5/26/2016

The News - Arriving Fall 2016!

Photo Credit

I'm rather giddy to announce that my second poetry collection will be published this Fall from Gaspereau Press. The book is called "The News" and is a series of 35 poems, written one per week during my wife's pregnancy with our son.

The poems were composed in the first nine months of 2015, so the turnaround from writing to publication has been very quick. I appreciate this especially as many of the poems are topical, inspired by the news of the day, which is at once quickly fading into history, and returning and repeating itself (the poems on Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Dylann Roof, and the Germanwings plane crash have each felt - sadly - newly alive following various news stories this past week).

Four of the poems from the book have already appeared in print or online magazines. They might help give you a sense of the book:
Five Weeks (The New Quarterly)
Twenty-Five Weeks (The Maynard)
Thirty-One Weeks (Boxcar Poetry Review)
Thirty-Three Weeks (carte blanche)
I'm hoping to get a few more poems out there before the book is published, but when your publisher has a faster turnaround time than magazines, that can prove tricky.

Still, the wait won't be long - October will be here before I know it. Expect to read a healthy (?) number of updates about the book's progress and launch on this site over the coming months!


5/25/2016

Hayo #2


I'm very happy to have a short essay in the second issue of Hayo, a new Vancouver-based travel magazine. The issue is on the theme of "East" and my essay is about my experience on an East African safari (Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania). I wrote about the safari in fiction, as well, in a story entitled "Ngorongoro," which was published last year in The Dalhousie Review.

You can buy a copy of Hayo #2 from these stores, or online here.

Thank you to the editors for making this happen - it's a gorgeous magazine to be a part of!

5/20/2016

maybe memory is just part of the event - "serpentine loop" by Elee Kraljii Gardiner

Boundary for the Married - Elee Kraljii Gardiner

Approach an electric fence with caution—
a blade of sweet grass extended
between thumb and forefinger. Lay the tip
of green upon the wire: it dances

when the line is hot. Forget about touching metal
with bare hands, closing the circuit with your body.
Register the thrum of this green blade as pleasurable
warning. Every so often a heartbeat will gallop loose

and threaten the collusion of crickets
the patience of funnel spiders. Commotion,
while electrifying, is short-lived and for better or worse
we do not forget. The bite of the wire on an open palm

will remind you your job is to stay clear, to respect
the divide. How long you carry the imprint depends
on the intensity of the charge and your impulse to stay.



from serpentine loop
(Anvil Press, 2016).
Reprinted with permission.


---

Elee Kraljii Gardiner's debut poetry collection, serpentine loop, was published by Anvil Press in April. You'll be forgiven, though, if you're surprised that it's a first book. Elee has played a prominent roll in the Vancouver literary world for some time now, primarily as the founder of Thursdays Writing Collective, a non-profit program of free, drop-in creative writing classes for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which she has been running since 2008.

serpentine loop's 37,000 ft
pond ice. (Click to enlarge) 
Once you open the book, you'll be doubly surprised - what you'll find is a far more focused, specialised and carefully assembled series of poems than the average catch-all first collection. Using skating as a central theme and motif (the "serpentine loop" a figure which skaters etch in the ice with their blades) the book explores the sport, its beauty and risks, alongside the author's beauty-and-risk-filled path from childhood to adulthood. The book opens with a long poem which outlines various skating patterns (their shape, how they are taught and made, etc.), and closes with a five page glossary of skating terms. Included throughout are diagrams of figure skating patterns and more. Oh, and on the back is a blurb from none other than triple looping, double axle-ing, camel spinning Dick Button himself.

So no, no, not your standard first collection. And thank goodness for it. The daughter of Tenley Albright, Olympic figure skating gold medalist (and, near as importantly, the inspiration for The Bachelor star Tenley Molzhan's first name), Elee knows of what she speaks, and her poems are very much worth a listen.

Though I was in Ontario and Elee was zipping across the country promoting her new book, we managed to carve out a bit of time to chat about serpentine loop, skating, Thursdays Writing Collective, and miserably-slow-moving-publishers-who-shall-not-be-named. I hope you enjoy!

Elee Kraljii Gardiner, focused, w/ blurry books.
Photo Credit: Paul Joseph

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Rob: The poems in the second section of serpentine loop,"Push Off", drawn from your childhood in Massachusetts, are filled with details (the digger with "his orange T-shirt written with sweat", the childhood skates "Grey as cygnets") which seem to be pulled straight from very clear, precise memories. It was hard, as a reader, not to see the precision in these remembered scenes as mirroring the precision of skating figures - repeating and repeating specific movements and shapes until they were mastered. Of course, that might just be my mind doing its things. Could you speak a bit to the role of precision (of line, or image, of memory) in your poetry?

Elee: As a kid I was fascinated by what is left on the ice after the movement ends. Skating perhaps functions for me in a way memory does. We watch the skater’s body articulate movement and when she leaves the ice all that is left is the trace of her line. Maybe memory – as it is warped by years, changing attitudes, awareness – is the line, just part of the event. The poems I wrote are an echo of things, a trace of an idea or occurrence that either happened to me or that I imagined so intensely it might as well have.


Rob: More generally, do you feel a connection between your experiences figure skating and writing poetry? Did that earlier training on the ice inform how you approached, and learned about, writing poetry?

Elee: Being around creative people who become better at their craft the more they tap into themselves is great training for being human, nevermind being a poet. In skating, not only is it important to connect with emotion and expression, it is imperative.

There used to be a part of competition when I was little called “Interpretive.” Skaters heard a piece of music for the first time while they were on the ice in a group and then they were sequestered in a locker room while each person took a turn creating a spontaneous, reactive program meant to demonstrate their instant creative response. It’s just like what we do in Thursdays Writing Collective writing to/from/off fast prompts.


Rob: The poems in serpentine loop relish the use of specialized languages and terminologies. First and foremost the language of figure skating (with its five-page, small-font glossary at the back of the book), but also military ("Who You Are By What You Recognize") and sewing ("Costume Maker, 1960") terminology. How do you think the use of these specialized languages influences the way your poems are written, read and interpreted? What effect, if any, do you hope it will have upon the reader who may (or may not) feel outside of the terminology?

Elee: My mother was a skater and surgeon but my father was a philologist and classicist whose idea of fun father-daughter time was to diagram language root systems. He brought me the words. Aren’t all of us always outside some language? Isn’t being a human a constant act of translation?


Rob: Yes, of course. And I think you make the right choice to embrace that outsider-ness, rather than skirt around it. Still, I wonder if you had any trepidation about writing about your sport, specifically? Some themes, and some languages, translate better than others, and I find writing about sport (especially less popular sports) to be particularly tricky. I've shied away from writing about the sports I play and coach because I haven't been able to find a language or context through which to crack them open and have them speak to more universal themes. You've certainly pulled that off here, but did it take you a while to approach writing about skating? Did your mother's fame in the sport have an effect on when/how you chose to write about skating?

Elee: I wasn’t nervous about writing about skating per se. Skating is a motherlanguage, so I react to/with it the way the daughter of an immigrant might to her mother’s natal culture. It’s my norm. By writing about it I can highlight/distort/question it from arm’s length. I can’t write about the sport with total knowledge as it is now; I don’t follow it closely enough. But it formed me. Luckily, I have a sister who is a professional skater and is hooked into the skating world. She fact-checked, reminded me of ideas or words, triggered memories.


Rob: serpentine loop, as a collection, is very skillfully crafted. Though it contains discrete parts, including some which are far removed from the world of skating ("Boundary for the Married" is one such example) the whole book builds in meaning, culminating in the long poem "Final Flight", which resonates widely and deeply - in ways otherwise unimaginable - because of all we've read and learned in the proceeding poems. In this way, it reminded me of another Anvil Press title, Jennica Harper's Wood, which adeptly brought disparate parts together as a coherent whole. Could you speak a bit about how the book came to take in its final form? Did you present it to Anvil this way, or did it take shape in the editing process? Was there discussion of leaving out poems/sections not clearly or immediately tied to some element of skating?

Elee: The form developed last. I had most of the material and a miasmic notion of what I wanted. But working with editor angela rawlings was crucial. She was boundless, inquisitive, suggestive, respectful. Her conversations grounded the text and let the form become. The actual figure of the serpentine loop guides the reader through different areas of thought (these I leave to the reader to imagine, but an obvious one is child-mother-crone). Equally important to me was to translate the notion of the change of edge in the figure (skate blades have two edges and you are always on either the inside or outside edge) into a literary experience. When the figure is skated it creates an encircling shape. A fundamental question in the collection is: how do we include and exclude people?


Rob: As I mentioned in my last question, in reading serpentine loop it felt to me that the whole book was inside-and-outside-edging toward the long poem "Final Flight," about the 1961 plane crash which killed 73 people, including the entire US National Skating Team (which your mother had been a member of before retiring five years later). It felt as if everything we'd learned up until then about you, your mother, your family, and all the rigour that goes into struggling to excel at skating, parenthood, relationships, life, etc. - all of it was building an emotional context in which to fully appreciate (and be devastated by) the immense loss caused by the crash. Could you speak a bit about writing that poem? When did it come along in relation to the other poems? Had you always thought of it as closing off the book?

Elee: It’s a horrible thing to write about. My mother and her friends are pushed to relive it every year as a “fact” of the sport’s history. To lose that many friends and colleagues at once so spontaneously is a trauma I cannot imagine. The only way I could think to write it was to look at the facts and then witness the shards of grief my mother knew. As I wrote it she shared more of her experience than I had ever heard. When she and Dick Button (the US Olympian, historian of the sport, TV announcer and definitive authority on skating) read it and accepted the poem with the spirit in which I offered it, I was relieved, grateful. At the very least I didn’t want to re-hurt them. When they thanked me for writing it I was proud. It had to go at the end of the book because of the way it grapples with (im)permanence: what do we take away? How do we continue?


Elee, hiding in her natural foliage:
Thursdays Collective Anthologies.
Rob: Before publishing serpentine loop, you edited numerous poetry anthologies, most recently V6A: Writing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (co-edited with John Asfour). All of these anthologies were in some way connected to your work at Thursdays Writing Collective (TWC), through which you've run free, drop-in creative writing classes in Vancouver since 2008. What did editing those books, and running TWC, teach you about your own craft - both in writing individual poems, and in assembling a collection as a coherent whole?

Elee: Every author should take a copyediting and production class. We need to know our skills, what’s under the hood of the galleys, how to change the oil, how to fix things! Because I was aware of what the steps would be and what potential stress fractures can occur with timelines, edits, etc., I had a very smooth time of it. My experience with considering sequence and frame with the TWC publications made all of this familiar and fun. Also, I know how easy it is for things to slip by or get messed up so I haven’t been too anxious. I’m happy to say I have not noticed a single problem in the text, although there must be something, surely.

Anvil Press allowed me to interact with the form, the shape, the everything of the book so that it feels as if serpentine loop rose out of my chest. Not every author has that relationship to the object their name is on. The cover image was snapped by Joan Naviyuk Kane (who also contributed a quote of support on the back) as she flew over Nunavut. I think it looks like a close-up of pond ice but it is from 37,000 ft in the air! The scale is so deceptive. We inverted it (thanks, designer Derek von Essen!) because we liked the slightly creepy, not-everything-is-alright feeling it produced.

Also, angela rawlings’ “keep your eyes on this” guidance was very reassuring and helpful.


Rob: It's rare a debut collection breaks the 100 page mark, as yours does (though just barely). This book has been a long time coming (oh, how we've waited, Elee!) and you've had time to accumulate work. Still, as serpentine Loop revolves around a handful of central themes, my guess is that many of your poems were set aside as outliers from those themes. Is there, perhaps, another manuscript already waiting (or near completion)? I think of Kevin Spenst, who teased us with that first book for many years, and now has two books out in two years, both from Anvil - all that built up material finding a good home. Now that serpentine loop is out there (in the "kiss and cry room", so to speak), can you fill us in on what might be coming next, be it written or yet unwritten?

Elee: Well, thank you for waiting. Publishing can be glacial. One press held the manuscript for 18 months – agony! But Anvil was quick – we signed a deal and exactly a year later the book was back from the printers. I tithed poems out of serpentine loop as the form gelled and am delighted they allowed me enough pages to be able to include a glossary. I actually thought serpentine loop would come out after another manuscript I was writing. It’s a poemoir in long form about what happened to me when I tore an artery in my neck and a blood clot went to my brainstem. That manuscript got shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry last year. I’m also working on a collaborative poetry manuscript titled Nature Building with Andrew McEwan about Canadian identity and post-pastoral, post-lyric poetry.


Rob: I think that after a publisher has held a manuscript for 18 months, the should be morally obligated to publish it (though would you really want them to, at that point?). I'm glad serpentine loop found such a welcoming home, and look forward to the other manuscripts finding good homes (with publishers; in my hands) as well.

Elee: Thank you for asking me all these questions. Answering them allows me a visit with the work in a new way!

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Elee hasn't found a single error in the text of serpentine loop. Do you take that as a challenge? If so, or if you just want to read a darn fine poetry book, you should pick up a copy. You can do so at your local bookstore, or from the comfort of your home via the Anvil press website. Or, if you like your universe riddled with errors, from Amazon.

5/19/2016

intelligence is always grounded in location

I do think geography is profoundly influential, both in a geopolitical and a personal sense, and that belief hasn’t changed much over the years although my location certainly has. I think the greater change is my move to an urban environment after many years in a small towns (Ryley, Drumheller) or rural (Ottawa Valley) locations. But even in the city, I’m very conscious of the location in the city. I live on Beacon Hill, the highest point of land in Ottawa. The terrain is rocky, so it’s hard to garden. The remains of old rock quarries can still be found. It’s close to the Ottawa River, and gets its name because it was a signalling point (beacons) for traffic on the River for centuries. Because it had strategic importance, much of the nearby land was used by the federal government for military purposes, first a rifle range and then a major army base. Ottawa’s first airport was built here but was moved south of town when jet engines (and much-longer runways) came into use. Because the government held large swathes of the land, it was used for institutions that required space. The old runways and hangers are part of the National Aviation Museum. Nearby is the campus of the National Research Council (and the beginning of the long dash). And, important for me, now the home of the newly-constructed headquarters of Canada’s intelligence agencies, CSIS and CSEC, which are the focus of the book I’m working on currently. For me, intelligence, however you interpret it, is always grounded in location.

- Monty Reid, in interview with rob mclennan over at Open Book Toronto. You can read the whole thing here.

5/18/2016

an embarrassment and accusation

The awkward and even tense exchange between a poet and non-poet — they often happen on an airplane or in a doctor’s office or some other contemporary no-place — is a little interpersonal breach that reveals how inextricable “poetry” is from our imagination of social life. Whatever we think of particular poems, “poetry” is a word for the meeting place of the private and the public, the internal and the external; my capacity to express myself poetically and to comprehend such expressions is a fundamental qualification for social recognition. If I have no interest in poetry or if I feel repelled by actual poems, either I am failing the social or the social is failing me. 
I don’t mean that Dr. X or whoever thinks in these terms, or that these assumptions about poetry are present for everyone or in the same degree, or that this is the only or best way of thinking about poetry, but I am convinced that the embarrassment or suspicion or anger that is often palpable in such meetings derives from this sense of poetry’s tremendous social stakes (combined with a sense of its tremendous social marginalization). And it’s these stakes which make actual poems an offense: if my seatmate in a holding pattern over Denver calls on me to sing, demands a poem from me that will unite coach and first class in one community, I can’t do it. Maybe this is because I don’t know how to sing or because the passengers don’t know how to listen, but it might also be because “poetry” denotes an impossible demand. This is one underlying reason why poetry is so often met with contempt rather than mere indifference and why it is periodically denounced as opposed to simply dismissed: most of us carry at least a weak sense of a correlation between poetry and human possibility that cannot be realized by poems. The poet by his very claim to be a maker of poems is therefore both an embarrassment and accusation.

- Ben Lerner, in an excerpt from The Hatred of Poetry published in the April 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.

5/17/2016

it's hard for writing to be everything in your life

andrea bennett: I’m curious about what you think about the sort of storytelling approach to dealing with trauma—processing by writing, by talking, by piecing together a narrative.

Kim Fu: Writing about my father’s death did help me put a shape to the chaos, like there might be some meaning and value to all this loss. I was grateful to be an artist, and that that was an option for me.

Recently, since having a little bit of professional success, I want so much to be “productive” all the time, to write only things I can sell, to meet all my commitments and deadlines, I’ve almost lost my ability to write to self-soothe, to process, to remember. It’s hard for writing to be everything in your life—your career and your livelihood, but also your escape and salvation.

- Kim Fu, in interview with andrea bennett over at The Puritan's Town Crier blog. You can read the whole thing here.

5/16/2016

spend some time looking out

James Lindsay: A quote from a 2012 National Post piece you wrote ("Canada has too many poets and not enough Critics") keeps coming up whenever I read something new about you. Four years on, do you still feel the same way? And if so, how does it affect Canadian poetry?

Jacob McArthur Mooney: I don't know if I feel more or less attached to that statement than I do any other broad four-year-old generalization that I may have made. I'm tempted to selfishly pitch it overboard because I've largely walked away from most of my former critical practice. I would say maybe that in the interim I've expanded the realm but kept the essential notion of that idea. Canada has too many poets for the number of people it has interested in poetry, and committed to helping it thrive. A good critic wants to help poetry thrive, even if they're grumpy and hard to please. I've slowed down my critical work but tried to keep up an activist's commitment to the public expression of the art, through other avenues the most obvious of which is spending my old review-writing time running a reading series. I still think we have a lot of poets who, when they say they're committed to poetry they mean THEIR poetry, their craft and consideration. And of course they should be committed there, because writing is difficult and requires a great amount of self-attention. But I still think that everyone should spend some time looking out, too, at the public craft or the public performance or even just "the public", any public. That part of that old provocation feels true.

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, in interview with James Lindsay over at Open Book Toronto. You can read the whole thing here.

5/13/2016

rip the heart out of a wheelbarrow

Adèle Barclay: Whether you’re reading a periodical, a collection, or contest submissions, what kinds of poems catch your attention and stick with you?

Steven Heighton: My answer to that question changes all the time, depending on what's happening in my life or in the world. Right now the poems that most compel me are the ones that choke me up—poems that could rip the heart out of a wheelbarrow. I'm also gravitating toward work that emerges from the nightmind, as I call it—poems born of dreams and hallucinations. Weird, oneiric stuff. By the same token, I'm tired of poems that seem primarily to be auditioning for a collegial constituency, demonstrating the poet's fluent familiarity with the films, songs, shows, apps, etc. that he or she knows colleagues to be co-immersed in. Intertextuality of that kind can be brilliant and effective, for sure, but only in the context of work emerging from some deeper psychic impulse. More and more what Philip Larkin said about poems makes sense to me: "I didn't go looking for them, either." I guess that's it: the poems that compel me are, or at least seem to be, received, not devised.

- Steven Heighton, in interview with Adèle Barclay over at The Malahat Review. You can read the whole thing here.

5/12/2016

it's not an ability with language

I’m a proponent of the tradition of inspiration, like Octavio Paz and like Breton and the surrealists. To say I’m a “proponent” is, I suppose, a concession to civilized discourse, in which you’re supposed to admit your position may be arguable. It would be more honest of me to say I’m certain from direct experience that poetry is a mode of expression (which is to say a mode of existence) of the ongoingness, energy, essence of life and non-life. It’s not an ability with language. It’s a seizure of the substance and surface of language by language’s depth, which is simultaneously the depth of everything: “The everlasting Universe of things / Flows through the mind,” as Shelley puts it.

- A.F. Moritz, in interview with James W. Wood over at PRISM international. You can read the whole thing here.

5/11/2016

work that slides out of that blistered skin

I have a lot less patience as a reader for text that tries to make new language at the expense of remaking it–language as pure and asocial substrate–and in part I think this is attached to how I read poetry. By nature of lifestyle I don’t read sequestered away from the non-poetic, I read on the subway and on breaks from my job. I read surrounded by idiom and cliche and all the usual stuff of public language: from small talk to advertisement to technical text, so work that slides out of that blistered skin is always most attractive to me. Karen Solie does this well, too. In reverse sometimes. In “The Corners” (it’s in the new book) she pulls out of this layered, materials-heavy analysis of a laundromat with “No one can be alone like they can.” which is the kind of sentence you expect to see on a poster for a Romantic Comedy. But what makes the sentence stick with you is the work that set it up. That’s an unmaking and remaking of the language that appeals to me. A kind of reciprocal experimentation, where idioms are the metaphors that taught you how to metaphor.

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, in interview with Dominique Bernier-Cormier over at PRISM international. You can read the whole thing here.