Wednesday, April 18, 2018

On Writing #150 : Eleonore Schönmaier

Writing as Motion
Eleonore Schönmaier

Thinking actively as a way of creating poems happens in my life now almost as intuitively as breathing. If the days are overly busy with other necessary work the writing may be less but few days in my life exist without a poem lingering on the edges. I however need an enormous amount of space around my thoughts to write a truly great poem.

When I want my thoughts to unspool in new creative ways I turn to vivid distractions such as wonderful conversations and long-distance walking. Matthew Bevis writes, "Distraction is a time between times, a time in which we become momentarily subject to the non-thought inside thought. And this is the time-or one of the times-of poetry. Attention can be helpful later on as part of the process of revision, but for vision itself poets stand in need of distraction." Many times I write my poems in my mind while I'm in motion:  walking or cycling.  I often carry a camera but rarely carry a notebook and I have to keep new poems alive in my mind until I'm home.  The actual writing is a form of memory and memorising.

When I perform on stage together with musicians, I recite my poems from memory. The work of memorising for the performances is in a sense returning the poems to their origins.

For a new poem I begin with the visual followed by sound so that my poems are paintings and music before they become words. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." The same is true for my life and work as a poet.

Learning how to write was for me like learning to swim: blissful immersion combined with forward motion. And with time I could cover longer and longer distances and I now also float with greater ease. When high waves wash over me I've learned how to breathe without swallowing water and in true storms the poems themselves become the life raft. Last summer while waiting in the emergency department I calmly recited the many memorised poems in my mind. They're like the beating of my heart: the words never cease in their calm or rapid-pulse presence.

Eleonore Schönmaier’s most recent book is Dust Blown Side of the Journey from McGill-Queen’s University Press. Her other collections are the critically acclaimed Wavelengths of Your Song (2013) and Treading Fast Rivers (1999). Her poetry has been set to music by Canadian, Dutch, Scottish, American and Greek composers including Emily DoolittleCarmen Braden and Michalis Paraskakis. The New European Ensemble has performed her poetry in concert. She has won the Alfred G. Bailey Prize, the Earle Birney Prize, and was a Sheldon Currie Fiction Prize winner. Her poetry has been widely anthologized, has been translated into Dutch and German, and has been published in Best Canadian Poetry

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

On Writing #149 : Sennah Yee

On Writing
Sennah Yee 

I recently realized that I only write when I’m trying to avoid writing something else.

I started writing screenplays when I didn’t want to write a play. I started writing poetry when I didn’t want to write screenplays. I started “writing” found poetry when I didn’t want to write my “own” poetry. I started writing prose when I didn’t want to write any poetry. I started tweeting when I didn’t want to write prose. I started combining those tweets into prose poems when I didn’t want to tweet. I started writing academic essays when I didn’t want to write prose poems. I started writing this when I didn’t want to write an academic essay.

In a twisted way, procrastination is how I am productive. I’ve done work that I’m most proud of when I’ve scattered my focus across multiple things at once than when I’ve consciously chosen to commit to writing something – whether a poem, an essay for school, or yes, even a tweet. This way there’s less pressure for something to be perfect, complete, or even coherent. I used to be frustrated by this consistent inconsistence, but now it’s a source of surprise, motivation, and comfort. Though I’m still in envious awe of those who are disciplined enough to set aside time every day to write/work on a specific project! I keep meaning to try that.

Maybe I will try that, after I try to finish this academic essay...

Sennah Yee [photo credit: Alice Liu] is from Toronto. She writes poetry, writes about films, and writes poetry about films. Her debut poetry/non-fiction collection, How Do I Look?, was published by Metatron Press in 2017. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Cinema & Media Studies, focusing her research on gendered robot design in media and technology. She is the arts editor at Shameless Magazine, and co-edits/contributes to The Fuck of the Century. Find her @sennahaha /

Sunday, April 01, 2018

We Who Are About To Die : Stanford Cheung

Stanford Cheung is a poet and musician from Toronto. He is the author of the chapbooks Comfort of Malice (Inspiritus, 2018), Kite Extension (Words(on)Pages, 2017) and Any Seam or Needlework (The Operating System, 2016). His work has appeared in Nomadic Journal, Asian Canadian Writers Workshop, X-Peri, Otoliths, and elsewhere. His full-length collection of poems Structures from the Still will be published by Akinoga Press in summer 2018.

Where are you now?

Toronto, Scarborough, in my room, by the piano.

What are you reading?

I just finished reading War of the Foxes by Richard Siken, a poet who gives me the analogue of a painter rather than imperatives of what lifespans of words can notate. I recently revisited Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong- which has been savored a dozen times already. The work of Kiyoko Nagase, also interests me. Her poem Burning a Light at Night, I find myself constantly returning to.

What have you discovered lately?

Paintings of Florine Stettheimer at the AGO
The best hot chocolate stand at Distillery District
Mango Saké

Where do you write?

Writing in cafes is where I usually enjoy finding myself, simply due to the mosaic presence of people and the natural white noise it provides in the backdrop. Now days, I often write on my phone while doing my daily night train commute across Toronto- usually standing. During summer, Bamburgh Park is where solace and routine finds me. I’d say writing comes to me anywhere with a sense of lilt and cadence. I can also say that I love writing in supermarkets. Anywhere urban, familiar, and fresh. Another part of me is convinced writing can be enjoyed anywhere so long a sense of passionate urgency arrives; and the field is open for attention.

What are you working on?

I have this vague idea of a new poetic form I’ve been having visions about in my sleep. Timbres of what fashions memory and the repetition of trauma in the mundanity of metered line breaks- visual signatures in relation to canvas. A freedom within the manmade metronome perhaps? For the time being, at least.

Have you anything forthcoming?

My full-length collection of poems Structures from the Still, will be forthcoming from Akinoga Press in 2018. I also have a chapbook coming out titled Comfort of Malice.

What would you rather be doing?

I don’t know.


I told stories to myself cranium after
When I speak talk from pillows punctured by
dreams when
glory are piles high that come crashing down
that soothe my calmness
If you let go of sleeping,
glory are the eternal days that layer
and minister a way of longing
probing the air and rest
If you stretch out a measure
with every indication of day break coming
Things like sweethearts and faith
like afternoon legend,
like dove treatise
If finitude
my nostalgia like take it or leave it,
things like fractions that elapse
and leave fractions nomad
and collapsing 

Friday, March 23, 2018

On Writing #148 : Sara Cassidy

Sara Cassidy

“To speak is almost to say I know. But in most cases, artists are speaking about things they don’t know or are still in the process of knowing.” – visual artist Hank Willis Thomas, in Who Reads Poetry: Fifty Views from Poetry Magazine (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

            Last night, I opened the file labelled DEAD POEMS.
            It was a sleepy evening. My partner lay on the bed staring at his phone. I’d just finished a novel (An Advent Calendar, Shena McKay), and to start another so quickly felt greedy and disloyal. I did not have the desire to invent anything new, from scratch – from lightning and primordial ooze.
            The file contained poems I’d run at many times, deleting, adding, moving ink around, but all I’d really done was shovel dirt on the initial spark. I’d given up on the poems years ago.  What a surprise, then – the moon was not full, the stars stood in their usual unaligned mess – when the poems shuffled their stiff limbs out of the way and let me in. 
            For the last few years, I have been editing professionally, for other writers, for a publishing house, for a government website, and, currently, for Hansard, the transcript of debate in parliament (in my case, the B.C. Legislature).
            Though I sometimes consider my Hansard job glorified stenography rather than editing, I like it. We turn the oral into the written, via the keyboard, preserving each politician’s idiolect – his or her unique way of wielding language. Punctuation is our “first line of defence”, with which we corral, tack down and usher through. Sometimes we permit a comma splice or run-on sentence, because they are closer to the truth.
            The Hansard editor’s aim is to be invisible, as hands-off as possible. At peak production, 24 editors produce 16,000 perfect words in an hour, and the entire script should appear as if recorded by the same hand (the Style Guide is a behemoth). What I’ve learned is that speech is character, and editing is less about control than mirroring, creating a genuine likeness.
            As well as working as an editor for the last few years, I’ve been parenting teenagers. “You are being fired as their manager,” a parenting guru told me. “Your hope is to be re-hired as a consultant.” The work here, too, is about letting go, and guiding invisibly.  A light touch and a whole lot of trust. Seeing the other for who they are, and not what I want them to be.
            I worked at the dead poems with a strange passivity. I think it was receptiveness. As I worked, I observed that the greater part of typing is moving fingers over the keyboard, rather than pressing keys.
            Shazam. Several dead poems revived. They said what they’d been meaning to say; I heard them for the first time.
            After an hour, my partner put down his phone and asked how things were going. “Great!” I said, falling onto him. I felt light. It was as if I’d crossed a long bridge that had been thick with fog. I was out of the fog and on a new, clear bank.
            When I used to sit down to write, I’d put on a cloak of confidence, authoritativeness. I’d clear my throat: “This is what I want to say.”
            Now, instead, quiet as a prayer, I’ll whisper, to myself and reader, as if one and the same: “You know this.”
            Then I’ll wait to see what we know.

Sara Cassidy revives poems in Victoria, B.C. She is trying to quit writing children's books and get back to writing plays and fiction for adults.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Arc Walk Ottawa #1 : Centretown : curator/guide: rob mclennan

Arc Walks Ottawa is a series of guided walks based on poetry themes and capitalizing on the rich poetry history of Canada’s capital. Residents and visitors alike are welcome to join in on the walks to learn and revel in Ottawa’s poetry. 

Join in the first walk on World Poetry Day (Wednesday, March 21st). This walk, led by rob mclennan, will be a contemporary introduction to Ottawa’s literary history, visiting sites significant to poets of the National Capital Region such as John Newlove, William Hawkins, Judith Fitzgerald, Thomas D’arcy McGee, Michael Dennis and jwcurry, among others. 

The walk will begin at 4:30PM in front of 248 Bank Street, and it will continue to visit sites in Centretown. During the hour-long walk, participants will visit five locations where they will hear about some of Ottawa’s contemporary poetry history, and hear from a special guest poet. Come prepared for rain or snow or shine!

Concluding around 5:30PM, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to grab a bite to eat before VERSeFest’s second day of scheduled events:

See the Facebook event for such here.

For any questions or concerns, contact Chris Johnson: 

Guide Bio: 
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with the brilliant and utterly delightful poet and book conservator Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the CAA/Most Promising Writer in Canada under 30 Award in 1999, the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was twice longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. He has published books with Talonbooks, The Mercury Press, Black Moss Press, New Star Books, Insomniac Press, Broken Jaw Press, Stride, Salmon Publishing and others, and his most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). His next poetry title, Household items, is out later this spring from Salmon Publishing.