Monday, December 29, 2014

On Writing #48 : Robert Swereda

Why Bother?
Robert Swereda

Every so often when my writing gets stuck, or when a piece I wish to publish gets its 3rd, 4th,10th rejection letter - I begin to wonder why I am spending so much energy and time on these endeavours and what am I really getting out of it? Maybe it's time to wave the white flag and call it quits.

I'm well aware that the type of writing I create will never end up on any best sellers list. Most likely, copies of my books or journals my work appears in will end up in used book stores, and/or collecting dust on the bookshelves of future ex-girlfriends. The small press publishers that would be interested in my work have little means for publicity and narrow distribution. Sometimes it feels that my writing isn't doing any better in print than it is as a file on my laptop or as scribblings on old receipts, to-do lists, and Post-it notes.

What have I gained from writing? Financially, from 2005 to present day I have earned the equivalent of one bi-weekly pay cheque of a minimum wage job. Now and then I will receive a small sum of money in form of a cheque for a published work. Most of the time, payment is nothing more than a contributor copy. Then there are pieces I have had published online and not received anything. Maybe just a virtual pat on the back.

Meeting a new person and telling them I'm a writer, sometimes they will ask me things like: So, what do you write about? ...Poetry? Like Bukowski or something? ...Why can't I find your book at Chapters/Barnes & Noble? ...Ever read Kerouac? I remember flying home from Ecuador and having a layover in Houston, Texas. Going through customs at the airport I got the usual questions a young ruffian travelling alone would get, along with “What do you do for a living?” When I answered that I was a writer, the customs agent went on to ask “ Ya, but what`s your real job?” This made me wonder if what I do is considered just a hobby. Is writing something to do on a Sunday afternoon, in my pyjamas, there's nothing on tv, and I don't feel like leaving the house. Might as well play with my electric train set, do the word search in the newspaper, put a ship in a bottle, paint competition stripes on that plastic Ford Mustang model, finish the jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe write a poem.

I'm having a hard time believing I worked a job I absolutely hated to save funds in order to take classes at University for a hobby. That I sit in 24hour cafes until sunrise, chugging dark roast and redbull, pounding away on my laptop, forgetting to eat and nearly allowing my bladder to burst all over my pants just so I can transform the image in my brain into text on my computer. I have put more time and effort into writing projects and feel more dedication to writing than I have with any type of employment I've had with steady paycheques. 

Possibly, I have earned some kind of credibility. Meaning, some people have seen my name in print and “know” me. These people are a very select few, seeing as the small audience who might be interested, and the formats and resources I have to reach them in order to get my name out there. (where ever that there is)

What am I doing with poetry? Nothing quite unique or innovative. I'm sure my influences are obvious. I can't say that I am really contributing any ideas that would be seen as new or outstanding. Some time ago I was involved with editing a literary journal. After awhile I began to question if I was right for the job. I found a lot of the submissions the journal received were boring, painful to read or made me roll my eyes. I would say Yes to maybe 2% of the writing that the journal received. I thought I was being a hard ass or too picky. I quit the journal after realizing editing wasn't for me and I don`t wish to be part of a literary community. I didn't want to be the one giving a stamp of approval on someone's work, or the jerk that rejects their piece. I would just concentrate on my own stuff and cross my fingers to get it published.

So, why do I bother, what's really the point of it all? Why spend my days off from my real job in front of my computer trying to piece together some flash in my brain? Why do I roll around in my bed, answering daemon whispers at 3 in the morning, with my alarm clock set to go off at 7 a.m.? Why do I make sure I don`t leave the house with out a pen of something to jot things down?

I want to give an answer like I dunno, I just work here. Or say that I don`t really know what I'm doing or why. That if I ever find out, then I`d probably stop doing it altogether. I know that I don`t want to say that it's some creative impulse, that writing is something I just HAVE to do. It's insulting to call it a hobby, and it doesn't pay bills or buy food so it's not gainful employment either.

I write out of self interest. I write what I'd want to read myself. What I wish I could find in bookstores. It's more about physically doing the work than the actual outcome. That I am able to project something I have in my skull, through my fingertips, and manipulate into legible texts. I don't find it to be a fun way to occupy my free time at all. It's as if  there's a rambunctious child trapped inside my brain and I'm the cranky grandparent trying to get them to shut up and sit still so I can relax in a recliner, drink cheap liquor and chain smoke in peace. Maybe it's more like trying to get rid of a bad cold. Sitting at a desk for hours tapping away on the keyboard, all jittery and over caffeinated. Laying in bed, feverish and snotty. I suppose it feels the same.

Why do you bother?

Author of re: verbs (Bareback editions), Signature Move (forthcoming) and a chapbook ionlylikeitwhenitrhymes (100tetes), Robert Swereda has served as a member of the Filling Station collective. He studied creative writing at Capilano University in Vancouver. Other work has been published by The Puritan, ditch, West Coast Line, The Incongruous Quarterly, steel bananas, The Capilano Review, dusie, Enpipe Line, Poetry Is Dead and Touch the Donkey.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Writing #47 : Missy Marston

Children vs Writing : CAGE MATCH!
Missy Marston

In this corner: Children (Like a thundering giant in tiny spandex underpants and a cape.)

My kids were one-and-a-half and five when their father and I split up. I was a single parent for seven years. Some would protest. Some would say that I was a “co-parent”. And this is true to the degree that such a term could adequately describe my situation in those years. Which is not very adequately at all. My ex-husband and I shared custody which in practice meant that part of the time I was a scrambling single parent. The other part of the time I felt like my arms had been cut off.

Ah, co-parenting.

In the other corner: Writing (Pale, slim, trembling, sweating, hiking up her shorts with one hand, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose with the other.)

Yes, yes, I had always written poems and fancied myself a writer. Encouraged by teachers and typewriter-and-book-buying parents. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? The truth is that I stopped writing the day my first child was born and did not start again for eight years.

I will offer just one illustrative example of what my life was like in those “co-parenting” years. (Yes, for the record, there were a thousand sweet, cuddly, even life-changing moments for every moment like this, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

My kids were probably four and seven years old at this point. I was sitting on the toilet and yelling at them through the closed door to please, please stop fighting. And not for the first time, either. That day I calmly but tearfully explained to them that nothing made Mum feel worse than having to break up a fight while on the toilet. It was the very worst. They nodded gravely, gave me kisses and tiny pats on the back.

(I later discovered that following this chat they had started to fight via notes scrawled on a piece of paper and passed back and forth between them. Writers!)

We fumbled along together. My idea of myself as a writer faded into the distance. Having children taught me that writing (like romance, your “look”, a clean house) didn’t really matter. At least for a while. I told myself – and I believed it, still believe it – that if the only thing I ever succeeded at was raising these beautiful children, that was enough. An astonishing achievement.

Then one day, when the kids were a bit older, when they started getting up on their own, getting their own breakfast, turning on the TV, ideas started to come to me. Suddenly I had something to do when they were at their dad’s house. Something almost as difficult and worthwhile (not really, not even close): writing a book. It took bloody forever.

In 2012, my first novel, The Love Monster was published by VĂ©hicule Press. When it came out that spring, when it was actually in print, I have to admit I felt something. I felt like some wrinkly, dried-up, forgotten little thing inside me was slowly being reconstituted. Like a raisin soaked in rum. Delicious.

Missy Marston's novel, The Love Monster was the winner of the 2013 Ottawa Book Award for English Fiction, a finalist for the CBC 2013 Bookie Awards and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice. She blogs about her writing here: and can be found on twitter @MissyMarston.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A B Series Solstice Bash!

More info:
A B Series Solstice Bash

Performance poetry by bill bissett, Adeena Karasick & Gary Barwin!

Music by Erin Saoirse Adair, Michel Delage, Melody McKiver & Glenn Nuotio!

Door prizes!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Carleton Tavern (upstairs)
223 Armstrong Street
Ottawa, Ont.

More info

Friday, December 05, 2014

Calling all Ottawa writers! Ottawa Magazine launches short story contest‏

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.”
– Neil Gaiman

It might be snowy outside, but over at Ottawa Magazine we’re already gearing up for summer — our Summer issue, that is.

Every year in our Summer issue, Ottawa Magazine publishes short fiction by local authors. For our Summer 2015 issue, we’re switching things up a bit with the inaugural Ottawa Magazine Short Fiction Contest.

So hunker down and bring to life that great tale that has been simmering away in the back of your mind, or dust off the manuscript that is sitting on your desktop.

The winner will receive $700, the runner up $300, and both stories will be published in the Summer 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

NOTE: the contest is open to Ottawa residents only.

- Winners will be chosen by a panel of judges through a blind judging process.
- Entries must be no longer than 3,000 words. Entries can be short stories or excerpts but must not have been published elsewhere.
- Participants may enter as many times as they wish, but once submitted entries may not be submitted to other contests (or published elsewhere) until the winning entries have been announced in April 2015.
- Submission deadline is March 1, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.

Ottawa Magazine reserves the right to edit winning entries for style. Published stories will be accompanied by complementary art.

Submit entries in a Word document to Ottawa Magazine via Kelsey Kromodimoeljo:
Please include your name, email address, phone number, and address.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Writing #46 : Carla Barkman

Tastes Like Chicken
Carla Barkman
This is how being a doctor blocks me from writing: I cannot tell the absolute truth. I keep a list of names and diagnoses that I cannot share with anyone.

One day during my first year of medical school, I was summoned to the dean’s office to defend myself against a complaint that had been made by an elderly woman, a wealthy philanthropist, who had come across one of my poems in a magazine. Her husband had recently passed on and, according to his wishes, she’d donated his body to the university to aid in medical study. It turned out that my class was one of the last in Canada to dissect full cadavers during medical school; it was becoming a controversial practice, as new technologies like MRI and computer-generated imaging were making simulations more useful. It is possible that my poem had something to do with the demise of full body dissections as well.

I was in my early twenties, and was disturbed to be faced with a preserved corpse, and as I disassembled the intrinsic muscles of its hand I was reminded of dissecting frogs in high school, joking about eating frogs; some of us had; and how they taste a bit like chicken, like all small creatures, rodents, rabbits, supposedly do. Pulling apart my cadaver’s hand and tasting like chicken therefore became linked in my poem. I understood it to point to the strangeness of our situation, and how for me, being required to move so quickly from the innocence of high school, dissecting frogs, to a medical school anatomy lab, confronted by a dead human being, was jarring; I could not process it with maturity. Unfortunately the woman who read the poem, who’d just entrusted her deceased husband’s body to me, to us, for the good of science, envisioned us punk kids gleefully gnawing the meat from his human fingers, and called for an end to the program.

I composed a complicated letter of apology, and luckily was allowed to continue on as a medical student. I also continued to write, but with some reserve. Part of me is proud to belong to a profession with such privileged access to human beings’ secrets, and this part of me is content to comply with its rules, to work hard to be sensitive, careful, deliberate, balanced and mature in all areas of my public life, including my writing. Another part of me, though, aches to say what occurs to me without reservations, and hope that anyone who reads it can understand that I do not claim to present the balanced view, always, but only my truth from where I stand, as a doctor and as a person, the two things no longer separable.

I am working, currently, in the north, and I would love to tell you about the patients that I see: Dene people, mostly, who roll their ATV’s, chop wood, hunt caribou, consume cups of vodka, clear like water, dislocate each others’ shoulders. There is the general impression, but then there are the individuals: Myrtle Fern, with hemichorea, whose left arm flails about like a tree branch in a storm; John A. MacDonald, who believes that he has worms; Dora Disain, every one of her fingers broken over the years, now her middle phalynx volarly displaced and I can’t quite put it back where it belongs. These peoples’ stories are important but so are their names, their names linked to their stories, but because I am their doctor I can’t share them with you. I am privilege to the information only because I have promised to keep it to myself.

In the anatomy lab, we gagged at the bubbles of chemical-soaked fat that we suctioned from our obese body’s abdominal cavity, were heartsick from the stench of burning bone as we sawed through skulls, reminded, though I don’t know exactly how, of Auschwitz. And when I arrived home after dissecting my cadaver’s ribs, identifying the costal artery, vein, and nerve as I cleared away the overlapping intercostal muscles, to find that my husband had boiled ribs for dinner, and underneath the sauce there they were, clearly identifiable artery, vein, and nerve - I pictured my cadaver as I chewed.

Bio: I am a physician who’s worked in northern Ontario and Saskatchewan. I’ve published poetry in Grain, ditch, NeWest Review, Contemporary Verse 2, prairie fire, STANZAS and other literary journals, as well as the anthology Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press, 2003). Lately I’ve been struggling to write non-fiction in a meaningful and responsible way.