Sunday, October 27, 2019

Talking Poetics #2 : Amish Trivedi

I want to start by talking about a movie that I used to recommend all the time but have stopped recommending. I stopped recommending it not because I came to dislike it, you understand, but because I came to love it more and would feel hurt whenever someone didn’t watch it. I don’t want to talk about how I felt once someone said they didn’t like it.

The movie is called Frank and it’s about a band that exists on the outside of any kind of mainstream music circle. They are joined by someone who wants to be famous, to write hits, but the members of the band, called the Soronprfbs, are just happy creating their strange music with their small following. Their lead singer, who wears a giant papier-mâché head, is caught in the middle of this struggle— between wanting to be happy creating what he wants to hear (with a rather heavy emphasis on the avant garde) and wanting to be loved by others, wanting to be famous.

This movie should be required viewing for every artist. First off, the songs are great, in my opinion, and secondly, this is a very real struggle, and I think for me was the kind of movie that once I saw it a couple of times, I understood my own struggles as an artist in a deeper way. We’re constantly struggling to make art not only that pleases us, but that we hope will please others so that we can continue to make art so that we can connect with other humans and to the world around us.

I think this is where I try to get a poem to, but I always seem to start with a line or two and go from there. This has not changed in twenty years+ of writing regularly, but perhaps I’ve become more attuned to it, more willing to accept that I need to get writing done versus letting something go. I have always liked the Michelangelo story wherein he talks about finding the work within the marble— I like following a piece of writing rather than pushing it. What fits next, what ideas are emerging? Perhaps this has made me less successful than I’d like, but it’s also what keeps me writing, trying to find that vein and follow it along through a poem.

I do utilize notebooks and am obsessive still about fountain pens. Gabe Gudding, who really got me turned onto them, and my friend Ben Sutton, who enables my obsession with this own— we really got into the tangibility of this method of writing, I think. It’s like driving a car right along the ground with no shocks: you feel the bumps and crevices of the surface and, at least in your own mind, you are part of the process more. This is as opposed to typing, which is an automatic process: part of learning to do it is forgetting the minor moves and concentrating on…I don’t even know. In handwriting, in fetishizing the instrument itself, I don’t know if I’m writing better poems (probably not) but I am enjoying all parts of it more.

Line breaks…forms…the way a poem feels/looks/sits: I used to get a lot of nice words from Forrest Gander while at Brown about my line breaks. I like jarring— I like the feeling that one shouldn’t have a moment to settle into a poem, especially a short one. I hate “natural” line breaks and avoid them as much as possible, going out of my way to recut poems that have line breaks in new ways to avoid pausing at a comma or other break. I guess I want someone reading my work (hi, all two of you) to feel as uncomfortable as I feel all the time. Enjambment already feels like a violent word and I think it’s a way that I push myself and the work I’m producing to be a little bit violent, but hopefully not in an oppressive way of any kind. I’ve been told that I produce a “masculine” lyric, which I don’t much care for, so perhaps this is something I will work in changing in the future. I don’t know if the two are tied, but violence and masculinity seem inextricably linked, so I’d like to be out of the violence business.

I think about math a lot— I’m terrible at it, but I often think about calculus, about functions and derivatives. I see a poem as a derivative of an event or concept, which I view as function. A poem isn’t the speed, it’s the acceleration. I feel like I’m always trying to capture this in my work, to less and less success, generally. But maybe I’m just fine with my giant head on, my ten fans, making music with people I genuinely care about, and singing my heart out.

Amish Trivedi is the author of two books, some number of poems, some number of reviews, is at work on a dissertation, and lives on the very edge of Maryland.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Talking Poetics #1 : Sanita Fejzić

Getting Started: Notes on Writing Poetry

There’s no rhyme or reason for a poem’s beginning. Sometimes, I’m reading something, say a recipe, and a word troubles me. Maybe a set of words. And I want to keep reading, stay focused, but I can’t because these words have fallen in some deep well within me and I sense they’re calling on other words. Lines come up, images. And so it is that when I should be cooking a yummy vegan cake, I find myself writing poetry on the margins of a recipe book. This sort of thing happened to me the other day when I was trying to read a highly technical book on the ways in which external environments (migration, culture, physical environment, etc.) affect grammatical structure in language. I was drinking tea and reading at a café on Bronson street with zero intentions of writing poetry. The letter “s” troubled me with such intensity that I had no choice but to write a poem about it on the inside of the book’s back cover. The poem was about making love. On the surface, it had nothing to do with what I was reading.
I say this but things are always changing. I used to effort to write poems. Now I let the words guide me. Who knows how that will change tomorrow or in ten minutes from now?
Unburdened by the weight of method, I write almost everywhere, including on the side of my bathroom counter, the one beside the toilet. I have a few notebooks; I also use a laptop, my phone and the side of my hand to drop lines. It helps to step away from screens because my eyes have a limit to how much artificial luminosity they can handle. Switching mediums (screen/page/hand) and changing places (couch/writing studio/forest) changes the writing.
A loose structure, a phrase or a word, or the kernel of an idea: all of these can be the start of a good poem or the death row of a bad one. And yes, I’m prompted by the work of other poets or by something I read in a newspaper—always. There is poetry everywhere and the best news are to be found in poems. The thing is, I don’t know why or how something sparks the lightbulb of inspiration. And what set the trail of ink going often seems unrelated to the final text, in such a way that makes it seem like logic and control have little to do with writing poetry.
Sometimes I start at beginning, somewhere in the middle, or work from a scattering of notebook entries. But the truth is, I don’t do well with scatterings. They tend to produce more scatterings.
I pay close attention to form even in free verse, so it’s counterintuitive for me to surrender to scatterings, or so I think. What seems like the beginning of a poem can become its end or its middle, or it can disappear altogether. There is what I think I’m doing; what I intend to do; and ultimately what the poem demands of me. Poetry has a will of its own and I like to surrender to the flow of language. So maybe I do well with scatterings but not with the word “scattering” itself. I haven’t spent enough time with that word yet to be able to say so.
I say poems have a will of their own, which is another way of saying words, punctuation and the way they take up space require the writer’s attention. Line breaks can make or break a poem.

Writing without paying attention creates in-
            sounds and meanings.
Writing while paying attention creates un-
                        sounds and meanings.

I have a poem that’s forthcoming in Room Magazine titled “Refugee Mouth.” It’s about how our mouths speak for us, even when we don’t say a word. I haven’t a clue how that poem came about. Yes, I was a refugee for five years as a child following the genocide of my people in the 1992-1995 Balkan War. But that’s not what was on my mind when I wrote it. I admit to having thought about the cost of dental care and how I’d run out of insurance. But the poem isn’t about that either. Somewhere in the dark ocean of my/our unconscious, the thought of dentist prompted me to pen the poem, which is situated on a plane where past and present happen at once. It’s difficult and possibly even misleading to write about authorial method when language sometimes seem to have as much agency over us as we do over it. 
I opened by admitting to having no method and then I said I pay very close attention to form (I am even meticulous when it comes to form and euphony). Am I contradicting myself? Make no mistake: the “I” who speaks here is plural. Language is a shared human phenomenon and so long as my craft involves words, I am indebted to, influenced by and in conversation with the writers whose work I have read (and even the ones I haven’t!). And more: the winds, ground, animals and plants—the way the light falls on the page or my level of thirst or hunger as I write—all of these have their hands in what is penned, whether in poetry or prose. 

Sanita Fejzić is an award-winning poet, writer and playwright based in Ottawa. Her novella, Psychomachia, Latin for “battle of the soul,” was shortlisted for the Ken Klonsky Prize and the Canada ReLit Awards.  Her first play, The Blissful State of Surrender, a dramatic comedy about a Bosnian-Canadian family was workshopped by the National Arts Centre in March 2018 and again at the Ottawa Arts Court in 2019. (M)other, a poem that was shortlisted for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize will be converted into a children’s story in English and French; it is forthcoming in 2020 with New-Brunswick’s Francophone press, Le bouton d’or. Fejzić is currently completing a PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

On Writing #165 : Megan Burns

Writing as Escape Hatch
Megan Burns

I write to map the world I live in.

I think about codes and analytics a lot.

I think about telepathy and social media.

I write on social media, and I watch patterns there too. My experiences of telepathy, claircognizance and general ability to slip time are closely linked to poetry. I learned how to enhance, to augment and how to use language to experience the world beneath the world, worlds beyond the veil by being a poet first. I tuned my sensitivity to sound and to emotion while standing in front of strangers and reading their emotions as the words drew them up.

I think about quantum theory and ideas stemming from it, about space and time, distance and the effects of distance and action. I don’t write so much as channel now. I meditate a lot, and I listen to the voices in my head. And I write spells to shape the world. And I watch the patterns emerge around me. Poetry now is a type of forecasting but like a dream, you can never be sure of the roles of everyone around you. Divination itself is just an art of reading and being read. So, poets us all.

Sound is sacred enough to heal us. I staked my life on it.

I believe in no separation between all beings and life, and ultimately what we think, make or feel in the world, it is all of us. So I make this.

Mostly I think about hysteria and women’s bodies and how they have suffered. I recognize the enormous privilege I have to be not locked up, murdered, caged, lobotomized and able to have time and energy to create art. I have inside me the memories of burnings: Things done to people who are different, who hear the world different, and who know things they shouldn’t. My friend Bill Lavender says one day we won’t need poetry, because we will have figured out finally how to let go our addiction to suffering. I think until then I’ll keep writing these maps in case I need a way out or in. I’ll keep listening to these voices beyond space or time, and perhaps if I’m good at what I do, I’ll catch the song that frees us just a little bit more.

Love is the only program running.

Megan Burns [photo credit: Susan Schultz] is the publisher at Trembling Pillow Press ( She is the co-director of the New Orleans Poetry Festival ( and runs The Dragonfly: A Poetry and Performance Healing Space in New Orleans ( She has been hosting the Blood Jet Poetry Reading Series in New Orleans for the last six years. She has been most recently published in Jacket Magazine, Callaloo, New Laurel Review, Dream Pop, and Diagram. Her poetry and prose reviews have been published in Tarpaulin Sky, Gently Read Lit, Big Bridge, and Rain Taxi. She has three books Memorial + Sight Lines (2008), Sound and Basin (2013) and Commitment (2015) published by Lavender Ink. Her recent chapbooks include: her Twin Peaks chap, Sleepwalk With Me (Horse Less Press, 2016), Beneath the Drift (Red Mare, 2019) and FUCK LOVE: I’m sorry someone hurt you (Shirt Pocket Press, 2019). Her fourth collection, BASIC PROGRAMMING, was published by Lavender Ink in 2018.