Thursday, October 19, 2017

On Writing #142 : Lauren Turner

On Coping
Lauren Turner

There’s an illustrious tradition of poets dying in bed. By illustrious, I mean it’s well documented by Google Images.

Lord Byron with his virility covered by a thin sheet, one arm languishing in defeat.

Severn’s sketch of John Keats, sleep-dying upon his surprisingly white pillow. He’d been coughing apart his lungs for years.

Sergei Yesenin in his striped suspenders, resembling a scared little boy. There was no ink in his hotel room. He wrote his last poem in blood.

Of course, these examples are all men. It would be fascinating to delve into why there are no iconic final images of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Nelly Arcan, or Alejandra Pizarnik. But that’s for another essay.

Back in April, I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Think of it as modern TB, if you want. But it’s rare and the speed of my prognosis is still uncertain.

Inevitably, some day in the future, I’ll be one of those dying poets who writes from bed.

I already am to a certain extent. I recently had to quit an office job, because desk chairs kept popping my ovarian cysts. This is living out Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory and it’s not fun.

At 27, none of my fiscal years have risen above the poverty line.

That statement is more factual than complaining. The main perk of writing has always been its affordability. I’ve sacrificed a lot of luxuries for groceries, prescriptions, and being able to (almost) pay my bills. Many more writers do the same.

Writing is a staple in my routine, because I only need my laptop and allocated space. 

Other poets have asked if I wrote during the period leading up to my LAM diagnosis. After all, there was a 5-month lapse between that first ER visit and the final verdict, filled with invasive and less-invasive medical tests.

Writing helped with the coping and not-coping of that.

Not-coping often feels more valid. I’m old enough to know my sickness’ magnitude, yet still young enough that few of my friends can relate. It’s extremely isolating, despite the good intentions.

Without any irony, writing is a conversation with myself. It’s a method for speeding up the grieving process, coming to terms with my new reality, and continuing to move along.

It’s radical self-validation and keeps my inner worlds thriving, even when the future threatens to force me back into bed.

Lauren Turner wrote the chapbook We’re Not Going to Do Better Next Time (Knife Fork Book, 2018). Her writing appears, or is forthcoming, in Arc Magazine, Minola Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Carte Blanche, Bad Nudes, Peach Mag, and elsewhere. She lives in Montréal, Québec on the traditional and unceded territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka people.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

On Writing #141 : Matthew Cooperman

Day and Night: Time and Writing
Matthew Cooperman

"Days     Days     Days    // much as you get from / one octave to another," says Larry Eigner in My God/The Proverbial. And the proverbial exclamation (my god!) is the day, astonishingly come again. Days as proverbs, verb. I am interested in the Verb of the Day.

No stone soup, the daily special is, as Eigner says, the same from one octave to another, one art to another, one person to another. Thinking through the day is one way to see what we all share. A universal boredom, or excitation, birds in the air, an aversion to light, a ritual of hours, bowls. For Eigner, challenged by cerebral palsy, the daily task was to move his one working index finger, deliberately, over the typewriter. But first it was to listen, the world, as such, by ear, by eye, inducted through the open window: "Things stirring/ together/ or far away"

Writing is another way to say I have something to do today. That's good, a life of attention, intention. But what you're doing and how you do it changes over a life. There once was a time in my writing life when I had time, and did write, prodigiously––journaling, riffing, coffee shops, libraries, bookstores. My god, proverbially, most of it was drivel, but it was accretive, and created its own momentum. Then life changed (marriage, children) and changed some more (a daughter with autism) who doesn't sleep much, is volatile, doesn't speak. And so writing changed.

For the past ten years or so I've been writing a long poem in counted verse––three word lines in gathering strips––that culminated in my recent book Spool (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2017). There's a chapbook as well, and various cuttings of the spools that mark out a pattern of days, months, years. I've been thinking and being in threes so long that I see clusters and aggregates looming on every page like illuminated script, for reals. I mean, life's hard, parenting's hard, and plans get smashed, chairs overturned, but my three (wife, Aby, son Elias, daughter Maya) have been a functional rest on which to lean and be:

                                    a line singing
                                    makes a limit
                                    out of days
                                    slowly the dark
                                    an imperfect finity
                                    forever in time
                                    these nights splendor


                                                                                    care engenders lure
                                                                                    on approach to
                                                                                    the sea the
                                                                                    body pulls pool
`                                                                                   child never rests
                                                                                    and the mountain
                                                                                    mountains into time
                                                                                    rumbles each our
                                                                                    risky wants     it's
                                                                                         give and take
                                                                                    our climb redoubtable

Like waking up to the real conversation, day after day, Time's golden measure makes its morning arrival early. Writing's always a furtive activity, or a planned one with late night barriers, or, or,'s not writing. So anything you can do to spur the day, the night, is a good thing. I like numbers in poems, patterns of making, the gathering mass of a writing seeking form, the manner in which, as Eliot said, we measure our lives out in "coffee spoons." I didn't start out planning a decade of counted verse, it occurred naturally as a "quick graph" (Philip Whalen) of stolen attention, moments caught in traffic, overheard snippets of conversation, the chant inside my head. A small notebook, scraps of paper, the modal horizon of threes imposed its wisdom over time. Spool's matter measured the duration, showing the struggle that exceeds the plan:

                        to write a
                        year in threes
                        these little whiles
                        and pauses     what
                             they bring to
                        doorsteps     planets     terns
                        at the window
                        on my mind
                        limit is splendor
                        bright folds now
                        love or parenting
                        the time it
                        loses or looses

The philosopher Henri Lefebvre in The Critique of Everyday Life, notes the everyday as where all life inevitably happens: as "that which repeats itself consistently" the quotidian, but also that which goes unrecognized, the hidden. And that repetition itself displaces the existential quandary of life. We die; the day hides our death, "it dissimulates the tragic...a lived experience elevated to concept and language," some where and some thing in which to transform the seeming nullity of existence.

Yet what is that language, and where to put it? In my own writing and in my work as a teacher, I've been developing strategies of daily writing around George Oppen's Daybooks. Stephen Cope's beautiful editing of that book (Selected Prose, Daybooks and Papers, University of California Press, 2008) has been revelatory to me. Cope's term for Oppen's ethical commitments, his "negative culpability," works itself out in the Daybooks as a kind of self-instruction. Oppen: "The poet learns almost everything from his own verse,"; and "We do not know before we complete the poem. None of us writes what we already know, and of course that's the essential life of the poem."

Having a place to get messy, work it out, is one way to think with the day. And things gather, accrete, forms cohere. From collage aesthetics and leaping fragments, to the return of the hand to the making of a book, there's something more at stake in a Daybook that makes the thinking dimensional. Kinda like assemblage art, something I'm also interested in. Think Wallace Berman, and photo collage. Or Joe Brainard's notating, well, everything in I Remember. All the things and places written down, day by day. Think trash art and the "found gallery" of the Daybook.

Or think other writers thinking in days. Think Haryette Mullen in her "transactional" tanka diary Urban Tumbleweed: "after hearing that poem from my tanka diary, /you handed me a smooth and pleasing stone/shaped like a lopsided heart."  Or Think Inger Christensen's Alfabet, or Laynie Browne's Daily Sonnets, or James Schuyler's A Few Days, Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day, Stephen Ratcliffe's Temporality. Each, in their own way, putting the day to work. I love the mystery each of these writers discovers in the recursive embrace.

Legendary Beat poet Joanne Kyger, who recently passed into the Bardo, made a career out of such attention.  In journals, letters and especially poems of acute presentness, her whole work can be seen as one ongoing poem. "The shape of the day, the words of the moment, what's happening around me in the world of interior and exterior space––these are my writing concerns," said Kyger back in 2005.  (Foundation for the Arts Interview). Kyger's thirty plus book serves as an exemplary practice of being "on time," the title of her Poems 2005-13. Here's the title poem from her collection Again: Poems 1989-2000:

                                           Life has a repetitious feel,
                                    continuing the yearly progression of one's history
                                                        in one place
                                                change is subtle, sometimes hardly noticed
                                       and then a large gasp, someone is gone, forever.

                                                The migrating flocks return
                                    the coast range changes color,
                                       monarchs come back . . .
                                                'restless surface watching the minutes'

                                         Not too much happens       strands
                                                of consciousness,       strands of dreams
                                                     precious, rare and mundane, where we live

Consistently, inconsistently we do go on. In the course of time. in the river of time, wind, water, air; eating, shitting, fucking, laughing, crying. Incrementally, within my limit, "words laid down like rocks" (Snyder's "Rip Rap"). Or laid down by my partner in the day (and the night), Aby Kaupang: "Sunday's are inconvenient     god/ as value absolutes away     the dailies / who deliver the enterprise" (Little "g" God Grows Tired of Me). Or Eigner's

                                                l   i   f   e 




                                                 through trees and seas

                                                                                    (My God/ The Proverbial)

Matthew Cooperman is the author of, most recently, Spool, winner of the New Measure Prize (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2016), as well as the text + image collaboration Imago for the Fallen World, w/Marius Lehene (Jaded Ibis Press, 2013), Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move (Counterpath Press, 2011), DaZE (Salt Publishing Ltd, 2006) and A Sacrificial Zinc (Pleiades/LSU, 2001), winner of the Lena Miles Wever-Todd Prize. Numerous chapbooks exist in addition, including Disorder 299.00 (Essay Press, w/Aby Kaupang, 2015). A founding editor of Quarter After Eight, and co-poetry editor of Colorado Review, Cooperman teaches at Colorado State University. He lives in Fort Collins with his wife, the poet Aby Kaupang, and their two children.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

We Who Are About To Die : Joel Chace

Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as The Tip of the Knife, Counterexample Poetics, OR, Country Music, Infinity’s Kitchen, and Jacket. Most recent collections include Sharpsburg, from Cy Gist Press, Blake’s Tree, from Blue & Yellow Dog Press, Whole Cloth, from Avantacular Press, Red Power, from Quarter After Press, Kansoz, from Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press, Web Too, from Tonerworks, War, and After, fromBlazeVOX [books], and Scorpions, from Unlikely Books.

Where are you now?

For the past three years, my wife and I have been living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  I retired after thirty-eight years of teaching, the last decade of which we spent in northern New Jersey, just outside New York City.  We wanted to stay in that area, but the cost of housing is exorbitant.  Our youngest of four children studied illustration at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, in Lancaster, so we came to know that city through visiting her.  The arts scene here is very active, and there are many excellent restaurants. 

What are you reading?

J.H. Prynne’s The White Stones and Gertrude Stein’s How to Write.  I just went through an extended period of reading and re-reading works by and about Robert Duncan:  his The Opening of the Field, Ground Work, and Fictive Certainties, as well as Lisa Jarnot’s biography The Ambassador from Venus, and a collection of interviews with Duncan, A Poet’s Mind.  My friend John Taggart should soon be publishing a critical study of Duncan’s work.  I’m looking forward to that.

What have you discovered lately?

Since January 20, I continue to be struck, almost daily, by the toll that the T-rump Presidency is taking om millions of people, internationally.  My friend Jake Berry recently commented that the best way to stand up for free speech is to practice it.  That idea truly resonated with me and confirmed my feeling that making art is essential and is, in itself, a form of protest, especially in a time darkened by a world leader who possesses almost no imagination and no curiosity about the world around him.

Where do you write?

At home, I write at our dining room table.  When elsewhere, I seek out the nearest dining room table.  I sometimes write directly at my laptop.  When I’m rather less certain about what’s happening with a poem, I use a legal pad.  If I’m creating visual poems, I’m usually in our basement at a coffee table.

What are you working on?

I’m putting together a couple of visual poetry sequences, as well as a series of, for me, longer textual poems.

Have you anything forthcoming?

Presently, I’m sending around queries.  If there are publishers out there who would invite me to put out a new collection, I’ll be delighted to cooperate.

What would you rather be doing?

Despite my stated fondness for Lancaster, I’d love to be living in a fine, old apartment in Manhattan’s West Village.  What can I say?  I love that place!

Three visual poems: Byzantium 1-3

Monday, September 25, 2017

fwd: Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem--Anthology Call





Current statistics predict 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. We need more art to understand the complexity and dimensions of what this means.

So please join us in this landmark groundbreaking anthology on the subject of cancer; whether from a patient, survivor, caregiver, loved one, doctor, surgeon, alternative healer, compassionate human being, body part or disease itself point of view.

This anthology aims to offer new ways of seeing, understanding, and representing this ordinary and extraordinary experience; with a full spectrum of emotions spanning the tragic and comic.

We believe the imagination and poetry have their own parts to play in our contemporary healing warehouse. And we invite you to demonstrate this power as we bring together an exciting group of contemporary poems and poets tackling the “c” word in unexpected and affecting ways.

Please send between one and four poems on the topic of cancer in any poetic style/form and from any perspective to plus a 100-word author bio.

Previously published poems are welcome as long as the author owns the copyright and gives us permission to reprint, and as long as the poem was published after the year 2000.



on behalf of Priscila Uppal and Mansfield Press

Friday, September 22, 2017

On Writing #140 : Nicole Brewer

On Writing
Nicole Brewer

I am an inconsistent writer. Literature is my greatest love, but I keep it at a distance sometimes. I’m a very extreme person, and have a tendency to lose myself when I become too invested, so I work hard at maintaining balance in all areas: I work out, but am sure to have rest days; I read, but also make an effort to go out and spend time with people; I write, but also go to bed on time and drink neither coffee nor alcohol.

It’s possible to read that and think I’m on some straight edge high horse (I’m not straight edge), but I actually mention it because, a lot of the time, I feel hugely inadequate as a writer because I try to have a healthy lifestyle. I feel like a phony if I’m working on a story and stop to go to bed before midnight. I feel like a poser because I’m slow, working my writing into bits of time around my life, instead of fitting my life around my writing. I feel like less of a writer for not being dedicated enough, not submitting enough, not wanting it bad enough.

Spending my twenties trying to manage an old eating disorder, depression, minor anxiety, and general low self-esteem has made me careful and choosy: about habits, about routines, about company. I don’t avoid difficult things, but I monitor myself closely when I engage with something I know I can get lost in, and writing can be one of those difficult, losing things.

I prefer reading to writing, honestly. If I have a block of free time and I give myself the choice between reading and writing, I’ll choose reading almost every time. But I’ve started to count reading time as writing time. I’m coming to learn what I want out of being a writer, of writing--it’s not a book, it’s not an audience, it’s not catharsis. It’s just stories. I just want to write good stories, I want to always be writing better stories. I want to be inspired, challenged, and that’s what books do. Books like A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, like Marianne Apostolides’ Sophrosyne, like the story collections A Manual for Cleaning Women, The Thing Around Your Neck, and How to Get Along With Women, like Anakana Schofield’s Malarky--as I read each of these books, I wrote: reactions, quotations, expansions, responses. And each of these writers carved out a bit of space in my writing nook, to appear in tiny style developments in each new story I write.

I get a lot more enjoyment out of writing now, since I set aside most of the tangible writing goals I “should” have in mind and have started writing just to write. Mostly, I lurk. And sometimes, I write.

Nicole Brewer is a writer, editor, and publisher from Toronto. In early 2014, she co-founded the organization words(on)pages, which supports emerging writers with chapbooks, a literary magazine, and a reading series. Her stories have been published in Canthius, The Hart House Review, untethered, and other journals. She does not have an MFA, and can be found online at