Monday, March 31, 2008

CA interviews Rachel Blau Duplessis

Philly poet CA Conrad offers up a fabulous discussion here about women's writing, poetry, Wordsworth, appropriation and so much more in an interview with real bite.
I was always trying for a poetry of thought. Experiment, for me, is not a formal tic, some avant-garde glaze or fashionista look. It is a processual question of writing some thinking into the page in the medium of language. Further, for me there was no (one, single, unified) "woman's language," woman's imagery, women's mythology, etc. Those notions seemed a generative mythos for writing, and certainly with issues about mythology I was at times interested in the possibility of telling what I and others then called "the other side of the story." (Now I would say—why did we think there were only two "sides"?) One could be inspired by thinking of some female specificity and absolute uniqueness, but it was not fully accurate to the material reality of cultural products. Good for production; not accurate for a critical reception is my finding.
One continues to wonder why women's writing doesn't generate the kind of online discussion it should...(the excellent Dim Sum essays for example...)and I think this interview offers up some answers in terms of the work that happens in the poetry itself not outside of it, of how so many women approach poetry and poetics. Which is to say it isn't a poetry or a poetic that is about swallowing and regurgitating with great force. Or a position of defense. Or of closing down and open lines of defense. A defense of poetry or even of self. Rather it is a poetry of will and social reality: of change. It is a poetry that marches out into the middle of the field. "I want the world to change," Duplessis argues:
"I do not seek directly to bring this change about by my art "Poetry is not, nor should it be, a mode of propaganda, but it is part of ideological and discursive practices, and it offers information, conviction, knowledge." (Blue Studios, 5) This it accomplishes particularly in form and texture constructing a helixed looping between aesthetic and social conviction.
This poetry of subversion which is, in some ways an act of faith and an affirmation of thought over "knowledge," is something that keeps coming up for me. Recently I witnessed an unveiling of intent in the discussion with Lisa Robertson and Christine Stewart here at the University of Calgary. Briefly, Christian Bok was wanting Robertson to explain her lack of desire for a pointed poetic. She was describing a poetry of submersion/subversion, a germination that relies on chance in some way, not seeking a particular outcome (more or less, I wasn't taking notes...). Bok was arguing that this position added to the general irrelevance of poetry, which goes against one of his stated objectives, which is to make poetry more relevant, more essential even, as an art form. The cross-conversations were illuminating however, for we seemed not only to have stumbled upon a poetic differance, but on gender as well...

Duplessis again: "Let me respond, rather than answer. I don't write to express myself. I write to examine 'it.'" An examination of "it" means not a staking owning and remaking. It isn't about mastering and defending. Women's language inflected poetry seems to me about engagement and not within the framework of war, or pillage...
There is a lot of "it" out there. This is what my poetry does. That I have standpoints emerging from my social locations (class, religious culture, gender, national origin) is a true statement; that I make intricate weaves of these elements is true; that I can learn more about any social location and respond to it if sufficiently moved is also true. I begin by setting out from myself, as you say—precisely, because by beginning I get beyond the boundedness of "self" into something more. As for "me," –forget "me" or "I." It's as if we are yearning toward a new pronoun to understand something else than what subject positions emerge from the pronouns we already know and use.
Many more thoughts on this...and delightfully jumbled which I'll not apologize for.

Thanks CA, and Rachel for a concise reminder of what poetry can do, does. If you haven't picked up Drafts, or Pink Guitar, do so.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bits, bites and an old favorite....

So, anyone notice any change poetry-wise at the New Yorker now that Paul Muldoon is poetry editor?? (big silence). A recent piece on Sabrina Harman of the infamous Abu Ghraib fiasco, features online content that augments the dense and chilling snaps she added to our treasure trove of war imagery. The footage, from a documentary by Morris, is also disturbing...and I'm not sure we are any closer to understanding our contemporary impulse to "shoot everything..." And Morris is irritating as hell...ick. Full of judgment. There are snapsots of Harman here.

I posted on this show back in February. Since then CBC Radio has developed even more online content (amazing podcasts) and you can listen to multiple concerts on demand. Here is the entire show, or just listen to Tubular Bells...and here's another concert from a Calgarian I met this evening. Amir Amiri is a composer/musician with a Persian background...great work.

Oprah...What is she up to now? Have you listened in?

Not much action in the Oprah dream world...they are posted anonymously people...

Canadians love to embrace Elizabeth Bishop. Here is Eric Ormsby waxing romantically about her in the New York Sun. The Hound is as big a Bishop fan as the next ball of fur, but finds it curious that no one ever mentions her sexuality...how oppressive and tightly formed against the world she was (poetically and otherwise), how cold in many ways. Or is this what Ormsby means by the "hard truths" of her intimacy? The way she describes the death of her lover for one...curious no one ever talks about that.

Coming soon: interview with Poetry Project's Stacy Szymaszek.

And here's a little something. Whatever happened to Grace Jones?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Helen Humphreys

The Frozen Thames, M&S 2007

Climate Change threatens us in many ways, but the signs are nowhere as visible, dramatic, or disturbing as the melting of our major ice packs. And while I have read reports suggesting that the arctic ice pack has actually grown this year to the surprise of many, there are more alarming reports of ice breaking off from Antarctica's Wilkin's Ice Shelf that move us closer to ecological tipping points. Helen Humphreys notes in the back of her elegant new book/novel that we may in fact forget our experience of ice and what it teaches us. That's hard to imagine as a Canadian this year, but point taken, yes. Not only ice, but climate, river, nature...all of this...and our idea of what it means to have expectations etc. But that's another story. Ice is at the core of this story.

The Frozen Thames is a conceptual novel. It takes as its topic the river itself, in particular the 40 times in recorded history that it has frozen over. Most of those events happened in the mini-ice age, when birds fell out of trees and people died in the thousands of the plague, and then the cold, and so on. There were frost fairs during this time. Such a fair, and such a time, are a setting Virginia Woolf chose for a key moment in Orlando and one of the finest passages in the novel. Humphreys, a fellow Woolf admirer, puts that moment to good use here, but I won't spoil that for readers.

Briefly, we think of the conceptual novel as a project that moves away from the centrality of character and plot, conventional fictional tools and structures, opting instead for tabulation, refiguration, collage, collection, fragmentation--any number of structural devices. We think of Marie Claire Blais, we think of Carole Maso, Lydia Davis, Mary Burger, Renee Gladman and recently Vanessa Place (more on her and Blais to come...). While her project is conceptual it can be described so only in the structure. Her commitment to linearity and a speaking subject, place the project to the right of the postmodern...not quite the genre-bending marvel her publisher M&S describes, but a wonder, and to my mind, wholly successful. One should remember that both Woolf and Gertrude Stein wrote "experimental novels." The category is wide. Perhaps like Woolf, it is Humphreys' commitment to the speaking subject that makes her work in general, and this book in particular, so readable. It's difficult not to feel for the characters we find throughout time; holding birds in the palm of their hands, skating on the bones of animals, being caught in the middle of a freeze, then a sudden thaw, waiting for a king to pass, or fleeing from a suffocating death of confinement due to exposure to the plague.

This is Humphreys' fifth work of fiction (she has several books of poetry as well) including Afterimage, The Lost Garden and Wild Dogs, which won a Lambda. Her first book, Leaving Earth is a gem, and a Hound favorite. As with all of her work, the deeply human asserts itself, but not in the simplistic way that this reader has been straining at the bit in the face of. There is something liberating in creating a conceptual frame for a work, but there is something compelling when someone does this without losing a sense of body...the conduit of subjectivity. It's problematic perhaps to think of one prose style as somehow representing a thousand years or so of English cultural life...but that isn't what Humphreys is doing here. What she does appear to do is have a lot of fun with the project. The prose is clear, sparsely poetic and vibrant. There is something heartening in this tour through history, a reminder of how frail not only the self is, but the whole human cultural enterprise.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Poetry notes, Malahat #161

From a poem by Tim Lilburn in the most recent Malahat Review:
Cut into the tongue where the fish dive;
there's a castle there under a shallow black lake, ducks with bicycle-
pumped white heads,
moon-bored corridors, still lit from the first potashy cut.
Come in at 45 degrees, falling cleanly through sky, and buck down
and back, you will caravan through one glassy strata then another,
some musical, and when you lose your way in crosswinds,
muscle alone will be your star.
A new book from the crafter of the hyphenated superbole: "He sleep-otters under small black stones..." and later "illness's knapped letter is ribboned" in the "water-earth, the gonging." That is an ear with pulse working the land; an avant-lyric poetry for the new millennium. Fine ear, good eye, a muscular, heartening line. An emphatic, tonal, macro lyric. The man overreaches, Todd Swift declares in the Globe & Mail... In a world filled with such half hearted attempts I'll take overreaching...

In the same issue AF Moritz, a name many young male poets utter in hushed tones (a reverence I don't quite get, particularly because of the rather conservative tone and one wonders where the passion is in Canadian poetry). Not that he isn't a fine poet, he certainly is:
If flute song breaks on the stone wall
guarding the garden, the shutters, green,
open and the red slatted gate
does not, if blossoms start to come...
but the sense of being disengaged is well...isn't it? Yes, yes, the garden...but haven't we read more than enough poems like this?? Crafted well or no. What's creeping in to that garden? What's underfoot? Blinders, blinders, the way of Poetry Magazine, where the world never infiltrates the poetic sutra of We are fine, we are fine.

Can we still embrace nonce such as this? Where is the fire? Where is the ear? I did find a little energy in the last lines of the last poem in the series here in The Malahat:
...get up now, quit lying,
a slick of squash, under our voice and our
example of toppled stone, we also are you,
the desire to be undammed, you need to make us
another great hope to scorn.
Scorn indeed. A sense of the poet being outside of the world, and perhaps "better than it." But yes, a clean line he has. Each poem like cut glass.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Post International Women's Day, Bronwen Wallace Conference, etc

The Hound has been traveling. Slogged through much snow. Chewed up much pavement, though much of it was ice. Attended the Bronwen Wallace Conference in Kingtson, which was a great success I think...despite the absolutely insane weather. Admittedly, this poet has never seen so many semi-trailers jack knifed in so many odd shapes. Cars everywhere nosing up out of snowbanks. Notes on the conference forthcoming. But not for a while. The blog will continue at half-mast for the coming weeks as yours truly soaks up some sun.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Missa Est, Ite...


Missa Est, Ite..., originally uploaded by semantico.