Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Correspondences: Michael Turner

Of the four panels at the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium, the one I most looked forward to was “Craftwork”, where

Panelists will explore the craft of exhibition making, by examining exhibitions that have provoked paradigm shifts. Is curating a trade or craft, rather than a profession? If exhibition making is a craft, what are the qualities that define this craft? What skills must a curator possess? Which exhibitions have provoked paradigm shifts?

The above questions, like all those “asked” in advance of their respective panels, were rhetorical at best, disingenuous at worst. Ute Meta Bauer, Director and Associate Professor of MIT’s Visual Arts Program, opted for the paradigmatic, describing groundbreaking exhibitions such as the 1913 Armory Show, Harald Szeemann’s 1969 When Attitudes Become Form and Jan Hoet’s 1992 Documenta IX – not why we have come to canonize these exhibitions, only that they are canonical.

National Museum of the American Indian Associate Curator Paul Chaat Smith proceeded allegorically. Employing his trademark juxtaposition of personal narrative and film screening, Smith’s delivered his talk alongside the opening twenty minutes (sans sound) of the film “most American Indians agree speaks best to their experience” as United States subjects: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. (Smith’s comment was reminiscent of something U.S. writer Toni Morrison said last year: that her country’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama but Bill Clinton.)

However, it was Andrea Villani, Director of Trento’s Fondazione Galleria, that left the biggest impression on this participant. Structuring his talk as opera (“Curatorial Prelude”, “Some Misadventurous Case Histories In Curating” and “Curatorial Happy Ending”), Andrea opened with a sequence of nicely phrased questions that sounded more like aria than recitatif. Below is Andrea’s “Prelude”:

*) How to transform a museum, a museum exhibition into a soap opera, or into a radio program, to reshape the architecture of the museum in order to allow it to synchronize and to tune into another potential plan, and finally to transmit to the audience how to transform the intellectual, consumerist routine of doing or visiting a show into a mysterious act, an enchanted experience?

*) How to transform the neo-conservative agenda that drove a museum to close to travel in space and time, which recuperates the reasons for opening this museum?

*) How to legitimize not just the public, exploited, consumerist reasons for opening a museum and doing a show, but also the deep, intimate, oneiric, perverted, controversial need for doing so. How to find a myth (sorry Pier Luigi) on which founding the museum and its publicly shared need, like for a church, or a pagan temple?

*) How to legitimize the intellectual presence and action of the museum, of the exhibition, in a public arena overly blind and disinterested, or even hostile, to intellectual agency? How to reload the institutional formats, while at the same time criticizing their obsolescence and self-referentiality?

Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just Twelve Bars: On Adam Seelig's Every Day in the Morning (Slow)

My first problem, after reading Adam Seelig’s Every Day in the Morning (Slow), and having decided to review it, involved how to curb my penchant for superlatives, chiefly because, let’s be honest, it reads as unlearned and juvenile, and secondarily because I wanted to shout that the work is orginal! breathtaking! brilliant! inspiring! when the very words have been rendered meaningless by overuse.


Ok, Every Day in the Morning (Slow) scans like poetry but claims to be fiction, or reads like fiction but sounds like monologue, or looks like nothing I’ve ever seen and reads like the voice in my head, or sounds like a poetically arranged first fiction laid out as a musical score, note to note to note across the page and breath and breath and breadth.


The physical experience of reading the book. Seated in the cafeteria at the College on lunch break, I flatten the book open on it’s spine to read the words printed at the very edge of each margin on each page. Every sentence letter and every gesture word signifies a decision—Brecht via Seelig. The space on the page leaves room for my own breath, leaves space to pay attention to the power of one word to turn meaning on its edge.

(Slow) is the opposite of the blog: There is space. There is time. There is room to consider. There are no hyperlinks. There are no distractions. There is the word and the note and the voice and the man and the woman and the father and


















Not a bore never a bore a book best read in one sitting (slow).

Nikki Reimer, author of [sic], lives in East Vancouver.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pulled off my shelves #10: “It looks like ink spilled on a piece of paper.”

Last week’s column focused on books written in the interrogative: books where every sentence posed a question. Last night I was out for dinner with friends and our conversation ran to books that use psychiatric questionnaires as compositional tools. Unlike last week’s books that posed questions as a compositional strategy, I could think of a few texts that simply answer questions posed by other authors.

Dan Farrell’s The Inkblot Record (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2000) gathers patients’ responses to Rorschach tests (abstract inkblots used by psychiatrists to help patients uncover subconscious issues and enable discussion of those issues, a form of free association) from 7 different textbooks and presents those results in alphabetical order. No record is given of the initiating inkblots, and all responses are gathered into a single text, distancing the results from any one patient:
Shape. Shape and appendages. Shape and head; climbing. Shape, black bear, no real body. Shape, colouring, white and grey stone. Shape inside a heart effect, a real heart. Shape, it has no head, part of a tail, more nearly a moth with open wings, colour has nothing to do with it. (61)
The alphabetic sorting, coupled with the enigmatic nature of the responses, creates a poetic structure. A chant-like rhythm develops through repetition:
Yes. Yes. Yes, all of it again, these white parts would be the eyes and mouth I suppose. Yes, all of it looks like an abstract of some sort … you see the veins, different muscles, veins are usually in red. You try to allow for everything, but something unexpected comes up, things don’t go your way. (105)
The design of The Inkblot Record underscores Farrell’s text: all the text is full-justified and set in a san-serif typeface which create dense rectangular blocks of text (denying any inkblot-style “readings” of shape). Additionally, The Inkblot Record’s cover denies authorial extrapolation; there is no author photograph, biographical sketch, endorsements or blurbs. Dan Farrell remains a faceless creator, just out of reach of the reader.

Craig Dworkin’s “Legend (II)” is the sequel to a now non-existent original. Dworkin’s poem “Legion” was a recontextualization of all of the true/false questions in the Minnesota Multiphastic Personality Inventory. The original “Legion” would have been a perfect addition to last week’s column of interrogative novels. Despite the fact that the test has been widely discredited for psychiatric usage, Dworkin was still asked to remove the piece from circulation. He willingly did so, but replied with a sequel. “Legion (II)” consists solely of his answers to the questions posed in the original – now redacted – “Legion”:
No. True. False. False. False. False. False. False. Not especially. Uh, not really. False. No. Um, no. I guess that’s true. Not really. Uh, no. No. False. No, but what a convoluted question! Of course not, that would be crazy. Not really. Uh, no. Yeah. True. False. True. Uh, false. No. Some of it. True. No. No. Uh, true. I wouldn’t call that an artist.
As I briefly mentioned in the comment stream of last week’s column, Ron Silliman’s “Sunset Debris” consists entirely of questions (a poetic addendum to my focus on prose). Christian Bök uses the initial 100 questions from “Sunset Debris” as prompts in a conversation with the A.L.I.C.E. chatbot. Bök’s “Busted Sirens” consists of Alice’s answers to Silliman’s questions:
Yes, I think that this is hard, but I’m not completely sure.
Yes, I think that this is cold, but I’m not completely sure.
I suppose that it does.
Yes, I think that this is heavy, but I’m not completely sure.
Yes, I always have to carry it far.
I can’t really speak for them.
Yes, I think that this is where we get off, but I’m not completely sure.
The blue one, I think.
We are just having a little chat.

Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here. You can read "Nothing Odd Can Last," from How To Write, here

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I've got strangeness that jingle jingle jangles...

Strangeness of the week. I find the song, and now this video, absolutely compelling.

Unfortunately it's a trailer for a game...and as games go it appears to be fairly predictable: it involves killing; it involves a desecrated future earth, it involves levels. There is a sense of achievement, of having satisfaction withheld...etc. I haven't seen the game, and I don't really want to. I am not yet at the point that I want to leave the current narrative I inhabit for a virtual one, though I can imagine why one might want to. On the other hand, I find this video compelling and I would like to visit this world the way I would like to visit a world in a book...except this is not the world of a book, it's a world I'll have to inhabit in a completely different way...but what way is that? How is it different from living in Zuckerberg's Facebook world? So far...

I spoke to Darren Zenko, a very cool Alberta writer who writes pretty exclusively about games and gaming. He explains:
The video uses scenes and models from "Fallout 3" and the signature song of its sequel, "Fallout: New Vegas", both published by Bethesda Softworks. They're the latest in a longrunning series of post-apocalyptic role-playing games. To get an idea of the flavor of the setting, imagine the Year 2000 as envisioned by science-fiction and popular-science magazine covers of the 40s and 50s... then subject that world to a nuclear war and go forward 200 years
Where "Fallout 3" was set in the ruins of Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburbs, "New Vegas" takes place in the deserts surrounding Las Vegas, which avoided the worst of the atomic devastation -- the House bet against a nuclear strike, and the House never loses.
I've written about "New Vegas" and its predecessor several times: here, here, here, and here
And I thought poetry was bleak... But this is the world so many teenage boys retreat to. And they spend hours there, making their way through these desecrated landscapes... Zenko again:
This particular video contains very little footage of actual in-game play, rather it was composed with a third-party (fan-made) tool to place character models etc. from the game into various of the game's locations, and then to make them dance, etc. It's a pretty good little example of the new folk-art form called "machinima" -- computer-generated animated film that exploits and recombines the high-quality models and assets created for video games. While "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle Jangle" is the signature New Vegas song, the piece was composed using "Fallout 3" assets (which F:NV largely shares).
I had more questions...so here's a brief conversation with Zenko:
I found this video haunting, Darren. I have had my share of interest in video games--from Pong, to Galaga, to Mario Brothers, etc, but I stopped somewhere at the NFL football scene and didn't venture into XBox, or Sim, or any of these more virtual worlds. Or real worlds. Too real? I found this video while looking for an original of the song (which will never be the same, thank you), otherwise I would never have found it. But once I did, I felt compelled to go further. I kind of want to own this game and this disturbs me. I don't think I have enough time in my life to be a reader and a gamer at the level of immersion the new gaming reality requires...am I wrong?

DZ: Well, not exactly wrong... but you might find that the required "level of immersion" isn't the all-consuming lifestyle choice it's sometimes made out to be. I think a lot of that idea comes from the way multiplayer games, with their complex (and often rewarding) social natures, can and do absorb players in ways single-player games don't.

But the "Fallout" games are resolutely single-player -- an increasingly rare position in the top (commercail) tier of the medium. Though it can certainly eat up time if you want it to and let it, it is very much built to support non-marathon (TV episode or feature film-length) play sessions. The hundreds of storylines, minor and major, in the wasteland are broken into manageable chapters, and you can save and walk off anytime...

Whether you will walk off is another question... both "Fallout 3" and "New Vegas" offer a lot to explore, and the compulsion to see what's just over the next ridge, or inside the next ruin is pretty strong. On the other hands...

A) ...it *is* still fundamentally a combat game, and I don't know how you feel about hours of chopping off heads, blowing off limbs, and sneaking up to bandits to put live grenades in their pants. How *do* you feel?

B) ...while it is top-notch within the context of the games medium, the writing isn't going to win any literary awards... and while the vocal performances are quite good (I think I wet my pants a little when I realized I was speaking to Kris-freakin'-Kristofferson) the digital puppets through which they are delivered, and the unchanging straight-on headshot in which they are framed, make for underwhelming cinema.

SQ: Again, I haven't seen the game, but you put your finger on something here "in bringing their half-dead world to life, Bethesda’s designers have made every corner of the space resonate with human presence..." This is another way in which the video haunts...it's like the strange optimism of post war America in this futuristic landscape. Oddly disconcerting. One feels a kind of kick in the gut for enjoying it...or wanting to. I'm hesitating...

DZ: You ought to explore it a little, if only to satisfy your curiosity and/or give yourself something of a foothold in a medium whose canons, conventions and critical culture are still very much in the formative stages despite a multiple-tens-of-billions-of-dollars presence in the cultural marketplace..."
It's the literary quality, or the potential literariness that bothers me about this game. The realism taps into a historical and future apocalyptic narrative--it gets you both ways, looking back at a dazzled post-war entertainment industry and forging of new identity and forward to a bleak world where the cowboy, by virtue of his or her resourcefulness, can once again reign.

Worse, it seems to be taking direct aim at the novel...don't read it, experience it, create your own devastating narrative... I asked new Concordia professor and poet Darren Wershler about Fallout, which I thought he might have, or know about, and yes, he does. He confirmed my suspicions:
The Fallout experience is really, really bleak. It's partly due to the detailed mise en scene, and partly due to the way the narrative is structured. There are no right answers to the problem it presents you with, and few easy ones. So it's a writerly game, in Barthes' sense. We need more of those.
Okay, but why? Why are we spending so much time in worlds that are created to distract and amuse? We need to fold this into our discussion of the future of the book also--it seems we have another, billion dollar threat...possibly more lethal than movies. Certainly another bit of competition for the old fashioned book...and your reading time. And perhaps the generative capability of your imagination...

I'll let you know. I don't have a play date exactly, but I am going to give it a shot when the semester ends.
--Sina Queyras

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Correspondences: Michael Turner

Last Monday I returned from a weekend symposium entitled Are Curators Unprofessional? at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The symposium was conceived and hosted by Kitty Scott, Director of Visual Arts and the Walter Phillips Gallery, where artist Geoffrey Farmer was “staging” a new work, God’s Dice.

The symposium took aim at a number of questions concerning the conception and execution of exhibitions, actions and publications, as well as an inquiry into what curators do. For my part, I was asked to write a series of veiled texts detailing historic artist-curator relations, to be screened (quietly) prior to each event, and moderate a panel on exhibition catalogues, a form I have been contributing to for the past fifteen years.

Although the word has deep roots, “curation” is a relatively recent activity (one need only type the word to be told that it is wrong), and as such was due for an audit. Hastening this has been the proliferation of institutional curatorial programs, most of them taught by people who come to the trade from different disciplines. Art history and studio educations are common points of entry, but there are others.

Ute Meta Bauer
MIT’s Ute Meta Bauer, who gave a keynote address in advance of the symposium’s “Craftwork” panel, told us she was trained in theatrical stage design and worked in television before venturing into exhibition making. Another prominent curator, CCA Wattis Institute’s Jens Hoffmann, studied theatrical direction, which makes sense given his tendency to treat artworks as stage props towards exhibitions inspired by literary works (The Wizard of Oz, Moby-Dick and, most recently, Huckleberry Finn). Still another is Dan Graham.

While Graham is best-known as a visual artist, he entered the contemporary conversation as a private gallerist, curating shows by conceptual artists Sol LeWitt and Robert Smithson, whose text works, like Graham’s own, have influenced proponents of what has been called “conceptual writing”, though it should be said that some of these writers spend more time shopping on these texts than identifying the work as part of an ongoing -- and expanded -- literary system. But that’s another story.

Those who have already clicked on the symposium link will have noted that the weekend included a range of keynotes, panels and social outings. An event that arrived unadvertised was a performance and object giveaway by Can co-founder and Calgary resident Malcolm Mooney, whose soft spoken poems are set in a pre-Giuliani SoHo. Upon hearing that Mooney was living nearby, another symposium participant, White Columns’ Matthew Higgs, simply looked up his number and asked if he would perform. Now how unprofessional is that?
Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ross McKie: Two Poems, Five Questions

After the Release of Todor Kobakov

This morning saw Todor Kobakov pushing his piano through the streets again. “Good morning,” I said to Todor, his red scarf a massive tongue flapping about his face. “Quite the wind.” It was windy and the rain had me concerned for the finish on his piano. I moved closer and offered to help push the piano but Todor insisted this was something he needed to do for himself, that life was a series of struggles and this was simply another one on another day. Wet leaves found the curved body of Mr Kobakov’s piano. I enjoyed Todor’s compositions but not enough for poetry to be ignored: “Would you mind writing a poem for me?” His tongue settled now and he told me that he was a composer not a poet. He said if I notice the space between the wet leaves and the piano, if I knew that that was a place one could hide from the rain, maybe build a home under there and raise a family, only leave for work from one’s leafhouse when the weather was clear— if I noticed all that life then I had no appreciation for music. We were pushing the piano up a hill now and I was thinking about how things stand for something.

From the Bombing Philosophers Series:
I took up the hobby of building warplanes from scratch
Through a service that matches your aggression level
Precisely with the aircraft most suited to express your potential to blitz
Say, your neighbourhood, town, city or, as one testimony had it,—
your “beloved country.”

After a rigorous assessment process, including a test over the phone involving me listing
Who I might like to kill in order from most to least, a test requiring that I yell the names;
I was soon shipped the parts for the 1939 Bolingbroke,
A version of the Blenheim Mk IV bomber from Bristol, England.

However, sometime in the plane’s construction, while I was mounting
The Twin Wasp Jr. engines, up saunters Wittgenstein onto my front lawn and,
As is the course for many a philosopher, Ludwig begins making assumptions
About the use of concrete language to express the immediate, the given.
Clearly, he was referencing the plane. I was furious.

“It’s right here,” I said, pointing at the still propless engines.
“It is here by your use of physical language. But how can those words
describe a phenomena?” And then his cheeky smile.
I was tired but insisted, “This plane does not require a phenomenological
representation, dickhead, it drops bombs. Plain and simple.”
Then he sits in the cockpit without my permission.

Later, I agreed to take him on a test flight if he promised to shut-up
And keep his harness on the entire time. But not ten minutes into the flight—

He jumped from the plane without a word. I said:
“I like the sound of Wittgenstein” and “Look out below!”

Sina Queyras: You sent two prose poems to us, Ross, After the Release of Todor Kobakov and From the Bombing Philosophers Series. Are these related? Part of a larger project?

Ross McKie: These poems are not related so much with regards intention; nonetheless, I noticed afterward that both somewhat cheekily consider the grand hero as a protagonist— guess I haven't recovered yet from Goethe's or Thomas Carlyle's writings about the Superman. Oftentimes I only register similarities between prose poems after their composition. Both are part of a collection I'm putting together, but will fall into different sections. There is a section entitled, From the Bombing Philosophers Series, a collection of prose poems that reconsiders or perhaps reinvents— at times comically— some of the prominent Thinkers of the 20th Century.

SQ: Why prose poems? Can you recall the first prose poem you came across? Does it seem a particularly "Canadian" or contemporary form?

RM: Prose poems intrigue me and I will check back with poems I've read and see if they're a lie, seeing if their posing as poems, only being uncovered for what they are—flash fiction or some such thing that speaks more to ADD than to metre and sound. So, I have this suspicion, even in writing them, that these pieces are belying the struggle of poetics and how a poem should scan... And yet they are somehow of poetry.

The first prose poem I came across (or crossed) was Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, I think— no wait that's the first novel ever written isn't it? Okay, how about Milton...? I don't know; but I always remember reading Patrick Lane's poem Dinner with its clear storyline and I remember thinking its shape on the page, including the use of enjambment, made it look like traditional free verse; and yet I couldn't help seeing this prosaic element that teased at narrative conventions: character portrayal, plot, conflict— words arranged in time more than that sense of words falling on a page.

Prose poems don't seem to be a particularly "Canadian" form; although I don't know about languages in our country other than English, I confess. Prose poetry has been part of the writing experience in many collections but, more notably, in the 20th Century I think poets tried to marry free verse with prose conventions. Earle Birney's David comes to mind. I do believe that now there's a sense that free verse might have evolved into a prose poetry and that that evolution, as reductionist as this sounds, might be because younger writers don't know what the hell a poem is. In looking where the prose poem is or has been, though, one can easily see that men are attracted to its form. There's reasons for this, but one I would offer up is that the narrative form feels safe and allows less abandon. Many men are inadvertently taught to try to control story, even in prose poems. I think this points to my earlier remark about "words arranged in time" but don't quote me on that 'cause I'm trying to control this interview.

SQ: What does place have to do with your writing practice? What does reading?

RM: I need a lot of quiet. I read constantly. I never claim to have some artsy, (tragic) romantic response to life, except— if I dare!— through other poems. I ain't no self-proclaimed logos channel. I harvest inspiration. Read-Read-a reed.

SQ: Essential online poetry reading?

RM: I loved Ygdrasil: A Journal of Poetic Arts, but its not been updated for a while. Others: Arc; Table Music; Poetry Foundation: Harriet; infuencysalon.ca; rob mclennan's blog; ubuweb; codeorgan; Poetryreviews.ca and, uh, Lemon something.

SQ: Most exciting book on your desk?

RM: I have been excited about Julia Kristeva since my twenties (I'm 44). Slowly reading her Desire in Language. Also, Ann Carson's Eros The Bittersweet and Sanity, Madness, Transformation: The Psyche in Romanticism by Ross Woodman. 


Ross McKie is a writer and actor living in Toronto, Ontario. He teaches writing at the University of Toronto's Hart House and has been known to work in television. He is currently completing his first novel. A poetry collection entitled, Pointing the Way With a Severed Finger, is forthcoming. Ross has three beautiful children.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good Morning

Some kind of hybrid imagery. Jeff Wall meets Harry Potter meets Gregory Crewdson. More here. Click on each photo. Via either @alienated or @christianbok. Thanks to one or both of you.

And here's a not so strange cover of a Velvet Underground tune, but yes, a rather strange video...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pulled off my shelves #9: “Have you studied the soft toes of geckoes?”

With each of these columns, I’ve attempted to interrogate an aspect of writing by exploring a series of books I’ve pulled from my bookshelves. The question has repeatedly been: what is a book? This week “What?” itself is a book.

Over the last few years I’ve accumulated three different books (and am always happily looking for more, know of any?) each of which are entirely in the interrogative. In all three every sentence is a question.

The first item in this miniature collection is Gilbert Sorrentino’s Gold Fools (København / Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2001). Sorrentino’s book takes the form of a western pulp novel:

Were Nort Shannon, Dick Shannon, and Bud Merkel exceptionally morose as they sat before the small bunkhouse and about the flames of the blazing campfire? Was their recent failed adventure in ranching all over, and did Bud, in particular, think it time to pack it in? Was Bud a colorful speaker, in the great tradition of the heartbreakingly beautiful, yet very dry, American West? Was their late debacle tough luck, or just what was it? Had loco weed played an important role in their failure? If so, how? Pack what in? Just what is loco weed? (9)
Gold Fools is a series of toggle switches for the reader’s composition for another book—for if Nort, Dick and Bud were not exceptionally morose, what were they? If their recent adventure in ranching was not over, when would it continue? If it wasn’t time to pack it in, what time was it?—each interrogative an opening to another narrative…

2009 saw the publication of two question-only novels; the lesser-known of which is William Walsh’s questionstruck (Nashville: Keyhole Press, 2009). Walsh constructed his novel solely of questions posed by Calvin Trillin in his New Yorker columns and his food and travel narratives. Even when isolated, the questions reflect the original author’s texts and signal an absence of narrative (unlike Sorrentino’s novel):

The former sheriff? How are you? What can I do to help? What’s so odd about it? If the local law enforcement people launched an undercover operation of such effectiveness and probity, he asks, why was one of the state policemen transferred far from his home and the other one encouraged to retire? What’s the story about the hog? What’s the appropriate hog story? (17)
questionstruck doesn’t have the grace of Gold Fools as the questions posed are merely harvested without an appreciation of how their juxtaposition may influence reading. questionstruck is merely a gathering.

Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood (New York: Ecco, 2009), on the other hand, is a fascinating book. Lacking a traditional narrative, Powell’s book poses questions at ‘you’, the readers—a litany of questions which slow the reader down. Each personality-defining, seemingly unconnected, quip presents the reader with a new means of defining her own personality.

Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? Should it still be Constantinople? Does a nameless horse make you more nervous or less nervous than a named horse? In your view, do children smell good? If before you now, would you eat animal crackers? Could you like down and take a rest on the sidewalk? (1)
Each of these texts use the reader’s tendency to sub-consciously answer questions posed in a text, especially those posed to “you” because every “you” is you, isn’t it?

Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here. You can read "Nothing Odd Can Last," from How To Write, here

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Variations towards a Theme

The following excerpts are from dialogues with Joan Retallack, Lyn Hejinian, Heather Fuller, Myung Mi Kim, and Marjorie Perloff.

Currently, these complete dialogues are in the initial stages of transcription to be edited for eventual publication in Jacket2. The original audio recordings for each of these conversations can be found by clicking on the poet's name to link to her PennSound page.

Joan Retallack, in a discussion at the Kelly Writers House, February 28, 2001:


I think most important contemporary innovative poetry or experimental poetry is in the way that Gertrude Stein talked about/wrote about composition, an explanation actually composing our contemporariness. It is, in fact, a poetry that is coterminous with its context, and the act of making is a forming of that context.

Now this may seem to beg the question if by the question is meant things like how much should we know about the biography of the author, the location of the author, the connections with prior traditions or contemporary movements, et cetera. But I don’t think it does beg that question, because I just presume that the answer to that question is of course, one should know as much as one can. It’s all of interest. But the context in that sense, the sense of facts that we know about, say, the biography of the writer is never a substitute for an experience of the poem as itself the form of life that we are entering as reader, as contemporaneous ourselves, and are thereby continuing its making of or forming of the contemporary through our engagement with it.

I really feel that every one who loves poetry and writes poetry should know a lot about many things and should be a curious person excited about history, excited about science, excited about theories of mathematics, all of the things that have converged to make our contemporary moment. And where these lines, where the, sort of, Venn diagrams enclose the limits of what needs to be known about a particular poem, I think, vary according to the context in which it is taught, and the purposes for which it’s being taught.

Lyn Hejinian: from a discussion led by Al Filreis at the Kelly Writers House, February 21, 2005:


I was arguing against the notion of the lyric moment, or of lyric poetry as always having to be transcendental in its trajectory, and arguing in favor of its being possible to imagine a lyric poetry that was local and detailed and not ineluctable, but, what’s the right word?


Sturdy and detailed.


Sturdy and detailed, yes—


Those were your words.


But I am trying not to repeat myself.


How kind of you.


Alright, I’ll leave it at that. Sturdy and detailed. And as detailed as one wants to have it.

Heather Fuller, from a discussion during Philly Talks, February 10, 1999


I think I find overheard language more and more important. [...] Often, language, to me, seems this common cistern where we're all gathered around, chewing the tobacco and spitting it out into the cistern, and we're all grabbing it and putting it back in our mouths. That's what we do in North Carolina, anyway. But now that I'm in this world, I have to talk about the common cistern as a literary function.

So, where I live is particularly busy. It's particularly lively, and polyglot. I'm always picking up language and chewing it in my mouth and spitting it out. And I think this hearsay is a lot of chewing, spitting, right there. But in another sense it's also something that I'm more and more interested in, and that's the concept of sampling.

Myung Mi Kim, from a Close Listening discussion, March 15, 2007:


I think the question here is can the masses actually have a lot more to say about what’s scrutable and readable and intelligible than what someone else external to the broad masses has determined. That’s really the question to some degree. So, in other words, who has the privilege to say this is transparent, this is being rendered transparently, I understand this? So, what’s at stake, it seems to me, in poetry or any sort of writing practice, is to keep asking under what terms and conditions do we understand legibility? Who has the authority to invest and divest? What’s scrutable, what’s readable? I recognize this. So, fundamentally, they are questions about, for me, exclusion, inclusion, questions of social affiliation. The order of exclusion and inclusion that get rehearsed when we question things like: Do I understand this? What does it mean? Is it possible to keep extending the meaning of meaning, the terms by which we understand anything at all, and especially language because that’s what we use all the time, every day, every second? How’s it possible to keep extending the terms of meaning-making and of sense-making?

Marjorie Perloff, in conversation with Charles Bernstein, November 11, 2009:


I think Stein is at least as controversial as she was and will become more so. I have to be honest and say there are moods where I don’t feel like reading Gertrude Stein. I mean, she’s great. I love to write about Gertrude Stein. I love to really do these things, but as far as sitting down and reading her, I mean, she is in a way such an extreme, and she always will be a great extreme. […] I love her work, but, as I say, one has certain kinds of moods, and there are moments where I feel no, it’s too rigorous, almost. You don’t feel in a mood for that rigor. And so, I do think that she will always be considered marginal, and she’s never going to become less marginal. […] Elaine Showalter did this new literary history of women—and she covers everybody, every American writer, minor writers, major, I mean, everybody is in there, writers you’ve never heard of—and she was asked what woman writer don’t you like: Gertrude Stein. She’s the most overrated writer there is. She’s no good, she’s boring, et cetera. […] And after all, she was appreciated early on by people like Edmund Wilson. I mean, it isn’t that Stein even in her own time didn’t already have a lot of advocates. So, I think it’s people who want literature to be thematic, obviously, like Elaine Showalter. They are only looking at the subject matter—what’s it about—and therefore Stein is very frustrating, but, of course, there is a way that things like A Long Gay Book, some of the long works, even The Making of Americans, which more people don’t read all of than read all of, are frustrating works as she’s a poet’s poet in many ways, and I think she will remain. That’s just my guess. I wish it weren’t that way, but my guess would be that she will be just as marginalized twenty years from now as she is now, probably, in fact, more so.


So, when you ask that question about, well, what about a person who doesn’t speak another language, and what kind of condition would be produced for that reader, my question always, whether out loud or implicitly, is can you produce an approximation of the condition of language again unhooked from the demands of communication and communicability and transparency, and can you somehow suggest/evoke/amplify/proliferate different ways of being inside and listening to and activating the space that we call language, which doesn’t belong to any one language group, doesn’t belong to any one particular idea of how basic things that benchmarks of language like rhythm, syntax, intonation, inflection, taking all those things as resources for meaning, as resources for experience. So, in other words, even if there were no identifiable thing called the second language, there’s something produced about an experience of language, and I think everyone has access to that.


I think really good critical or theoretical literary writing at its very best works when I guess what I would call synthetic moments are the most brilliant, which is to say when a connection is made between one thing and another thing, and that moment of connection is a moment of incredibly powerful insight or luminosity, and it casts lights on all kinds of other things. […] I think that that is exemplary of what poetic writing does, that poetry is both resilient and revelatory precisely because of the linkages, the way the linkages are made, the kinds of things that are linked together. […] Poetry, to my mind, is not anti-intellectual sloppiness. It’s really hard thinking. Maybe that’s why it’s sturdy and detailed.


I’m very interested in rethinking what we mean by criticism, of course. I think there are multiple models, obviously there are multiple models, one of which is the descriptive contextual analysis that is primarily one of aboutness. And the presumption with that model could be that you’re going to sort of finish off a poem by doing that with it, and that unit by unit. First, I’ll look at this poem, and I will say what I want to say about it, and then the next, then the next. I think there are other forms of discourse that are perhaps healthier, more robust, potentially more generative of subsequent desires to read, that’s kind of work within the form of the essay as an exploratory tool of the humanities. I think of the essay as being the sort of the exploratory tool of the humanities, that is the form in which thought-experiments can take place and radical kinds of conversation with text and context can take place. It would be hard right now to answer and I think it would be too much at length to enter this in detail, but one of the things that I try to do within a semester in the course that I teach is structure it as though the entire course were an essay we were writing together. At each point, I’m asking students in their writing to refer to things that we have been discussing, the things we have been reading, and to make work that has an accompanying ongoing statement that does that kind of textual exploration and conversation. I do that rather than using the more standard model of criticism, which I’m almost sorry to say to have to do with a certain degree of descriptive judgement, a kind of closing down, I think. This, I think, what I’m trying to do is no less analytic in the sense of looking at detail, close readings, and interactions, and juxtaposing things in very complex ways. I think it’s much more lively in keeping the reader in an exploration of the text rather than a closing down of the text.


Michael Nardone will converse at Open Space.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Short Haul: NaNoWriMo

Two weeks ago I posted about my problems tying up my manuscript in a timely fashion. While I’ve been pushing my poetry around with my fork, however, thousands upon thousands of people are participating in NaNoWriMo—or National Novel Writing Month—where participants have to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I heard about NaNoWriMo too late to consider participating, and besides, as a grad student I am now lacking time to do basic things like laundry and sleeping, so cramming novel writing into my schedule is simply not possible. However, I did have time to pick up Chris Baty’s NaNoWriMo instructional book No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, and even read about half of it.

Though I haven’t written fiction since my first year of university, NaNoWriMo intrigues me. Focusing on poetry has paralyzed me when it comes to other genres—I assume I can’t write anything but poetry, and feel almost arrogant delving into fiction without making a serious effort to learn about writing techniques first. I’m also just afraid I can’t do it. I have a hard time dreaming up plots, and I can’t write dialogue to save my life. However, I have two ideas for short fiction projects that I would really like to work on that I have shamefully shelved in some back corner of my brain. Well, no more. In December, I am going to attempt this NaNoWriMo thing.

While I can imagine a number of literary objections to NaNoWriMo, there are a lot of things about the idea that I find exciting, if not genuinely helpful. No Plot emphasizes that the book you will write in a month will probably be doomed to mediocrity, but that it will provide you with a complete first draft you can work on afterwards. A fellow writer who has participated in speed novel writing contests suggested to me that this may be less straight forward than it seems, since once written, changing the direction of the book can prove difficult. Because my project idea is a series of interconnected short stories, however, I’m hoping that I may be able to avoid this pitfall and have an easier time making changes to sections without having to rip up the whole book. Even so, I have accepted that my book will not be great… but I do think working on it will make me a better writer.

Since I heard about the contest and resolved to attempt it, I’ve been excited to work on the stories, and have started to sketch out some details about characters and events I’d like to write about. I feel enthusiastic about the prospect of working on the book. As No Plot suggests, casting off expectations of competence and literary merit have allowed me to stop feeling afraid of fiction, and to approach actually writing it. Overcoming this inhibition is the first step for me to actually learning how to write fiction, and even though this first effort may not turn out well, at least I will have tried. Most importantly, however, I am convinced that writing 1,667 words a day every day in December will improve my writing skills. If practice makes perfect, then NaNoWriMo seems like a valid strategy for a beginning fiction writer.

Finally, No Plot emphasizes that NaNoWriMo will help you finish your book by sending legions of guilt monkeys to harass you should you falter or try to give up after committing to the plan. The book also encourages you to brag widely about your novel writing plans so that shame will force you to write, and that’s why I have written this post. Whether I will produce anything of merit is uncertain, but if nothing else, I hope to join the 30,000 people last year who succeeded in their NaNoWriMo efforts.

Helen Hajnoczky's first book, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, is NOW AVAILABLE from Snare Books. It took more than a month to write.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Inventory, Inventoried

An Inventory after Marguerite Pigeon's Inventory. (Anvil Press, 2009).

Legend for Categories
S = Selling
C = Conceptualism
B = Biography
P = Pages
I = Interviews
R = Reviews
M = Miscellanea

Category Item
SThere are no customer reviews yet
CObject as muse
B A writer of poetry and fiction
RPigeon was recently a participant in the Studio.
S Year: 2009
P Sketch of the word “Inventory” in different lettering
M Possible death of the object
B Editor of academic publications
C Temporal, political, locational and psychic aspects
S Language: English
P Ants are an empire of females
B Work has appeared in a variety of journals
S Binding: Paperback
R translated into Estonian using Babelfish and then returned to English.
M Further to my last Marguerite Pigeon,
I Preferably the banana?
P Ant-girls in an empire of females
C Francis Ponge, the French poet who considered ordinariness and objects to be (the) way to go for poetry
P Sketch of card catalogue drawers
C A collection of 58 object poems
I I’m not really “poetic” in my daily life or anything
P Sketch of an apartment block
P Sketch of clothespins
P Sketch of a hair dryer
P Sketch of a key
P Sketch of lipstick tube, open and rolled up
P Sketch of mirror
P Sketch of newspaper
P Sketch of tea bag
M My class focuses on object poetry.
B Lives in Vancouver
C Reciprocal relation between subjects and objects
P Above it all a woman, ready to do violence
S No synopsis available
B and Vancouver poet and bon vivant Marguerite Pigeon drops in to read from her mesmerizing collection Inventory
I/C fragility, class, and women
S Publisher: Anvil Press
P Sketch of mouth with tongue sticking out
I My stapler. My tea bag. Myself.
RThe jury loved this book and would like to gesture a large congratulations to Marguerite.
P push crampons into your sides like ticks, picks like mosquito proboscises, extract our bite-sized information
S Dewey Decimal: 811.6
P Don’t be hyperdramatic
M this tangible approach
P *see also: Glacier
I It sounds pretentious but it’s true: I’m reading Proust
S Pages: 71
P They’re not all this accessible, of course
S Books, poetry, Canadian
P the elastic, rather than drawing the line, becomes it
B Marguerite Pigeon appears courtesy of The Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada
P “Exocrine to endocrine,
I The things around me—literally within reach
S ISBN: 1895636973
P Bend the metal, please./Bend the metal for order.
S Dimensions: 185mm x 127mm x 7mm
P fatty two-by-four a-howl or

Nikki Reimer, author of [sic], lives in East Vancouver.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Machine Poems: Insert your Own Variables and Voila Insta Poem

I Am
I am a fuck wad
I wonder wax
I hear birds burping
I see people turning into sand
I want a nail gun
I am not your wad fuck

I pretend to like cats
I feel bad about Sonny
I touch velvet
I worry your sky is falling
I cry about your sky falling
I am the one crying about the sky falling

I understand you don't believe the sky can fall
I say what goes up must come down
I dream gravity is temporary
I try flying
I hope for cake
I am a wad of fuck

Lisa Robertson @ McGill

November 17, 12pm, Arts 160 (Arts Council Room), Arts Building
853 Sherbrooke Street West, McGill University

free and open to the public

Then Lisa Robertson & Jeramy Dodds @ Atwater
Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 7 pm
Poets Lisa Robertson and Jeramy Dodds

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pulled off my Shelves #8: "All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy"

In All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy, Phil Buehler attempts to document, assemble and continue Jack Torrance’s manuscript from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining.

Conceptually, recreating Torrance’s manuscript from the few frames of film shown playfully concretizes the fictional output of a fictional character. Only a few pages of the manuscript are revealed in The Shining, but every page consists wholly and entirely of the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated ad infinitum over a presumably several-hundred-page manuscript. Shelley Duvall’s character, in the filmic reveal of Torrance’s creative masterpiece, emotionally collapses as she finally realizes the extent of her husband’s crumbling sanity. Under the mental anguish of Sisyphean task of nonlinearity Torrance’s grip on reality is weakened, much as readers reject the strain of such a non-traditional manuscript.

Buehler suggests that novels formed entirely from the materiality of “work” without the “play” of narrative are inherently “dull” both to the reader and the author, refuting Cagean ideas of repetition and reiteration. Kenneth Goldsmith argues the resultant text—if chosen and constructed well—will eschew the “dull” and the “boring” alike. Unshackled from the plot of the film, the page-based representation of Torrance’s cinematic failed “novel” is a metatextual commentary on the interplay between text and page, between confessionalism and conceptualism and between procedurality and intentionality. While The Shining suggests that Torrance’s insanity was the result of alcoholism and the influence of the Overlook Hotel itself, All Work presents an obsessive text which documents how the interplay between linearity and nonlinearity sent the author into a mental tailspin.

All Work problematizes the interplay between text and author. The manuscript is no longer the fictional output of a fictional character; it has become as “real” as any other novel. Metaphorically, Torrance achieves presence only through the publication of his novel, just as writers only occupy the role of writer when they publish. Writers are only writers when they write; when they cease to write, they cease to exist.

The labour of writing defines a writer’s existence despite Torrance’s dictum that “all work and no play” will denigrate the writer into a “dull boy.” Paradoxically, All Work consists entirely of the repetition of a single sentence without any explicit discussion of the traditional tropes of fiction: characterization, narrative, dialogue and conflict. All Work is a documentation of process; the evidence of an obsessive writing practice which reduces writing to the act of writing. The lack of narrative, character and dialogue makes All Work about material—the accumulation of text on a page. A novel, here, is anything that takes the form of a novel regardless of the content.

Buehler chooses to construct only the first few manuscript pages from The Shining with obsessive detail, retaining every typographic error and idiosyncratic variation but, sadly, he only maintains that neurotic level of detail for the first few pages. After the introduction of such an obsessive practice, Buehler erratically maintains the page form from The Shining without the content (the errant capitalization, mistyped letters and erroneous indentation), thus turning his manuscript into less a documentation than a translation. This version of All Work is thus a series of permutations of the original sentence which suggest the source text without quoting it directly.

Buehler’s All Work and No Play makes Jack a Dull Boy succeeds despite this erratic execution as a manual of potential compositional structures—a ’pataphysical encyclopedia of textual manipulation in concrete poetry. All Work and No Play makes Jack a Dull Boy not only rebuilds Torrance’s fictional text, it also channels Charles Bernstein’s Veil, bill bissett’s and John Riddell’s early typewriter-based visual poetry and Aram Saroyan’s minimalist work.

The novel is presented as typed manuscript but strangely breaks this conceit for a 10-page section which—while cleanly aping Saroyan’s minimalist poetry by including only a single word on each page—shifts the typeface thus breaking the illusion of a reconstructed manuscript. Buehler’s reasoning for this shift is not explained, and sadly, the inconsistency builds upon some already questionable decisions.

Outside of this project, Buehler’s oeuvre concentrates on the documentation and exploration of urban ruins, the last vestiges of crumbling hotels, industrial sites and developments. All Work and No Play makes Jack a Dull Boy is an exploration of an urban ruin whereby the author maps the possibilities of potential text.

In terms of contemporary poetics, All Work and No Play makes Jack a Dull Boy is ultimately a lesson for conceptual poets. A text should be written, as Craig Dworkin postulates, not in terms of “whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.” An enviable project, Buehler has squandered this idea, producing a manuscript with regrettably inconsistent results.


Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here. You can read "Nothing Odd Can Last," from How To Write, here

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two Poems and a Conversation With J.R. Carpenter

I've Died and Gone to Devon

England is a small country, unless you're driving across it. From the M3/A303 you'd think the whole country was countryside. The deeper into Devon you drive, the narrower and more winding the roads. If this is the wrong side of the road, I don't care what's right. If this is the driveway, I thought, half a mile in, then I can't wait to see the house. The house stands on a promontory on a double-bend in the River Dart. Meanders don't last forever, but this house might. It's so quiet here at night. The slightest sound carries. Rain on magnolia leaves produces a dry, rustling sound. Flotsam on a tidal river is a strange mixture of oak leaves and seaweed. Don't laugh at the Caution Slipway May Be Slippery sign. It may be true. They’re egrets, not regrets. This is an achingly beautiful place to come across a little death.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sina Queyras talks to Johanna Skibsrud

Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists is up for a Giller Prize (the "darkest horse" in the race according to the Toronto Star), but she is also a poet, and the author of two collections, most recently  I Do Not Think I Could Love a Human Being, Gaspereau 2010. We corresponded by email this week.

SQ: When I initially thought to speak to you it was about your poetry, in particular, I Do Not Think I Could Love a Human Being, Gaspereau 2010. I thought this was your first book and it was poetry, but I see there is an earlier one, also poetry and also with Gaspereau, and of course, the novel. Were these poems you wrote while a student at Concordia, or were the earlier ones?

JS: I concentrated on writing fiction while I was at Concordia, but I was also writing poems, and a few of them show up in both collections. A version of the first section of I Do Not Think That I Could Love a Human Being, “Measuring Depth,” was written for Stephanie Bolster’s poetry workshop in the fall of 2004, but they still weren’t anywhere near ready to publish in my first collection four years later. A lot of stuff sits with me for a long time like that.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Sina Queyras Talks To Suzanne Buffam

SQ: Thanks for agreeing to a little exchange which will follow up where Damian Rogers left off last week. I was quite taken by your new book, particularly the spaciousness of it. As much as I love a project, so many books of poetry these days, probably my own included, are overdetermined from start to finish, or so tightly bound to project that they are beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic. Is this a book that was built as a project?

SB: I like your word "spaciousness"— appealingly paradoxical for a book of short poems. My poems seldom span more than a page or two (and in the case of this book, often no more than a line or two) but I like to imagine they ramify outwards in ways that do take up more space (mental, emotional, temporal…?) than their physical size might suggest. I'm a huge fan of Dickinson, and it's that feeling of infinite space within her tight lines that most appeals to me in her work.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Textual Feathers

DSC_2440, originally uploaded by lemon hound.
From a show this summer in a small gallery somewhere in Shoreditch area of London...from my epic 4.5 hour art walk checking out the smaller London galleries...it was awesome.


Surely more than a signature statement. One wonders how intentional this was...in the writing, or was it something the actor developed?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Pulled off my shelves #7: “Hence latent of satisfaction, relating singing of of bunch the effect.”

For the majority of my columns to date I have focused on the minimal, the smallest gestures—novels built of nothing but punctuation, novels built by erasing the majority of other people’s texts; novelists who create using nothing but blocks of colour, novelists who entirely refuse to write. But what about texts which weigh in on the other size of the scale?

While my own practice in fiction tends to lean towards the sparse and the “unreadable”, I am also inspired by texts which exhaustively catalogue. These texts look not to the minimalist gesture but to the maximalist undertaking—the exhaustive, the complete. Instead of looking to the crystalline haiku and its incumbent brevity as poetic tropes, these books embrace (as Kenny Goldsmith has suggested) the database as most indicative of writing in light of the internet’s economy of plenty.

(or, in another way of putting it, as I mentioned yesterday to an employee of a local bookstore – most of my columns are about really thin books, this column is about really thick books)

Friday Find

Another film by Andrew Filippone. Right up my alley. 

Commute (excerpt) from Andrew Filippone Jr. on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Conversation with Jeramy Dodds

from a public dialogue at Open Space, Victoria, 26 October 2010

NARDONE: Crabwise to the Hounds was a very particular book in that when it came out in the fall of 2008, it seemed to have an immediate impact. There was this unique voice throughout and a particular sense of poem-construction that felt at once familiar and entirely new. Can you speak on the composition of the Crabwise poems: how were these poems built, how much of these poems comes in a sense of reception--of receiving words, phrases, or cadences--or are you grinding words away, attempting to construct a particular sense into the text over time?

DODDS: The poems in Crabwise took seven years to get tidied up to the point where I felt like I could put them into the manuscript. To be quite honest, about this composition question, it really changed per poem. I was really interested in sabotaging any kind of harmonious habit that I was developing with each poem. So, to me, each poem comes to the table with something new. I think a lot of people do this with their first books. You're experimenting; you're learning how to write.

NARDONE: Thinking about music, I am curious about your relationship between sound and sense. There is a very particular style of logic employed, or implied, throughout these poems, and often the sense that comes is a kind of lyric sense, one driven by the poem's music.

DODDS: I've been thinking about this while I've been working on new work. I would really like to keep my feet firmly in the lyric, and my head more into the music, and into experimentation. As far as sense goes, I have this mantra where I'd like my mom to be able to read every one of those poems, and say, okay, I know this, I know this. And she's not a huge poetry fan. So, I'd like to somewhat easily be read by people, and perhaps music can push such realisations when metaphors etc. fail. So, I don't like to rely too heavily on more verbal, linear ideas of “sense,” as I realize that music can easily take over and do the job of stringing the reader along or out to dry.

NARDONE: So moving from there to Glenn Gould--who came up a couple of times tonight in your reading--is fugue structure something that you think about? There seems, to me, a certain sense of point and counterpoint that's happening throughout these poems. It's happening in lines, in line breaks, word to word, this kind of clashing sound sense where each word seems to challenge the meaning and sound of a previous word or phrase. Is this something that comes into your sense of composition?

DODDS: When I was working on those, I wasn't really too worried about that the fugue structure. That was coming through when I was slowing the music down to a certain extent. I started to notice things that were happening that Gould was touching on, and so then I was trying to match a bit of that.

In "Glenn Gould Negotiates the Danube in the Company of a Raven," whenever I slow down and start a new section with "that night…" I was trying to capture the sense of the piece on a larger scale. Somebody was asking me, “if I take this poem and listen to the music, is it going to match up?” Well, maybe. But, no, it definitely won’t. It got totally sidelined, through the editing process, and I think any of the fugue structure got ripped out of it. I like that you're finding it in there, but it wasn't all that conscious on my part.

NARDONE: Are you working on one poem at a time? Are you writing several poems at the same time? Knowing your background as a research archaeologist, I somehow have this impression of you keeping a kind of field log book where words, phrases, sentences accrue, and then, later, you piecemeal poems together in a kind of accretional style. Is this a reality, or something I am implying into your work?

DODDS: I think that's one hundred per cent right. The poems sit for a long time. Typically, a poem would sit around for maybe three years or so. The “Canada” poem that I read at the beginning, which is new has been around for two-and-a-half years. But I've been inserting new adjectives every one and a while.

The problem with this sort of style, this taking things from notebooks, is that these sentences may find their way into my poems, but I cannibalize poems constantly, so lines get moved around quite a bit. They become decontextualised for me, even though the reader may think that the line is where it always has been. So I find it hard to answer questions like, “what inspired this poem” because the answer is bound to be “the poem inspired the poem.”

Tonight, reading and seeing everybody, and as those lines roll out of my mouth, I'm picturing where I was when I wrote each one. So, I'm going through this sort of autobiographical moment up here, which makes it fun for me as well.

NARDONE: It's interesting for me to think about the autobiographical aspect to your work. We were talking briefly earlier about someone who had reviewed Crabwise and had pinpointed a specific poem where you seemed to at last get autobiographical--in quite a conventional sense of the word--and this struck me as a bit ridiculous. I read the work as being quite autobiographical. There is an implied sense of self that is impressed upon these poems throughout the book. It is, though, not immediate to the surface. You have hidden that which is directly confessional--if you even want to call it that.

And my next thought is: if you are taking these poems and building them over a long period of time, sabotaging them however you can to rupture whatever continuous method of composition, then what happens in between poems, or what happens to you between writing each poem?

DODDS: I write other poems. But a definite split occurs when I re-order them, for instance, in Crabwise, because they've been re-ordered, they're not chronological any longer.

But this translation project that I am doing with The Poetic Edda came about in order to fill some of those gaps between writing poems. With translation I don't have to make up any plots or anything. It's all done.

NARDONE: I was excited to see that you were translating the Edda. It's an Old Norse text that was compiled--

DODDS: It was written down around 1270. But much of it comes from a group of oral poems that had been circulating for centuries before that. So, I feel like I can do whatever I want with them. It's a dead language, even. But regardless of this sense of freedom I'm trying to stick close to the originals, for the most part.

NARDONE: Because you have a very curious relationship with translation. You talked about this earlier when you read "Glenn Gould Negotiates the Danube in the Company of a Raven". I imagine you listening to this piece of music and trying to map out: well, this sound might look like this shape, and this shape can be this part of speech, and moving on like this through the entire piece of music until you have some kind of schemata for a poem.

Then there's another poem in Crabwise that is a phonetic or homophonic translation of Ho Chi Minh?

DODDS: Yes, "The Official Translation of Ho Chi Minh's 1966 Telephone Call." I was driving back and forth to work and I had a cassette deck in my truck--quite a hi-fi system--and I had seen on eBay that there was this shoebox of supposed CIA wiretaps of Ho Chi Minh that were for sale. So, I bought this shoebox of tapes. They were just one side of a phone conversation in Vietnamese.

NARDONE: Just Ho Chi Minh?

DODDS: Well, it was somebody. He was male, anyway.

NARDONE: And how's your Vietnamese?

DODDS: I don't know any Vietnamese at all. They are cadence translations. I think they're probably exact. I imagine that they're better than the original, even.

NARDONE: At this point, I'd like to invite everyone here in the audience to interject or challenge or heckle Jeramy if you disagree with his opinions on his own work.

DODDS: Well, I don't know anything about the work.

I'm being quite serious. There's so much in that book that I don't even know about.

NARDONE: This morning, I was reading again in Jack Spicer's Vancouver lectures and he was going on about trying to clear the furniture away so that one is able to receive poems. He wants to stop the subjective I-poem from happening, and move into a terrain of poetry he might not have initially intended. He speaks of himself, half-jokingly, I think, as receiving poems from aliens, and as being a kind of radio antenna. The poet as medium. So, I guess my question is: do you communicate with the aliens?

DODDS: Absolutely.

No, well, maybe to touch on the flakiness of that, I like the idea of making a poem that's going out into some void, communicating with that void, and the reader is just caught in between, perhaps. I want to make sure the reader is engaged, but maybe I'm channeling the poem so that it's going nowhere. Whoever gets caught in the crossfire, it's their own fault. But, as far as channeling, no “being” has made itself available to me, yet.

NARDONE: No ouija boards?

DODDS: I'm not against trying it.

NARDONE: Moving back, or forward, to the Edda, you mentioned that this translation was and is work to do in between poems, a kind of distraction from composing your own poems, and I want to press you on this. Reading the excerpts of the Edda that have been published thus far, there are many components to that work that seem a natural progression from the Crabwise poems. There's a continual consonantal clanging. There are words that seem to mirror or derive from one another in proximity, then blow up or disperse into a whole other sound and sense grouping of words. There are vowels being ridden over lines, variating, and coming up against one another in a kind of point-counterpoint structure. Do you see this progressing into these Edda translations?

DODDS: I definitely do. But it's being governed. I can't get too crazy with it, because there are word choices that I have to make to stay within the order of the poem. This stops me from getting too naughty with the consonants. It's alliterative verse, so, I'm at home in that, so to speak, but it doesn't allow for many end rhymes. I'm trying to stick with the cadence of the original. Nobody speaks Old Icelandic, or, we don't know how it was pronounced exactly, but I've been listening to the poems read in modern Icelandic, and have been trying to capture those cadences.

To address again your composition question, at the beginning, a lot of those poems in Crabwise, I recorded them constantly, and then listened to them over and over, and would say, well, that sounds klutzy. And I edited it accordingly. So, there was this constant going to the recording and listening and trying to tune my ear that way. The training that I gave myself in Crabwise, with the translation experiments, I am trying to put to work with the Edda.

Jeramy Dodds is in Orono, Ontario.

Michael Nardone is in Yellowknife.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Long Haul

When you first start out, it’s all you think about. It’s so exciting, and you spend every waking moment you can doing it. After a little while, things are still going great. You’ve become more familiar, so it’s not quite exciting as it once was, but it’s nice… comfortable. Everything just clicks naturally. A little more time passes and though you still see why you fell in love, you’re getting a bit tired of the same old problems, the same chores. Even the good times are getting a little predictable. You’re not planning on ending it—you have far too much invested, and after all, you still love it deep down. But you have to find something to get you through the grind. You’re in a long-term relationship… with your poetry manuscript.

I am about two years and six months into a book-length project that is nowhere near finished. I love the project, though, and have every intention of completing it. I’ve invested one and a bit years of school-driven hard-work on the book, and one and a bit years of full-time working and slacking off on the project (though in my defense, I did get other poetry things accomplished over the year). Though I am dedicated to the project, it’s slowly becoming a burden. I feel like I can’t in good conscience start another big, research-based project until I finish this one, but I have a long list of new ideas that I want to dive into. If I start something else, I’m afraid I’ll never return to the book. And like I said, I do love the project, and I really, really want to finish it. Breaking up is not an option.

So how do I make it through? First, a little perspective is helpful. Compared to other authors, 2 ½ years is nothing. Many of my favourite writers have spent 10 or more years on their books. If I want to finish the project and do it well, it may take several more years, a fact I will just have to accept. It’s difficult not to feel slightly discouraged, though, if not impatient, which brings me to my second strategy… time management. I’m beginning to think that setting aside 30 minutes every single day, sick or well, rain or shine, busy or bored to work on my book will mean that in another year when I look back on the project, I’ll be able to see the progress I’ve made. Furthermore, I’ve discovered that working on other little side projects reinvigorates me. Instead of sitting down to work on my book and thinking, “oh, this again,” working on other mini-projects gets me excited about writing, and excited about my book.

The one problem I haven’t entirely overcome yet, however, is the loneliness of working on long project outside of school. Finishing the book means many, many more hours of sitting alone in my office, carving and whittling, sanding and polishing, forming and reforming bits over and over again. Having gotten used to a creative writing program where I spent hours every week discussing my work with my classmates or professors, adjusting to the isolation of writing outside of school has been difficult. Of course I still have writer friends to discuss poetry with, but my lifestyle as a writer has changed forever. I’m not quite sure what to do about this problem. If I’m working on a visual piece I listed to CBC podcasts or put on familiar movies to fill the air, but the written components of my work require less background chatter. I think, ultimately, this is one part of being a post-university writer that I will just have to get used to. Though I love giving readings and chatting up friends about what they’re working on and sharing what I’m writing, and though I love writing itself, I will have to get used to spending more time alone with the book. In most relationships, if your partner required that you abandon your social life in order to stay home alone with them all the time, you would probably consider them controlling and obsessive. If it’s your book that requires this, however, I guess you just have to accept it.

So—how do you keep motivated after years of working on a project? What snags have you hit, and how did you overcome them?

Helen Hajnoczky has managed to finish one book, now available from Snare Books.