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.

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