work is the only device I know of

Pati Hill: What did you first write? 

Truman Capote: Short stories. And my more unswerving ambitions still revolve around this form. When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium. 

PH: What do you mean exactly by “control”? 

TC: I mean maintaining a stylistic and emotional upper hand over your material. Call it precious and go to hell, but I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence—especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation. Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence. I don’t mean to imply that I successfully practice what I preach. I try, that’s all. 

PH: How does one arrive at short-story technique? 

TC: Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can’t generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right. 

PH: Are there devices one can use in improving one’s technique? 

TC: Work is the only device I know of. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners. Too many writers seem to consider the writing of short stories as a kind of finger exercise. Well, in such cases, it is certainly only their fingers they are exercising.


- Truman Capote, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


you have to make a bet

Michael Edwards: Poet Sharon Olds has talked about “being brave” in poems. Does this resonate with you in any way? The sense of being more brave on the page, than in everyday life? 

Kayla Czaga: Always with a poem I believe something must be at stake. Like in poker, you have to make a bet in order to have a chance at winning. When the bet is larger, you have the chance of winning more. There’s a natural bravery involved. If I try to capture a moment, if it feels necessary to do that, I run the risk of not doing it justice, of failing, of losing my shirt, my car and my house. Coming back to a new page again and again, failing constantly, not doing my memories and the people in my life justice is tough work, but if I don’t make the bet I’ll never have the chance of winning the whole pot. 


ME: What keeps you writing poems, where do they come from for you? Are these things possible to articulate? 

KC: What keeps me writing is the part I can’t articulate. Though I have more skills as a poet now than I did a decade ago, I still can’t plan a good poem. Every time, it feels like a miracle to write one. And that feeling never gets old. It’ll always be magical. To some extent I can encourage my process through reading, routine, and exercise, but there’s still no formula, no predictability.

- Kayla Czaga, in conversation with Michael Edwards over at Red Alder Review. You can read the whole thing here


My Read Local BC Interview Series is back!

Like in each of the last two years, things have been quiet here on the blog, as I am busily preparing for a deluge of interviews (8!) over Read Local BC. Starting tomorrow (April 1st - not a joke!), a new interview between me and a BC poet will go up on their site every Tuesday and Thursday all month long, culminating in a special ninth posting at the end of the month.

I can't thank Read Local BC enough for the space and support they've provided for this project over the last three years. It's an immense amount of work (I start the interviews in September), but I love doing it, and love having a partner who believes in championing BC poets as much as I do (and tolerates unreasonably long interviews!).

To show you how serious we are about this, the good folk at Read Local BC have made not one, but TWO promotional graphics for this year's edition:

All of the interviews will eventually make their way over to this here blog, to join the 70+ interviews currently on this blog (you can read all of my Read Local BC interviews from past years here). But if you like your interviews hot and fresh (and who likes cold, soggy interviews?) keep an eye on ReadLocalBC.ca, and the Read Local BC "#NPM2021" hashtag, all month long!


it’s never one poem that changes me

The revelations I get from reading poetry are so tiny and inward. It’s never one poem that changes me. For instance, I looked at Pam Rehm’s poems for a number of years and had very little response. I’d call her my favourite poet now. But it was not something that I recognized for a long time. It’s like falling in love, but in an arranged marriage over many years. Strangely, while writing my own poems, I’ve usually had to have one of her books in my hands. And this was going on long before I liked her poems. I was dependent on the tactility of that book just to write my own stuff. Could I have acquired a taste for her poems through my hands? (Now I’m thinking about Oliver Sacks.) What’s certainly true however: I spend significantly more time with books of poetry that are easy to tote, hold and to flip through than ones that aren’t. If I had larger hands, it’s very possible that I’d love other poets.

- Emily Tristan Jones, in conversation with The LeHave Review, which profiles one poem/poet each season. You can read the whole thing here


more than one thing happening at one time

The problem of emotion in poetry is twofold: 1) Direct statements of feeling, with notable exceptions, generally fail to elicit that feeling in the reader. People who talk about their feelings all the time are tedious and so are poems with similar inclinations. 2) Unalloyed emotions - pure grief, pure terror, pure joy - don't tend to be very interesting written down. They're pre-verbal, they activate primitive brain regions too far from our language centres. They either write white or purple. The most authentic and the most poignant emotions tend to be the mixed ones, and mixed feelings defy articulation because there's more than one thing happening at one time. Which is the same thing language does in a poem. So there's a kind of black magic involved in trying to write something that instills emotion in the reader. Shortcuts are always tempting, but they almost never get you where you want to be.


- Zachariah Wells, from his interview with Jesse Eckerlin entitled "Deep Time, Black Magic and Ugly Stuff", as published in Wells' Career Limiting Moves: Interviews, Rejoinders, Essays, Reviews. 


wrestling chaos into music

The present can definitely “deform” the past in the sense of blurring it, making it formless, but also the present can warp the past, I think, by objectifying and decontextualizing it. Poetry’s artifice objectifies, too—things like rhyme and meter do—by introducing tidy patterns of organization. Paul Fussell says the first way meter means, for example, is by reminding us that someone is out there, wrestling chaos into music.

- Allison Adair, in interview with the The LaHave Review, which profiles one poem/poet each season. You can read the whole thing here.


truthful and selfish

In my earlier poetry I was really fixated on the reader’s experience of my poem, not whether it felt honest to me. As soon as I started being truthful and, frankly, selfish, that’s when the poems started feeling important. And I needed to let go of the control that I thought was necessary to have over a poem. I learned to let my instincts lead, and trust that all the reading and studying had built enough of a framework of knowledge in me that the poetic merit would show through on its own.

- Molly Cross-Blanchard, in conversation with Manahil Bandukwala about Molly's debut collection, Exhibitionist, over at Canthius. You can read the whole thing here.


be intensely themselves and remain themselves

rob mclennan: 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? 
stephanie roberts: My answer is paradoxical. The writer shouldn't give a fuck about their role in culture, and their role is vital. The role of the poet is to, as much as possible, be themselves intensely and remain themselves. Not to say who we are is static. I think the healthy psyche is subject to the same pressures [as] on a caterpillar to become butterfly. 
Wallace Stevens believed that poetry achieves more for the knowledge of human nature than history. In an essay on poetry and the imagination, he looked to Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt for affirmation, "Burckhardt considers the status of poetry at various epochs, among various peoples and classes, asking each time who is singing or writing, and for whom. Poetry is the voice of religion, prophecy, mythology, history, national life and inexplicably, for [Burckhardt], of literature." I tend to agree. 

 - stephanie roberts, in reply to rob mclennan's 12 or 21 questions over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.


great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things

When I first became aware of the exhilarations of poetry as a community college freshman on the Mojave Desert, the poets who moved me were immaculately remote from my world. That was one of their attractions: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesuit priest, so incantatory I could barely understand him; John Donne, priest again, even earlier in the British lineage, and glorious crafter of something called c o n c e i t s. 
Lots of British priests in the poetry business, it looked like. Plus Emily Dickinson. I loved the strenuousness of it all, the rigors, the long lonely vigil of it, the doomed quality. Here, I thought, is fit meat for the mind. And the fact was that my mind was very hungry. Hungry minds — the selfish, burrowing, opportunistic minds of the young who will rip the flesh off anything that might feed them — these are the salvation of writers. I often think about this, how the readers who keep writing alive are comically self-serving; they are trying to find access to their own brains, some way in, some key to make their own heads work. They rummage and plunder with catholic zeal, accidentally performing a service to culture that no number of academics or disinterested readers could accomplish. They have demonstrated one more time how great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things. 

 - Kay Ryan, from her essay "Fit Meat for a Hungry Mind" over at the Pulitzer Prize's website. The essay is also collected, as "Against Influence", in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


poetry is the shape and size of the mind

A poem really has no beginning and end, although it does appear to. All the parts of a poem exist as a sort of plasma, simultaneously apprehended, existing in the mind all at once, as soon as we have become familiar with them. The word “blight” [in "Spring and Fall"] constantly and forever charges every word in the poem, shores every word in the poem. It is Indra’s net, everywhere is the center, reflecting all. This great capacity of poetry is seldom so well exercised as it is here. The fact that the mind can move around in a poem—is asked to do this—is why poetry is considered the supreme art. Poetry is the shape and size of the mind. It works the way the mind works. It is deeply compatible with whatever it is we are. We dissolve in it; it dissolves in us. 

- Kay Ryan, discussing Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring and Fall", from her essay "On a Poem by Hopkins" in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.