Friday, February 26, 2016

On Writing #86 : Jani Krulc

Practice, practice: On writing and yoga
Jani Krulc

Kapotasana is the deepest backbend in the second series of Ashtanga yoga. In this posture, the practitioner comes to her knees, bends backwards, grabs her heels with her palms, places her head between her feet, and presses her forearms to the floor. Her spine is a perfect semi-circle, like a rainbow, and she breathes five breaths, then takes her hands to the floor, straightens her arms, and breathes five more.

Kapotasana is notorious for digging into a practitioner’s messy emotional and psychic closet, as well shifting open the heart and rebending the thoracic spine. I’ve been stuck at this posture for 14 months, and my teacher won’t give me the next one. Currently, my lower back is impinged, my glutes strangely tight, all the progress of the past year seemingly for nought. My spine is a warped table, my breath shallow.

Some days, I hate yoga.

I started practicing yoga as a form of procrastination: I was avoiding finishing my Master’s thesis, a novel. I was, quite simply, stuck.  My earliest writing efforts had been explosively productive and enthusiastically applauded. In the first grade, I penned (penciled?) a small book, entitled Horny, about a young dinosaur. In junior high, I wrote a short story about a girl who regretted taking up smoking for my grade nine provincial English exam and received a perfect score. In undergrad, I understood revision to mean cursory copyedits, and received A grades.

But the move across the country for grad school, from Calgary to Montreal, precipitated something strange, something apocalyptic: writing, which was once so easy and spontaneous, became impossible.

So I sought comfort and found solace, first in a series of dive bars, and finally in a dimly lit inferno located next door to a famous smoked meat restaurant on the Main (I will forever associate hot yoga with brisket). Eventually, slowly, as my body became stronger and more flexible, my novel, in the hours spent outside that tropical oven, also took shape. I wrote sporadically. Scenes dribbled out. The work was more painful than the twisting, bending, lifting, sweating, grunting I performed during class. But I finished the project, defended it, and got my degree.

After grad school, I left Montreal, returned to Calgary, and began practicing Ashtanga (I tried every hot yoga studio in the city, but the climate is so dry here, every room felt, at best, tepid). Work life took over. I abandoned any notion of publishing the thesis. I stopped writing. I stopped reading fiction. I practiced yoga and taught ESL and then worked as a Technical Writer.

Ashtanga is ideally practiced in the “Mysore” style (so named for the city in which the founder, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, taught); this yoga is a self-practice. The teacher instructs students individually, giving adjustments when necessary. Beginners work on memorizing the postures, whose order never changes. Eventually, the student is stopped, having reached a “gateway” posture, one that must be worked through in order to progress in the series: usually one that involves a deep hip or shoulder opening (for me, kapotasana). Some students never progress past the primary series (because it’s damned hard).  Ashtanga yoga is a 6 day a week practice, typically done in the wee hours of the morning. We rest on moon days.

Ashtanga tricks its devotees. On any ordinary day, a student can wake up, go to her mat, and somehow, as if by magic, execute a posture that has eluded her for weeks, months, even years. It feels like an embodied miracle.

Despite my year and a bit of hot yoga, my body was stiff when I started Asthanga. But eventually, I found that I could, in fact, reach forward and touch my toes, that I could bind my hands behind me while in a deep twist, that I could balance on my hands, wrap my feet around my arms, and touch my chin to the floor, that I could drop my body into a backbend and stand up again. I had always imagined that, while I could be strong, I couldn’t be flexible, that my body was essentially untrainable. Daily, I was astounding myself. What else wasn’t true?

I started to write again, just scribbling in a notebook. Short paragraphs, brief images, dreams. I linked them into vignettes and then into stories. I asked “what if…” and characters appeared to me. 

I started to write daily. I sat with no expectations but to put pen to paper for ten minutes. If I only wrote one word over and over again for ten minutes? Fine. Sit down again the next day. If I only wrote one sentence? Fine. And the next day. If I only wrote one paragraph? Fine. And so on until I had written seven stories, a manuscript.

Ashtanga forces patience. Hips open when they will, or maybe never as much as we want them to. Progress is not measured by an accumulation of postures, but by what is happening internally, in our minds. Are we calmer? Are we less attached?

The point of the practice isn’t to get more postures. The point of the practice is to practice.
I approach writing differently now: not a short burst of effort that must culminate in a finished product. I play, rewriting scenes in various styles, using various voices. I tease out the characters to see who the story belongs to. I do not plan. I try very hard not to rush. Sometimes characters appear unbidden. Sometimes they elude me for months. Sometimes the story I think I am writing is, in fact, not a story at all but pages and pages of pre-writing that are necessary for the actual story that wants to be written. Sometimes the story seems to write itself, and I watch, like I’m dreaming.

In Asthanga, we talk about the difference between injuries and openings. Injuries occur for various reasons, but in my case, because of impatience (I so badly wanted to bind in half lotus, I torqued my ankles and pulled the ligaments. They healed, over time, but not before I limped through five weeks of India the first time I visited the country). Openings are uncomfortable; they lead to a reorientation of the body: a longer psoas, a stronger spine, a deeper breath. Navigating openings, not panicking, trusting that the body will once again become familiar, this is the important part of practice. Adjusting the postures as needed, being wise, not despairing when a posture that was once so easy becomes impossible. Practicing six suruya namaskar and then resting.

Not panicking when, one day, the writing is harder than usual (the writing is always hard). Not despairing when images appear hollow or not at all. Panicking and despairing but then trusting that there are more words, there are more stories, there are more books.

I can’t claim that I am unattached to the results of either practice: I would one day like to execute a perfect kapotasana; I would one day like to finish the story I am working on today, and the collection, and the books that I imagine will follow.

But is a life spent practicing – a craft, an art, a spiritual discipline – a life in which the pinnacle of achievement (a Nobel prize? Enlightenment?) is not reached, a waste? (Because maybe I lied: the point of practicing yoga is to attain Samadhi. It is also to still the fluctuations of the mind. It is also to practice non-attachment. Perhaps these are all related.)

I hope not; I don’t think so. Today I practice, that’s all, and tomorrow I will, too.

Jani Krulc writes fiction and practices and teaches yoga. Her first collection of short stories, The Jesus Year, was published in 2013. She lives in Calgary with a pomeranian, a cat, and her partner, and is at work on her second book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Announcing Versefest 2016 : Ottawa's premiere poetry festival,

Six days, sixty poets, one festival. Celebrating written poetry and spoken word in English and French, VF ’16 brings you some of the most exciting poets on the planet. Twenty stellar showcases will present a range of talent from across Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Armenia, and Norway!

March 15-20, 2016

Amal El-Mohtar, Amy Iliza, Andre Duhaime, Anne Boyer, Annie St-Jean, Barâa Arar, Ben Ladouceur, Blue Louise Moffatt, Caroline Bergvall, Caroline Pignat, Cathy Petch, Christian Bök, Colin Morton, Daniel Groleau Landry, David Dufour, David McGimpsey, Doyali Islam, Élise Turcotte, Erin Dingle, Frances Boyle, Francois Turcot, Frédéric Lanouette, Gabriel Robichaud, Geneviève Bouchard, George Elliott Clarke, Gerald Hill, Gerður Kristný, Guy Perreault, Hector Ruiz, Jane Munro, Katherine Leyton, Kathryn Sweet, Kevin Matthews, King Kimbit, Leontia Flynn, Liz Howard, M. Travis Lane, Marilyn Dumont, Maurice Riordan, Mia Morgan, Natalie Hanna, Pamela Mordecai, Phil Hall, Rational Rebel, Rebecca Lea Thomas, Robyn Sarah, Sanita Fejzić, Sébastien Bérubé, Shannon Maguire, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Sonia Lamontagne, Terry Ann Carter, Thierry Dimanche, Tina Charlebois, Vanessa Rotondo and Yusef Komunyaaka.

See the entire schedule for our sixth annual festival at:

Monday, February 15, 2016

On Writing #85 : Steven Artelle

On Writing
Steven Artelle

I don't know anything about writing. Sorry. I write, but I can’t translate that expertise into any particular set of informed conclusions—might as well ask me to provide insight into the nature of death, given my expertise in mortality. Yes, I’m fated to do this inexorable thing, but that doesn’t mean I’m in total control of the process. No matter how much I think about it, I just don’t know.

The divine origins of writing, now that’s something I know about. Let’s talk about Uruk, the city of cities, and the ascension of Inanna, ruler of writing and all the passionate arts. Or the invention of everything, when God in the Sefer Yetzirah engraves an alphabet on the primordial ether. Or the engendering script of Kali Ma, inscribed on her necklace of skulls. I know for sure writing comes from Prometheus and Thoth and Quetzalcoatl, and you can call upon Ganesha or Cerridwen or Hermes, or conjure angel-scribes and saints of every literary patronage. John the Revelator, him I know. And the Muses. Beatrice. Layla. Neal Cassady.

Writerly advice though? I understand there’s discipline, daily routines, workshops, writing prompts, a productive rapport with editors—but these are inaccessible mysteries to me. Instead, how about that time Odin transformed himself into a snake to steal the Mead of Poetry, and the mead was brewed by murderous dwarves from the blood of a wise man, and Odin drank so much and had to go so bad that he urinated over the whole world and wherever a drop fell into the gaping mouth of a hapless human, a bad poet was born. Theft, backstabbing, drinking, piss-poor results. Ahh, writing. Totally understood.

I know this voice in my head cycles through weeks of insistent dictation and then longer stretches of taunting silence. If I’m lucky, there are some provident fragments dropped into that void, like when you break a glass and step on a sliver months later. You bleed but still feel a sense of accomplishment, having finally collected that fugitive, shining needle. The world is one shard improved.

There’s something diabolic behind the experience—that, I know. The Persian hero Tahmuras demanded the secrets of writing from a defeated army of demons, but more often than not it’s the demons making demands: Garcia Lorca’s duende, or the fame-inducing, life-shortening Leanan Sidhe, or the demon Titivillus endlessly gathering syllables in his infinite black bag, or all the devils of Don Quixote playing tennis in Hell with poorly written books, or the presiding demon who scoffs at writers in general and poets in particular—the one John Keats named when he admitted to Percy Shelley that “an artist must serve Mammon.” Keats died with empty pockets; Shelley died with a pocket full of Keats. Demon overlords are a bitch.

In the absence of riches, it must be the writing itself we serve.  The legendary first settler of Easter Island, Hotu Matua, arrived on the shore with 67 inscribed tablets, and announced that all attempts to read the script were doomed, forever.  It was a great pitch—who wouldn’t want to read his stuff after hearing that? But: he was the first one there. Who was he announcing this to? Why haul this momentous stack of writing to a place without readers?

I don’t know. But I recognize this guy. Compelled, even isolation, to scratch ideas into words; convinced someone might read them, someday; challenging that remote someone to understand. If so, they would overcome doom, together.

They say the moment Cangjie invented writing, grain fell from the sky, and all the gods and ghosts cried. That’s all I know.

Steven Artelle is a writer living in Ottawa, where he works at Library and Archives Canada.  His first collection of poems, Metropantheon, was published in 2014 by Signature Editions. His poetry has appeared in Literary Review of Canada, Contemporary Verse 2, Prairie Fire, filling Station, Vallum, FreeFall, and in publications by Mansfield Press, AngelHousePress and above/ground press.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

h& : call for ongoing submissions of visual/concrete poetry

h& is seeking submissions of visual/concrete poetry.

The revamped h& features work by Amanda Earl, a rawlings, Billy Mavreas, bruno neiva, Eileen R. Tabios, Gary Barwin, J4, Joel Chase, Ken Hunt, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, Lawrence Upton, Mark Young, Michael Basinski, Natalie Lauchlan, Nico Vassilakis, Rob Flint, Robert Swereda, Sheila E. Murphy, Texas Fontanella and Tony Rickaby

Please feel free to forward this call.

The prior iteration of this journal was barely distributed, and might even have been imaginary.

Friday, February 05, 2016

On Writing #84 : Chris Eaton

On Writing
Chris Eaton

People who are curious about a book typically lead with the same question: What is your book about?

Typically I come up with something that is a) overly simplified b) a line of post-considered marketing c) regretful.

My books are not about something. My books are something. They’re not metaphor or parable. They’re not trying, as Alistair MacLeod once said to me about his books (over middling Chinese food beside another author who had recently invited me to friendship on Facebook then didn’t recognize my name when we were introduced), to accurately portray a time or place. They’re not trying to teach something, not trying to represent a life, not trying to capture what it might be like to be a child trapped in a basement; a child who travels through a wardrobe; a horrible child who thinks and does horrible things; someone else, good or bad, who is not a child. They’re not trying to accomplish the things that correspond to the reasons why people often tell me they buy books, which of course makes it even more difficult to explain.

Sometimes I think of myself more as a classical composer than a writer. I’m just a composer who quit piano lessons after a year and a half but never gave up reading. When I was young and just starting to read, I read everything. I read so many books. All kinds of books. And the stories and ideas filled me up. I thought that’s what books were for. To convey stories. Ideas. But gradually I began to feel that I had read the books before, that they were, in fact, all the same story, only with different words. Imagine that most of our songs only had one melody, and that only the lyrics changed. Even with the successes that have been achieved in bringing marginalized stories to the fore, the execution still too often traffics in the same colonial structures, the same tropes, the same way of connecting nodes of thought, the same rhythm and cadence, stuck in the echo of a familiar capitalist narrative form.

Part of this is based in causality, linearity, the illusion of time passing. The idea that one action leads to the next and the next is reassuring to us, like the idea of God. It gives life some sort of purpose or meaning, and we seek it out in our fiction. Science argues otherwise, however, that time is not only relative but that the concepts of past and present and future are illusory. Our memories are not a line but a collection of instances existing simultaneously, like the Internet with its hyperlinks that take you from a word in a sentence on one page to some tangential relation.

But the most important part of communicating is in the rhythm of it, the music of it, the energy of it. Ideas are only the most basic level of understanding. Too often, the message gets confused with the art, the message is considered the art. But a message is a statement. Art is less clear than that. It is itself. One might see a message or statement reflected in some aspects of it. But it is always more than that. If I can fiddle with the popular McLuhan expression for a moment, the medium isn’t really the message, nor is the message the message; the execution is the true message.

More often than not when I’m writing I’ll just leave underlined spaces, because I don’t know yet what I want to say, which descriptors I want to use, but I know I need two words in that space. And the first has to be two syllables, say. And the second has to be three. And the stresses have to be on the first syllables of those words and nowhere else. Otherwise it doesn’t sound right. I also don’t typically begin a novel with a story in mind, just a rhythmic pattern I’ve been playing with in my head.

I sense the energy or the rhythms before I have the sentence, for example. Or the paragraph. Or the page or the chapter or the this. I say the this because it’s so clearly different from the that. The that is wrong. The that is something that someone else once did, and it can be copied, which is often the case. Sadly. Too often when I read contemporary fiction I’m reading the that. I have an interesting story, I hear the book telling me. How should I tell it? That is the that. It’s the way you tell a story. In the this, the music and energy are always first. The this is mine. The this is mine all mine. I can, however, sense it, and be carried away by it, in the works of other writers, like William Vollman, or Roberto Bolano, or Mary Robison. Leanne Simpson. To name a few. More often than not, I don’t even remember what happened in a book I’ve truly loved. But I can still feel it, could hum it back. When someone else copies that rhythm, either by quoting a passage directly or just aiming for the feel, I remember it, or recognize it, like a duet that’s been happening since the first author got it right that has simply taken forty years for the second voice to enter.

When I can’t find the rhythm, when I’ve had a particularly awful writing day, I’m also less apt to understand the world. I find myself completely out of synch with existence and am miserable, inconsolable, am unable to interact with others and find the requirement to do so oppressive. At those times, about the only thing that can solve it for me are a good run, wherein I am forced back into a rhythm, or a conversation with either of my sons, 5 and 2, because they are still too young to have been lured by something else, and live within the rhythm at all times.

But when I do, everything is good, and I know I’ve done it right, and I know that other people who are looking for it, listening for it, searching for it… that they will hear it too.

Chris Eaton is a novelist and songwriter/musician. He is the author of three published novels: the inactivist (2003), The Grammar Architect (2006), and Chris Eaton, a Biography (2013), and a retrospective book of short fiction called Letters to Thomas Pynchon (2012). He has also recorded a half dozen CDs under the name Rock Plaza Central, including the critically acclaimed Are We Not Horses? He currently lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, with his wife and two sons. His next novel, tentatively called The Second Mourning of Cole Afcott, is forthcoming in 2017 from BookThug.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

ottawater: Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal / 12th issue now online!

Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan

The twelfth issue of ottawater is now online, featuring new writing by Sylvia Adams, Susan J. Atkinson, John Barton, Frances Boyle, Stephen Brockwell, Carellin Brooks, Sara Cassidy, George Elliott Clarke, Anita Dolman, nina jane drystek, Claire Farley, Mark Frutkin, jesslyn gagno, Shoshannah Ganz, Jenna Jarvis, Ben Ladouceur, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Karen Massey, Robin McLachlen, Colin Morton, Peter Norman, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Roland Prevost, Tim Mook Sang, Lesley Strutt, D.S. Stymeist, Anne Marie Todkill, Deanna Young and Changming Yuan. Artwork by: Alysha Farling, Anna Griffiths, Anna J. Eyler, Erin Robertson, Gail Bourgeois, Jeff McIntyre, Nichola Feldman-Kiss, Patrice Stanley, Sarah Dobbin, Susan Roston, and Verbal.

Come out to the launch (featuring readings by a number of this issue's contributors) on Saturday, February 6, upstairs at The Carleton Tavern, Parkdale at Armstrong; doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm. Lovingly hosted by rob mclennan.

Founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada's glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats, and found at An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appeared in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

All previous issues remain archived on the site as well. Thanks to designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

Monday, February 01, 2016

We Who Are About To Die : Billy Mavreas

Billy Mavreas is an artist and writer who lives and works in Montreal, Quebec. He usually makes zines, collage, comics and visual poetry.

Where are you now?
Right now I'm in my office behind the counter of my shop, Monastiraki, in the Mile-end neighbourhood in Montreal. It’s January, it’s cold and I’m listening to instrumental James Brown.

What are you reading?
I’m reading the Dover edition of The Collected Books of Charles Fort. It is staggering in it’s scope and turns of phrase, let alone it’s ideas and thousand-fold stories.

What have you discovered lately?
More of a rediscovery. That I need to honour my tendencies towards spirituality. That I need to maintain a regular meditation practice.

Where do you write?
My writing consists of drawing and collage and photoshopping and, well, writing. If it's text or photoshop I write in said office (see above) but also scribble on the couch at home. I draw on the couch also but collage and draw at the counter of my shop. I talk to myself everywhere I go.

What are you working on?
Right now I’m adding pages to a six panel per page minimalist stream of consciousness graphic novel project. I’m 120 pages in or so and will aim for at least a hundred more. This may turn into a web comic or a series of zines or if it’s tight into a book.

Have you anything forthcoming?
Not more than usual. There is always a trickling of small chap books, self-published, that I work on. Tiny editions of ten or twenty, although I did complete a colouring book just before the holidays last year. That was fun. I’d like to consider a series of art booklets later on this year or a solid kids picture book but I’ll see how my process unfolds. Things veer sideways easily enough without my cajoling.

What would you rather be doing?
I’d rather be securing a large enough bright room for myself to act as home studio, study and temple. A place with a door that closes, a window overlooking greenery, all my books and art and collections in the same place to inspire me to keep doing what I do.

from New Abstract Blues