Monday, November 23, 2020

Talking Poetics #32 : Rose Maloukis


Talking Poetics


It seems that I tend to write ‘around’ something before I actually get to the poem and it’s often the case that I’m trying to answer a question, an old one, a new one, in order to see how I feel.  I try to get under that answer to find out if there’s anything else, and if I’ve expressed the element that’s most important to me.  Answers I view as fluid, and the question serves as only a point of departure.

I often go back to my ‘reject’ file and can sometimes find an idea to work with in a new way or at least see why the thing never really made it as a poem.  I think that most poets do that.  To me it’s helpful not only as a source for new work, but to see the changes and progress in one’s practice.

Coming from a background in visual arts, it’s common for a poem to begin with an image or an object, something I see that moves me.  If it’s an object, for example, I’ll describe maybe its shape and purpose, etc.  I try to keep the surface simple while I watch what happens in the poem, and if I’m very attentive I can push it deeper.  It helps if there’s some sort of emotional connection to the object.

I want the poem to be relatively clear to the non-poet reader, have them be able to take away some part of my offer.  I use both concrete and abstract nouns, whatever seems to suit the poem.  I don’t mind ambiguity.  I think that a reader can make an imaginative leap or two.  And it is a thrill for me to hear what they’ve imagined.

In one poem I used the sound “clic…clic…clic” which one reader imagined to be the click of my internal camera, another thought it was the sound of a spoon hitting the edge of a bowl.  I wrote it as the sound of a gas stove being lit.  All the readings worked for the poem. 

The poem on the page:

I enjoy concrete poetry.  A relatively recent example that took my breath away, is Derek Beaulieu’s piece in Arc, Summer 2019 issue.  I love “Debths” by Susan Howe and was amazed to learn that this book was first published when she was seventy-six!

Usually, I pay particular attention to breath for breaking a line or stanza.  When I haven’t used punctuation, it is deliberate, as I want the reader to use their own rhythm for the poem and possibly read it differently if they choose to read it more than once.  If I can get it to work without it sounding awkward, I try to have the last line of a stanza stand on its own and at the same time, carry over to the next stanza’s first line—that line reading as complete on its own as well.  This example is from a poem in Cloud Game with Plums (my chapbook published by above/ground press in July 2020).

Is this my net—

          Am I throwing it
          to catch my life—
               what matters

From this distance I can’t tell
          if you are walking toward me
          or just walking

I enjoy the layers it creates but only do that for one or two stanzas, otherwise I think it could become monotonous.  And, it takes some time to understand what hurts and what helps a poem’s content, in terms of layout and line break. 

It is experimentation, the idea of, let’s see what happens if…, that keeps me writing.

And, once in a while, I find a poem just lying there on the sidewalk, waiting to be

picked up.





Rose Maloukis, poet and visual artist, holds a BFA from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.  Her poetry was short-listed for the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize. She won 2nd place in Geist’s erasure poem competition.  Her chapbook, CloudGame with Plums was published by above/ground press. And, she has a poem forthcoming in The Fiddlehead.

Friday, November 20, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #24 : Horsebroke Press

Jeff Blackman is a poet and publisher. He has authored 15 chapbooks of poetry and prose including the Coral Castle Trilogy with Jusitn Million, BLIZZARD: Ottawa City Stories with Peter Gibbon, and most recently, You Just Proved Poems Work, available from Horsebroke Press. Check out his May 2020 virtual reading here complete with green screen and lip synching (15 minute mark). Register for Meet the Presses' virtual conference to see him on a magazines and journal panel Sunday, November 29, at noon EST.

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?

Horsebroke Press began around 2010, mainly as a means to self-publish broadsides and chapbooks. In 2020 I’ve focussed on monthly zine production.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair?

I can’t say how many times. The first time I exhibited would have been with In/Words Magazine & Press back in 2007 when the event was at Library & Archives Canada; may have been a special Ottawa Writers Fest edition. I’ve since been there on behalf of The Moose & Pussy, Apt. 9 Press a couple times sitting in for Cameron Anstee, and Horsebroke.

Q: How do you find the experience?

Once you make back the cost of the table, it’s great.

Q: Would you have made something specific for either of this year’s fairs? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring or fall fair this year effect how or what you might be producing? 

Those are good questions and I have no answers for them.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs?

I launched a zine in March 2020, the week Ontario shut down, titled These Days. The first one was intentionally intimate. I reached out to a few of my neighbours plus my immediate family, who all happen to be photographers, artists, and poets. Plus Justin Million in Peterborough, my life-long collaborator.

I sent copies to additional family and close friends, and personally invited them to contribute. I continued this, expanding outward month by month, with issue one reaching about fifteen households, then twenty, then thirty, and on it’s gone to now around 50. It’s exclusively a print thing, sent out by regular mail.

I’ve missed a deadline or two, but as of November 2020 I’d received contributions from about 30 friends and family members, and published a half-dozen issues.

After a friend insisted on paying for issue #2, I started accepted donations via The magazine continues to remain free for everyone I’ve ever asked to contribute, and all the money I raise goes back to the contributors. Starting with issue #4 I retroactively paid all contributors an honorarium of $10. As of now I’m now paying $15 honorariums.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community? 

The online workshops the Tree Reading Series run are very good. The whole team at Tree has just done an incredible job this year. As has the team behind VERSeFest, and the Riverbed Reading Series, which also launched during the pandemic.

As part of an ongoing series, I’ve interviewed some of the folks behind all three of these events. I was driven part by genuine curiosity, and part by a desire to drum up interest. It’s hard getting anything online going in the endless sea of free content.

And that was one of the driving forces behind launching a mail-only print zine in 2020. To maintain my connections with family and friends, and nurture the connections between them. With the exception of promotion and sales, I’m keeping content offline and have no plans to digitize.

Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce?

For the first couple issues I was really worried about droplets and would intentionally let the zines sit for a day before mailing them. I’m not so paranoid now and trust Canada Post to keep us safe.

This whole endeavour has all brought me back to my roots, photocopying and stapling black and white art together and just getting it out there. It feels great.

Q: What are your most recent publications? How might folk be able to order copies? 

These Days #6 featured photography by my partner, Kate Maxfield, prose by a friend from my salad days, Vanessa Davies, and an interview with Avonlea Fotheringham, VERSeFest administrator, about getting that festival online. Kate’s photography of Lowertown and Centretown is some of her best, and Vanessa’s true story of life in the face of death will move even the most cynical.

I’d also plug issue #5, also still available. I don’t go out looking for themes, but they happen sometimes. I wound up with an entire issue about motherhood, with heartwarming and -breaking poems by Ksenija Spasic, LN Woodward, Gail Blackman (my mom!), and Peter Gibbon. And just an awesome poem by my son as well.

Both of these issues are available via my Etsy store (, as are a few other back issues and old chapbooks by Justin and I.

Q: What are you working on now? 

Issue #7 will be out in December. I’m hoping for a big holiday issue, but you can’t predict these things.

I’ll be accepting contributions up to Nov 27. You can reach me at That won’t change in 2021.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Talking Poetics #31 : Stephen Collis

thresholds of the poem

Poems have so many points of genesis. Mine often arrive through study—through reading, through being in pursuit of something—some idea, some history, notes accumulating and suddenly something stands out—a found phrase, a concept, a problem, a voice—and the poem starts up. Sometimes they feel even more given—a donated line appearing out of nowhere, when you weren’t even looking for a poem. “Give me music” began like this—a voice suddenly stepping up to the inner mic and calling out, “Give me music because I never could understand it.” Now I have a job: follow where the given line might lead—sometimes a sprint down the page in hot pursuit, sometimes slower, involving long pauses while listening for what might come next—walking, thinking—brooding even.

I love not knowing where the poem came from, exactly, and where it might go. The poem’s strangeness—it’s being a stranger I must entertain, or prove myself a poor host. The value of the half-understood, the just-glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. The capacity to be surprised. What I’ve always valued in poetry.

And the permeability of selves. That voice with its demand—“Give me”—is not me—is a version of me—is a supposed person (as Emily Dickinson called her poetic “I”)—a “person of the poem” (Robert Duncan). Voice in poetry is a practice of the outside—a listening to what crosses the thresholds of the self. “Give me”—what? What do you need? I will try to find it, best I can. I will try to listen—good listening being the art of making poetry. And that listening, if it’s working, I find it cycles up and down in register—from “upper limit music,” as Louis Zukofsky had it, to “lower limit speech”—the poet with their finger on the fader, riding it up and down at the mixing board. So there’s speechy things—voices—what I have to hear as something said—and then there’s the turn away from what feels like a voice, into the densities of language, the unspoken spoken, the sound of language sounding itself, testing its depths—what are the “mechanisms / of consanguinity”? Why the ambiguities of “same as struck only dinosaurs”? Speech and what I’m choosing to call music—the making of meaning and the making and marking of silences and presenting absences—the void rendered on the page—the blank from which language rises—gazing back at the nothing from which it comes and to which it will very shortly return—is the struggle I turn to poetry to engage in.

Somewhere in the writing of this poem I began to realize what I was writing was a brief prelude to my forthcoming book A History of the Theories of Rain. I find how a book begins—where to mark what is outside the book—not the book—and what will be the beginning of some hundred pages of poetry—is always a tricky thing. So I like little preludes that are somehow before the book, outside its main structure and table of contents. Heralds. Beacons we might wander towards. And yet the book’s main themes are here—especially the sense of being already in the midst of the disaster of our times—which is in part the rupture of temporality itself. In terms of the climate emergency—the attempt to name the cusp we are on, the threshold we are sliding across—forecasting what is to come involves hindcasting of what has gone before. And science loves the fantasy of an imagined future science millions of years hence looking back on us now at the mark we leave in the geologic record. See! I told you you fucked it up! So—in the poem—dinosaurs, and those dinosaurs who “survived” the “last collapse”—the ones with wings, the ones which became birds—especially seabirds, which I read somewhere, all birds today have evolved from (true/not true—not necessarily poetry’s business). What music comes out of our crumbling? What speech matters now? I kept Teju Cole’s words in mind—the book’s epigraph—“The disaster is here, it is just not evenly distributed.”

Coming to the last lines of this poem—“the possibility of song remains / without words to smother it”—my editor at Talonbooks, poet Catriona Strang, commented: “and yet words are what’s to come.” Why start a book this way? Good question. It’s a cliché, I know—that poetry is saying the unsayable—but yeah, I kind of go in for that. It’s a marking of the threshold again too: the poem is perfect … until it is written—that music we can hear—that voice just stepping to the mic inside—all the possibilities of sound and texture—perfect while they remain nothing more than potential music—and music, I fucking love music, but I have no real capacity or facility to make music—so these words will have to do, will have to stand in the place of the music I can’t render. Here’s the song I can’t sing—every poem, every book—the song I can’t sing.

Oh yeah, and that other threshold—the one the scientists can graph for us again and again, which we keep humming our way across—all our sweet potentialities awaiting the potential smothering to come. Sorry. It’s kind of dark. But that’s—kind of—where things seem to be at.

Give me music because

I never could understand its

direct connection to

that feeling stream

squall and water clock

washing ideas right out of me

taking up the mechanisms

of consanguinity rushing

toward last light over Pacific

and some seabird there

gliding and catching moonlight

same as struck only dinosaurs

to have survived last

collapse of intricate order

winging now into night

as the cellos soar and

the possibility of song remains

without words to smother it



Stephen Collis is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Commons (Talonbooks 2008), the BC Book Prize winning On the Material (Talonbooks 2010), Once in Blockadia (Talonbooks 2016) and Almost Islands: Phyllis Webb and the Pursuit of the Unwritten (Talonbooks 2018). In 2019 he was awarded the Latner Writers’ Trust of Canada Poetry Prize in recognition of his body of work. In 2021 Talonbooks will publish A History of the Theories of Rain. He lives near Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territory, and teaches poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University.