Monday, May 23, 2016

On Writing #95 : Claudia Coutu Radmore

The Poetry Three
Claudia Coutu Radmore

Jessica Hiemstra, Lesley Strutt and I meet every month, not to critique our poems, but to talk. We bring poems we’ve read, poems we don’t understand, quotes by critics and writers along with our questions, troubles, and thoughts about writing. What drives us to write, what are our histories. Under our arm we carry the wine of collections and writings that we admire. If we admire a poem but aren’t sure why, that discussion is welcome at the party.

For it is a party;  there’s coffee and a pot luck lunch. Cake. We meet in the morning but sessions tend to continue into the afternoon. There are party games of course, trivia on poetic form or word play, and dark corners for words that kiss, or that might play well together, all in a space  decorated with balloons of philosophy trembling at the ceiling.

Guest lists: who have we invited, who do we want to invite, and did that poet come through the door yet. Walt Whitman? Wallace Stevens? Yes, they are here. Jack Gilbert? Yes. Sylvia is a bit late. Might not come until next time.

Conversation mingles, wanders the room. We catch the tail of how the history of a poem lies in all we know and think. What is voice and why do we love it. How poetry draws from us what we did not know was there to be drawn. How beauty in nature and the human-made beauty of poems is not the same.

In another corner it’s about what ‘things’ in the abstract, mean. What is their function in poems, in a particular poem. Examples and debate, fingertips sticky with olive oil. Touch as movement and time; metaphor, and what it offers that we get from nowhere else.

Aspects of sound, kinds of sound, the sounds our language makes, breath and breathing. How our language shapes us. How even a typo may lead to a better poem as in Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Strange Type’:

I wrote “in the dark cavern of our birth.”
the printer had it tavern, which seems better.
But herein lies the subject of our mirth,
Since on the next page death appears as dearth.
So it may be that God’s word was distraction,
Which to our strange type, appears destruction,
Which is bitter.

A poem from Hopkins; we consider I wake and feel the fell of dark not day, talk about the effect of various kinds of pairs in a poem: feel/fell, dark/day, sights/ saw, ways/went, a dull dough. Hopkins has joined us more than once at the table, lounges on the sofa.

A poem by Anne Michaels from Weight of Oranges/Miner's Pond , ‘Women on a Beach’: Light chooses white sails, the bellies of gulls. Spencer Reece’s ‘Margaret’ :“…As you leave Margaret behind and turn the page, listen as the page falls back and your hand gently buries her. This is what the past sounds like.”

How does personality affect our response to writing or Art. Who are we reading, the poet or his poem. Do we appreciate the work less if we aren’t comfortable with her ethics, or even mannerisms. Where does a poem turn, and does it stay long enough for dessert, along with the lemon squares. It’s serious fun, but fun and excitement none the less.

Topics flow one into the other, from wing to feather to father to family. A poem opens the space to something one of us has read that seems to be related or that adds colour, concept or vocabulary to the conversation. Gillian Sze joins us as we’ve been talking about calligraphy, and ink, and mark making, and eyes. Jane Hirshfield has wondrous things to say, Susan Stewart can always start a good thread, follow up with poems to illustrate a point. 

There’s a sense of the rightness to such discussions. The only place some of us get to experience them is at writers’ festivals or VerseFest, when several poets are on stage throwing ideas out and sharing what they have learned about poetry. They are great, but they are up there and shy poets in the audience don’t contribute. In our situation, one of the best things is how comfortable we are with each other. We don’t have agendas. Ego is a word we might discuss linguistically; I don’t know, the subject hasn’t come up.

A quote from Jessica: I like how we sit down and Lesley always makes sure you're comfortable. I like how at the first meeting we all brought desserts. I like how Lesley calls us the Poetry Three.  I've come to think of us as the gamblers. 

Three is the best number of participants. There is plenty of time for each to contribute, time for tangents and comfortable waffling, and there are no concerns about the dynamics changing if there were more of us.  

I once wrote a poem about where language comes from that starts like this:

what’s this slick made thing, worded cornered sky tease
of brilliant shadow, slant of blue-memoried tomorrow

We leave each other enriched, refreshed, having gambled and won. There’s a sense of having touched upon new ideas, of having absorbed more than we can remember right away that may spring into our poems later on. Waiting for our next get together is like waiting for Christmas, the next chance to share thoughts about our blue-memoried tomorrows. I think of Yehuda Amichai’s:

what’s this?
this is an old toolshed.
no, this is a great past love. 

Claudia Coutu Radmore is the author of several books and chapbooks. Accidentals (Apt. 9 Press, Ottawa) won the 2011 bpNichol Chapbook Award.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Writing #94 : Valerie Coulton

On Writing
Valerie Coulton

When I started writing regularly, I would go to a café with some books and read around in them until a stream of language appeared for me. Then I would try to capture that language in its unrefined state.

Later I would go back to select attractive words or lines from the stream. Not so much editing, more extracting my own language as though found.


And then it was about being in a conversation, usually with one person, sometimes another writer, sometimes alive, sometimes “not”.

Maybe that’s the thing I’ve found to be the most interesting aspect of my own writing, the sense of a language stream that comes from and goes to “somewhere else”. Getting in touch with this stream is easier in the context of a long project or series.


I put some things away for years, then read them again to see what I think outside the proximity of writing. Other things feel ready to serve. I couldn’t say what makes the difference.


In my day job, working with designers, I read a lot about creative process. The same things come up over and over again: find stimuli, get as much stuff "out" as you can, set some constraints to work against, iterate, take on feedback from people who really get what you're doing (and ignore the ones who don't). All of these have been invaluable to me, and I come back to them again and again. Especially stimuli and constraints, two infallible ways of dipping into the stream.


It's occurred to me lately that writing is a form of dreaming for me. It bends time. I'm alone and not alone. Familiar elements appear in new guises.


After my father died, I didn't really feel like writing for a long time. Now I'm starting again, patiently, without a lot of expectation. It's not a continuation or a beginning; it's like seeing someone again after a long time. Will we feel the same way or some new way? Will we still want to spend time together?


we are meeting in the halo
feet in sneakers

his enormous pages
the way blood crowds his face

sea of land of sea
                  little cloud meal

Valerie Coulton is a poet living in Barcelona. She has written Anonymous and Lirio with Edward Smallfield, both from dancing girl press. Her other books are open book, The Cellar Dreamer and passing world pictures, all from Apogee Press. New poems are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly.

Friday, May 06, 2016

On Writing #93 : lars palm

first things first
lars palm

writing, to me, is first & foremost fun. all else is beside the point. more or less, anyway. except maybe that it allows me to travel regularly to read

that done

my aim is 2 poems a day. a habit i picked up from an interview with Hugo Claus who said he did 2 pages every day to keep the boring necessities at bay, or words to that effect. they need not even be functional, although usually one of them is. & frankly i write where & when i can. with morning coffee, to wake my head. breaks during bread work. on the road. in a cafe or pub.
very rarely in splendid isolation. or silence. what's there to get those words dancing?
& that dance is important. not so much on the page as in your head
& how to do that? beats me

now that's no kind of answer. so. we take another angle. or angel

there is of course the mechanical side to it. pen & paper. always. staring into a empty word document wipes me blank. then choosing what to type into that word document. choosing what  goes into one of the manuscripts & which one of them. as in selection process

or in the words of Eileen Tabios; ”poetry as a way of life” as opposed to lifestyle which you may change as you wish. & which you choose. or is it silly of me saying poetry chose me. when after all it comes down to me still not having the patience to write any kind of longer prose. not that i crave doing that for now

& as with so many other poets most anything can fit into one poem or other. Phil Whalen's ”graph of the mind moving” comes to mind. & maybe that brings us back to those dancing words. those words entering the reader's head causing tiny earthquakes leaving the landscape looking slightly different than before. or not. most of the time we may not know

& still we persist. why? why not?

tell me why i shouldn't. i'll be sure not to listen

lars palm [photo credit: Petra Palm] lives with his lovely wife & official photographer currently in Malmö where he writes, teaches, translates, edits among other such activities. his most recent (chap)books are all hat, no cattle (gradient books, 2015), & nobody in between (the red ceilings press, 2015) & look who's singing (moria, 2015). as for the future, there's a little thing, 4 long, forthcoming from the Knives Forks and Spoons Press. he's also recently written one-off poems for things like an animation film festival, an empty bullet casing, a lamp & an anarchist bar in Berlin

Sunday, May 01, 2016

We Who Are About To Die : Michael e. Casteels

Michael e. Casteels is the author of over a dozen chapbooks of poetry, most recently Solar Powered Light Bulb & The Lake’s Achy Tooth (Apt.9 Press). His first full-length book of poetry The Last White House At The End Of The Row Of White Houses will be published in autumn of 2016 by Invisible Publishing. He lives in Kingston, Ontario where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.

Where are you now?

I’m in my office. Usually it’s very cluttered and messy. That’s the case right now. Actually this might be the most chaotic this room has ever been. I’ve got my computer in here, but this room also doubles as my music room/recording studio, as well as my Puddles of Sky Press printing room. I normally try and do a big clean and organization between projects, but I’ve let it go too far this time and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get it back in order. Sometimes my wife is frightened to enter. You need to know exactly where to step, where to duck and where to contort your body just to reach my desk. It’s actually quite perilous. I’ve been back here for days.

What are you reading?

I’m in the midst of re-reading The Collected Works of Billy The Kid by Michael Ondatje. This is probably the 5th or 6th time I’ve read the book in its entirety. Some of the poems I’ve read at least 20 times. It’s one of my all-time favourite books of poetry. I’m a big fan of the western genre in general. I love watching old spaghetti westerns, and I occasionally read those little pocket-westerns when I feel like something kind of mindless. The Collected Works of Billy The Kid is something I like to turn to when I’m in need of that western fix, but also in need of some writing with substance. 

What have you discovered lately?

I don’t know if ‘discovered’ is the right word as this was shown to me by my friend Nicholas Papaxanthos. It’s this way of frying tofu that involves coating the cubes in a thin layer of corn starch. It ends up coming out much crispier. Tonight I also experimented with adding a little curry powder to the mix. I used a little too much oil in the frying pan, but aside from that the tofu was delicious.

Where do you write?

I do most of my writing at the kitchen table where I can look out our front window. It’s a little easier to focus there. I do most of my writing by hand in my journal. All of my typing and editing happens here in my office. Today was the first day that I was able to write at a picnic table by the Cataraqui River. When it’s nice outside I tend to do most of my writing outside. I always have my journal with me. Often when I’m walking my dog I’ll end up stopping beneath a streetlight to jot down some notes. Once I found a desk on the sidewalk with a ‘free’ sign on it and I stopped there and wrote out a whole poem. My dog is very well-behaved and patient. I try to repay him by giving him lots of time when he finds something interesting to smell.

What are you working on?

I’m working on edits for my first full-length book of poetry that will be published this October with Invisible Publishing. It’s called The Last White House At The End Of The Row Of White Houses. Many of the poems have appeared in chapbooks over the years, and I’ve written a fair amount of new pieces too. There’s a combination of narrative-surreal poems that read like fables or tiny myths, and some poems that are more abstract and language driven.

Editorially I’m working on the 6th issue of a journal called illiterature. It’s an issue of one-word poems. I’m rubber-stamping a bunch of poems in it. Some poems will be printed on cards that are placed in envelopes that glued into the book. Some of the pages will fold out to reveal larger pieces. I like to challenge myself to create interesting book-objects to house such beautiful poems.

Have you anything forthcoming?

Aside from The Last White House At The End Of The Row Of White Houses I’ve got a few new poems forthcoming in NōD Magazine (published through the University of Calgary) as well as a poem forthcoming in Taddle Creek. All of these poems are from another project. It’s meant to be a novel in which each chapter is a prose poem.

What would you rather be doing?

Riding a wild mustang into the sunset amid cheers from the townsfolk now safe from the bandits that rustled their cattle and robbed their bank and killed their sheriff in cold blood.


The Robot rides a bus

While crossing the street, a robot is hit by a bus. Small parts of the robot roll down a hill, frayed wires spark, lights flash. The bus driver kneels beside the robot and cries, “If I were a mechanic, you might have been repaired. If I were a priest you’d be blessed.” The robot attempts to raise an arm but there is only the grinding of gears, the leaking of oil. The robot tries to speak but its voice is garbled and growing faint. Its many lights flicker and dim as silence envelops the scene. A robot lies in the street. A crowd gathers. The driver, still on his knees, cradles the robot’s dented head.  The crowd closes in and hoists the robot to its shoulders. In a short procession they enter the bus. The driver wipes his eyes with a heavy sleeve and follows. The doors close. The bus lurches into gear and continues down the rolling hills, towards a  lake that is always in the distance.


The irises arrive, serene and swallowing
the orchard, the sultan seated beneath harvest.
Pupils dilate and ripen in this hinterland, this
salubrious work-in-progress. A pheasant
oscillates from treetop to treetop; the curtains
part and there she is, oh trembling heart,
oh hyperventilation! If I were a horse I’d
equilibrate, if a rhinoceros I’d radiate
tungsten. But I am only a salvaged typewriter
draped in seaweed; my bell no longer dings.
She is one dozen donuts. To blink would obliterate.
To drown in the ordnance of her synaesthesia,
I’d punctuate this moment with a phalanx of ampersands, I’d
lasso that golden sphere you sometimes see in the sky.