11/23/2020

a recipe for its own reenactment

I myself don’t make that strong a distinction between looking at poetry as a writer and as a reader. Every serious writer needs also to read alertly, with a real depth of attention—both her or his own work, and the work of others; and every act of reading a poem is a recreation of the original energies of its writing—that is what a poem is: not a record of thought, experience, emotion, realization, but a recipe for its own reenactment.

- Jane Hirschfield, from an interview with Frogpond Journal about her 2011 essay The Heart of Haiku. You can read the whole interview here.

11/20/2020

chasing funny

The first poem I remember writing was in sixth grade. It was a haiku about finding a mouldy sandwich in my desk. There’s a lot wrong with how poetry is taught in schools, but if writing short poems about mouldy sandwiches is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. I was having trouble fitting in at a new school and when my classmates laughed at the mouldy sandwich poem that made me feel alright. Sue Goyette was on the radio the other day talking about how “chasing funny” primed her to think laterally and make unusual connections; that approach to poetry certainly resonates with me.

- David Alexander, answering rob mclennan's 12 or 20 questions over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.

11/18/2020

the perversion of use

The uselessness of poetry is in fact its resistance to the perversion of use that we live, and in this it is, without submitting to any use, as it always should refuse to submit, supremely useful. “It’s a jungle out there,” a man-made mechanical jungle, we’re always complacently told, and we are prone to fall into being “realists,” into accepting it. Rather than that aphorism, its opposite, and its beneficent healer: “Building the beautiful house for the piteous sufferer” (William Blake).

- A.F. Moritz, from his essay "What Does it Mean to be a Poet in 2018?", as published on the House of Anansi blog. You can read the whole thing here.

11/16/2020

how does it free us?

Chelene Knight: Last year, I was on a panel with Vivek Shraya and she said something that had us all shouting "Yes!" She said, "I just want to write about a lawn mower"—so, that idea of just writing something simple without worrying that we as marginalized writers are expected to write a "Black experience," the "people of color experience," or offer up trauma and pain on a platter.

And I wondered, too, is that an emerging writer problem? Is it anything that you experienced when you first started out many, many, many years ago?

Dionne Brand: Oh, don't say "many, many . . ." like that. How many "manys" do you want to add to that? [Laughs.] Hmm. I'm not writing from a place of pain. I don't think so. But I might write about pain.

Knight: It's a different mindset for sure to feel that pressure to do that, so I wonder have you ever felt the pressure to explain the pain.

Brand: I think the pressure is there. One has to make a choice about whether one attends to that pressure. I just did a talk in Toronto about the spectacularization of Black peoples in media, in narrative in particular, and so on—and whether one attends to that spectacularization. How one does that is really important…. It used to be a question in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, how does it free us? Whatever you're doing, whatever you're writing, how does it free you? The fact that it can is what you need to focus on, not the responses from the traditionally oppressive regimes. I don't really care about that, right. I care about putting together the life that I see and the life that I see being lived and how delicately I have to put that together, right? What I want that to be—like, I have to speak into my imagination, not into other people's deficit.

- Dionne Brand, in conversation with Chelene Knight over at Rungh Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.

11/13/2020

the question creates momentum that the statement does not

Wouldn’t it be generative to think of a poem not as the last statement about something, but as part of an ongoing process of conversation? To imagine that the poem wouldn’t have the responsibility of resolving, but of further illuminating? Here is how Fanny Howe puts it in her inexhaustibly interesting, mystically precise “Bewilderment”:
A big error comes when you believe that a form, name or position in which the subject is viewed is the only way that the subject can be viewed. That is called “binding” and it leads directly to painful contradiction and clashes.

No monolithic answers that are not soon disproved are allowed into a bewildered poetry or life.

According to a Kabbalistic rabbi, in the Messianic age people will no longer quarrel with others but only with themselves.

This is what poets are doing already.

I am thinking here about the way readers think of poems, but also about how poets write them. I’ve heard Bob Hass say, when talking about what to do when a poem feels stuck, to “put the problem in the poem.” Bring the ongoing conflicts you are feeling, the limits of your understanding, into it. Articulate those struggles. Open yourself to the reader. Most likely what we need are not poems that resolve our greatest problems for us, but poems that will clarify them, or help us see them in new ways. If you can bring those problems forth for readers and yourselves in a new or at least useful way, that is a great service. And it might even be something like a new form of humanism. Perhaps the problem with our species right now is not merely that we are not coming up with the right solutions, but that we are not asking the right questions.

To pose something as a question brings the matter into the poem not as something resolved, but as an ongoing difficulty, which is almost always far more honest. And practically, therefore, as a poet, it gives you a place to go. It is the difference between saying

You are like a summer’s day

and asking

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

The question creates momentum that the statement does not.

- Matthew Zapruder, from his essay on reckoning with Walt Whitman's racism and his own poetry on the subject, "Poem for Harm," over at Harper's. You can read the whole thing here.

11/11/2020

poetry has failed to keep me safe in this world

But outside of our echo chamber, this little non-sustainable utopia we’ve worked so hard to build, our work goes unnoticed by those with power in the industry, those with the power to pay us, to elevate us. Or, they steal our ideas, decorate themselves in our culture. Or, they steal members of our community. They give that person money and power, and they become unrelatable to us. I know, it’s a jaded thing to talk about poetry within capitalism. Capitalism makes it difficult to talk about anything with a soul! Poets, we know this.

Sometimes my devotion to poetry has made me feel like I’m plagued by a wound. This love and reverence for the wor(l)d is heavy to hold. Because poetry has failed to keep me safe in this world. Poetry has failed to keep me fed or housed. It has been, for the most part, completely unproductive and unprofitable. It is thankless labour. Being someone devoted to this art constantly makes you feel useless. It’s hard to explain. So, why even bother?

I bother because I feel closer to my soul when I write. And when I read, I feel closer to other people’s souls. And the truth is that Ambient Technology was the straw I used to extract hope from the poison in my life. It’s the medicine I used to heal my broken heart, to teach myself I was capable of loving again. It doesn’t really matter how well it did because, well, it helped me survive.

- Ashley Obscura, from her essay on community on the edges of the literary world, "Extracting Hope from Poison: On Quitting the Writer’s Life," over at the Invisible Press blog. You can read the whole thing here.

11/09/2020

read this but with the names

I never used to write about anything close to home. One of the best pieces of writing advice I got very very early on, that I gleefully ignored, was to keep writing about fishing and small town life and family. I didn’t put much thought into the exercise of it, or I didn’t reflect much on the act. I wrote “my uncle the fisherman” because I thought it was funny, back when I first started. It was funny and it was true, and people liked it. When my grandmother, my father’s mother, was dying I started writing “A Slow Process”, the middle section of the book. I wrote it on pieces of computer paper as things happened, and used initials instead of names. That year I got to go to Banff and work with Lorna Crozier, and she said to me, “Read this but with the names,” then, “isn’t that much better?” She was right.

- Chris Bailey, in conversation with Amanda Ghazale Aziz over at the Invisible Press blog. You can read the whole thing here.

11/06/2020

the enchanted forest is really a forest

Rhyme and meter are natural features of language. But of course in natural speech the rhymes are mostly imperfect, and they occur at irregular intervals. And in natural speech the meter keeps varying too, like the grain of wood or the texture of a forest. That’s the kind of rhyme and meter that appeals to me most. The enchanted forest is really a forest; it isn’t an orchard.

- Robert Bringhurst, in conversation with Evan Jones over at The Manchester Review. You can read the whole thing here.

11/04/2020

poetry is the main way of trying to tell the truth

In most oral societies, literature is the major art form, and the main genre in oral literature isn’t the novel, it’s mythtelling. Myths are conveyed through narrative poetry. So in oral cultures, by and large, poetry is the main way of trying to tell the truth. That, in a nutshell, is the history of poetry and truth for the first nine tenths of human existence. Then you start to get literacy. Then pretty soon you get prose and mathematics. You start to get experimental science. You get historical, philosophical, epistolary, and scientific writing. Later still you get prose fiction. Now you have lots of ways of trying to tell the truth – and lots of ways of trying not to – so different truths get told. A lot of humans get more interested in themselves than they are in the larger world. This isn’t just a literary phenomenon, of course. Urbanization, central heating, fossil fuel, and the electrical grid have a lot to do with it too. Print and broadcast journalism accelerate it. The internet sets it ablaze. People find themselves living in a sea of human voices, most of them talking of small-time human concerns. Human truth – heavily laced with human falsehood – obscures all other truth, and poetry suffers, like everything else, in these conditions.

- Robert Bringhurst, in conversation with Evan Jones over at The Manchester Review. You can read the whole thing here.

11/02/2020

I'm going to die, so why can't a poem?

Michael Dumanis: Some years ago, I heard the poet Claudia Rankine question the act of writing for posterity, for a reader who may not exist yet, as opposed to writing into the present. This made me think of poets in the Black Arts Movement consciously writing to a particular community, or of writing about what’s on the news at the moment you’re writing. Do you feel like you’re increasingly writing more for the present than for posterity, and this is something you think about a lot?

Jericho Brown: I think I use the tools that are given to us, and those tools have something to do with immortality and posterity. For instance, the tool of metaphor is human and everlasting, and when we think, whether we like it or not, we make use of metaphor in order to better process certain things. I think structure, I think narrative, I think order, I think juxtapositions, I think certain things are going to be the tools that everybody uses, regardless of when. Ultimately I don’t have tools that are different from Milton’s tools, though I might know more about poetry, quite honestly, than what Milton knew. Because he didn’t have access to the poetry of the East, for one thing. He also didn’t have Langston Hughes, do you know what I mean?

Michael Dumanis: He didn’t have access to all the incredible things that happened after he died, which you do.

Jericho Brown: And also, he made those incredible things happen. They would not have existed without him. You know, Milton’s like my homeboy lately. Everybody gets sick of me talking about Milton.

But I think either Claudia says what you heard her say a lot or maybe I was there for that same conversation, because that comment of hers has long been on my mind. This was before I had a first book, when I heard her say this. It’s interesting when you’re not aiming for your poem to live forever while every poet around you seems to be. It’s like everyone was aiming to write the immortal poem, and I was like, “Who told us that, that that was the most important thing in the world? I’m going to die, so why can’t a poem?”

- Jericho Brown, in conversation with Michael Dumanis over at The Bennington Review. You can read the whole thing here. (Please just read the whole thing already - it's wonderful!)