understand the pleasure I see others partaking in but I see only my walls. It is about the people and the rest of the planet, not the hoops of someone or other’s perfection. Each writes to their own need.

What gives you hope for poetry?

When someone comes into their own out of red, shaking, anxious, uncertainty and momentarily finds articulacy, insight and centredness of one thing. A click for the writer that makes me vicariously happy for them. More so if it’s some direction as me. And every now and again someone writes something that I have struggled to understand and they are enough ahead of my curve that they can convincingly succinctly powerfully say what I aimed to.  An inner yes.

Does it improve on silence?

That is like insisting only top violinists may begin studying violin. The process of learning requires things worse than good silence, and sometimes worse than bad silencing.

Sometimes it says something that gives self permission to react, witness, or admit so that a small pebble can come out of the shoe so the walk can go on.


Join in and answer the questions yourself and leave a pingback or comment if you do.

Categories: Poetics.

Tonight on Literary Landscape

Coming up at 6:30pm on 93.1fm: Mia Morgan. “Mia is a voracious reader and writer, and is currently completing her degree in English Literature and Philosophy. She’s got a place in her heart for Modern poetry, small press, and fancy sandwiches. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of the Ottawa Arts Review, and former host of the Blue Mondays reading series. Now, she is hoping to continue her dedication to Ottawa’s poetry community while working on her poetry. Her piece “Suburbia” is forthcoming from In/Words press.”

Categories: CKCU.

In Translation

This poem is now in translation to Arabic in Jordan. Ali Znaidi of Tunisia. It was

published on December 9, 2014 in a respectable electronic cultural newspaper based in Jordan. It is called, in Arabic, Qaba Qaosayn (The name of the newspaper is translated into English as At Two Bow’s Length).

The poem is here in English and Arabic.

Categories: Link Dump.

95books for 2014: List 15: Coming Down to the Line

Reading from October and November…

  1. Kenneth Patchen’s Hallellujah Anyway
    Based on people’s raving of how fundamental to poetry Patchen is, I found a book.

    It wasn’t anything like I expected since the quote were put in tidy stacks of textual ideas whereas he drew and handwrote around and within his drawings, mostly legibly.

    What is a line but a convenience derived from efficient use of scarce expensive calfskin? From emulating scribes in Gutenberg’s presses. From the computer emulating the hot metal type standard? All along there has been more.

    The ideas still seem subversive even today. He thinks what he likes. Rather blows off the doors of poetry. Not one tone tome, some are hard-hitting detailed against Religion and nuclears but for a god, and beauty. Some are playful. Some absurd. Some he’s thinking things out.

    Reading it at writers fest front ticket desk before a poetry event a man slipped up quietly and asked what I was reading. Patchen!, oh, you’re a real poet then. And to think a week before I wouldn’t have qualified.

    I’ve happily reread it a few times.

  2. Brood by rob thomas
    The winner of the year’s John Newlove Award for poetry, the poems go thru a sort of family scene with a twist.

    the number fourteen bus

    that stranger we warn our kids about, it’s him.
    he boards and sits across the aisle from us.
    his body odour shouts down diesel fumes.
    doors hiss. the engine climbs an octave.

    nonnas, crow black, crowd in around my kids.
    your boys? they ask. so cute. how old are they?
    near two and three. their mother? they want to know.
    the elder tucks his chin. the young one smiles.

    the stranger smiles too. he’s missing a leg.
    hey kids, you want to see something special?
    he asks. the nonnas don’t breathe, certain he’ll expose
    himself. he twists the prosthetic and holds it up.

    the nonnas are not relieved, as I am. the boys look
    bored and sleepy. the man looks injured.

    Interesting how the ragged right edge is a Cole’s Notes. A good counter message in the world of stranger-danger which ignores that most injury comes from familiar people who look “normal”. I’ve seen a comparable scene myself a few times. Often drunken people on busses, those particularly high in body odour and alcohol, mostly our elders, the seniors with unruly luck. Parents watch for risks and kids only know they’re hungry or restless. Such a classic scene. And so often the parents shut it down and teach kids to shut down but sometimes some magical connections happens too.

  3. Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play by Jennifer DeVere Brody (Duke U Press, 2008)
    This book I’ve been pecking away at since the publishing year. The person writing immensely enjoys the academic language. It could make some interesting set of half a dozen short articles. That seems harsh. It’s not op-ed but it is baggy. It is heavily illustration, deeply thought out, playful in its way but each chapter has its challenges. Describing a one-person non-verbal experimental theatre verbally as a person acts out many roles loses something with words. The ideas of hyphenated Americans conflated with spy, alien, suspicion was an interesting read. It was more in depth than most on the subject. The deep meaning of what we do when we hyphenate and the parallels between unfamiliar using hyphens and words losing that is a sign of integration to the mainstream consciousness. Think of orang-utan and how it used to be a borrowed hyphenated word. Seems to me in my childhood it had multiple hyphens.

    Her section on period seemed more tangental to the punctuation. A great treatise on Yayoi Kusama who liked to paint herself and others with polkadots and yet was sidelined in the 60s. She was to herald a new period of feminine that didn’t distinguish between environment and self, between author and life. It didn’t take. Jacob Wren’s Polyamourous Love Song still sees that as the futuristic setting.

  4. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss
    I knew it sold well but it is surprisingly sticky and entertaining. She’s got a silly wag wit. In the chapter on commas, “no dogs please” is an indefensible generalization; dogs make a point of pleasing.

    It was a vastly entertaining book in the light reads section. Which is not to say it was airily researched. But the effect is flowing.

  5. Bird Facts by Dave currie (Apt 9, 2014)
    Seriously funny. Tying politics and human interactions and culture in with bird habit. Not like a poem-type that tires me where there’s a musing on feathers and myth but missing all the details which characterize the species or particular bird. So there’s that.

    And this is how text is a transcription of sound. All the timing, set up, pause, reveals, turns are there in the sentence structures. Unlike poets that read entirely differently than their page presentation would suggest, this is musical notation for language. Why should that be so rare?

  6. Klee Wyck by Emily Carr. She does lovely things with sentences, such as “News travels quickly over the sea top. Once submerged and it is locked in secrecy. “

    When I said to Mary, “Chahko muckamuck”, the little woman looked up and laughed at me just as one little girl laughs at another little girl.

    I used to hang round at noon on Mondays so that I could go and say, “Chahko muckamuck, Mary”. I liked to see her stroke the suds from her arms back into the tub and dry her arms on her wide skirt as she crossed to the kitchen. Then too I used to watch her lug out the big basket and tip-toe on her bare feet to hang the wash on the line, her mouth full of clothes pins—the old straight kind that had no spring, but round wooden knobs on the top that made them look like a row of little dolls dancing over the empty flapping clothes.

    Funny the portrayal difference. Pauline Johnson was a young woman with stories of different natives but saw human nature as caricatured and portrayed natives as violent and British as saviors. Whereas Emily Carr, known as a painter, had an eye for gesture, detail and human heart and could see a humanity in natives, individuality among people.

    Even with the love of canoe club which Pauline had, her descriptions feel flat because it about her, compared to

    As the canoe glided on, her human cargo was as silent as the cedar-life that once had filled her. She had done with the forest now; when they shoved her into the sea they had dug out her heart. Submissively she accepted the new element, going with the tide. When tide or wind crossed her she became fractious. Some still element of the forest clung yet to the cedar’s hollow rind which resented the restless push of waves.

  7. John Sheirer’s Another Bad Haircut
    Did you know the Haiku Foundation has an online library of scanned books? They feature a book per week. What a resource.

    first deer hunt
    after the gunshots
    noticing the wind

  8. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
    A third reread. In the hard cover set edition, here’s added a note on that end that he thought his book wasn’t a moral tale and yet there’s the lesson of what happened when orchestra’s started doing auditions blind. Only the sound coming from behind a screen. If the person auditioning coughed or crossed the floor in a female click of heel they’d be randomized back in queue. Each person had a number, no telltale name. Can someone Japanese play a German tune? Can a female play a male instrument as the lead? When judging blind females in orchestra went from 5% to 50%. Can the court systems do the same to correct itself so judges and juries can work? A jury of peers is fine but when justice is blind it might work better. He suggests typing testimony by Skype where identifying features are blotted. Would this correct overcriminization of natives and young black men?

I have a couple dozen more books on the go at the moment. Hard to say which will finish off before the year’s end. Before then I expect I’ll do a best of year, here and/or at GoodReads. And a self-audit of those read by gender. Will I break it down by books and chapbooks as well? We’ll see.

Categories: Currently reading.