Friday, March 23, 2018

On Writing #148 : Sara Cassidy

Sara Cassidy

“To speak is almost to say I know. But in most cases, artists are speaking about things they don’t know or are still in the process of knowing.” – visual artist Hank Willis Thomas, in Who Reads Poetry: Fifty Views from Poetry Magazine (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

            Last night, I opened the file labelled DEAD POEMS.
            It was a sleepy evening. My partner lay on the bed staring at his phone. I’d just finished a novel (An Advent Calendar, Shena McKay), and to start another so quickly felt greedy and disloyal. I did not have the desire to invent anything new, from scratch – from lightning and primordial ooze.
            The file contained poems I’d run at many times, deleting, adding, moving ink around, but all I’d really done was shovel dirt on the initial spark. I’d given up on the poems years ago.  What a surprise, then – the moon was not full, the stars stood in their usual unaligned mess – when the poems shuffled their stiff limbs out of the way and let me in. 
            For the last few years, I have been editing professionally, for other writers, for a publishing house, for a government website, and, currently, for Hansard, the transcript of debate in parliament (in my case, the B.C. Legislature).
            Though I sometimes consider my Hansard job glorified stenography rather than editing, I like it. We turn the oral into the written, via the keyboard, preserving each politician’s idiolect – his or her unique way of wielding language. Punctuation is our “first line of defence”, with which we corral, tack down and usher through. Sometimes we permit a comma splice or run-on sentence, because they are closer to the truth.
            The Hansard editor’s aim is to be invisible, as hands-off as possible. At peak production, 24 editors produce 16,000 perfect words in an hour, and the entire script should appear as if recorded by the same hand (the Style Guide is a behemoth). What I’ve learned is that speech is character, and editing is less about control than mirroring, creating a genuine likeness.
            As well as working as an editor for the last few years, I’ve been parenting teenagers. “You are being fired as their manager,” a parenting guru told me. “Your hope is to be re-hired as a consultant.” The work here, too, is about letting go, and guiding invisibly.  A light touch and a whole lot of trust. Seeing the other for who they are, and not what I want them to be.
            I worked at the dead poems with a strange passivity. I think it was receptiveness. As I worked, I observed that the greater part of typing is moving fingers over the keyboard, rather than pressing keys.
            Shazam. Several dead poems revived. They said what they’d been meaning to say; I heard them for the first time.
            After an hour, my partner put down his phone and asked how things were going. “Great!” I said, falling onto him. I felt light. It was as if I’d crossed a long bridge that had been thick with fog. I was out of the fog and on a new, clear bank.
            When I used to sit down to write, I’d put on a cloak of confidence, authoritativeness. I’d clear my throat: “This is what I want to say.”
            Now, instead, quiet as a prayer, I’ll whisper, to myself and reader, as if one and the same: “You know this.”
            Then I’ll wait to see what we know.

Sara Cassidy revives poems in Victoria, B.C. She is trying to quit writing children's books and get back to writing plays and fiction for adults.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Arc Walk Ottawa #1 : Centretown : curator/guide: rob mclennan

Arc Walks Ottawa is a series of guided walks based on poetry themes and capitalizing on the rich poetry history of Canada’s capital. Residents and visitors alike are welcome to join in on the walks to learn and revel in Ottawa’s poetry. 

Join in the first walk on World Poetry Day (Wednesday, March 21st). This walk, led by rob mclennan, will be a contemporary introduction to Ottawa’s literary history, visiting sites significant to poets of the National Capital Region such as John Newlove, William Hawkins, Judith Fitzgerald, Thomas D’arcy McGee, Michael Dennis and jwcurry, among others. 

The walk will begin at 4:30PM in front of 248 Bank Street, and it will continue to visit sites in Centretown. During the hour-long walk, participants will visit five locations where they will hear about some of Ottawa’s contemporary poetry history, and hear from a special guest poet. Come prepared for rain or snow or shine!

Concluding around 5:30PM, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to grab a bite to eat before VERSeFest’s second day of scheduled events:

See the Facebook event for such here.

For any questions or concerns, contact Chris Johnson: 

Guide Bio: 
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with the brilliant and utterly delightful poet and book conservator Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the CAA/Most Promising Writer in Canada under 30 Award in 1999, the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was twice longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. He has published books with Talonbooks, The Mercury Press, Black Moss Press, New Star Books, Insomniac Press, Broken Jaw Press, Stride, Salmon Publishing and others, and his most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). His next poetry title, Household items, is out later this spring from Salmon Publishing.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Recent Reads: "HEDGE" by Alyssa Bridgman

HEDGE by Alyssa Bridgman
Published by above/ground press, 2017.

Although a quick flip to the colophon of Alyssa Bridgman’s HEDGE reveals the chapbook’s chief inquiry – a comparison between Trump’s border wall and “the eighteenth-century enclosure movement in Britain” – it doesn’t portend the scope of these poems. By deconstructing the ideology of boundaries and undressing them of political and historical biases, Bridgman enables the reader to interact with them objectively. Ironically enough, it’s seeing our privilege, attachment and complicity from this neutral viewpoint that organically reinforces the material’s political/historical bent.

“Unnatural Haikus” efficiently parses the coarse duality of borders: what’s kept in, what’s left out. If one side has gains, the other has losses. If one side feels safe, the other is to be feared. And big surprise – those who determine where borders belong also ensure that wealth pools on their side of the partition. This untitled piece outlines the pendulum swing in vague yet validating buzzwords:

Though HEDGE admirably splits its focus between “hedge” and “fund” (even offering both terms a timeline of evolving definitions in the preface), the most compelling poems for me tread the imposed hedges of language. In “Mother” and “Between cracked words”, Bridgman sees language as a wall-like construct – a linear progression where thoughts and words accumulate like bricks. In the former poem, these constructs inform a family’s verbal and psychic sphere, wherein words guide children through both sturdy and faulty interactions. Bridgman masterfully evokes a sort-of Venn diagram in the mind of the reader, presenting the family’s boundary eroding when linked to outside language spheres.

That thought-provoking idea expands but struggles in the latter poem, as hedges of language and thought merge with the physical world. A disagreement gathers in bricks of blood and ink:

"water won't wash out this ink
spoken from the other side
of what was once a pathway
piled up with utterance
misunderstanding and standing firm"

Delivered in five sections, “Between cracked words” guides the reader through an architecture of misunderstanding and weighs the culpability of adding another voice to the pile. It’s heady stuff and admirably tackled, though getting there requires maneuvering some clunky lines that double as exposition (“my flowing train of thoughts is speeding / out of control on riverbed-tracks headed for the ocean”). That's the challenge of relaying complex meaning while still writing effective verse – one risks coming off as either too abstract or hand-holding. Still, the payoff is totally worth it:


the barrier of deafness
we create with inattentive ears

listens only to our own voice
barricades ourselves in enclosure

where we hear the echoes
of our words bounce back

in the dark room
in a loss of foresight

we turn on ourselves
as the water rises

Borrowing “barrier of deafness” from Susan Howe, Bridgman’s poem gets surgically prophetic by its close. Yet there’s no preachiness or fear-mongering, and readers don’t have to study up on “the eighteenth-century enclosure movement in Britain” to enjoy it. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that HEDGE is political even without making explicitly political references, but its message about discourse should appeal to both sides.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

We Who Are About To Die: Braydon Beaulieu

Braydon Beaulieu is a freelance game designer, narrative designer, writer, and editor. He studies creative writing, poetics, games, and science fiction at the University of Calgary as a doctoral candidate. His creative work has appeared in Matrix Magazine, Broken Pencil, and the Windsor Review, and in the anthologies Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories and The Calgary Renaissance. He has also published five chapbooks with various micropresses. His most recent critical work has appeared on First Person Scholar and in FreeFall Magazine, and in 2016 his essay "Dystopoetics: The Broken Dream of Conceptualism" earned him a nomination for the Emerging Writer Award from the Alberta Magazine Awards. He lives in Toronto.

Where are you now?
I'm enrolled in the PhD program in English at the University of Calgary, where I'm studying creative writing, poetics, science fiction, and games. I'm living in Toronto, though, with my partner Lindsay and our two cats, Salem and Azazel. In 2017, I broke into the game industry on a freelance basis, editing five tabletop RPGs, designing the alternate-reality game (ARG) "Waking Titan" for No Man's Sky at Alice & Smith, and designing escape games at Secret City Adventures. It's been a fantastic year, I've learned a lot, and I'm excited to see what 2018 has in store.

What are you reading?
I just finished reading Blindsight, by Peter Watts, and have started its sequel, Echopraxia. Amazing works of science fiction. In Blindsight, Watts proceeds from the premise that vampires existed in human prehistory, and we've resurrected them. Now, a vampire leads a deep-space exploration team, his undead body optimized for space travel. It's a premise for explaining the capacity for cryogenic freezing and the temporal commitment required by space travel, so elegant that I'm surprised that this is the first time I'm seeing it in science fiction. My summary doesn't do it justice — you've got to just read the books.

Next up: full-metal indigiqueer, by Joshua Whitehead.

What have you discovered lately?
Since my candidacy exams, I've been battling mental illness and exhaustion. I found that after reading about 150–200 books in the space of a year, I lost my love for reading — the whole reason I study English in the first place — partially as a result of these two struggles. This year, I've rediscovered my love for reading, which has been amazing. To feel excited at the prospect of opening a book again, to become enthralled by its contents instead of feeling like I have to either slog or skim… it's been overwhelming to experience these positive emotions again.

Where do you write?
Wherever, honestly.

What are you working on?
A few things.

1.       My dissertation, which is a collection of interconnected short stories and poems in science fiction. These stories all centre around the concept of language loss as a series of characters experience the fallout from a first contact incident in a zoo.

2.       An alternate-reality game (ARG) in partnership with Useful Splendor, about artificial intelligence.

3.       A super-secret game project that no one knows about yet, but which I'm hoping to release mid-2018.

4.       Freelance work in game design, narrative design, writing, editing, and research — hire me!

Have you anything forthcoming?
I'm just getting back into the swing of my practice, so I'll have new submissions of poetry and fiction out soon. As far as my professional work goes, keep your eyes peeled for Secret City Adventures' announcement of their new escape game in Toronto — I worked on the game on contract with them, and it's going to be a lot of fun!

What would you rather be doing?
It's not a matter of what I'd rather be doing, but where I'd rather be along the road. I should be done my PhD at this point, according to my younger self's plan, but my battle with mental illness has set me back a great deal by affecting my productivity, my passion, and my perseverance. I want to have published more fiction and poetry, to have designed more games, to have designed games on bigger teams. I feel my ambition returning, but with its return comes a distinct flavour of sadness, for my pace and for my failures. I always saw myself being more accomplished than I am now, which is not to belittle what I have accomplished, but to remark on how I've had to change pace in the last few years. And that it's okay, too — it's okay to take care of oneself, to take time, to ask for help and to slow down. Would I rather be touring around the continent promoting my bestselling book(s), while also designing critically-acclaimed games at some AAA studio and running a chapbook micropress for experimental literature or some shit? I mean, yeah, sure. But I also love what I am doing and respect the path that I, personally, need to walk to get where I'm going. And I am just so, so grateful for the people who are walking it with me.

ERASURE: A Short Story, published by above/ground press in 2016

ERASURE: A Short Story erases content from pages of Batwoman: Elegy to create a new narrative from the remains.