Monday, October 30, 2017

On Writing #143 : Fisayo Adeyeye

On Falling / Failing
Fisayo Adeyeye

Its wings are motionless in the glass— this prehistoric thing almost seems alive, glowing warmly in a translucent orange rock. It’s a photograph someone has sent me online and I can’t keep myself from looking at it, on and off, throughout the day. I have known for a while about fossilized amber, but I’ve never really spent that much time looking this closely. Tree resin that has petrified, turning from sap into stone, and the little hairs, plant tendrils, and skin that are caught in it all carefully preserved. Forever immortalized. It’s fascinating but unsettling, how as the creature becomes aware of its condition, it yanks thin ropes and trails into the gum, the movement seemingly evidence of a fighting. The fossilized amber not only capturing the ending of the thing, but capturing the struggle before the ending. And this really gets me— the idea that the resin captures struggle. Struggle being a thing that resonates so very deeply with me. Something I know intimately as a human being, of course, but even more intimately as a black human being. How that struggle makes a person like fossilized amber, a question. A body congealing into a hypothesis or a kind of magic trick. A way of keeping death, death, while making it look like life.

Amber is, in a way, nature choosing to display what has not escaped / what is weakest / what has failed. And so, fossilized amber almost becomes a kind of monument of failure / of not really succeeding. Some of the best stories, I find, are stories of failure, or underdog stories. Mostly because of the lessons they contain. “Always watch your back.” “Don’t fly too close to the sun.” I love “don’t fly too close to the sun” especially, and the whole story of Icarus, because it’s one of those cautionary tales that doesn’t really seem to work in terms of cautioning anyone. I mean, for all the danger of falling, people still seem to want the feeling of flight. And they still want to be reaching for the sun. People still need to be told not to look directly at the sun, which is amazing. Like when the big eclipse happened, the sun was covered by the moon, but for a few moments. It was a trick and the sun hadn’t gone anywhere. It wasn’t even shielded really, it was still burning, even though it was obscured. This kind of obscuration happens often in fossilized amber. Little bubbles get into the sap and cause clouds as the amber hardens. The term for this kind of cloudy amber is “bastard.” Like to be born of unmarried parents, or to be born without a true mother or father.

When I hear the word bastard, I think Phaethon, a semi-famous Greek hero who was the illegitimate son of Helios (the son of an actual sun). Phaethon’s biggest claim to legend was a story that I consider a pretty interesting depiction of failure. His friends didn’t believe that his father was the sun so Phaethon went to Helios to ask for some kind of proof he could give them. His father told him he was free to ask for anything, so Phaethon decided he wanted to be allowed to drive Helios’ chariot, a vehicle that was supposed to be what carried the sun through the sky. His father didn’t think this was a good idea, but Phaethon begged, so Helios agreed. When Phaethon drove the chariot, the horses didn’t feel his father’s weight and thought the chariot was empty. They went wild. Phaethon became frightened and dropped the reins and the horses went off course. They flew too close to the earth and scorched the ground. The place they scorched supposed to be what is now known as Africa. Their heat is also supposed to be responsible for black skin. Because Phaethon was causing too much destruction on earth, Zeus (father of the gods) had to intervene. He struck Phaethon with a lightning bolt and Phaethon’s burning body fell to the ground. His sisters, when they heard about his death, apparently became so sad that they turned into poplar trees and cried tears of amber. What I find the most interesting about the myth is not really the connections to Icarus, of sons not listening to their father’s, or flying too close or too high or too low. No, what I find most interesting in the myth is the idea of blackening. The myth attempting to explain the creation of black skin and (in a set of images I can’t seem to get out of my mind), providing dual scenes of a father holding his smoldering, black child. Holding his son who had just minutes earlier been striving for something amazing. “the feeling / you get when you are looking / at your child, turn your head, / then, poof, no more child. / that feeling. that’s black.”[1] How there is something about blackness that has always been, in this way, a becoming / an arriving / a not quite yet. And how this striving seems as closely tied to blackness as anything else. The going after something that is deemed higher— further. The moving beyond a position of simply being. And how this sense of struggle is known to us, at the very root of our doing. That as black bodies, we have long sought flight.

Or that as black bodies, we have long sought.

[1] Line from Danez Smith’s “not an elegy for Mike Brown”

Fisayo Adeyeye has works published in Noble / Gas Qtrly, Nailed Magazine, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Print Oriented Bastards, New American Writing, This Magazine, and others. He is the former Poetry Editor of Fourteen Hills, a former Co-Curator of the VelRo Graduate Reading Series. He is the author of Cradles (Nomadic Press).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Recent reads: "The Calgary Renaissance"

Edited by derek beaulieu & rob mclennan
Published by Chaudiere Books, 2016.
One of the first things I noticed about The Calgary Renaissancea collection of experimental fiction and poetry, is that Alberta’s biggest city – the connective tissue that binds these authors – is rarely relevant thematically. As an Ontario reader living on the outskirts of Toronto’s cultural vacuum, I don’t gain much of an impression about the region’s pulse or how authors interact with their shared environment. But that isn’t the book’s mission. Instead, The Calgary Renaissance earns its bold title by forgoing geographical appraisals in favour of juxtaposing many of its radiant and diverse voices in a direct bid for national recognition.

It’s long overdue. And in recognizing more of the thirty-two authors than expected, I suspect The Calgary Renaissance doubles as a consolidation of co-editor rob mclennan’s efforts to showcase westward writers through his above/ground press (from which I credit much of my exposure). For co-editor derek beaulieu, this book serves as an extension of the role he has played as Calgary’s Poet Laureate from 2014 to 2016 and, unofficially, before and since.

It’s an impressive roster eclipsed by the quality of its content. Unfamiliar authors make strong bids for my attention while familiar ones posit new sides of their writing. Starting with the former camp, I enjoyed Susan Holbrook’s “What Is Poetry” and “What Is Prose”, twin pillars of tongue-in-cheek onomatopoeia that break open form for effect, not dissection. Here, the latter piece:

What Is Prose

Prose has wit,
war, hot spies,
pirate shows.
It has powers.
A swisher top,
wiser pathos,
towers, a ship,
parishes. Two
IHOPs. Waters
whose traps I
sap, so whiter
whites. Spa or
showier taps
spew hot airs:
“Poet wash, Sir?”
Posh waiters
tow Sharpies,
shower pitas,
pestos awhir,
pastries, how!

How it spears
trophies, was
tops, was heir
to Sears. “Whip
Thor, asswipe!
Swap heros!” it
whispers to a
hipster. Aw. So
worship a set.

Another late discovery for me is Braydon Beauleau, whose “In The Aurora” suite coaxes a mercurial identity from an expanse of rich, natural imagery. The sense of momentum and discovery in this poem is masterful, evolving at such a pace that its cryptic meaning gets outshone by the chaos of its transformation. (Although I do wonder: what happened to sections iii and v?) 

Eschewing Beauleau’s densely figurative constructions, Natalee Caple’s trio of poems entice with their casual, shorn immediacy. “Packing for the Weekend (For Natalie Walschots)” is literally a list of things to pack, but the items – some commonplace and tangible (“my boxing gloves”), others absurd and impossible (“my piano-limbed internet trolls”) – accumulate in ways that beg of the reader: what kind of weekend is this, and what do we all carry around as metaphorical baggage? Alternately, her poem “For Nicole Markotic” achieves a curious tension, her language primitive in its directness but unencumbered by emotion or punctuation.

For Nicole Markotic

In August it rains and rains

I slosh more wine into my brains

until I breathe wine

You lick the back of my knees

I touch your fingers

propose we build a bridge

be minotaurs in alphabets

sew triangles over scars

knit hymens for all kinds of birds

I will write you a slim letter


The poem itself functions as that slim letter, simultaneously heavy and floating, intimate but noncommittal.

Aside from the surprise of reading new talents, the fun thing about literary collections (whether they tackle a single author’s output or an entire scene’s) is the freedom to browse the Table of Contents and choose your own launch-point. In the case of The Calgary Renaissance, I started with Jason Christie’s incendiary “This Poem Is a Ski Mask”, a thoughtful dismantling of privilege and hypocrisy. Next up was Emily Ursuliak’s “Removing the Shoe” which, despite its disjointed lines, retains the absorbing narrative details of her prose. Afterwards I flipped to Sandy Pool’s “On Anatomical Procedures”, a witty summary of clinical trials conducted on her acquaintances that judge whether Pool is a good person, with variables like social events and alcohol factored in. A skillful but lightweight palate cleanser after the gutting Undark: An Oratorio (Nightwood Editions). Such maneuvers felt akin to grazing from a delectable hors d’oeuvres table.

For the sake of brevity, I’ve omitted mention of many contributions here. But I’ve omitted several more because, frankly, I didn’t respond to them – and that isn’t a bad thing. Such an anthology welcomes us into Calgary’s talent pool but it also allows fair-weather experimental poetry readers like myself to gauge and advance our comfort zones. Most of the authors I’ve discussed take moderate leaps without (in my eyes) abandoning form or narrative altogether. But as I revisit this collection from time to time, it stands to reason The Calgary Renaissance will further reward my interest in the experimental spectrum.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

fwd: call for submissions: where is the river :: a poetry experiment

where is the river :: a poetry experiment is a bi-monthly poetry journal open to a variety of aesthetics, forms and experiences, with a lean towards more emerging writers. There is no single path, nor any single way. Up to six poems in a single .doc file with author biography and photo to

Thursday, October 19, 2017

On Writing #142 : Lauren Turner

On Coping
Lauren Turner

There’s an illustrious tradition of poets dying in bed. By illustrious, I mean it’s well documented by Google Images.

Lord Byron with his virility covered by a thin sheet, one arm languishing in defeat.

Severn’s sketch of John Keats, sleep-dying upon his surprisingly white pillow. He’d been coughing apart his lungs for years.

Sergei Yesenin in his striped suspenders, resembling a scared little boy. There was no ink in his hotel room. He wrote his last poem in blood.

Of course, these examples are all men. It would be fascinating to delve into why there are no iconic final images of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Nelly Arcan, or Alejandra Pizarnik. But that’s for another essay.

Back in April, I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Think of it as modern TB, if you want. But it’s rare and the speed of my prognosis is still uncertain.

Inevitably, some day in the future, I’ll be one of those dying poets who writes from bed.

I already am to a certain extent. I recently had to quit an office job, because desk chairs kept popping my ovarian cysts. This is living out Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory and it’s not fun.

At 27, none of my fiscal years have risen above the poverty line.

That statement is more factual than complaining. The main perk of writing has always been its affordability. I’ve sacrificed a lot of luxuries for groceries, prescriptions, and being able to (almost) pay my bills. Many more writers do the same.

Writing is a staple in my routine, because I only need my laptop and allocated space. 

Other poets have asked if I wrote during the period leading up to my LAM diagnosis. After all, there was a 5-month lapse between that first ER visit and the final verdict, filled with invasive and less-invasive medical tests.

Writing helped with the coping and not-coping of that.

Not-coping often feels more valid. I’m old enough to know my sickness’ magnitude, yet still young enough that few of my friends can relate. It’s extremely isolating, despite the good intentions.

Without any irony, writing is a conversation with myself. It’s a method for speeding up the grieving process, coming to terms with my new reality, and continuing to move along.

It’s radical self-validation and keeps my inner worlds thriving, even when the future threatens to force me back into bed.

Lauren Turner wrote the chapbook We’re Not Going to Do Better Next Time (Knife Fork Book, 2018). Her writing appears, or is forthcoming, in Arc Magazine, Minola Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Carte Blanche, Bad Nudes, Peach Mag, and elsewhere. She lives in Montréal, Québec on the traditional and unceded territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka people.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

On Writing #141 : Matthew Cooperman

Day and Night: Time and Writing

Matthew Cooperman 

"Days     Days     Days    // much as you get from / one octave to another," says Larry Eigner in My God/The Proverbial. And the proverbial exclamation (my god!) is the day, astonishingly come again. Days as proverbs, verb. I am interested in the Verb of the Day.

No stone soup, the daily special is, as Eigner says, the same from one octave to another, one art to another, one person to another. Thinking through the day is one way to see what we all share. A universal boredom, or excitation, birds in the air, an aversion to light, a ritual of hours, bowls. For Eigner, challenged by cerebral palsy, the daily task was to move his one working index finger, deliberately, over the typewriter. But first it was to listen, the world, as such, by ear, by eye, inducted through the open window: "Things stirring/ together/ or far away"

Writing is another way to say I have something to do today. That's good, a life of attention, intention. But what you're doing and how you do it changes over a life. There once was a time in my writing life when I had time, and did write, prodigiously––journaling, riffing, coffee shops, libraries, bookstores. My god, proverbially, most of it was drivel, but it was accretive, and created its own momentum. Then life changed (marriage, children) and changed some more (a daughter with autism) who doesn't sleep much, is volatile, doesn't speak. And so writing changed.

For the past ten years or so I've been writing a long poem in counted verse––three word lines in gathering strips––that culminated in my recent book Spool (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2017). There's a chapbook as well, and various cuttings of the spools that mark out a pattern of days, months, years. I've been thinking and being in threes so long that I see clusters and aggregates looming on every page like illuminated script, for reals. I mean, life's hard, parenting's hard, and plans get smashed, chairs overturned, but my three (wife, Aby, son Elias, daughter Maya) have been a functional rest on which to lean and be:

                                    a line singing
                                    makes a limit

                                    out of days

                                    slowly the dark

                                    an imperfect finity

                                    forever in time

                                    these nights splendor


                                                                                    care engenders lure

                                                                                    on approach to

                                                                                    the sea the

                                                                                    body pulls pools

`                                                                                   child never rests

                                                                                    and the mountain

                                                                                    mountains into time

                                                                                    rumbles each our

                                                                                    risky wants     it's

                                                                                         give and take

                                                                                    our climb redoubtable

Like waking up to the real conversation, day after day, Time's golden measure makes its morning arrival early. Writing's always a furtive activity, or a planned one with late night barriers, or, or,'s not writing. So anything you can do to spur the day, the night, is a good thing. I like numbers in poems, patterns of making, the gathering mass of a writing seeking form, the manner in which, as Eliot said, we measure our lives out in "coffee spoons." I didn't start out planning a decade of counted verse, it occurred naturally as a "quick graph" (Philip Whalen) of stolen attention, moments caught in traffic, overheard snippets of conversation, the chant inside my head. A small notebook, scraps of paper, the modal horizon of threes imposed its wisdom over time. Spool's matter measured the duration, showing the struggle that exceeds the plan:

                        to write a

                        year in threes

                        these little whiles

                        and pauses     what

                             they bring to

                        doorsteps     planets     terns

                        at the window

                        on my mind

                        limit is splendor

                        bright folds now

                        love or parenting

                        the time it

                        loses or looses

The philosopher Henri Lefebvre in The Critique of Everyday Life, notes the everyday as where all life inevitably happens: as "that which repeats itself consistently" the quotidian, but also that which goes unrecognized, the hidden. And that repetition itself displaces the existential quandary of life. We die; the day hides our death, "it dissimulates the tragic...a lived experience elevated to concept and language," some where and some thing in which to transform the seeming nullity of existence.

Yet what is that language, and where to put it? In my own writing and in my work as a teacher, I've been developing strategies of daily writing around George Oppen's Daybooks. Stephen Cope's beautiful editing of that book (Selected Prose, Daybooks and Papers, University of California Press, 2008) has been revelatory to me. Cope's term for Oppen's ethical commitments, his "negative culpability," works itself out in the Daybooks as a kind of self-instruction. Oppen: "The poet learns almost everything from his own verse,"; and "We do not know before we complete the poem. None of us writes what we already know, and of course that's the essential life of the poem."

Having a place to get messy, work it out, is one way to think with the day. And things gather, accrete, forms cohere. From collage aesthetics and leaping fragments, to the return of the hand to the making of a book, there's something more at stake in a Daybook that makes the thinking dimensional. Kinda like assemblage art, something I'm also interested in. Think Wallace Berman, and photo collage. Or Joe Brainard's notating, well, everything in I Remember. All the things and places written down, day by day. Think trash art and the "found gallery" of the Daybook.

Or think other writers thinking in days. Think Haryette Mullen in her "transactional" tanka diary Urban Tumbleweed: "after hearing that poem from my tanka diary, /you handed me a smooth and pleasing stone/shaped like a lopsided heart."  Or Think Inger Christensen's Alfabet, or Laynie Browne's Daily Sonnets, or James Schuyler's A Few Days, Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day, Stephen Ratcliffe's Temporality. Each, in their own way, putting the day to work. I love the mystery each of these writers discovers in the recursive embrace.

Legendary Beat poet Joanne Kyger, who recently passed into the Bardo, made a career out of such attention.  In journals, letters and especially poems of acute presentness, her whole work can be seen as one ongoing poem. "The shape of the day, the words of the moment, what's happening around me in the world of interior and exterior space––these are my writing concerns," said Kyger back in 2005.  (Foundation for the Arts Interview). Kyger's thirty plus book serves as an exemplary practice of being "on time," the title of her Poems 2005-13. Here's the title poem from her collection Again: Poems 1989-2000:

                                           Life has a repetitious feel,

                                    continuing the yearly progression of one's history

                                                        in one place

                                                change is subtle, sometimes hardly noticed

                                       and then a large gasp, someone is gone, forever.

                                                The migrating flocks return

                                    the coast range changes color,

                                       monarchs come back . . .

                                                'restless surface watching the minutes'

                                         Not too much happens       strands

                                                of consciousness,       strands of dreams

                                                     precious, rare and mundane, where we live

Consistently, inconsistently we do go on. In the course of time. in the river of time, wind, water, air; eating, shitting, fucking, laughing, crying. Incrementally, within my limit, "words laid down like rocks" (Snyder's "Rip Rap"). Or laid down by my partner in the day (and the night), Aby Kaupang: "Sunday's are inconvenient     god/ as value absolutes away     the dailies / who deliver the enterprise" (Little "g" God Grows Tired of Me). Or Eigner's 

                                                l   i   f   e 




                                                 through trees and seas


                                                                                    (My God/ The Proverbial)

Matthew Cooperman is the author of, most recently, Spool, winner of the New Measure Prize (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2016), as well as the text + image collaboration Imago for the Fallen World, w/Marius Lehene (Jaded Ibis Press, 2013), Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move (Counterpath Press, 2011), DaZE (Salt Publishing Ltd, 2006) and A Sacrificial Zinc (Pleiades/LSU, 2001), winner of the Lena Miles Wever-Todd Prize. Numerous chapbooks exist in addition, including Disorder 299.00 (Essay Press, w/Aby Kaupang, 2015). A founding editor of Quarter After Eight, and co-poetry editor of Colorado Review, Cooperman teaches at Colorado State University. He lives in Fort Collins with his wife, the poet Aby Kaupang, and their two children.