Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Talking Poetics #3 : Amanda Earl

From One Invisible Woman to Another 

I write mostly long poems and poem series. It’s not that I set out to write long poems, it’s just that the work seems unfinished to me. In some cases, an image remains sustained in my mind or I feel a persistence…an urge to continue to explore some aspect of the poem until it works itself out. The impetus for each new poem is rarely the same, but several have been inspired by intelligent women figures from history who have been forgotten. I feel a sense of injustice to see how often women have been/are being erased. My own role in bringing attention to their stories is small, also pretty much non-existent from one invisible woman to another, but I feel it creates a continuity and has at times started a conversation about these and other forgotten women. 

Eleanor, my first long poem published by above/ground press in 2007, was inspired by an Ottawa Citizen article about Eleanor of Aquitaine, a twelfth-century monarch of England and France, rode in the Crusades from France to Persia. Her British husband, King Henry, locked her in the tower. Knights loved her and she is credited with their adoption of courtly love.

In my chapbook, I brought Eleanor to 21st Century Ottawa. I read the newspaper article in the nineties and it percolated for a long time. In 2000, I wrote a song entitled “Eleanor of Aquitatine” and eventually that song ended up being a poem. In my early online chatting days in 2000, I used the name “Eleanor Incognito” to engage with potential lovers. Sometimes it takes years before an inspiration becomes a work.

In the nineties, I watched a CBC documentary series about the Crazy Years, the Roaring Twenties in both the US and Europe. There was a show devoted to Alice Ernestine Prin or Kiki. I was captivated by this bawdy and creative free spirit and the Montparnasse artistic world she not only lived in, but also greatly influenced. My book, Kiki, was published by Chaudiere Books in 2014, more than a decade after I’d first heard about her.

Once upon a time, I got off a bus on Queen and Bank in Ottawa and noticed a woman lugging a buggy full of stuff across the street. She was likely one of the many homeless people of Ottawa. I thought about all the homeless women in Ottawa and the danger and discomfort having no shelter would be. I found myself looking up statistics for homelessness in Ottawa. For many years through Bywords, we held a reading to fundraise for the Cornerstone Women’s Shelter.

The image of this woman stuck with me as did a name: Ursula. At some point, maybe a few weeks later, I looked up the name Ursula and found out about Saint Ursula, the patron saint of schoolgirls who was, according to Catholic lore, travelling by boat to meet her Pagan groom when she was beheaded along with 11,000 virgins. I wondered about the Ursula I’d seen and imagined her as having delusions of being the saint. This was after my own health crisis in 2009 when I went through ICU psychosis on my death bed in ICU and experienced an onslaught of nightmarish delusions. The feeling of not knowing the difference between reality and these delusions made me particularly sympathetic to those who experience delusions on a daily basis.

I wrote a manuscript of several different parts entitled “The Commonplace Book of Saint Ursula,” imagining Ursula living in abandoned cabins in the woods when she could find them, and collecting quotes, flowers, detritus, writing in a journal in between wanders. I self-published the first section, Ursula via AngelHousePress in a limited edition of twenty-six copies. Another section, Book of Miracles, was published as a chapbook with Dusie Press, and a third, Book of Saints, was published by above/ground press. The other sections have yet to be published.

Another mostly unpublished manuscript with women as a theme is “All the Catharines,” which I wrote in 2010 and revisit to revise on occasion. It’s still mostly not ready, but a few pieces have been published in the anthology Release Any Words Stuck Inside of You (Applebeard Editions, 2018) and a few other places. This manuscript started because of my grapheme synaesthesia where numbers, days of the week, months of the year, pain and names evoke colour for me. Catharine evokes emerald green. I wrote one poem about her and she insisted on my continuing to write of her. I infused the manuscript with various greens: limes, ferns, tarnished pennies. She lives in Apartment 5b because 5 and b are both green for me. I ended up including various Catherines in history from Catherine the Great to Catherine of Aragon to Catherine Blake, wife of William, but mine was Catharine with an a. Catharine became a very defined character with specific personality traits. She was angry that anyone would try to write about her. I documented her moods and proclivities. 

Queen Christina, published by Ghost City Press in 2016 as an online chapbook, was inspired by the queen of Sweden, a well learned person who often dressed as a man and fled from the palace on horseback. 

I Owe St. Hildegarde the Light, a chapbook published by unarmed of Minnesota in 2016,  was inspired by the music of Hildegard von Bingen. I became fascinated by her life, her brilliance, her visions and creativity. 

Lady Lazarus Redux (above/ground press, 2018) was a deliberate attempt to engage with the writing of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Gwendolyn MacEwen because all three women’s poetry has haunted me for a long time. I came up with a method of cutting up words from their work and drawing them, like tarot cards, to create my own poetry. The work deals with issues of ageing, menopause, and invisibility.

Increasingly, I write to connect with kindred misfits, particularly women and gender nonconformers. I have begun a new series called “The Seven Fables of Desire,” inspired by the writing of Nathanaël, who has been working in the hybrid form of l’entregenre. I have gotten my hands on as much of Nathanaël’s writing as I can and intend to read and reread it. This project has started with nothing more than the idea of exploring desire, the concept of the fable and the work of a writer I admire. We’ll see where it goes.

Amanda Earl is a long-poem-maker, visual poet, fiction writer, editor, publisher and doodler who wanders incognito through the streets of Ottawa. She’s the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. Her chapbook, Aftermath or Scenes of a Woman Convalescing is forthcoming from above/ground press. Visit or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Call for Submissions Cut/Paste/Resist: A Pop-Up Exhibition

Call for Submissions
Cut/Paste/Resist: A Pop-Up Exhibition

In times of protest and social upheaval (and social rejuvenation) artists and activists turn to collage to make their point. Why? Collage is an accessible, fun way to make art. All you need is glue, scissors, and paper. The rest is up to you.

Presented in co-operation with the UNB Art Centre, the Student Union Building, and the Creative Writing/Writer-in-Residence program, Cut/Paste/Resist will take place at the Student Union Building on February 10th until February 12th 2020.
We want your collages!
All people interested in participating are welcome. We don’t care if you are an artist or not. This exhibition is open to everybody who wants to participate by making a collage – students, faculty, practising artists, non-artists, etc.

What to do?
*Make a collage (no bigger than a standard page size, 8 and 1/2 by 11 inches, but otherwise any shape or size).
*The topic of the exhibition is “Resistance”. In other words, make a collage on a topic or concern you wish to communicate. What are you resisting?
* All submissions are due January 30, 2020.
*Please provide your name and a contact email or phone number with your submission.
*If you are mailing your work, or dropping it off, and would like it returned after the show, please include a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with your submission and your work will be returned. Works not returned will be donated to the UNB archives.
Mail or drop off your works (for drop offs, please put the works in an envelope) to
Writer-in-Residence, Department of English, Carleton Hall
University of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 4400,Fredericton, NB Canada
E3B 5A3

Cut/Paste/Resist is co-curated by RM Vaughan and Dr. Ken Moffatt, Layton Chair of Social Justice at Ryerson University, with support from the UNB Art Centre and the Creative Writing department.

Friday, November 01, 2019

On Writing #166 : Mark Scroggins

Mark Scroggins

I dislike my voice—its thinness, its high-pitched reediness, its occasional strange inflections. When I was a small child, my Kentucky school district sent me to a speech therapist for a few months to iron out some defect in my enunciation. Part of the treatment involved recording and listening to myself talk on a cassette. The sound of my own voice horrified, humiliated, and embarrassed me. To some extent, it does so to this day.

I never wanted to “find my voice” in poetry, but rather to escape my physical voice. The voices of the poets I admire are always in my ears, utterly distinct one from another, each as immediately recognizable as a few bars from a great improvising musician or a passage of brushwork from a beloved painting. But I never aspired to attain a consistent voice—though I’ve always believed that poetry was an affair first and foremost of voices.

Of course, “voice” in a printed poem—rather than an audio recording—is a metaphor. It’s not a literal sound, but a congeries of diction, characteristic rhythms and turns of phrase, habits of combining word-sounds in particular ways. Even when they are each writing blank verse, one never mistakes the voice of Tennyson for that of Swinburne; one knows Mina Loy’s free verse from that of William Carlos Williams as much by its sound as by its subject.

As I write, I don’t imagine myself speaking my poems to an audience, though I do sound each passage in my head, repeatedly. They come in brief bits—lines and stanzas, sometimes groups of a dozen or more lines. I try to write to some kind of “tune,” however atonal. Only very rarely do I have any idea of where I’m going, or where in the poem a given passage might eventually fall. “I” almost never speaks: instead, I imagine voices who might be saying the lines, voices whose power, resonance, or tenderness of address surpasses what my own voice might muster. Or voices whose anger, affection, resentment, or sense of hurt far outreaches what I’m conscious of feeling. Bureaucratic voices, voices overheard on the streets or in the subways, voices of friends or loved ones.

I have no set schedule or routine for working at my poems. Old enough to remember the typewriter, a fetishist of fountain pens, I resist keying my words into electronic documents: somehow it “freezes” them, makes them resistant to further alteration. I jot down lines in notebooks when they occur to me, add to them when it seems they have something more they want to say. I copy them over, adjusting, cutting, adding, from notebook to notebook and back again. I gather little bundles of them, hoarding them against a dry spell. I try to hear the echoes between disparate passages, the potential counterpointing.
These fragments eventually fall into clusters, are stitched or soldered into poems: “He do the police in different voices”—which sounds pretty familiar. It’s patchwork, or collage, or bricolage, or simply a heap of things that make a shape or gesture that feels comely to me, or interestingly awkward. My poems speak for no one, least of all myself, but I suppose no one else can take responsibility for them. Hier stehe; ich kann nicht anders.

Mark Scroggins is the author of four books of poems: Anarchy, Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles, Red Arcadia, and Pressure Dressing. His most recent collection of criticism is The Mathematical Sublime: Writing about Poetry, and he has recently edited Our Lady of Pain: Poems of Eros and Perversion by Algernon Charles Swinburne. He writes regularly for Hyperallergic.


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Talking Poetics #2 : Amish Trivedi

I want to start by talking about a movie that I used to recommend all the time but have stopped recommending. I stopped recommending it not because I came to dislike it, you understand, but because I came to love it more and would feel hurt whenever someone didn’t watch it. I don’t want to talk about how I felt once someone said they didn’t like it.

The movie is called Frank and it’s about a band that exists on the outside of any kind of mainstream music circle. They are joined by someone who wants to be famous, to write hits, but the members of the band, called the Soronprfbs, are just happy creating their strange music with their small following. Their lead singer, who wears a giant papier-mâché head, is caught in the middle of this struggle— between wanting to be happy creating what he wants to hear (with a rather heavy emphasis on the avant garde) and wanting to be loved by others, wanting to be famous.

This movie should be required viewing for every artist. First off, the songs are great, in my opinion, and secondly, this is a very real struggle, and I think for me was the kind of movie that once I saw it a couple of times, I understood my own struggles as an artist in a deeper way. We’re constantly struggling to make art not only that pleases us, but that we hope will please others so that we can continue to make art so that we can connect with other humans and to the world around us.

I think this is where I try to get a poem to, but I always seem to start with a line or two and go from there. This has not changed in twenty years+ of writing regularly, but perhaps I’ve become more attuned to it, more willing to accept that I need to get writing done versus letting something go. I have always liked the Michelangelo story wherein he talks about finding the work within the marble— I like following a piece of writing rather than pushing it. What fits next, what ideas are emerging? Perhaps this has made me less successful than I’d like, but it’s also what keeps me writing, trying to find that vein and follow it along through a poem.

I do utilize notebooks and am obsessive still about fountain pens. Gabe Gudding, who really got me turned onto them, and my friend Ben Sutton, who enables my obsession with this own— we really got into the tangibility of this method of writing, I think. It’s like driving a car right along the ground with no shocks: you feel the bumps and crevices of the surface and, at least in your own mind, you are part of the process more. This is as opposed to typing, which is an automatic process: part of learning to do it is forgetting the minor moves and concentrating on…I don’t even know. In handwriting, in fetishizing the instrument itself, I don’t know if I’m writing better poems (probably not) but I am enjoying all parts of it more.

Line breaks…forms…the way a poem feels/looks/sits: I used to get a lot of nice words from Forrest Gander while at Brown about my line breaks. I like jarring— I like the feeling that one shouldn’t have a moment to settle into a poem, especially a short one. I hate “natural” line breaks and avoid them as much as possible, going out of my way to recut poems that have line breaks in new ways to avoid pausing at a comma or other break. I guess I want someone reading my work (hi, all two of you) to feel as uncomfortable as I feel all the time. Enjambment already feels like a violent word and I think it’s a way that I push myself and the work I’m producing to be a little bit violent, but hopefully not in an oppressive way of any kind. I’ve been told that I produce a “masculine” lyric, which I don’t much care for, so perhaps this is something I will work in changing in the future. I don’t know if the two are tied, but violence and masculinity seem inextricably linked, so I’d like to be out of the violence business.

I think about math a lot— I’m terrible at it, but I often think about calculus, about functions and derivatives. I see a poem as a derivative of an event or concept, which I view as function. A poem isn’t the speed, it’s the acceleration. I feel like I’m always trying to capture this in my work, to less and less success, generally. But maybe I’m just fine with my giant head on, my ten fans, making music with people I genuinely care about, and singing my heart out.

Amish Trivedi is the author of two books, some number of poems, some number of reviews, is at work on a dissertation, and lives on the very edge of Maryland.