Friday, February 21, 2020

Talking Poetics #12 : Lydia Unsworth


How A Poem Gets Made

The germ is a phrase, let’s say ‘twenty-six miles across the sea,’ that comes within a fog of recent associations, a background noise that only requires tuning-in to. I don’t think as much as focus on the words that murmur through me, an ongoing narrative, like a baby chattering itself to sleep. It’s a making-sense, a structuring, a reforming and a stretching. Like how dough rises and you can pull it into nameless shapes. I’ll slam it against a wall. What I see is a deckchair, the stripes on that deckchair: Why stripes? What has been done to me? It’s not my image, it’s a postcard from somewhere, but that’s what I can see, and I’m seeing my country floating off across the water, festival music twirling alongside on the wind. I’m seeing leaves of trees behind a faint shudder of heat rising. A fata morgana. Tarmac. There is nearly always tarmac; it lines my dreams. Whatever book I first read the word-phrase fata morgana in. It doesn’t matter if what I remember is accurate, only that it leads on to other things, all that chaff can be stamped out in the aftermath. An oasis. The way we don’t always look up what words mean, allowing place names, band names, surnames to slide on and off our relaxing bodies on the beach. I start with a figure in a landscape, there is nearly always a figure melting into the tarmac on the beach. I tug their arm, pull on whatever article they happen to be reading, slap the face awake, twist its history into my own stranded interpretation. Words like chains, both links and restrictions, until I’m ground to a halt in what I hope is a worthy place. If not, plow on. Sand over boots, inside shoes, cast them off, the burning grains under the softest most unknown part of us. I won’t get my toes out in the middle of a board game. Who lies on a blanket in the middle of an inner-city carpark anyway? Can’t we take back our surfaces? Once, in Norfolk, the hot road, new and mallable, like an origin story. Volcanoes of motorway. And then I’m full of enough raw lava. I stick my hand in to the warm rocks, ignore the tourists striding past my crumpled melodrama. I like it down here where the theoretical leaves are, rinsed with Beckett, Perec, Kafka, and with all the preferably women I’m currently gagging in. I’m down here in my class and my past trying to rake it all pageward. You want form? You want skill? I can only polish up what the turned-over stones are revealing. I’ve got termites. I’ve got small tiny things. Ferns, etc. and every time I’ve ever walked past them. I’ve got the first tomato I chopped in order to feed myself at aged seventeen. Like a scene from Ghost. Words that as an adult have lost their importance. I’m finding them in the grips of my trainers, bringing them into the house. Piles and piles of discarded incidents, which I’m stirring up into a thick soup. Like I used to do with shampoos and gels in some ancient lived-through bathroom that in my remembered architecture now sits where the kitchen should have been. 



Lydia Unsworth is the author of two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres (KFS, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (Winner, 2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize), and two chapbooks: My Body in a Country (Ghost City Press, 2019) and I Have Not Led a Serious Life (above / ground press, 2019). Her latest chapbook, Throw the Towel In, will be released by KFS Press in 2020. Recent work can be found in Ambitpara.textTears in the FenceBansheeBlackbox Manifold and others. Manchester / Amsterdam. Twitter: @lydiowanie   

Monday, February 10, 2020

Talking Poetics #11 : Sarah Kabamba


First of all, I would like to thank rob for asking me to participate in this, and whoever may read this!

How is anything created really? How is art created? This may not even make sense, it might be just a bunch of rambling on my part. The creative process, like life, is so rarely easy and clean, despite what we would like.

I wish I could say I have a very structured organized way of writing but that would be a lie. How do poems get started for me? Often, it’s from a word, a phrase, something I read, or saw that sparks something within me. I can sit with an idea for days or even years before a poem comes forth from it. I don’t write poems as much as poems write themselves, I think. It doesn’t make much sense at times. I think artists are a conduit, or maybe vessel, is a better word that put what we’re surrounded by – emotions, stories, memories, etc. into something tangible that resonates with others, or that’s the hope at least.

I start with a very loose structure. I’d say I write in a circle, in that I start with a word, phrase, or an image, and then form the poem around it. I start in the middle and write outwards. The beginnings and end of poems are usually the last things I write.

I write everywhere – in notebooks, on my computer, on scraps of paper, on my hands, my phone, in my head. I think all these different mediums have their advantages and disadvantages. I used to (and still do, but maybe less so) struggle a lot with the editing process because I’d sit and stare at the poem on my screen, and it just wouldn’t work. But now, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to walk away from a poem or work, and just let it breathe. It’ll come. Often times, when I’m doing something else, completely unrelated, something will just click. It’ll come.

For me, in writing, I’m intrigued by both how it looks on the page, and how it sounds out loud. When I’m writing, a lot of it is done out loud, repeating words, phrases, or just ideas to myself, and hearing how it sounds. In regard to line breaks, that’s something that I usually add after to be honest. When I first write, my work is usually just a stream of all the ideas going through my head at the time. I just let it all out, no line breaks, no structure really, just let the poetry or story out. Then I go back (sometimes immediately, sometimes later) and read what emerges, taking out what doesn’t work, reworking sections, and adding line breaks as I see fit.

In writing this way, I am often surprised myself at what comes from it. In that what I set out to write about is not always what the poem ends up being about. Or the poem will go in a very different direction than I’ve intended. Or split into to separate poems. Sometimes the poem just goes where it wants.

I do find reoccurring themes or threads in a lot of my work, which isn’t always intentional. I had someone point out to me that there is a lot of water imagery in a lot of my work, and looking back, I was like huh, there is. For reasons I can’t completely articulate yet, I’ve always been drawn in by water, the connection to life, to women, to history, and that manifests in my work.

There are always writers in the back of my mind. I think that’s true of every writer, we are inspired by what we read, which is why it’s so important to do so. Currently, I'm reading On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and Sisters' Entrance by Emtithal Mahmoud. Other writers that have influenced me/I love to read are Michael Ondaatje, Warsan Shire, Nayyirah Waheed, Ysrah-Daley Ward, Aime Cesaire, Tsitsi Jaji, and so many others (I could go on forever). One of the things that I’m excited about now that I’m done school, is to have time to read more, and just enjoy it. And slowly fall back into writing more. While I’m always writing in some capacity, I haven’t been doing a lot of submitting recently, more focused on just falling into writing slowly, taking my time, enjoying the process. That’s the beautiful thing about writing that I love, you can always come back to it, at your own pace. It doesn’t tie you down, but it grows with you, and gives you space to learn, grow, and expand. And I think that’s really important.


We are surrounded by stories and poetry, Sarah Kabamba just wants to share some of them with you. She is of Congolese origins, and lives in Ottawa, where she is (slowly) working on a poetry collection.


Wednesday, February 05, 2020

On Writing #169 : Simon Brown


ON WRITING
Simon Brown


If I’m honest with myself, I would have to say that I don’t really know why I write.

However, I do know that it’s more or less out of desperation. Or to avoid desperation. In that I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t write.

This might sound dire, but it isn’t, really. It seems to me that most actions are ultimately guided by a desire to avoid desperation. I’m only speaking for myself, of course.

If I stopped writing, I would probably feel even more alone than I already do. It can get pretty lonely in these little worlds we live in. Again, I’m only speaking for myself.

Some writers say they create little worlds, but, personally, I find it’s more the little worlds themselves that are in control. They seem to grow up spontaneously, sort of like pockets of infection around a foreign body. The foreign body being me, I guess.

It so happens that I’ve been given the task of translating this private, sickly matter surrounding me into some sort of language. I really don’t know why. It’s often an unpleasant task, and ultimately a fairly insignificant one, but, again, I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t do it.

I’m a late bloomer as a poet. It seems like I’ve tried and failed so many times in my search for good ways to translate inner things into an outer space. But, despite this, I still feel compelled to make this odd translation process somehow shareable. To be honest, none of this is particularly clear or straightforward. Most of the time, I proceed by trial and error.

And the whole thing doesn’t always work, of course. All I have to work with is a private language that I only have a partial grasp of.

And to make everything more complicated than it already is, this isn’t even really translation, strictly speaking. That is, it’s not so much the direct translation of an inner world, but rather a record of traces left behind by this translation process.

Translation is a movement, and this is a particularly complex one. For me, anyways. Sometimes it’s fast and fluttery, sometimes it’s slow and lumbering. Sometimes it’s so erratic that it’s impossible to pin down with adjectives.

In any case, when I write, my primary goal is to let this movement do what it has to do. I keep my fingers crossed, and hope something interesting comes out of it. For myself, but especially for others. Even if it’s only one other person.   

At the moment, I’m trying to learn how to be more generous in this regard. That is, I’m trying to learn how to make the poem a more hospitable place.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, or comfortable, or even particularly accessible, just hospitable for the person who wants to spend a little time there.








Simon Brown (1979) is a self-taught poet and translator from the traditional territory of the Peskotomuhkati Nation, in southwestern New Brunswick, now based Abenaki traditional territory, in rural Québec. His texts have been presented in interdisciplinary artworks and collaborative performances, and via platforms such as Lemon Hound, Train, Estuaire, Vallum, Poetry Is Dead, Watts, and filling Station. As a translator, he has adapted texts by Erin Robinsong, Maude Pilon, Angela Carr, Huguette Gaulin and Nicole Raziya Fong, among others. His collections and artist’s books have been published in Québec, Canada and France by Vanloo, Moult, Le laps, squint press, and Paper Pusher. This Mud, A Word, was recently released in Frog Hollow Press’s New Brunswick chapbook series.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Talking Poetics #10 : Jean Van Loon


Bending History to the Poetic Page


My book Building on River represented a change for me— having a broad, roughly defined framework within which to craft individual poems. My subject, J. R. Booth, lumber king of the Ottawa Valley, had intrigued me in occasional short pieces I read about him, and more so the more I read. I debated the ethics of an imagined picture of a real person, but felt it defensible as long as the work was so labeled.
          I wanted to learn viscerally about Booth and his times— not just names and dates, but textures, sounds and smells of his era— to allow poetry to do what it does best, evoke feeling through senses. Because Booth left no correspondence to speak of (I did come across a letter informing the Department of Marine and Fisheries that one of his steam vessels had been taken out of service— not much psychological insight there), most of his private life was left to my imagination. And a study of “peripheral history.” Photographs showed the pride and confidence of lumber camp workers. Even Booth’s stiff Victorian “captain of industry” photo revealed a sensuous mouth. Charlotte Gray’s Sisters in the Wilderness, although about different people in a slightly different time and place, gave me a sense-image of rural travel in the era of Booth’s youth, which sparked  poems. Newspapers of the time (though threatening blindness from the library’s microfilm readers) exposed me to early attitudes and vocabulary and sometimes telling details: an ad for reduced-price bunting at the time of a royal visit, an ad for a large downtown house that vaunted running water in the kitchen. For one of the poems in the book, I needed to know what a workman would wear as underwear. Enter the book, How to be a Victorian, based on a British TV series, and stuffed with relevant information. Looking for mid-1800s treatments for scarlet fever, I stumbled across answers in a blog prepared by a writer of historical romances. A You-Tube video showed how to make shingles by hand.
          Poetry, for me, is about fresh language and unfamiliar images. History is full of both. I found myself relishing the language around logging (its trades of timber cruiser, swamper, rosser, and more; its tools such as pike pole and crazy wheel.)  I relished the language so much that various workshop commenters had to drag me back from overindulgence.
          Each poem came about as poems do, from an imagined moment, a mood, an image, a phrase that pops into mind. But there was also a guiding hand. After I’d written perhaps 15-20 poems, I listed them in a possible order for a book. That revealed gaps, and sent me to research new aspects of Booth’s career. Research invariably presented me with new poetry prompts. There were also facts in Booth’s life that I knew had emotional resonance (the deaths of children, his father, and his wife) and I hoped the reader would experience those moments.
          I wanted to vary the poems’ voices beyond “the poet” or Booth himself. I imagined who might offer an interesting perspective. His wife? A forest worker? A mill hand or tavern habitué? Visiting royalty? Voice chosen, it was a question of finding a tone, a taste of the period language, and appropriate diction. A huge book I found on the forest industry from coast to coast helped, with hundreds of first-person accounts and famous songs and tall tales.
          Various technical challenges shaped the work. One was conveying enough information without overloading the poem with facts (a constant temptation for me!) Several poems made use of the traditional Victorian long-winded title. In others, an epigraph from the era provided information plus flavour. For an extended work, I wanted to avoid the dullness of one left-aligned free verse after another. So I tried a villanelle, a pantoum, a palindrome poem, where it seemed to me that the form would enhance to the poem’s impact. The roughly chronological arrangement of the work helped address the challenge of creating narrative continuity in a discontinuous form. I also played with line breaks. In one poem, evoking Booth as a young fellow splitting wood, variations in breaks around the phrase “the wood splits clean” embodied his decision to leave home.
          I found this first exploration of an integrated project rewarding. I was able to delve into a different world for a prolonged period, and gain an in-depth feeling for what the times were like. Having that world to return to made new poems easier than starting completely afresh. I missed both Booth and his times when I was done.



Jean Van Loon’s collection, Building on River (Cormorant Books, 2018) was shortlisted for the Ottawa Book Prize. Her stories, poems, and reviews have appeared in literary magazines and in Journey Prize Stories.