Monday, December 28, 2020

Talking Poetics #35 : Michael Edwards


I must confess that, for me, a poem starts when I simply begin to say what I’m seeing. Then comes the much less simple task of wrapping that sight or vision into a vocal collage of gathered words, text, image, metaphor. The true labour is in integrating these fragments with notions and conceptions of what a poem does and how a poem can come together. Inexplicably, a framework or loose narrative begins to take shape.

In thinking of beginning a poem, I’m reminded that it’s mostly this mysterious leap across a threshold into language. For me, the words of Seamus Heaney are helpful here. He spoke of poems as starting in a certain kind of “infancy,” in an unspoken-ness. Heaney said: “All good poems have been gathered in silence and have moved from the unspoken need, to the luck of getting spoken right.” I tend to agree with him. I have a line of my own recorded in one of my notebooks: “Let an unshaped voice spill out.” This is a related sentiment, my personal attempt at articulating a kind of permission to say what must be said, in an unencumbered way.

To back up a bit, to begin with, I often scramble, in hopes that I’m expedient enough to gather the nascent bits of image, metaphor, line, into the “Notes” app on my phone, or else penciled into the small notebook carried in my back pocket. It’s imperative I get the notes down before the particular image or language disappears and in more cases than I care to count, most likely never returns. In this way, for me, the notebook is an essential tool to corral the useful, fleeting thoughts, to be recorded for later use. I think this means that my notebook functions much like a fragmented daydream diary. I recall Matthew Zapruder described poets somewhere as, “lucid dreamers.” Within my own experience and mode of coming to poems, I can identify with this label (as much as a label is of any value).

Aside from an accumulation of notes, often the unloading of frequent free-writes is a beneficial precursor to traveling the path to a poem. I say this, but this the whole process is highly mysterious. And to embrace this mystery is the crucial part of my practice, since mystery equates to an abundance of questions (with few obvious answers). There’s a feeling like every new poem I write is, in some way, questioning or experimental. Experimental, in the sense that each new poem is a novelty and I’m testing its limits, putting it through its paces, and sometimes like building a plane while also flying it.

In making poems, I’ve recently spent considerable time contemplating the role of metaphor in my work. Specifically, I’ve been playing around and comparing things like garbage to lasagna or a mountain to a watermark on paper. I find the figurative elements can require more time to percolate, brew, steep. The exactness of putting words to this, for proper effect to a reader’s ear/mind, is where the work is. And as Heaney expressed, it requires a certain amount of (or often mostly) luck. The language comes or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, I put the poem down and pick it up another day.

In the beginning, especially, I think of poems as objects which are ready to burn. I find that any and all things can (and perhaps should) be material for a poem. I like to think of this poem-stuff as a sort of kindling, ready to split, the material needed to start the fire. It requires taking a hatchet to the loose structure. I suppose what I’m saying is that, to start with, poems are incendiary and quite unstable.

Reading is important, so important. As I’m thinking about poems and moving through the process of making a poem, any smattering of poets might occur to me. The most beneficial thing I have found is the concurrent practice of closely reading the work of other contemporary poets. Something happens as I voraciously consume and digest poems. I notice some similarities in the work I’ve been doing with the stuff I read from these other poets. I’ll think, “Hey, I like that.’ or “Oh, I’m doing something a bit like that, too.” It’s a sense of confirmation that I’m on the right track, that others are also putting stuff out there, asking the reader how it’s working.

I see the boundaries and conventions of poetry as the thin rubber sides of a balloon, waiting for the hot air of a poet's voice to stretch, the stuff of form, into a poem’s final expansion or shape. It is as the edges are pushed, the really interesting stuff can happen. Think balloon animals. If you picture a balloon-chicken now, that’s about right. Pecking away at poems, over time, is my process.

And over time, the most interesting part of developing as a poet is learning the rules, then leaving them behind. Kayla Czaga, my mentor at SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, once reminded me of this, in the situational and contextual use of adjectives. Adjectives are typically frowned upon when used or relied on as ‘poetic devices’ (on the wrong side or the “Show vs. Tell” paradigm/heuristic). I’m often recalling these rules and discarding them simultaneously as I revise my work. Her helpful reminder: “There are no hard and fast rules.” As a poet you must “work it out for yourself.”

So, in making a poem, the process is really at the discretion of the poet, governed by their creative impulses. Of course the other side of the equation matters, a reader's willingness to engage the poet linguistically and creatively in a type of conversation. As I work, I’m vaguely aware, there’s this relationality that must play out, as a poem is filtered by first readers and further outward. But in this, I try not to forget that making a poem is basically an endless first step, entangled and wonderfully messy: create, play, engage, subvert.

In the messiness, I try new things and very often they fail. Which just means I’m getting somewhere. If a poem is ever finished, I’ll have to tell you when I get there. In the end, which is never really the end, I think of Jim Harrison, recorded at a reading he once gave. He spoke of one of his early poems, “Walking,” in a kind of sarcastic self-criticism to relish in. He said: “Well, you know the great thing about art is that it doesn’t have to make sense.”

December 27, 2020



Michael Edwards is a poet, writer, editor and busy dad living in Vancouver, BC on traditional, unceded Musqueam territories. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio Online at SFU (2020), he has been published in various online journals. Michael is also the editor of Red Alder Review, an online publication focused on building connections between writers and the wider community. // Twitter: @michaelwrites1



Monday, December 21, 2020

Talking Poetics #34 : Juliet Cook

How does a poem get started for you, and is that something that has changed over time?

Usually my poems get started with a sudden, unexpected inspiration or jolt that causes a few words or a line or occasionally multiple lines to pop out. Often the lines are semi-abstract and not based on content so much as on feelings. That part has changed to an extent over the years. When I was younger, my poems tended to be a little bit more content-based, sometimes character-based, sometimes focused on stories or specific ideas worked into poems. But now it's often more like visuals or emotions worked into poems. Granted, most of the visuals and emotions are derived from parts of my own life experiences.

My poetry STYLE has changed to certain extents over the years too. I think I used to be more language-based and now I'm more emotions/thoughts/feelings based. Plus of course some of my emotions/thoughts/feelings have changed over the years too. I think most if not all of my styles are mental, visual, and horrific in one way or another, though.

Recently (at least partly because of covid related issues), I've been having more trouble than usual with concentrating and focusing my energy and I've even been feeling less inspired.

But usually my jolts can be catalyzed by any number of things, from reading other poems to movies to dreams to art to news articles etc... Sometimes it just seems to come from out of nowhere.

In the past, I made more of a purposeful effort to catalyze my own poems (through writing prompts, setting aside specific time to write even if I wasn't in the mood, and so on). Now I usually just wait for them to suddenly and naturally emerge for their own reasons. I still need to set aside time though, because even if my poems come out more naturally than they used to, that doesn't mean that a whole poem spurts itself out in less than 10 minutes and is automatically done. It's more like the initial starting point of a poem come out faster, but then it still needs to be shaped and completed.

Do you begin with a loose structure, a phrase or a word, or the kernel of an idea?

I would say a phrase (or several phrases), a word (or several words), and a very loose structure combined with emotions, thoughts and feelings. I don't tend to think of my poems as stories, so I don't begin with an idea. I think of my poems more like art combined with or derived from emotional thematics. Depending on the poem, the art/emotions can range from abstract to over the top to broken down diary explorations. It usually feels personal in one way or another

Are you prompted by the work of other poets, or, say, something you read in a newspaper?

I'm not usually prompted by the work of any one particular poet, but am definitely prompted by particular poems. I can also be prompted by other kinds of writing, art, music, movies, politics, the news...

Earlier this year, I was unexpectedly prompted to write a small series of poems semi-inspired by this year's coronavirus. I don't usually tend to purposely write poems based on current events or what's in the news today, but these just surged out, probably in part because I was so stressed out and semi-panicked by the pandemic and when I'm feeling mentally imbalanced, it often helps to attempt expressing my feelings poetically.

Quite a few poems came out faster than usual and I ended up organizing/formatting them into a small chapbook manuscript, but now I'm not sure what to do with it, because it seems like the longer bad things last (the virus, that is), the more people want to ignore them (and/or even if people aren't ignoring the issues in terms of their behavior that doesn't mean they want to read poems about it too).

I think these pandemic-inspired poems happened for similar reasons that a lot of my poems happen. My brain feels the need to creatively extract negative energy into poems. If 'm really stressed out or anxious or depressed or sad or angry or worried or upset, I'm drawn to trying to express that via poetry.

I'm not very good at writing upbeat or positive or happy or love-oriented poems - and the few times I have tried, even if they're decently written and involve genuine expression, they tend to bother me afterwards and seem unimportant.

I'm not drawn to light-hearted poems. I'm drawn to borderline dark, intense and emotional.

Do you start at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or work from a scattering of notebook entries?

All of the above in different ways? Initially, I feel like I'm starting a new poem at the beginning, but as I continue working on it, its order can be somewhat rearranged - and of course parts of it can be eliminated.

For years, the most challenging part of a poem for me seemed to be how to end it. I'd go on too long until it went from feeling interesting to overly obvious by the time it reached the over-done end.

In more recent years, I tend to be fine with the end of a poem seeming relatively random, because that's often life and death.

Usually the last thing I do with a poem is title it. I'm not a fan of untitled poems or numbered poems (with nothing else but the number), partly because I feel like that might be rather lazy because it is sometimes hard to title poems.

When I'm working on a small series of thematically linked poems, I'm fine with using the same title for all of them (for example, my small series of virus-inspired poems are all entitled "Museum of Impending Death"), but with individual poems, for some reason, it's more challenging to me.

Do you utilize notebooks, and how does that help?

I used to for many years, but not nearly so much anymore. I like print notebooks and journals, both visually and conceptually, but in recent years, I'm increasingly disorganized with that sort of stuff. I think there might be semi-illogical mental reasons, because I really have no logical explanation for the facts that I tend to have multiple different notebooks with different things written in them, lying all over my house, instead of just sticking to one notebook until that notebook doesn't have any blank pages left and then moving on to the next one.

I'm currently sitting in front of my computer typing this - and if I look to my left, I see three different in-progress notebooks, in close proximity to each other.  Then if I walk into my bedroom, I see at least six other in-progress notebooks, on the floor, in pretty close proximity to each other.

Then there are the piles upon piles of notes written on individual sheets of paper, all over the place.

It's almost like I'm some sort of semi-obsessive compulsive notebook/paper hoarder or something. I mean, I do write in/on the notebooks and paper, but I don't understand or can't quite explain why I don't finish one before I start another one (and another one and another one). Thus what seems akin to illogical hoarding - but a rather unusual sort of hoarding, not based on saving things for no apparent reason so much as based on my brain being in the moment.

Maybe that's part of the reason I do most of my poetry writing on my computer these days. In the past, I always used to start my poems in print notebooks or on paper until they reached a certain point, but not anymore.

Maybe some people spend a lot of time organizing and storing their materials, but I spend a lot of time creating new materials and then moving on to the next one.  I  don't ignore my past, but I don't keep on organizing it into files, because that would cause me to feel like I was backtracking.  In terms of my present activities, I tend to be very week to week and day to day.

I'm fine with that for the most part, but I do worry that when I die, my space will be an unorganized mess (both paperwork-wise and computer-wise) and nobody will know where anything is or what anything means to me because so much of it is inside my own head and/or stored in my own odd ways and/or in recent communication with the very few people I'm close to, and even they don't know how my poetry stuff is organized/unorganized.

But I don't want to be one of those people who spends more time cleaning and tidying and organizing instead of thinking and expressing and creating.

But even so, I think maybe I should try to find a little bit more of a balance for organization of my own materials so I don't end up surrounded by my own unorganized chaos.

Are there other writers at the back of your head as you work?  

No. I'm certainly sometimes inspired by individual poems/poets (and sometimes visual art/artists, music/musicians, movies/directors, or TV shows), usually on a visual or visceral emotional level, but not while I'm in the process of actually working on a poem. Even if a particular poem or song or art piece catalyzes my poetic process, once my own process begins, then that's where my focus is.

Maybe even focusing on recent threads in your work, or even a recent (and/or recently published) poem?

Here's the first Museum of Impending Death poem, which appeared in Can We Have Our Ball Back? this past April.

Museum of Impending Death

I now live inside a museum of dead rabbits
with entrails cut out and engraved

Babies crawl inside a giant latex glove.
Fluorescent lights drip blood.

It's hard to fall asleep
without knowing I might die.

I'm tired all day, half ripped
tails hiding behind flickering eyes.

Exhaustion tries to pull me in, sink me down,
drown me in its catastrophic well.




Juliet Cook's poetry has appeared in a small multitude of print and online publications, in the course of over 25 years. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including From One Ruined Human to Another (Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective/Dark Particle, 2018), DARK PURPLE INTERSECTIONS (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9, 2019), Another Set of Ripped-Out Bloody Pigtails (The Poet's Haven, 2019), The Rabbits with Red Eyes (Ethel Zine & Micro-Press, March 2020) and most recently, Histrionics Inside my Interior City was a part of Ghost City Press's 2020 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series.

Cook's first full-length individual poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. She's also included in a full-length collaborative poetry book, A Red Witch, Every Which Way, with j/j hastain, published by Hysterical Books in 2016. Her most recent full-length individual poetry book, Malformed Confetti was published by Crisis Chronicles Press in 2018. Her most recent collaboration is a collection of poetry by four writers, Cook and Dianne Borsenik and Puma Perl and Jeanette Powers, Heaven We Haven't Yet Dreamed, published by Stubborn Mule Press in 2019.

Cook also sometimes creates abstract painting collage art hybrid creatures.

Cook's tiny independent press, Blood Pudding Press, sometimes publishes hand-designed poetry chapbooks and sometimes creates other art.

Find out more at

Monday, December 07, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #25 :, established in 2003, publishes poetry online monthly by current and former Ottawa residents, students and workers. The site also includes a calendar of literary, spoken word, storytelling and nonfiction events taking place in the National Capital Region, news of book and chapbook publications, workshops, festivals, workshops, contests, calls for submission, a guide for organizers on accessible venues, and other guides for those who wish to do readings in Ottawa and those who wish to take creative writing classes and workshops.

Amanda Earl is the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. She’s a writer, visual poet, editor and publisher. More information is available at or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started? began in 2003, after Bywords, the monthly magazine that had started in 1990 ceased publication in 2001. I had been a student in two of Seymour Mayne's creative writing poetry workshops in 2000 and 2001. Bywords had been a magazine run by a collective of Mayne, Heather Ferguson and Gwendolyn Guth. It was made up of poetry submitted in the mail from people all over. It also included a calendar of events. There were also a couple of anthologies. You could pick up Bywords around town in cafes, pubs and other places. I picked up several in the 90s, so I knew of it, and appreciated it. After it had to end because the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton didn't give them funding, and perhaps because, i imagine the hard word that the volunteer team did was starting to get to be too much after 11 years.

Professor Mayne wanted to continue Bywords, and several of my classmates and I got together to come up with a plan to do so. Charles, my husband, had tech skill from a long career in information technology. We purchased the domain, he designed the site, a number of people from the group volunteered as selectors.

We published monthly poems an a quarterly magazine (Bywords Quarterly Journal (BQJ) 2003-2013), held an award: The John Newlove Poetry Award (Newlove died in December 2003, we had a memorial online the following April and a print anthology chapbook, Moments, Not Monuments shortly after, which included some of his poems and the poems of others. The award, which began in 2004, offers those published on to have a chapbook published with us.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?, possibly in 2002, not sure when exactly, we sold chapbooks for Friday Circle, the small press Professor Mayne had started for chapbooks by members of his creative writing class. We loved the fair, meeting the vendors, and in particular fell in love with the chapbook as an independent, creative way to publish small work and to engage with fellow chapbook makers. We also heard from people at the fair that they missed the Bywords monthly magazine, particularly the calendar. Going to that fair was a big reason why we decided to take on a role in bringing Bywords into the 21st century and publishing poetry, both online and in print. has had a table at the fair for both spring and autumn ever since, including when I was just released from hospital in 2009 on the day of the fair. Charles and I couldn't be there so some kind friends tabled for us. If my math is correct, this means we've had a table 32 times.

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

We ceased publication of the BQJ in 2013 and publish the John Newlove Poetry Award chapbook in the autumn, so we didn’t have to prepare anything for either the spring or fall small press fairs; however, we are hoping to be able to participate in the June, 2021 fair very much and will have copies of David Groulx’s chapbooks along with our additional titles from the Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook series. Often there are a few collectors who stop by to pick up issues of the BQJ that they’ve missed, so we try to have at least one full collection, all forty issues on hand.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world? continues to publish the online issue. I am grateful to our selectors for continuing to read the poems every month, and to the poets who kindly entrust us with their work.

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?

Our sole reading is the John Newlove Poetry Award, which is held in October and hosted by the Ottawa International Writers Festival. This year the Festival held our event, and many others virtually through Zoom, with the technical help of the Ottawa Public Library. We had 7 participants, so our event was more complicated to co-ordinate than many of the Festival events. Alexine Marier and her team from the Library were wonderful. Our participants handled having to be in their own homes and presenting their work in front of a live but invisible audience very well. The Library hired a company to do the close captioning and provided a wonderful recording of the event. I am very grateful. You can see the video here:

I’m not attending a lot of live virtual events. The few that I have attended were lovely, and I’ve gone back to a few I’ve missed and enjoyed watching them, such as some of the VERSeFest events. I connect to the larger literary community quite well, mainly through social media, but also through an exchange of correspondence: snail or e-mail and by reading their work. Also by hosting many writers on the podcast I run through AngelHousePress, which as become very important to me as a way of supporting them and sharing their creative work.

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?

We haven’t had any issues. We purchased our supplies for the Newlove Award (certificates, envelopes etc) online as opposed to going to our local office supplies company, and we had no trouble at all getting our most recent chapbook published. Every year we print the Newlove chapbook in September. Our printer, Elephant Print, is a local small printer. Naheed Davis, its owner, has been printing our chapbooks since the mid-aughts, even offering ideas on design. She's marvelous. If people are looking for a really great printer with experience printing chapbooks, I highly recommend Elephant Print.

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

Our most recent publication is What the Haruspex read in the Small hours of my Body by David Groulx, our 2019 John Newlove Poetry Award recipient. The chapbook is available for purchase, along with several other chapbooks from the series and copies of the Bywords Quarterly Journal (2003-2013), in the store.

Q: What are you working on now?

Always working on the next issue of Charles and I also have to start working on the City of Ottawa 2021 Arts Funding Program proposal which is due on January 11, 2021. And at the end of January, Megan Misztal, who won the Newlove Award this year, will send her draft manuscript for our editors to begin working on. All being well, she will launch in next October in person at the Festival.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Talking Poetics #33 : Johannes Göransson


How does a poem get started for you, and is that something that has changed over time? Do you begin with a loose structure, a phrase or a word, or the kernel of an idea?

There is not one way poems get started. Sometimes I have an idea of an overall shape or narrative, other times it's a mood, or just a combination of words, a sentence structure. My most recent book, POETRY AGAINST ALL, were diary entries I originally wrote for my book The Sugar Book but then I took them out of the manuscript and, later, I realized they were their own book, a kind of diaristic account narrative. My most recently completed piece, Summer, started with a sentence in translation - "The rabble is at the door," translated from an early poem by Mats Söderlund - but what that sentence meant to me kept changing. I also started letting Swedish words pop into the poems which gave it a glitchy rhythm that I liked and that gave a for me interesting spin on that sentence. Like language could function like a rabble that wants to enter into the pure space of the lyric. Since I finished that sequence (it's about 100 pgs) a couple of months ago, I've been working on sci-fi stories, one of which grew into a kind of novel-poem of sorts, in large part because I felt I had done everything I knew how to do with Summer. I had exhausted myself, had put it all in there and then I had nothing left. So I figured I should write some sci-fi stories in part to try something totally different.

Are you prompted by the work of other poets, or, say, something you read in a newspaper?

Yes definitely from other poets. Often it's poets who have something in common with me but are significantly different - for example Alice Notley always makes me want to write. That difference inspires me because it creates a creative counter-pole for the writing, a force that draws my writing out of its normal orbit. But also non-literary stuff - paintings, the letters of serial killers, movies, ads etc. For the same reason I like poets who are somewhat different, I like the idea of approximating a work in another media (say a painting by Basquiat) because the difference in media creates a counter-pole that pushes my writing into new shapes and ideas.

Do you start at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or work from a scattering of notebook entries? Do you utilize notebooks, and how does that help?

I start at the beginning but by the time I get to the end it may no longer be the beginning. My writing is I guess itself vert notebook-like.

How are line-breaks (or the choice to ignore them) chosen? Etcetera. Maybe even focusing on recent threads in your work, or even a recent (and/or recently published) poem? Are there other writers at the back of your head as you work?  

I feel like my poems choose the linebreaks for me based on the rhythm and shape of the poem. Many of my books are in prose because I often don't like line breaks, preferring poems that keep going. Or often - like in The Sugar Book - the line breaks are awkward and weird, throwing off the very idea of musicality or rhythm. In Summer, the rhythm is very important and the enjambment of the lines is crucial. Often the enjambment functions as a hinge between sentences, languages or images.

Born in Lund, Sweden, Johannes Göransson now lives in South Bend, Indiana, where he teaches at the University of Notre Dame. He’s the author of eight books, including POETRY AGAINST ALL, The Sugar Book and Transgressive Circulations: Essays on Translation, and the translator of several poets, including Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Helena Boberg and Kim Yideum.