Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Recent Reads: "The Sourdough Collaborations" by Roland Prevost and Pearl Pirie

The Sourdough Collaborations by Roland Prevost and Pearl Pirie
Published by Phafours Press, 2015.

The Sourdough Collaborations is a rare consortium: an exchange between two poets that is chronicled in evolving drafts as well as informal discussion about the applications and results of each approach used. To put it another way, The Sourdough Collaborations is the making of The Sourdough Collaborations. And seeing as how authors Roland Prevost and Pearl Pirie have lifted the curtain, explaining their various intuition and internet-based means of manipulating text, I’m essentially writing footnotes on footnotes.

Regardless, I felt like a participant in the chapbook’s playful abandon. Whether they’re putting a poem through a series of translations (in one case: Spanish to Catalan to English to Klingon to French then back to English), riffing on the outcome or each other’s interpretation, Prevost and Pirie share an unguarded willingness to chase fresh writing. To give a broad idea of their interchange, here’s a poem undertaken by Pirie:

(Note: Although it’s customary to share a few excerpts, I must preface to remind that very satisfying context surrounds the creation of these poems. Seek out a copy here.) 


sweet chap of bubble-language, nothing else
is in this (refillable) glass but us.

past refracted alfalfa fields, their roots like turnips
we 6 gaze, nod as seahorse steeds

ledge of seashells are Christian bystanders
in 2 hour litany of k’pows, daddy finger-blams

mangy fox, psycho cow, vagrant bear till Emmy holds up
her teddy, asks, would you shoot this in the bush?

an organ grinder in the gut claps, makes terrible
digestion, a useless sluice of gastric;

no bite against junkyard violence. us listing
as a group what gives reflux, cukes, orange juice…

the movement of ripples is a wobble in the plans
in the planes, in the planets

not the culpa of our wet earth.
it’s only you and me here; what matters now?

let us have as much compass direction as a rake.
that APB? never mind. self was never lost but a rain walk. 
(Pirie, pg. 16)

And here is Prevost’s response:

our slow liquid

The original bottle of us, filled and capped
permeates our travels

undersea fields of the kelp-woman
as she rides quiescent undertows

thin calcium armors, whose ridges
foretell an upcoming sparagmos

even landlocked prey will plead
with many-faced little-girl gods

what we stomach laughs out loud
weak acid drips harmless off skin

a stack gathers to attack
a lining that shrugs away

shaken by what should stir
the edge curves around the globe

tides, tidings on this stage
this known story still surprises

the map or mapless number
remains one small-big-whole fraction

that walks from and into fog
as enjoyable as ether 
(Prevost, pg. 17)

Despite appearing surgically removed from their authors’ comments, “water-mind” and “our slow liquid” present the core infallibility of this collaborative unit: Prevost and Pirie are keen readers and listeners, capable of shaping one another’s gambits into sturdy morsels worth pulling apart. Though the exercises seem custom-built for Pirie’s elastic dissection of koan and colloquialism, Prevost proves totally up to the challenge, often distilling these ‘bastard ghazals’ to their imagistic potential. Like any thriving partnership, one person’s strengths must balance the other’s. At various points in-between the peaks of exploration and consolidation, the Ottawa-area poets achieve a single, hybridized voice.

It could be said, albeit unfairly, that the procedures and approaches they discuss outshine the poems themselves – but that’s like saying limitless possibility outshines the closure of a finished piece! At one point, Prevost and Pirie realize their exchange could go on forever:

“As in renga, the poetic conversation starts conservative, safe, and gears up. By mid-point it can go wilder as at the height of a party where speech is most loose. More politics or violence or conflict or general chaos can be engaged with. Likewise with this. Once we were comfortable with the back and forth, we could stretch, throw wilder and assume the other could run for it, catch and throw something back.” (pg. 12)

The allure of possibility is magnetic because it’s theoretical. But these poems, often thoughtful, warm and surprising, double as blueprints of choice, using stream-of-consciousness, linguistic and homophonic translation, a bunch of excisions and intuition as ways of keeping options open. Given the imagination on tap for The Sourdough Collaborations, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine these bakers finding their way into the kitchen for a second batch.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Recent Reads: "North" by Marilyn Irwin

North by Marilyn Irwin
Published by above/ground press, 2017.

he said he wouldn’t speak
to me ever again
if i killed myself

This is the opening page from North, a chapbook by Marilyn Irwin that documents a woman’s unraveling life. Perspective here is obscured by depression, plainspoken in sparse lines that communicate exhaustion but just as evocative through omissions – the disassociated flitting between subjects and settings. After moving from a clinical environment of bed straps and wired windows to a domestic refuge of bedcover stasis, the text hones in on smaller maneuvers, sharing various interactions in a semi-present state.

goes to an interview
she puts bright colours on
and what she thinks is a smile
she doesn’t get the job
she repeats this 17 more times

And in a later stanza:

her mother asks if she is tired
this is my voice now
she says

A lot of creative writing about depression drives to the net: protagonist suffers a steep mental decline followed by an act of self-harm (which, callously speaking, acts as the money shot). This isn’t a totally inaccurate depiction so much as a limited one, often exploited in CliffsNotes form as a plot point in some greater narrative. Inattention to the broader scope of depression – the creeping isolation, fatigue and gradual surrendering of capacities – might rescue readers from "the boring stuff" but it also implies that the author looks in on this condition as otherness.

Quite the opposite, North shapes this woman’s chronic fog like a lived-in experience, embodying mental illness through feelings of exclusion and the banality of repeated tasks. The intentional overuse of the ampersand may entwine each narrative instance for one marathon, run-on sentence but it’s the author’s restraint – the precision in voice and diction – that transmits so much despondency in so few words. Almost every line feels like it could be the last.

Where the title comes into play is “epilogue”, wherein Irwin switches from “she” to the personal “I” and makes an oblique reference halfway through:

a thank you card in the mail
a job application to Toronto

she chose north

It’s the only mention of “she” in “epilogue” and, given the prior couplet, it’s possible that “north” is being used geographically. Or, perhaps the abrupt change in perspective is making a solemn, figurative pronouncement – who’s to say? With the uncertainty of “epilogue”, Irwin throws a wrench into her own well-constructed malaise and alerts readers, who had settled into the woman’s decline, to re-evaluate both voices. No spoilers here – I only have theories – but North is a haunting little chapbook that sharpens "the boring stuff" into vital, heart-churning attempts at salvaging a life. 

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

On Writing #146 : Arisa White

On Writing
Arisa White

This past summer, I spent my second time in Tulum, Tankah Bay. Staring into the sea, body absorbing sun, inhaling salt air, my feet buried and unburied in sand. I now look for these elements in poems.

Where is the earth? Air? Fire? Where is the poem’s water? Together they must ether a poem that suffuses the reader.

(Whenever we look at anything in fragments, we think that will help us reproduce it; but the poem, at any given moment, requires different balances of these elements. This is the script for any ecosystem.)

I’m not looking for the elements in a literal sense, but the earth as structure and container; the air as the logic of the poem; the gravitas and passion—that thing that pulls us to care and read on is fire; and the water as memory. Personal and collective (re)membering.

It is a water body, a poem that wishes to recall and respond.

Anissa Janine Wardi, citing Robert Lawrence France in her book Water and African American Memory, writes that “Since ‘water is not a renewable resource,’ it follows that ‘every molecule of every droplet of water in existence today has always been [here], recording all acts upon the globe” (9).

A poem worth its water accounts for_________. It whets our whatnots and Dixies, don’t shy from bayous, themgroves, can seduce a maroon from inland to shore.

We put so much of our minerals into our writing. We are leaving our belongings so we can return. Milk blood semen urine sweat saliva tears. I sometimes dare myself to lick the poem to sample the crystals, love and gratitude—all that funk we Calgon away.

My student Hernan wonders, how to make a poem dance. To that, I question, how to make a poem ocean. Make it puddle. Make it wetlands. Make it rain. Does the poem come down in Benjamins or Washingtons? Is it true, sixty percent of the time, the poem washes you?

We beseech for the rain. This is when a poem dances and get wet. We show our moves, remember the curve in our spine, our aquatic brethren. Throw up pulses, however we amplify the beat, everywhere—felt. Show dirt, match, and breath—all our in-and-out and around again. When a poem turns up drought, how thirsty you got to be to doo-wop?

I live below sea level and still it’s dry. We don’t want it too dry. We don’t want it to break up in our mouths and take moisture from our taste. An unleavened wafer we want to say is a body but the crisp is unnatural. It’s ungodly not to be supple.

Northern California is on fire. The fires are wild because if it’s not coming from your lighter or stove, it knows nothing about tame. It doesn’t fear water; it doesn’t fear a soak. What is a poem that is burning, that doesn’t have an inch of water to save its life?

They say, the rappers say, spit your rhyme. Will you give your spit to the line? Your salt, your wounds, a scab remains, a record.

After a long journey, a glass of water is offered to the traveler. It is a way to welcome, to say, Sit and be here awhile. Here, because getting here cost you your water. She gives you a glass, condensation started, ice cubes clinking and buoyant, an energy of words. That goes down electronic, indefinite, without preposition, no punctuation. She sees you’ve been refreshed.

When your Aunt asks, “Where you’re from, child?” The poem stirring up eddies in her hands, you say, “Where memory crystallizes and secretes itself as a particular historical moment” (Wardi 6).

My friend Goodman tells me, in the three minutes I spare to chat, on my way to the class I’m instructing that begins at suppertime, that he almost died. Him and I, shots and cocktails, drink like fish to get back to our pre-born days. A wave took him into its arms and he went under. How many waters has he crossed to know something new? He can’t help himself. In the Pacific’s stronghold, he thought of two poems. These two poems, he says, saved his life. Goodman tells me—each word a brick in this memorial—keep writing.

“So I gotta make the song cry,” Jay-Z admits in recitative. There are three kinds of tears. Basal tears are the continuous tears that lubricate our eyeballs; reflex tears are produced when we chop onions or get poked in the eye; and psychic tears are those caused by, and communicating, specific emotional states (Wardi 9). Jay’s song will do what the body is socialized not to do and this gesture, like whipping your hair back and forth, is a speech act. Oily and protein rich, the poem must plait a holy trinity of tears into a French braid.

Although, the surface of a poem is reflective, “when we consider water’s molecular makeup, we see that it is capable of displaying a vast array of expressions” (Emoto 2).

You can face-beat a poem until it’s haiku, yet to be bottled. We drink, too, its containment. Along with hydration, the feeling we cannot move. We are held in this volume. Turgid, you feel stacked on a shelf, jostled and what a sigh of relief when the cap comes off. The touch of freer vibes. What would it mean to have the river in us, to have our poems know that they are moving toward a wider embrace?

On writing, I’m floating on the Caribbean Sea. Life jacket on, arms legs splayed in multiplication, I’ve fallen from stardust and why get up. Every each inch of waves on me, hold me. Rays loving me. This touch like this, one and only. Makes us bob, poem please ripple, leave us feeling centered and spoke.

Water and African American Memory: An Ecocritical Perspective, Anissa Janine Wardi

The Miracle of Water, Masaru Emoto

Cave Canem graduate fellow Arisa White [photo credit: Nye' Lyn Tho] received her MFA from UMass, Amherst, and is the author of Black Pearl, Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. Her recent collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing that Happened was a nominee for the 29th Lambda Literary Award and the chapbook Fishing Walking” and Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won Daniel Handler’s inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. As the creator of the Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates cultural events and artistic collaborations that center narratives of queer people of color. She serves on the board of directors for Nomadic Press and is a faculty advisor at Goddard College. arisawhite.com

Friday, December 01, 2017

We Who Are About To Die : William Allegrezza

William Allegrezza edits the Moria Books and the e-zine Moss Trill.  He teaches at Indiana University Northwest. He has previously published many poetry books, including In the Weaver's Valley, Ladders in July, Fragile Replacements, Collective Instant, Aquinas and the Mississippi (with Garin Cycholl), Covering Over, and Densities, Apparitions; two anthologies, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century and La Alteración del Silencio: Poesía Norteamericana Reciente; seven chapbooks, including Sonoluminescence (co-written with Simone Muench) and Filament Sense (Ypolita Press); and many poetry reviews, articles, and poems.  He also edited The Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein. He founded and curated series A, a reading series in Chicago, from 2006-2010. In addition, his book Step Below: Selected Poems 2000-2015 was recently published with i.e/Meritage Press.

Where are you now? 
I’m in the Chicago suburbs of Indiana, a 35 minute ride from downtown.

What are you reading?
On my desk right now are the following books: Tyehimba Jess’ Olio, Robin Coste Lewis’ Voyage of the Sable Venus, Mark Nowak’s Shut Up Shut Down, Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks, and Mark Young’s some more strange meteorites.  I’ve been reading Young’s work for years, and I really like the sound of the language in this book.  He’s really excellent at the line break, and the pieces show the influence of haiku on his work.

I feel most at home reading experimental poetry, but I try to read widely so I keep up with what is happening with all types of poetry.

What have you discovered lately?
I didn’t really discover it lately, but I find the Asemic/Vispo online groups fascinating.  I can get lost for hours just sorting through the different images and figuring out what the pieces are doing.  We often talk theoretically about how different poems make you figure out how to read them, but that is definitely clearer with Asemic poetry than other pieces because the traditional form of poetry is removed as well as the words.  One’s very expectations of poetry are thwarted, so the reader has to follow the design to find an interpretive stand.  I especially like the work of Marco Giovenale, Craig Svare, and Tim Gaze, but many, many excellent poets are doing visual work.

Where do you write?
I write in my basement.  I have a collection of typewriters there to use, a computer, and a collection of sharpies to write on objects like wood or recycled materials.  It is a fine place to write, but it is not as productive for me as my last place.  There I was in Chicago with a study that looked over a neighborhood street.  With the trees, people, and sunlight, I was more productive.

What are you working on?
I have two collections that I am working on currently.  One is based on my typewriter pieces.  I’ve been amassing a collection of hundreds of temporary poems.  I type them quickly and then throw them into a pile.  Every so often, I go back through the pile sitting in front of a computer.  I combine the pieces and edit them.  The second collection I am working on is based on a form that I created a few years ago.  I have been writing pieces in that form quite often, but I have only published a few pieces.  I find that the form makes me go more personal than I like to publish, so I have been working with the pieces to make them come out less me and more poem. 

Have you anything forthcoming?
I don’t have any forthcoming books, though I just published a critical book titled Epics of the Americas.  It’s essentially just a reprint of my dissertation.  I have several pieces coming out in e-zines and magazines, and I am shopping around my last completed collection.  It’s funny to me, for at this point, I’ve published sixteen books, and I have not found anyone interested in my latest collection, so I’m wondering if I should scrap it and move on.   I like it, but perhaps I am the only one who does.

What would you rather be doing?
I’m a poet.  I’ve chose that, so there’s nothing I’d rather do than that, except for add on to it.  Like, for example, I’d like to spend all my time traveling and being a poet.

the dance

the water buffalo cried
as we fought, and though i
saw, i did not
let go as i should, as
we should.  the water
buffalo cried as we fought hard.
the tears were a
river through reeds, but i did
not let go, as
i should, as we all should.

(Published originally in On Barcelona.)

i call through ruined buildings
wrapping a central figurine
in fire but my once rough voice
is now speechless with design or
desire.  we are stabbing at loneliness
abstracted and pale though we are
not turning, have not shifting the hour
of sun and root when hidden things
emerge, though we see and have not
seen the fruit waiting for touch,
have heard the blue songs newly
opened through closed ears.
life so rich refuses to bear the black and
gold of our suddenly pale creation.

(Originally published in the book Densities, Apparitions put out by Otoliths)