Tuesday, August 22, 2017

the above/ground press 24th anniversary reading/launch/party!

above/ground press presents readings and other such by an array of poets:
Stephanie Bolster (Montreal)
Adele Graf (Ottawa)
Kristina Drake (East Hawkesbury)
Amanda Earl (Ottawa)
+ rob mclennan (Ottawa)
lovingly hosted by above/ground press author and Apt 9 Press editor/publisher Cameron Anstee
7:30pm door/8pm reading
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Backdrop Food & Drink
160 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa

$5 at the door; includes a copy of a recent above/ground press title

Stephanie Bolster has published four books of poetry, the first of which, White Stone: The Alice Poems, won the Governor General's and the Gerald Lampert Awards in 1998. Her latest book, A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth (Brick Books, 2011) was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Award. Work from her current manuscript-in-progress, Long Exposure, from which this chapbook is also drawn, was a finalist for the Canada Writes/CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008 and co-editor of Penned: Zoo Poems, she was born in Vancouver and teaches creative writing at Concordia University in Montréal.

She will be launching the chapbook GHOSTS.

This is Stephanie Bolster’s fourth above/ground press chapbook, after the original Three Bloody Words (1996), Biodome (2006) and Three Bloody Words: Twentieth Anniversary Edition (2016). She also appeared in the fifth issue of the long poem magazine STANZAS (April 1995).

Adele Graf’s poems have appeared in many Canadian journals including The Antigonish Review, CV2, The Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead, Room and Vallum. Her first poetry collection, math for couples, was published this spring by Guernica Editions. 

She will be launching the chapbook a Baltic Friday early in grey.

Kristina Drake writes and edits in the wilderness of East Hawkesbury, Ontario. Her poems have previously appeared in Carte Blanche, Soliloquies and Yalla!, as an above/ground press broadside, and as a Tuesday poem on Dusie.

She will be launching the chapbook Ornithology.

Amanda Earl is an Ottawa writer, publisher and visual poet. She’s the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. More information is available at AmandaEarl.com.

She will be launching the chapbook Lady Lazarus Redux.

This is Earl’s fifth chapbook with above/ground press, after Eleanor(2007), The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman (2008), Sex First & Then A Sandwich (2012) and A Book of Saints (2015).

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). He has two poetry collections forthcoming: Life Sentence (Flat Singles Press, 2018) and Household items (Salmon Poetry, 2018). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, Touch the Donkey and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater. He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, a regular contributor to the Ploughshares blog, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

He will be launching the chapbook It's still winter.

This is mclennan's millionth chapbook with above/ground press. There are too many to list.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Julie Carr, Objects from a Borrowed Confession

Therefore the question “Does God exist” is the wrong question.

The answer for religious and non-religious people is the same: no. God does not “exist,” is an object constructed not according to truth but verisimilitude. A literary truth. What exists, says the philosopher to the children, are relationships between us humans, and also the idea of nothingness. These relationships can be more or less activated; we can think about them a lot, or only a little. Also, all of us can think about nothing when we want to. Everyone can entertain the idea of “nothingness” as easily as they can think about their mother. As easily as they can think about their son. A process is always distinct from its products. But whether thinking about it, imagining it, or refusing to, we’re always in some relationship with this nothing, and so, though God does not exist, it also does not exist, and so God is, if we want to say “is,” always on the side of the sky, with the sky open. (“Objects from a Borrowed Confession”)

Denver poet Julie Carr’s latest is Objects from a Borrowed Confession (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2017), a collection that explores the form and arguments of confession, the intimate and “confessional poetry.” Through a blend of forms, Objects from a Borrowed Confession weaves poetry, memoir and critical prose to compose a lyric essay on the very nature of confession itself, as she writes to open the “Author Statement” that accompanies the press release [the full version of which is also available via the Ahsahta Press web page]:

The works in Objects from a Borrowed Confession have been written over a stretch of approximately ten years, in and around the writing of various other books of poetry and prose. They all share a common obsession with the theme of confession. I became interested in this theme partially because the term “confessional poetry” carried such negative connotations when I was “coming up” in poetry, even as poets considered “confessional,” especially Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, had been so important to me as a young writer. The situation was similar to being a hard-core punk kid while sometimes listening to Joni Mitchell in my bedroom. I wanted to think about what the Language Poets and the Conceptual Poets had against “confession,” but I also wanted to see why confession was so important to our broader culture. Obviously, in the age of Facebook and the memoir, everyone is a confessional poet, and I wanted to explore that impulse and the attraction we have to one another’s secrets. On a more philosophical level, I wanted to understand what the act of confession has to do with intimacy, empathy and subjectivity.

Through ten sections, Objects from a Borrowed Confession exists as a curious meeting point between the works of New York poet Rachel Zucker and American non-fiction writer Sarah Manguso, composing a conversation illuminating what it is about “confession” that seems so frightening, and easy to dismiss by both writers and readers alike. Thick as a thesis, Carr’s lyric, ten years in the making, is perfectly timed, given the shifts in memoir-writing, non-fiction and, quite pointedly, the “confession,” via writers such as Manguso and Maggie Nelson. In comparison, Objects from a Borrowed Confession retains a strong foothold in poetry, and might even be better to compare to Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s more recent (and quite remarkable) On a clear day (Ahsahta Press, 2017) [see my review of such here] (or even works by Sue Landers and Susan Howe). As Carr writes: “I confess here and now to liking the shape of my own lips as they enact / the future of feeling on a minor scale my focus as narrow as my ambition is grand but these are / ideas we have encountered before so perhaps it’s time to alter my font?”

Highlights abound, but I’ll point out the book’s penultimate section, the three part “By beauty and by fear: on narrative time,” in which her prose ebbs and flows like water, utilizing quotes and rhythmic pauses to explore how narrative time, itself, ebbs and flows, as a microcosm of the book as a whole. We need far more of these, still: fiercely smart books engaged with the world and composed with the whole head, and whole heart. As she writes as part of part two of that same section, “NAME”:

That verb “befall” hints at the crisis that circles the act of naming. The verb dates back to Old English (897), and seems to have meant simply “to fall” until the 12th century where it begins to also mean “to inherit”—which is certainly one of Blake’s meanings here. But as I search the OED I find that almost all instances of “befall,” where it takes an indirect object (“thee”), indicate an inheritance that is bad or dangerous—that will leave its object worse off, not better.

“I do not know what it gives,” wrote H.D. of the “jewel” vibrating at the center of her poem “Tribute to the Angels”: “a vibration that we can not name, // for there is no name for it; / my patron said, ‘name it’; // I said, I can not name it, there is no name” (Trilogy 76). Patrons, kings, queens—need things named. Poets, though they trade in words (or because they do), recognize and defend the unnameable core that burns.

Before named, the infant of Blake’s poem is pure happiness. Language can’t even organize itself correctly around that happiness (I happy am). But once named, once “called,” it suffers a fall, one could say, into narrative. No easy opposition, then, between the fear of no narrative and the comfort of having one. Because as soon as you begin to tell yourself, something of yourself is lost. And not all narratives, dear mothers and fathers, dear children, end well.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Catherine Cooper

Catherine Cooper is a Nova Scotian author with a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing from Concordia University. Her first book, The Western Home: Stories for Home on the Range, was  published by Pedlar Press in 2014. Her first novel, White Elephant, was a finalist for the 2017 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. She lives in New Zealand, where she is working on a second novel.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The ways that my first book changed my life were subtle and intangible, which isn’t to say they were insignificant. My second book was harder to write than the first one, and the one I’m working on now is harder than the second. I’m drawn to writing about things that make me uncomfortable, and that seems to be ramping up over time, so each book has required me to go through more fear and doubt and especially shame, which is obviously inhibiting but also, in my experience, rewarding if you can get through it.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

I actually came to poetry first. When I was 11, I suddenly started writing very dark, melodramatic poems. My mother thought I was a genius, and she bought every poem I wrote (I think she paid a quarter). I used it as a way to get out of doing chores, which enraged my brothers, because I would always be inspired to write whenever something needed doing around the house. I thought I had a great thing going on until I found out that my mother had mailed a bound collection of my poems to friends and family all over the world. I think I found out because my eldest sister was concerned about me. The poems really were very dark. I didn’t take up creative writing again until my mid-twenties, and I don’t know why I chose to focus on fiction then.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Each book has been different, and nothing has come quickly. My books have all required a lot of research, so there are many layers of notes, and the process of sifting the details of my research into story, character and setting is one of my favourite aspects of writing. Of course it’s also very tricky and time consuming, and as a reader I appreciate so much when it’s done well, which for me means that you don’t notice it at all.

4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Before I knew how much goes into writing a book, I came up with ideas for books all the time, but now it takes a lot for me to think of a project as a longer work. For me, a work of fiction usually begins when I encounter something and think this is a story. After that, I’ll carry that idea or image around until I’ve figured out what kind of story it could be. In the meantime, I filter the things I see and experience according to their potential usefulness to that story, and slowly connections emerge and things start to take shape. After that, the writing is just trying to realize the initial idea.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m not a natural public speaker, but I’ve had to learn to get over myself and do it anyway, and more than anything I feel grateful to have had opportunities to share my work in that way, even if it’s a bit overwhelming sometimes. What I’ve found helpful is remembering that I can do readings as myself. I don’t have to be any more knowledgeable or less awkward than I am.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The questions I’m interested in are the same ones I assume we all have and will always have, and I don't think I'm trying to answer them as much as I'm depicting other people trying. The theme that is consistent in most of what I write is the tension between the desire to understand—to put the world in order—and the ways in which life thwarts that desire while maybe opening a door to a deeper understanding (which might transcend understanding altogether). I can’t write about what it’s like to arrive there, if such a thing is possible, but I can write about attempts and failures.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
It depends. Maybe one writer’s role is to make one person feel less alone, or to find the courage to express something only to herself. Of course there are much more lofty roles that writers can play, but I don’t think should comes into it.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Both. The last editor I worked with was Barbara J. Scott, who edited my novel White Elephant. From the first time we spoke, I felt like she understood exactly what I was trying to do, and she was able to identify how I was missing the mark and make concrete suggestions for improvement. There was one significant thing that we disagreed on, and she wrote me an email where she basically said, “Ultimately it’s up to you, but these are the reasons why I think you should make this change.” During the course of reading that email, I went from “I won’t do it” to “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it” to “Of course she’s right, and obviously I’ll do it.” And I’m a stubborn person. So it depends on the editor and how well-matched you are. I’ve been very lucky.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I liked George Saunders’ advice about climbing your own mountain. He spoke to our class at Concordia, and he talked about how when he first started writing he was trying to climb Hemingway mountain, or whatever the example was, but then at some point he realized that he was only ever going to be the guy hanging out on the side of that mountain, because Hemingway (or whoever the example was) was already at the top. So he decided to climb his own mountain.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
I didn’t find it very difficult to move between genres. The catalyst for the novel was bigger than the catalyst for the short story from the beginning, so the novel required more stamina, but it also had a bigger engine.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I really try to keep a routine, but it doesn’t work because I move around too much.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Usually I read my favourite books. I’m not as well read as I would like to be because I tend to reread the books I love. Right now I'm rereading Mating, by Norman Rush. I also find music helpful when I’m stuck, so I usually have a playlist for whatever I’m working on, but I try not to listen to it unless I really need to, because the effect wears off.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of gas fumes reminds me of Canada, feijoa reminds me of New Zealand, and white sage reminds me of the Czech Republic.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Right now I’m influenced by Czech folk music, which is a big part of the book I’m working on. I’m also influenced by medicine, and most of what I write is related to medicine somehow.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Leonard Cohen and Jaromir Nohavica have both been important to me. Leonard Cohen’s music helped me a lot when I went through a rough time as a teenager.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to finish the novel I’m working on.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I think I would have been a medical anthropologist, and I also work part time as a cook, so medical anthropologist/cook.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I guess a part of it is that the other things I tried didn’t work out very well, but I also find writing very helpful. Everything I write is inspired by something personal, which I am able to explore through the distance offered by a fictional story. It’s probably unsophisticated to talk about writing as autotherapy, but I see it as a fair trade-off between my writer self and my everyday self that one gets material and the other, through the process of writing, gets a new perspective.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall. The last great film I saw was Get Out.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a second novel, a love story set in the Czech Republic.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;