Monday, November 25, 2019

Talking Poetics #4 : Gil McElroy

Talking Poetics

The blackness of my notebooks, large and small, on my desk directly behind my laptop. Not many; the earliest dates back to 1983.  There are others – collaged journals in three-ring binders that parallel twenty years of the making of these black ones (and one blue intruder), and an early set of notebooks (also black) – but they don’t count, here. These are the ones that matter, and they sit here on my desk not out of nostalgia, but because I still use them. They are still eminently utile.

It might be reasonably expected that I jot down drafts of poems in them, early jabs at a constellation of words. But maybe I’m not reasonable, because I don’t. I write on my laptop (and before it, my typewriter), needing, as Charles Olson explicated in his essay “Projective Verse,’ the visual organization of text. I guess I’m a modernist that way.

Anyway, my notebooks don’t comprise drafts. They comprise individual lines, an ongoing accumulation thereof. Some explanation of what I mean is in order.

By the late 1970s, my writing had become, let us say, “constipated.” In my poetry I sought to distil things down to their essence, to the diamond at the compressed end of carbon. The extraneous (or so I thought it to be) was hewed away, leaving, well, leaving not very damn much. Alas, not so much diamond as constipated turd.

It was a dead end, and I began to realize it. So under the sway of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs, whom I’d been intensely reading, I began to experiment with the cut-up. I used newspaper articles about the oil crisis of 1979 (in the midst of which I drove a friend to Pittsburgh, returning to Canada via Windsor and damn near running out of gas before I crossed the border) that I cut into small rectangles and glued to large sheets of cardboard. I didn’t transcribe exactly what I found there, but close enough. Wrote some prose pieces, some of which was published, and began to ponder what I was doing, whether or not this was a possible way forward. The cut-up as I was working with it was a bit awkward and laborious, and while I was deeply interested in how it wonderfully skewed things and opened up entirely new vistas, I wondered how it might be managed differently.

I remember, during that time, mis-reading something in a magazine and finding it hilarious. When I thought about it after the laughter subsided, I realized that it was also very useful. Mis-readings, mis-hearings – those moments when meaning slips about accidentally, bumps headlong into preconception and expectation, then heads off entirely elsewhere…. THIS was useful and interesting stuff. My first major literary influence had been the work of the French Surrealists, so I incorporated free-association into the mix, and began writing stuff in my notebooks as it emerged or as I encountered it. There was no attempt made to link individual thoughts that were transcribed as lines in my notebook, no attempt at that kind of coherence  - no attempt, in other words, at poetry, no imposition of any kind of narrative. It was (and still is) a dissociative  free-for-all. Randomness and chance are fecund and generative of the new (so I found great sympathy with, and encouragement from, Nobel laureate Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology).

So chance became my poetics; it set me free, liberated me from the overbearing tyranny of my ego, from the narratives my mind would be determined to set into words. Rarely, now, do I sit down to write a poem with something in mind (and if I do, they mostly turn out like crap). Instead, I turn to one of my notebooks, leafing through the pages looking for a line that catches, that resonates, and this I set down, finding another somewhere else that catches and resonates with the former and setting it down… Get where I’m headed? Okay, then. Just so you know: I hope I never do. The poetics of chance, of the accident, of a very real form of abandonment, leads me forward now. Poems are always surprises, not just semantic templates of some conscious thought, transcriptions of what’s kicking around in my head. I’m really not that interesting, and anyway, my life or thoughts really aren’t anyone else’s business. Oh, occasionally poems crop up that are telling of slight aspects of my life, but they’re rare and infrequent.

Good. I prefer the accidental. I’ll stick with that.

Gil McElroy
October 26, 2019 (JD 2458783)

Gil McElroy is a poet and artist living in Colborne, Ontario. His most recent book, Long Division, will be published by University of Calgary Press in 2020.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On Writing #167 : Ariel Dawn

On Writing and Transformation
Ariel Dawn

When my father was dying I wrote him a thank you poem. Our relationship was difficult, full of silence and misunderstanding. I was born with a loud voice that shrank to a whisper as I grew older. When I spoke he couldn’t hear, so demanded I speak louder, clearer, until I was choked with tears. Writing was the only way to express myself, and as my poetry exposed my rage and disorder, he destroyed it. This made me burn to write more, and made me careful, religious, about the power of words. I edit obsessively, and even the smallest note is rather serious, intimate, revolutionary. I fight not to be as oppressive and perfectionistic as my father, yet I admire his writing. Strange and lyrical, his personal letters often met with silence, for they suggest a secret life. While I was ill with anorexia and he was in Russia, we wrote to each other and he heard and accepted my words. It is here we finally met, between worlds, through a secret correspondence. As for the poem I wrote when he was dying, I sent it in an email, and days later he replied that he kept printing it out because each time he’d destroy it with tears. Of course I don’t believe in death, only transformation. Most of my poems are written with ghosts, about moments that live on to be reborn into the present and the future, though I don’t believe in time either. When he died Benny Goodman’s "Sing Sing Sing” played and I read my poem and he held my hand and kissed my eternity ring.

Ariel Dawn’s prose poetry recently appears in G U E S T [a journal of guest editors], Train: a journal of prose poems, dusie: the tuesday poem, talking about strawberries all of the time, and Coven Editions Grimoire. She writes with Tarot cards and oracles and lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Talking Poetics #3 : Amanda Earl

From One Invisible Woman to Another 

I write mostly long poems and poem series. It’s not that I set out to write long poems, it’s just that the work seems unfinished to me. In some cases, an image remains sustained in my mind or I feel a persistence…an urge to continue to explore some aspect of the poem until it works itself out. The impetus for each new poem is rarely the same, but several have been inspired by intelligent women figures from history who have been forgotten. I feel a sense of injustice to see how often women have been/are being erased. My own role in bringing attention to their stories is small, also pretty much non-existent from one invisible woman to another, but I feel it creates a continuity and has at times started a conversation about these and other forgotten women. 

Eleanor, my first long poem published by above/ground press in 2007, was inspired by an Ottawa Citizen article about Eleanor of Aquitaine, a twelfth-century monarch of England and France, rode in the Crusades from France to Persia. Her British husband, King Henry, locked her in the tower. Knights loved her and she is credited with their adoption of courtly love.

In my chapbook, I brought Eleanor to 21st Century Ottawa. I read the newspaper article in the nineties and it percolated for a long time. In 2000, I wrote a song entitled “Eleanor of Aquitatine” and eventually that song ended up being a poem. In my early online chatting days in 2000, I used the name “Eleanor Incognito” to engage with potential lovers. Sometimes it takes years before an inspiration becomes a work.

In the nineties, I watched a CBC documentary series about the Crazy Years, the Roaring Twenties in both the US and Europe. There was a show devoted to Alice Ernestine Prin or Kiki. I was captivated by this bawdy and creative free spirit and the Montparnasse artistic world she not only lived in, but also greatly influenced. My book, Kiki, was published by Chaudiere Books in 2014, more than a decade after I’d first heard about her.

Once upon a time, I got off a bus on Queen and Bank in Ottawa and noticed a woman lugging a buggy full of stuff across the street. She was likely one of the many homeless people of Ottawa. I thought about all the homeless women in Ottawa and the danger and discomfort having no shelter would be. I found myself looking up statistics for homelessness in Ottawa. For many years through Bywords, we held a reading to fundraise for the Cornerstone Women’s Shelter.

The image of this woman stuck with me as did a name: Ursula. At some point, maybe a few weeks later, I looked up the name Ursula and found out about Saint Ursula, the patron saint of schoolgirls who was, according to Catholic lore, travelling by boat to meet her Pagan groom when she was beheaded along with 11,000 virgins. I wondered about the Ursula I’d seen and imagined her as having delusions of being the saint. This was after my own health crisis in 2009 when I went through ICU psychosis on my death bed in ICU and experienced an onslaught of nightmarish delusions. The feeling of not knowing the difference between reality and these delusions made me particularly sympathetic to those who experience delusions on a daily basis.

I wrote a manuscript of several different parts entitled “The Commonplace Book of Saint Ursula,” imagining Ursula living in abandoned cabins in the woods when she could find them, and collecting quotes, flowers, detritus, writing in a journal in between wanders. I self-published the first section, Ursula via AngelHousePress in a limited edition of twenty-six copies. Another section, Book of Miracles, was published as a chapbook with Dusie Press, and a third, Book of Saints, was published by above/ground press. The other sections have yet to be published.

Another mostly unpublished manuscript with women as a theme is “All the Catharines,” which I wrote in 2010 and revisit to revise on occasion. It’s still mostly not ready, but a few pieces have been published in the anthology Release Any Words Stuck Inside of You (Applebeard Editions, 2018) and a few other places. This manuscript started because of my grapheme synaesthesia where numbers, days of the week, months of the year, pain and names evoke colour for me. Catharine evokes emerald green. I wrote one poem about her and she insisted on my continuing to write of her. I infused the manuscript with various greens: limes, ferns, tarnished pennies. She lives in Apartment 5b because 5 and b are both green for me. I ended up including various Catherines in history from Catherine the Great to Catherine of Aragon to Catherine Blake, wife of William, but mine was Catharine with an a. Catharine became a very defined character with specific personality traits. She was angry that anyone would try to write about her. I documented her moods and proclivities. 

Queen Christina, published by Ghost City Press in 2016 as an online chapbook, was inspired by the queen of Sweden, a well learned person who often dressed as a man and fled from the palace on horseback. 

I Owe St. Hildegarde the Light, a chapbook published by unarmed of Minnesota in 2016,  was inspired by the music of Hildegard von Bingen. I became fascinated by her life, her brilliance, her visions and creativity. 

Lady Lazarus Redux (above/ground press, 2018) was a deliberate attempt to engage with the writing of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Gwendolyn MacEwen because all three women’s poetry has haunted me for a long time. I came up with a method of cutting up words from their work and drawing them, like tarot cards, to create my own poetry. The work deals with issues of ageing, menopause, and invisibility.

Increasingly, I write to connect with kindred misfits, particularly women and gender nonconformers. I have begun a new series called “The Seven Fables of Desire,” inspired by the writing of NathanaĆ«l, who has been working in the hybrid form of l’entregenre. I have gotten my hands on as much of NathanaĆ«l’s writing as I can and intend to read and reread it. This project has started with nothing more than the idea of exploring desire, the concept of the fable and the work of a writer I admire. We’ll see where it goes.

Amanda Earl is a long-poem-maker, visual poet, fiction writer, editor, publisher and doodler who wanders incognito through the streets of Ottawa. She’s the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. Her chapbook, Aftermath or Scenes of a Woman Convalescing is forthcoming from above/ground press. Visit or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Call for Submissions Cut/Paste/Resist: A Pop-Up Exhibition

Call for Submissions
Cut/Paste/Resist: A Pop-Up Exhibition

In times of protest and social upheaval (and social rejuvenation) artists and activists turn to collage to make their point. Why? Collage is an accessible, fun way to make art. All you need is glue, scissors, and paper. The rest is up to you.

Presented in co-operation with the UNB Art Centre, the Student Union Building, and the Creative Writing/Writer-in-Residence program, Cut/Paste/Resist will take place at the Student Union Building on February 10th until February 12th 2020.
We want your collages!
All people interested in participating are welcome. We don’t care if you are an artist or not. This exhibition is open to everybody who wants to participate by making a collage – students, faculty, practising artists, non-artists, etc.

What to do?
*Make a collage (no bigger than a standard page size, 8 and 1/2 by 11 inches, but otherwise any shape or size).
*The topic of the exhibition is “Resistance”. In other words, make a collage on a topic or concern you wish to communicate. What are you resisting?
* All submissions are due January 30, 2020.
*Please provide your name and a contact email or phone number with your submission.
*If you are mailing your work, or dropping it off, and would like it returned after the show, please include a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with your submission and your work will be returned. Works not returned will be donated to the UNB archives.
Mail or drop off your works (for drop offs, please put the works in an envelope) to
Writer-in-Residence, Department of English, Carleton Hall
University of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 4400,Fredericton, NB Canada
E3B 5A3

Cut/Paste/Resist is co-curated by RM Vaughan and Dr. Ken Moffatt, Layton Chair of Social Justice at Ryerson University, with support from the UNB Art Centre and the Creative Writing department.

Friday, November 01, 2019

On Writing #166 : Mark Scroggins

Mark Scroggins

I dislike my voice—its thinness, its high-pitched reediness, its occasional strange inflections. When I was a small child, my Kentucky school district sent me to a speech therapist for a few months to iron out some defect in my enunciation. Part of the treatment involved recording and listening to myself talk on a cassette. The sound of my own voice horrified, humiliated, and embarrassed me. To some extent, it does so to this day.

I never wanted to “find my voice” in poetry, but rather to escape my physical voice. The voices of the poets I admire are always in my ears, utterly distinct one from another, each as immediately recognizable as a few bars from a great improvising musician or a passage of brushwork from a beloved painting. But I never aspired to attain a consistent voice—though I’ve always believed that poetry was an affair first and foremost of voices.

Of course, “voice” in a printed poem—rather than an audio recording—is a metaphor. It’s not a literal sound, but a congeries of diction, characteristic rhythms and turns of phrase, habits of combining word-sounds in particular ways. Even when they are each writing blank verse, one never mistakes the voice of Tennyson for that of Swinburne; one knows Mina Loy’s free verse from that of William Carlos Williams as much by its sound as by its subject.

As I write, I don’t imagine myself speaking my poems to an audience, though I do sound each passage in my head, repeatedly. They come in brief bits—lines and stanzas, sometimes groups of a dozen or more lines. I try to write to some kind of “tune,” however atonal. Only very rarely do I have any idea of where I’m going, or where in the poem a given passage might eventually fall. “I” almost never speaks: instead, I imagine voices who might be saying the lines, voices whose power, resonance, or tenderness of address surpasses what my own voice might muster. Or voices whose anger, affection, resentment, or sense of hurt far outreaches what I’m conscious of feeling. Bureaucratic voices, voices overheard on the streets or in the subways, voices of friends or loved ones.

I have no set schedule or routine for working at my poems. Old enough to remember the typewriter, a fetishist of fountain pens, I resist keying my words into electronic documents: somehow it “freezes” them, makes them resistant to further alteration. I jot down lines in notebooks when they occur to me, add to them when it seems they have something more they want to say. I copy them over, adjusting, cutting, adding, from notebook to notebook and back again. I gather little bundles of them, hoarding them against a dry spell. I try to hear the echoes between disparate passages, the potential counterpointing.
These fragments eventually fall into clusters, are stitched or soldered into poems: “He do the police in different voices”—which sounds pretty familiar. It’s patchwork, or collage, or bricolage, or simply a heap of things that make a shape or gesture that feels comely to me, or interestingly awkward. My poems speak for no one, least of all myself, but I suppose no one else can take responsibility for them. Hier stehe; ich kann nicht anders.

Mark Scroggins is the author of four books of poems: Anarchy, Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles, Red Arcadia, and Pressure Dressing. His most recent collection of criticism is The Mathematical Sublime: Writing about Poetry, and he has recently edited Our Lady of Pain: Poems of Eros and Perversion by Algernon Charles Swinburne. He writes regularly for Hyperallergic.