Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On Writing #132 : Alice Burdick

Welcoming discomfort in poetry
Alice Burdick

Over the past few years I have existed in what I consider the most real and surreal of circumstances, as a mother of two young children, and a person from a big place who now lives in a small place, with all the beauty and derangement these entail. I have found ways of writing in the middle of other aspects of life: for example feeding people varying sorts of food, from my body and then the wider world; and doing endless laundry. Poetry has been the standard form of my writing, and I thought I knew how it mainly went, in fits and starts by necessity, but also what form it liked to take. But then there’s this: over the past three years or so poetry has been banging on my brain door and forcing my hand into increasingly unsettling territories. It’s a long-term practice, poetry, and I have gotten used to the idea of it just doing its own thing - connected to, via brain and fingers, but also independent of my intentions. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I have written the range – but I have become comfortable especially with the warm embrace of tangential surrealism. This appealed from a pretty early age – there’s something about wordplay and an ongoing exquisite corpse of line-work that has become quite comfortable and reasonable to me as an immediate mode of writing.

But things have been getting weirder in my writing, at least to me. I thought life was weird enough already, but it seems to be getting weirder still, so I guess poetry’s along for the ride. The work is more direct now (again, maybe only to me), clearer in its address, and this is a big thing to get used to. I think it may be mortality, as made apparent with the obvious reminders of aging – children growing, wrinkles forming, becoming closer to the age my mother died. I increasingly write poetry that scares me somewhat. The shadow is larger, but the light on the words is brighter – related, no doubt. Writing is more exhausting therefore than it was before, when I was not aware of what was going on. I can’t stop myself from big reveals, not that anyone’s asking, TMI. It may only feel this way to me, I’m not sure. Others seem to be affected more by my poetry now – perhaps it’s the explicitness that is more obviously understood than my earlier more triangulated poetry. It seems to please more people. I enjoy reading many forms of writing – the whole panoply – including traditional verse forms and vispo. My reading preferences haven’t changed at all to reflect this change in style. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m both enjoying this process and cringing at it, because I know it’s embarrassing for some. For some reason I’m not embarrassed, although I feel sympathy – or is it sorrow? - for those who can’t take it. It’s tiring to dampen hot thoughts of all sorts, and life is short. It’s tiring to be “nice”, and a denial of the nature of the mind and heart. It certainly does no service to verse. So there you go. Hopefully there will be a lot more bold lines, uncomfortable but open lines, before I kick it.

Alice Burdick lives in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. She is the author of many chapbooks and four full-length poetry collections, Simple Master (Pedlar Press, 2002), Flutter (Mansfield Press, 2008), Holler (Mansfield Press, 2012), and most recently Book of Short Sentences (Mansfield Press, 2016). Her work has also appeared in Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (The Mercury Press), Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (The Mercury Press), as well as other anthologies, and in numerous magazines, online and in print. She co-owns an independent bookstore in Lunenburg called Lexicon Books.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On Writing #131 : Laura Farina

On Writing
Laura Farina

I love a good detective story — dark clues hidden in dark places.  I love the pace them and how they unfold, each clue falling into place with a satisfying thud, until the whole picture is revealed.  For me, writing poems is a bit like that. I write scattered images that I often don’t understand, and then piece them together to figure out what I actually think. 

What do I actually think about the process of writing?  It changes so often it’s hard for me to tell.  But today, I can give you four images.

1.      A friend has some things he wants to say to me about my writing. We are two beers in, sitting across from each other at a sticky pub table when he tells that one of my poems made him cry. “It just made me so sad that you’d ever felt that way,” he says. I don’t know what to say because I have felt that way, but also, sort of not. You know that part of your brain that makes you tolerable to others?  That part of your brain that, when things are bad, reminds you that you also live in a world filled with people who love you and also pizza?  I try to write with that part of my brain turned off. Poems don’t need to worry about being tolerable.

2.      Is the word “accessible” a compliment? I can never tell. It feels, so often, like when girls in Grade 8 tell you they like your shirt.  My husband plays video games, and sometimes I try to play, too, but I didn’t grow up with them, so even if I know what I’m supposed to do, I don’t have the hand-eye coordination to do it.  I just haven’t put in the hours. This is my point. If there’s something poems are trying to communicate about the world or language or any of the other things we claim to care about, is it inherently better to communicate those things solely to people whose parents bought them a Nintendo back in the 80s?

3.      I’m a poet because I have to walk everywhere slowly. I have a rare lung condition and rheumatoid arthritis, so I move at the pace of something ridiculously slow — honey, turtles, watched pots. When I was 16, I walked up the tallest peak in the British Isles with my father.  It took me all day.  I’d walk fifteen steps and then stop, fifteen steps and then stop. When we were almost at the top,  I paused for about the thousandth time, and we happened to look down. Just below us, were tiny rainbows scattered in low-hanging clouds. Poetry takes its time like I take me time, and allows me to see things I might otherwise have missed. 

4.      If I’m honest, I am a sporadic writer at best. When things are going well, I can write a poem a day.  When they aren’t I sometimes don’t write for months. I’m a flighty person. I make New Year’s resolutions I don’t keep, I bail on people to go home and do nothing, I can’t not eat the last cookie. My lack of writerly discipline used to bother me. It was the subject of many broken New Year’s resolutions.  Because those messages are out there, aren’t they? You have to show up to your desk. You have to have the burning desire to create poems at all times, or you have no business calling yourself a writer. I don’t know. All that may be true. For me, it’s true that the poems have always been there when I needed them, sort of like a coaster at a fancy person’s house.

Laura Farina is the author of two collections of poetry Some Talk of Being Human (Mansfield Press) and This Woman Alphabetical (Pedlar Press), which won the Archibald Lampman Award. She lives in Vancouver, where she writes poems, teaches creative writing and waits for the rain to end.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

call for submissions : h&

Currently seeking submissions of visual/concrete poetry for future posts.

The site so far features work by J4, Jeff Batago, Logan K. Young, Pearl Button, Rob Stuart, hiromi suzuki, Andrew Topel, sean burn, Texas Fontanella, Mark Young, Daniel Van Klei, derek beaulieu, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, Amanda Earl, Robert Swereda, Ali Znaidi, Pearl Pirie, Nico Vassilakis, Eileen R. Tabios, Rob Flint, Lawrence Upton, Michael e. Casteels, Gary Barwin, Michael Basinski, a rawlings, Sheila E. Murphy, Natalie Lauchlan, bruno neiva, Mark Young, Ken Hunt, Joel Chase, Tony Rickaby, Robert Swereda and Chris Turnbull.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Writing #130 : Billy Mavreas

On writing
Billy Mavreas

I write sporadically although I more often work with text. I find it easy to convince myself that my text-based visual arts practice is the main part of my writing practice. This gets complicated because my visual arts practice is quite multi-disciplinary, involving collage, concrete and visual poetry making and comics/visual storytelling. If that wasn’t enough my habit of collecting paper ephemera and found paper scraps has insinuated itself into my art.

When I actually get around to using just words in writing, the context is either random semi-foolish tweets (an extension of my long standing practice of bumper sticker poetry and band name poetry) or earnest blog posts mostly about creative process.

This all doesn’t stop me from telling myself stories about things in life and using personal (unfolding, unwritten) storytelling as a guiding principle in life. Neither does it stop me from self-identifying as a writer. As in writer/artist.

I’ve been drawing all my life and writing on and off since adolescence. I studied undergrad English Lit for what that’s worth. I worked on my college paper and university literary journal. I wrote poems. In university I shared my poems with another student writer and he unceremoniously suggested I stick to drawing. The advice of another 19 year old froze my poetry for decades. Kids, don’t listen to kids.

At the time I was increasingly self identifying as a writer (art was something I always did, hence took for granted, was known about me so it didn’t have the same weight or loftiness to me as did calling myself a writer). That silly episode broke the spell and I continued - a little- writing in secret. Mostly awesome song lyrics and slogans. I started writing graffiti more seriously, always in clear capitol letters. I got way weirder with my text. Invented alphabets, channelled entities.

I cannot successfully extract ‘writing’ from a myriad other creative processes. My visual poetry is composed with collage and found fragments more than type or text. My drawing is heavily informed by the minute strokes and gestures well known to the calligrapher or long-hand writer. My hand writing is an odd semi-cursive that grew out of all caps lettering. I am a decent letterer. I enjoy sigil crafting and logo designing.

I am glad I’m well over forty now so I can presume I have something to say. I am able to express myself competently in short personal essay form however choppy. If I have writing goals they include more graphic novels, at least one solid fantasy short story, at least one decent YA novel, and some children’s books. I have little interest carving out a larger place for myself in the various literary writing scenes I’ve been around for years although I do want to find the opportunity to write more, straight up word after word writing.

I love reading and I love books. I love odd puzzling books that aren’t necessarily hard to read. I want to make odd puzzling books. I’ll make them, as I already do, regardless of the kind of writing they are made with.

The challenge for the multi-disciplinary writer/artist, as I see it, is to achieve a balance in output, a union of voices and tendencies, that speak of a whole person. It’s ok if I am known as the guy who paints bunnies or the person who draws stoner comix or the guy who makes Xerox abstractions or yet another one who publishes small collage zines, as long as I know that I am cresting towards a unification process, wherein all my offerings are part of the same coherent universe. Writing can function as a glue of some sort as I use it most to explicate to myself and others what I am doing as an artist, as a writer/artist, as a writer.

Billy Mavreas is a Montreal based multi-disciplinary artist/writer and co-director of Monastiraki, an art shop in the Mile End neighbourhood.

He is the author of three graphic novels, one book of posters and many mini books, prints, zines, pamphlets and assorted ephemera.

Monday, May 01, 2017

We Who Are About To Die : Pearl Button

In case you were wondering, that headshot is not Pearl, but it is the medallion she wears, that was painted for her by a family member of another family member, now deceased. Pearl wants you to know that the first piece is an excerpt from the serialized Tumblr book 13 dark moons. Tarot and dream work are skills acquired now many decades ago. Alchemy came later, but long enough ago to have sunk into the dark of forgotten knowledge. That’s a good place for magical knowledge to be. That way it can come and go as it pleases, organizing surprise parties and welcome-home hooplas for the unsuspecting ego. She also wants you to know that the second piece “later when I lived very differently” is part of the developing project mentioned in the interview called sticks and bones. The image recently published here at h& (creation myth #379) is part of that manuscript. Each of the primarily textual pieces is fronted by a quote from an anthropologist, a philosopher or scientist. The poem that follows makes a conversation with the quote. The two argue about what’s real and how to define things. That’s the world Pearl lives in. Contested ground. A place between two worlds where both have left indelible marks. The world of pidgin, surrounded by arguing parental languages.

Where are you now?
In the moments of writing this I am in my car (which is also where I live). Once I want to email this text to Mr Whistle, then I’ll go to a place where I can access WiFi, and boom there you go. Where is my car? At Muckleshoot. It’s an Indian Reservation in Washington State. There’s Sla Hal this weekend. Next week I’ll be somewhere else.

What are you reading?

I’m the kind of person who reads many books at a time. Because I have a limited carrying capacity, I don’t have a lot of paper-type books with me, but one I do have at the moment is a book of essays on poetry edited by Tom Chivers called Stress Fractures. Other than that I have an e-reader and the top 3 hits on that are 1491 by Charles Mann, Thinking without Words by Jose Luis Bermudez and The Terrors poetry by Tom Chivers. 

What have you discovered lately?

Mostly that my bones are no longer a fan of cold and damp. However, I am on a 6-month long research trip, and I’ve been digging around in local small-town archives and I’ve discovered tons of small things about how people are with difference. Like, there was a place about a month ago that recorded its own little-town creation mythology in a staple-bound book they sell in the local museum. In it there is a story about how a local tribe believed that when they’d developed enough as human beings they’d become white people. Heh. I was laughing so hard the librarian had to come in and ask me to share. I did. I frakkin love research, because people delight me in what they are willing to believe.

Where do you write?
Depends on the weather. Somewhere quiet if I can. I like semi-industrial areas in cities, rest stops in the US, abandoned quarries, old mine-heads, places like that. If it is too cold or too wet for my tech, then a public library or a Starbucks.

What are you working on?
I’m researching recent developments in a Native American gambling game that is called Sla Hal on the Pacific coast, but is also known as bone game or stick game or hand game. It’s a very big deal in the Pacific North West and neighbouring plains (in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatechewan, Montana, Idaho, Washington State, Oregon, California). There are small games and enormous tournaments and with the advent of easy roads and cars, they go all year round, although less in winter. Hundreds of people can play at once, and since players use drums and rattles, it can be very loud. The game is played with traditional songs that sound unlike anything Western European. One big current project is to write a series of semi-autobiographical poems to the rhythms of stick game songs instead of the Euro-meter of much poetry today and still try to make them intelligible to non-Native readers. That series has a working title of sticks and bones. These poems are as narrative as I get.

I’m also in the editing stage of a project called trembling underfoot which operates in a surreal circus of a world. It came out of a dream and a nightmare I had. The quartet of poems is not (not in any way) narrative poetry. If you approach it as if it were a dream and you wanted to make sense of it on waking, and you can accept Uncertainty as a Principle of Meaning, then you’ll be fine. Do you know Anne-Marie Albiach? I love her work. It’s a bit like that.

I’m also contemplating a series of witchcraft poems based on a lunar month. I’ll spend a good part of September out on the Palouse, which is this scarily beautiful plain that rests on an ancient basalt flow which itself rests on what used to be the ground on which the ancient plants and animals lived. Now the Snake River and the Columbia run along/through it. I’ll watch the moon rise and set, rise and set and then dream. That’ll become a project. It may or may not be like the one that resulted from a dream and a tarot reading I did a while back, which is now published as a serial book online at Tumblr and called 13 Dark Moons, a public alchemical working. 13 Dark Moons is full of sigils that were created for the purposes of the working, because I really like combined forms.

Have you anything forthcoming?

I had a book released with Dancing Girl Press in 2016 called this is not a love song to the dark. Since then I’ve been concentrating on the projects I told you about above. I do have a manuscript called accidental existence which has been languishing in cyber form. Being on the road is not conducive to large-scale editing work and frankly I’d kill for an editor capable of parsing experimental work who also acts as if cross-cultural lines are not meant as a prison. Until I resolve that, I probably won’t publish as much as I have in the past, but just keep writing, learning about stick game and wandering around watching the moon.

What would you rather be doing?
I would rather be travelling in a van with a bed, solar electrics, a table and a reading chair, but what I can afford is a 4-door sedan so that’s what I live in. 


SIGNIFIER | Six Swords, with an outward focus

There is a peace in the darkest time of winter. These days the valley billows in the dark. Shadows burgeon and bloom. Dark has its finest growing days here. Crops of dreams will be dried, stored for the worst of the sun-blasted days to come. Here in the peaceful valley of winter, in the dark of the moon, understanding unbuckles from the sun's direction. Ecstasy harbours here. This is the chimp returned at last to her forest. This is the isolated elephant finding her sister after 30 years of performance art for peanuts.
Mind roams freely in the unwound yarn of the year. Here thought's symbolic DNA zips together; creates sulfur's seeds for the year to come. First Matter bears in the dark. Salt joins sulfur in spinning life's threads. Mercury is the first Weaver known to the alchemist. Here in the first dark moon, the inner and outer weave each other into the world.
The mountain creaks in the dark. Small stones hide under the lowest boughs of snow-bearing pitch pine. Strung on sinew between cones and clouds, white blades clink against the setting moon. The badger sleeps but the cougar leaves tracks on the water. It is between the marks left by left front toes that truth for the year rolls laughing. 
Six thoughts in the dark. Six needs divided become 12 wants. Heat makes and breaks the sweat stones. This is the reason for the alchemical fire. Going into the dark of the sweat lodge, hidden stones seek knowledge best suited to the wide skies of a pendant day. Therefore, must all stones be counted, put through the fire. 
Let it be known: All that long sun-high-sky, the moon rides hidden above the horizon, slides above the stones, the snow, the moving mountain. To know what comes from beyond the valley, find three blades that ride with the dark moon at noon. To know what will rush past without pausing, find the three that pierce the clouds ˈround the midnight moon hidden behind the earth. Once to hand, hang them all clinking on a line and sing with them. Sing until the song falls crystalline and glistening from your mouth into the snow, then release it, fin flapping in the winter waters circling under quiet cat feet.

Later, when I lived very differently, I realized how alien waist-high living was to a Micronesian woman whose household life is spent on the floor.

Martha C. Ward, Nest in the Wind

Most of the time you get no real
choice about sleeping. Not when or how
long much less where. Catch authority’s
eye stretched celestial on the sidewalk
even languid on picnic-table beds at night
rest stop on the I 5 & trouble will snap
your Achilles, make you limp the payne's gray
of whatever you call this
temporal core of sleeping civility.
Stay at home for that. All those sleep
classes for the insomniac tell you tricks
how to slip transparent, down past the din
of red ochre, closed eyelids
against urban light still burning

but me, didn't work, got so tired my head blew left
white noise cauliflower ears battered, burnt
sienna static like a fist full of nettles
drove up from the river road
done with trying for home, hurtled instead, rabid
like a thirst, like petroglyphed rocks swimming
dog paddle circles under ultramarine
grinding clouds into the brittle 
rind of the late afternoon

parked back of the pull-out
turned off the engine walked up rock
& just went down

nose to ancient red eagles and traveller
notifications written on stone, arms nibbled
by basalt crumbed out onto the pine
needled soil, slept black
planed out the lamb's quarter, the kinnikinnik
woke after 10 hours
all the way through the dark and back
into the light, curled up the flattened horizon
of my spine to find coyote scat not far
from my feet and the car, engine cool
waiting for me to come to my senses