Friday, October 02, 2015

On Writing #73 : Pam Brown

Pam Brown

Rachel Blau DuPlessis said 'a poem builds up, in a steady accretion, like plaque'. True. In general, this describes my method.

My own poems have a notational style comprising a kind of linguistic debris. In some instances it's a Sydney-noir-comedy-debris and sometimes it reads like I'm suffering from bleak romanticism. But I'm usually paranoid enough to be aware of those traces & to comment on them when they occur.  I think I use a kind of ‘philosophical' 'I' to examine my situation as a poet in the culture-at-large.

Technically, in writing I don't always punctuate where punctuation should be. I don't like colons much. I really dislike semi-colons & tend to use dashes instead. I don't always use a full stop or a comma where convention might expect one.

I don't like Italics for titles or emphasis either.  Although sometimes I have used Italics for emphasis. Five years ago, I did compromise when one of my books, 'Authentic Local', went from manuscript to publication - replacing underlinings & single quotes & so on with Italics & capitals because of the publisher, papertiger media's house style.

I find in writing a poem that it's 'difficult' to get it right - to have it look, sound & read as I intend. I can spend ages adjusting punctuation & spacing & lineation. Also on keeping things clear. Sometimes having my fragments connect to my meanings is really a challenge. I live in my own private metonymy. I guess, with indirectness, which is how some of my poetry can operate, that good old representation is a kind of solution. I'm not a formalist. I don't work within particular poetic forms. I've tried various forms and they usually fail to conform. I do think that it's difficult to have formal poems retain a  procedure & avoid seeming contrived & tight. I like content to work easily without being obstructed by the form. I don't want that kind of structural difficulty. 

I usually say that a benign compulsion nudges my writing practice. The process, although somehow mysterious to me, seems to be to track lines of thought, to collect & record glimpses, to use snatches of language & elemental situations & try to place them at a slant to a linear norm. I could say that I make 21st-century poetry in the shadows of the 20th-century's post-Modernist idea that after the atomic bomb, linearity is anachronistic.

The eruption of innovation in poetry (& every other art-form) in the 1960s, in tandem with a new wave of global politicisation, influenced my generation irrevocably.

I've been making & publishing poems for over four decades now. I used to say that generally my continuing aim was intelligibility but I renounced aiming for intelligibility about a decade ago (not that I replaced it with deliberate ambiguity or obscurity or anything like that).  I realised how 'out there' poetry is to central culture. I became used to a more eccentric approach rather than thinking about rendering poems 'intelligible'. (In a way it was almost a reclamation of some early looseness of style).

If my poetry has a narrow appeal I don't mind -  it's been a long time & if my small audience isn't a 'general' one then that's ok. Though of course it would be nice to be read by as many interested people as possible.

If I think about it I probably do hope that my poems 'connect' with the social (meaning the polis) somehow. For poetry to exist in corporatised western societies, where the context is always power, then it has to be sceptical of the status quo, questioning, probably experimental, or at least apply an unanticipated use of form & language.

My attitude? Anti-Wordsworthian, still.

Pam Brown's seventeenth book of poems, Homeby dark, was published by Shearsman Books in 2013.  A bilingual edition of her poems, Alibis, translated into French by Jane Zemiro, was published by Société Jamais-Jamais in 2014. Pam is a contributing editor for several magazines & independent publishers. In 2014 she edited the 'deciBels' series – ten international poetry titles for Vagabond Press. Vagabond will publish a new collection of her poems, Missing up, in late 2015. Her blog is & she lives in Sydney, Australia.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

We Who Are About To Die : Gary Barwin

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist, and the author of 18 books of poetry and fiction as well as books for kids. His most recent book is the short fiction collection, I, Dr Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 and the visual poetry collection, The Wild and Unfathomable Always. He was 2014-2015 Writer-in-Residence at Western University and has taught creative writing at a number of colleges and universities. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario with vague and unsettling feelings about nature.

Where are you now?
On my phone. In my bed. 100 years after the publication of Kafka's The Metamorphosis.

What are you reading?
Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle. The Compleat Flea by Brendan Lehane. If by Inger Christensen. A Complete Guide to Heraldry by A.C. Fox-Davies.

What have you discovered lately?
I discovered a Great Horned Owl in a tree. Migrating turtles crossing a local road. The medieval “Charter of the Forest.” A recording of autotuned 31-toned Renaissance music. My brother sent me a picture of a local Ottawa funeral home booth at Westfest which featured a hearse bedecked with balloons. You could put on the driver’s cap and pretend to drive. “Cast a cold eye/On Life, on Death.”

Where do you write?
See picture. At least when I don’t feel the need to slump over my desk blasting Coffeeshop sounds or Jordi Savall or Anthony Braxton

What are you working on? Have you anything forthcoming?
I’m almost sure I have untold wealth on the way. And happiness. But also, Yiddish for Pirates (a novel, Random House Canada, spring 2016) and Sonosyntactics: Selected and New Poetry of Paul Dutton (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Summer 2016.) Also I’m very excited that Amanda Earl and her AngelHouse Press is going to be reprinting my first chapbook (phases of the harpsichordmoon) from 30 years ago (30 years!) this fall.

What would you rather be doing?
Much of me wants to be beside myself, doing many other things while simultaneously being present in the moment doing just this one thing.

Can you include, also, a recent poem or two, as well as a bio and photo? The poems don’t need to be unpublished, and we could cite book or chapbook (if that is what you send), as long as you have permission to reprint.

I’ve a new book just out, I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (short fiction, Anvil). Here’s recordings of two stories from the book. “The Hand” (a video made by Jenna Mariash) and “Tart Sweet Crunchy Crisp”

And here’s a new poem from a series that I’m working on where I populate and modify other poems with creatures from an inventory of living things in the city where I live. There’s a remarkable diversity of species here, many of which I’m just learning about and discovering while hiking or kayaking.

The Snakes of Hamilton, Ontario
for Safia Elhillo

ring-necked the milk snake    
is mudpuppy     
oh what the garter

ring-necked the milk snake
is mudpuppy redbelly
red-backed four-toed
yes blue-spotted oh all smooth green

oh what the ring-necked
milk snake
all redbelly garter
oh ribboned mudpuppy

oh four-toed
never ribboned
oh all smooth green

Also, see the attached visual poems.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On Writing #72 : Renee Rodin

The Nub
Renee Rodin

I love writing, it gives me great pleasure.  I hate writing, it’s too painful. Words are like food to me, I need them and am always trying to control them.  No one is forcing me to write and no one is forcing me not to write. So it’s all a matter of choice – whatever that is. And confidence.  Overcoming my shaking and quaking about what others might think. And my expectation of myself. Not getting tangled up in ego or identity.  Just doing it.

Renee Rodin [photo credit: Noah Meyer] was born in Montreal and in the late '60s moved to Vancouver and its wonderful community of writers, artists and activists. This still exists. Her books include Bread and Salt (Talon, 1996), Ready for Freddy (Nomados, 2005) and Subject to Change (Talon, 2010). She is working on new writing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

On Writing #71 : Rebecca Rosenblum

Ways to Help a Fellow Writer with His/Her Work
Rebecca Rosenblum

I’m a big fan of writing workshops, whether formal ones with a teacher/instructor/leader or informal ones with just a group of writers who respect each other sharing work. The even simpler format is of course just trading work with a fellow writer one-on-one. In all cases, we’re reading as readers and as writers, hoping to offer the author a glimpse of what an outsider might experience on reading the story/poem/book, as well as some insider technical suggestions of what might improve it.

I took my first workshop in high school, the Writer’s Craft most people (in Ontario) took. And I’ve been workshopping one way or another ever since, in university and college classes, with friends and colleagues, and with the writer who is so conveniently located in my house (my husband).

It’s occurred to me that I’ve learned a lot about how to help another writer, both from trying to do so and from being helped by a lot of brilliant people. I’ve also given my share of useless advice—and been called on it—and spent a lot of time trying to decide why I perceive advice I’d been given to be useless.

Here is the result of that 18 years of struggle—tips for when you read a fellow wordsmith’s work and want help them make it better.

1. Give it your best reading time.   I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most writers read a lot. If you’re like me, you squeeze it in whenever you can with the result that you read in a lot of different scenarios, some more or less conducive to deep and careful consideration of the text. I can got a lot read on the treadmill, but probably not give you a careful and considered analysis of it—on the other hand, on the subway I totally immerse myself. Who knows why, but I’m self-aware enough to realize there’s a difference in the quality of my attention in these scenarios, and when I’m trying to genuinely help someone, I schedule them into my best slot.

Even into grad school, there were still a couple workshoppers sitting on the floor outside the classroom frantically flipping pages. Once in a while, those folks had something relevant to say, but most of the time it was pretty inane and superficial (I love this character! This scene makes me sad.) I try to keep in mind that my colleague has trusted me with something very important to them, and that makes it important to me, too.

2. Understand the parameters of the work. It would be horribly embarrassing if you critiqued a friend’s poem as a sloppy sonnet but it was actually a perfect pantoum. Embarrassing but also unlikely—poets are pretty good about understanding each other’s formal goals. I feel like the ground is murkier in prose, and we end up critiquing a chapter of a novel because it doesn’t stand alone (but it was never meant to) or a work of genre fiction because it isn’t literary enough (so common). It’s important to get the author’s generic and formal goals up front and also to respect them—if someone wants to write Christian-space-ghost mystery, that is their prerogative, though if you feel you can’t support it you should probably shouldn’t be working with them. Some people are only comfortable critiquing within forms and genres they personally work in; some (me) are willing to try a more limited form of criticism (eg., “This is how I feel while reading this; this is what I think you mean”) on just about anything. It’s your call—but everybody gets to write whatever they want, no matter what. No fair telling the author they need to write a different book.

3. Read with a pen and note everything you feel/notice/consider as you read.  Some people do not do this—they read as they would for pleasure, take no notes, but offer the author a general impression of how the book flowed and how they felt about it. This is valuable—indeed, it’s replication of what a real actual member-of-the-public reader would do—but it’s actually also something that a member of the public, or the author’s own family, can provide. I know a limited number of writers who are willing and able to detail why a sentence or a paragraph or a scene is not working, and how I might improve it. I want those insights myself, and as with most gift-giving, I try to offer what I want. I mark up everything from typos to big structural ideas (eg., You mention the theme of water at the end of the first two sections but not the third. Or I think the closing paragraph would work as an opening better than what you have now.)

4. Read for length and suggest cuts if needed, or even if just possible. This is one of the things they really do not teach in school/university writing workshops—everything is always about expanding upon, opening up, explaining, contextualizing, fleshing out. Which is valuable, especially with a lot of young and not-so-young writers (me) who have trouble distinguishing between what they know of the characters/situation and what is actually on the page. However, a lot us older, more experience writers can (sometimes) work a lot (but not all, never all) out for ourselves, but at the expense of writing that is a bit over-bloated. We are also more likely to be writing for publication and we want to hit certain word counts or limits. More importantly—most importantly—we do not want to bore readers. Writing workshops teach students to evaluate work on a sentence-by-sentence basis, which sneakily implies if a sentence is good—well-written, clear, interesting—it gets to stay. The problem is with multiple sentences that say the same or similar things, or say things that the reader doesn’t need to hear. Something I’ve learned through hard experience is that prose isn’t good if it is not tight, even if there’s not a bad sentence in the bunch. So I mark out the good sentences that can be spared, should the author wish.

5. Remember it’s all suggestions. Everyone has a different way of doing this, and when you know the author pretty well, you can dispense with some of the cushioning. I’ll often use question marks, or qualifying words, not to undercut my suggestions but to remind the writer that even if the problem I’ve identified strikes them too, there’s always more than one way to solve it. I take this, again, from my own weakness, in that I often see page markup as orders, and obey it blindly—or else feel overwhelmed if it it’s too much. Peppering the page with question marks and maybes is my way of trying to remind other writers that they don’t have to do anything I say. Of course, maybe most writers are stronger souls than I and you won’t have to do this much, but always wise to start gently.

Rebecca Rosenblum is the author of the short-story collections Once and The Big Dream, the chapbook Road Trips and the forthcoming So Much Love. She lives, works, and write in Toronto with her husband, the author Mark Sampson, and assorted cats.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

We Who Are About To Die : Sheila E. Murphy

Sheila E. Murphy is a prolific poet and artist who has lived all of her adult life in Phoenix, Arizona. She earns her living as a leadership and organizational developer and consultant. Starting with formal musical training, Dr. Murphy has also immersed herself in the study of language and literature. As a corporate officer with responsibility for a wide range of human and fiscal resources, she has directed human development in many forms throughout her career.

Where are you now?
I am in my office at Monterosa in Central Phoenix, Arizona, USA.

What are you reading?
I am reading Painting as an Art, Richard Wollheim; The New State, by Mary Parker Follett; The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What have you discovered lately?
There is no such thing as chronological age.

Where do you write?
I write anywhere I can get away with it.

What are you working on?
I am working on collaborative visual poetry with Kathy Ernst, a collaborative long poem with Douglas Barbour, a collaborative visual poetry collection with John M. Bennett, a theoretical book about organizational performance, poetry and drawing of various types, and whatever must be done that I capture in a moment or so.

Have you anything forthcoming?
I have everything forthcoming. I am working all the burners.

What would you rather be doing?
If I write it, I’ll have to do it, and if I do it, I may have to erase it.

Lauds (34)

A cappella roses
proffer flow.
One leaves the premises
that premise her convivial restraint,
as blossoms pass
train windows to surpass.