Some Magazines to THANK

I've been delinquent in passing on my THANKS to a few magazines who have been generous enough to grant me some pages in 2015. They are:

Not the Spring 2015 issue.
Don't be fooled!
The Dalhousie Review, Spring 2015 Issue: "Ngorongoro" (Short Story)

TDR was the first Canadian magazine to publish a poem of mine based on Marta and my first stint living in Africa, so it's more than a little nifty that they are the first place to publish a story of mine based on our second stint living in Africa. THANKS, DALHOUSIE REVIEW!

Photo: Ruth Daniell
Grain, Spring 2015 Issue: "Success", "Gratitude" and "Of the Ways to Waste"

Many years ago I wrote a poem about the CFL. For some reason, I never thought to submit it to the Saskatchewan-based lit mag. This was foolish of me. You can now read my CFL poem, and a couple others, in the Spring 2015 issue of Grain. THANKS, GRAIN!

The Maynard, Fall 2015 Issue: "Twenty-Five Weeks"

The publication of "Twenty-Five Weeks" in The Maynard marked the beginning of my attempt to foist an endless stream of baby-gestation poems on an unsuspecting reading public. You can read the poem here. THANKS, MAYNARD!

The New Quarterly, Fall 2015 Issue: "Five Weeks" and "Strangers"

The New Quarterly was kind enough to award me an honourable mention in their Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest. The poems are (1) the very first baby-gestation poem I wrote, and (2) a poem I wrote for Elise Partridge soon after I heard of her cancer diagnosis. In other words, they both mean a hell of a lot to me, and I can think of few better places to see them published than in TNQ. THANKS, TNQ!


except for when I need an excuse to procrastinate

CV2 Magazine: When do you know it's time to cut and run - give up and start fresh?

Chimwemwe Undi: I'm not a big believer in visits from the muse, except for when I need an excuse to procrastinate, but if a poem does not need to be written, or isn't ready to be, then I take a break from it and try something that feels less like a root canal.

- Chimwemwe Undi, in interview with CV2 Magazine in their Fall/Winter 2015 issue.


I'd rather be difficult than deceptive

I, perhaps too naively, feel that everything I say is, in theory, accessible to everyone. Sure, a dictionary or the Internet (more realistically) may be needed for some of my poems. But I think that could be said for most poetry. Often references to philosophers or Greek gods or even the Bible are just as foreign to me as my scientific terms may be to some people. My education is also limited, you have to remember. What I wish for is that you can read these poems without having to know what the science is, but the more you know the richer your experience. To avoid putting my science into my poems would be deceptive and I'd rather be difficult than deceptive.

- Madhur Anand, in conversation with Paul Hamann about her debut, science-infused, collection A New Index For Predicting Catastrophes, in the Fall 2015 issue of The New Quarterly.


Mayor's Arts Awards

I'm wildly honoured to be receiving the 2015 Mayor's Arts Award for the Literary Arts (Emerging Artist) from the City of Vancouver (to keep things simple, I just call it the MAALA(EA)COV2015).

I'm especially appreciative because I was selected for the award by Kate Braid, this year's winner of the Mayor's Arts Award for Fully Emerged Literary Artists (not the actual title, thought it probably should be).

More than just about anyone, Kate has taught me how to live within, and give back to, the writing community, so taking the stage with her will mean a great deal to me. That Vancouver's dreamy mayor will be there, too, is all icing.

The awards will be presented tomorrow, November 12th, at the Roundhouse Community Centre (tickets are free, but appear to be "sold" out). The event will also feature the announcement of the City of Vancouver Book Award (whose short list includes Bren Simmers and Wayde Compton) and a reading from Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose. Hopefully no one will let the folks at the city know just how many poets they're letting into the party, or they won't put out any free snacks. *fingers crossed*

Thank you so much to the City of Vancouver, and to Kate Braid, for this honour!

live a big and thoughtful life

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

Lucas Crawford: I’m with Junot Diaz on this one: the best way for me to be a writer is to try to live a big and thoughtful life, exposed to tons of ideas and people – not to scramble around looking for a muse and treating writing as an ultimate and forced goal. I imagine writers as people who have lived in such a way as to have things that they absolutely must communicate. If and when that urgency isn’t there, I’d rather do something else! Like watch food television, walk around Vancouver, make ugly crafts, or do some work.

- Lucas Crawford, answering rob mclennan's "12 or 20 Questions" over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.


a hardness as a made object

I have always felt that poetry should transcend biography – that even if a poem is transparently autobiographical in origin, it should have a surface that takes it beyond the personal, a hardness as a made object, such that it ceases to be one’s own and becomes everybody’s – becomes public. There are many ways to do this, and I believe these constitute the art of poetry. A fellow poet, critiquing some of the new poems in The Touchstone, remarked in a letter to me that some readers might be disappointed at not being given “the whole story… plot, narrative, facts, emotions” behind the poems: she posited that the “expectation of gossip” is human, and legitimate in a reader of poetry. I wrote back that I distrusted the overly personal, or personally-specific, in poetry, and that instead of the whole story, I thought a poem should detach itself from the biographical facts and deliver the emotional essence of the experience as a distillate – through image, sound, metaphor, and whatever formal devices best serve the purpose – evoking mood and feeling in the way that a piece of music does. This view and practice may not always be appreciated by a reading public that has extended its hunger for confessional narrative beyond prose memoir to the personal lyric. But I must write from my own sense of what a poem is.

- Robyn Sarah, discussing her GG-winning collection My Shoes are Killing Me, over at ARC Poetry Magazine. You can read a longer excerpt here, and the whole thing in ARC's forthcoming Winter 2016 issue.

You can also read my interview with Robyn, about My Shoes are Killing Me and the five poems from the collection we ran in PRISM 53.2, here.


a distinction that too often gets forgotten

Art is a means of self-expression, obviously, but it’s also — perhaps most importantly — a way of making sense of our world. At its most basic, it is meant to entertain, enlighten, and enrich our lives. I think as upper-level arts students / critics / appreciators, we can sometimes forget this basic intention. Art does not need to be complex, challenging, heady, abstract, and deep to be “art.” It can be, but it doesn’t have to be — and in fact, art that is those things... runs the risk of being elitist and exclusionary. Art that is those things runs the risk of failing to do the very things we turn to art for.


I’m not saying all artists need to sell themselves out to a mass audience. We needn’t all be teenybopper pop stars with trendy hairdos and silly slogans. I’m also not even saying I think Stuart McLean is “the best” Canadian writer (whatever that even means). But I am saying he’s my favourite, and I think that’s a distinction that too often gets forgotten. It seems to me, too, that throughout my post-secondary education, I’ve been nudged towards works of art that profoundly affect the head, and have been discouraged away from works that profoundly affect the heart. Maybe the best works do both — probably the best works do both — but I’m not sure it’s fair to prioritize one effect over the other. What I do know is I’ve walked around this city, listening to Stuart McLean read the words he’s written, and have had tears roll down my cheeks. That is a more pronounced effect than any of the texts on any of my course syllabi have had on me.

- Ryan Gaio, from his post "In Defence of Stuart McLean" on The Fiddlehead's blog. You can read the whole thing here.


lake chains in the tennis courts - "Hastings-Sunrise" by Bren Simmers

from Hastings-Sunrise (p. 26) - Bren Simmers

The building next door has bedbugs 
   again. A trio of mattresses by the dumpster.
Wide berth as we walk past. Touch wood—
   though once they’re in, wood won’t stop them. 
Touch steel then. On the Bedbug Registry, 
   a cluster of red dots surrounds our apartment 
like front lines or angry bears. Hundreds 
   exterminated this year for being hungry, 
dumpster diving near suburban homes built for 
   Goldilocks. We, who crave a yard, itch.

from Hastings-Sunrise
(Nightwood Editions, 2015).
Reprinted with permission.


High on my (seemingly endless) list of blogging failures is my practice of publishing interviews for "new" books 6+ months after their original release date. But sometimes dragging your heels getting interview questions to authors works out - like when, say, your interviewee goes and gets nominated for The City of Vancouver Book Award. That's right, people, I'm about to give you a live-breaking interview with a talk-of-the-town award nominee! ***flashbulbs, etc.***

Bren Simmers' second collection, Hastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions, 2015), certainly deserves the praise and attention it's receiving. It's a book length poem in which Bren explores Vancouver's Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood, and in the process untangles her own feelings on place and belonging. Hastings-Sunrise does its work deceptively - at times seeming almost scientific in its analysis, and only slowly revealing the big, beating heart of the speaker/author that's busy at work right under the surface.

Bren is no stranger to awards (or long poems) - she's won the Arc Poetry Magazine's Poem of the Year competition and was a finalist for The Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize - so she ought to be taking all this in stride. She certainly didn't go full diva on me at any point in the interview (though "full diva" for poets usually means going back for thirds at the complimentary book launch cheese plate), and we had a wonderful conversation about Hastings-Sunrise, Vancouver poet merit badges, and why she really does love Vancouver (no, really!) even though she moved away the first chance she got.

Bren Simmers at a... museum? Flea market? Community centre?
Why is there a mural of a pool table on the wall? This is all very confusing.
Let's just say it's somewhere in Hastings-Sunrise and move on.


Rob: Hastings-Sunrise will be read differently by those who are or are not familiar with the Vancouver neighbourhood. One I suspect will crave some level of accuracy, will want to see themselves and their world in the poems, while the other will be looking to understand, to be "let in", in a sense. And many, like myself, who know the neighbourhood fairly well, but have never lived in it, will find themselves somewhere in between. Did you consider these various readers while composing the poems? Or perhaps later, during editing? If so, how did it affect the writing and shaping of the book?

Bren: While writing Hastings-Sunrise, I tried to capture the feel of the neighbourhood at a particular time. Hastings-Sunrise in 2011 was a different place than it is today. So in a way, the book is a time capsule. Readers who know the neighbourhood might have different experiences than me, but my hope is that something essential about that place is communicated. In the editing process, I did step back and tried to look at it from an outsider’s view. I asked writers from different parts of the country to offer feedback on any contextual gaps that readers familiar with the hood would fill in, but those unfamiliar with Hastings-Sunrise might be left wondering about. Ultimately, I wanted the details to evoke a specific place, but I also wanted there to be enough room for readers to see their own neighbourhoods in these pages.

Rob: I think you hit that balance very well. That said, as much as your book explores a specific place, at its core I think of it as exploring the speaker's (I'm going to go out on a limb here and say "your") own hopes, fears and desires for the future. Not only do you ask "When will I / belong to the city I was born in?" (p. 25) but in the asking you reveal "the parts of myself / I cover up or reject" (p. 14). On the one hand this is surprising, as the book takes a sometimes near-scientific look at the neighbourhood (logging days; mapping open doors, neighbourhood swings; tracing out walking routes), and on the other it makes perfect sense: you gave yourself enough distance to see the city you were living in, and in the process were able to see yourself from a new, outside perspective. Could you speak a bit about your intentions for this project at its inception? Were you meaning from the beginning to explore yourself as much as you did, or did that element of the book sneak up on you?

Bren: I worked on this book for four years, and it evolved continuously. It started out as a much smaller project: to pay attention to seasonal changes in my neighbourhood over the course of a year. I was working in parks at the time, and like a lot of people who work full-time, I felt like I was living weekend to weekend. I wanted to slow my life down and pay the same kind of attention to my urban surroundings that I did to the natural surroundings where I worked. Through observing my life, larger themes of home and belonging became apparent.

I actually wrote an entire draft of the manuscript that was very different from what ended up being published; it was almost completely observational in tone. While working on that manuscript with Barbara Klar through the Banff Wired Writing Studio, she encouraged me to dig deeper and put myself into these poems. I am grateful for that guidance because I think it’s a more personal and a more human book, but I struggled for a long time with finding a balance between being too confessional and being too reticent.

Rob: That's interesting that the book started as a small project tracking seasonal change - it certainly grew from there! One vestigial remnant of that original project, then, seems to be the section openings in Hastings-Sunrise. Each section opens with a series of one-line epigraphs, each labeled with a date, as in a diary. Some of my favourites: "Trees fill in their dance cards / April 7", "All the leisure a paycheque can afford / July 11", "Lake chains form in the tennis courts / Nov 6" (Nothing says "Vancouver in November" like lake chains in the tennis courts!). These serve to give the whole book a notebook-like feel, and also to set us in the various seasons (if the dates of the entries are to be trusted, the book was written over a 14-month period). Could you speak about these epigraphs a bit? Are they remnants of that original project, or scraps from unused poems, or (as suggested) actual diary entries, or?

Bren: These are phenological entries that I recorded during dozens of neighbourhood walks over the course of a year; phenology is the practice of observing periodically recurring events in the natural world. Over a second year, I revisited these observations to see how accurately they reflected each seasonal moment. Yes, these entries come from my "original project," my goal being to create a phenology calendar of East Vancouver. These entries also draw inspiration from ancient Chinese calendars that have two-week micro-seasons. I wanted to capture that same kind of detail in an urban neighbourhood.

Rob: More generally, do you keep a diary/journal, or have a practice of daily notetaking, or was that special for this project? If you write one, how do you find it influences your poems - both what you write and how you write it?

Bren: I do keep a pen and paper journal, though usually its entries are erratic. Sometimes I journal every few days, sometimes an entire month goes by. Writing on paper feels more fluid than typing on a screen. I can’t erase the trajectory of my thoughts with a single click. If I lose the incoming transmission, I can more easily retrace my thoughts back to where I stopped receiving and started over-thinking. Many of my first drafts of poems come from these handwritten scrawls, and it’s only in the editing process that I move to a computer.

Rob: "I can’t erase the trajectory of my thoughts with a single click." Yes - I like that! I'm very much the same. I can't start anything on the computer, and am usually a number of drafts in before I type a poem up.

In writing about a Vancouver neighbourhood you've earned (and well earned!) your "Vancouver Poet" badge, alongside poets like George Bowering (Kerrisdale Elegies), Michael Turner (Kingsway), Daphne Marlatt (Vancouver Poems, Steveston), George Stanley (Vancouver: A Poem), Sachiko Murikami (Rebuild, The Invisibility Exhibit), etc. etc. etc. etc. It's kind of nuts how many books we've written about our city over the years. Which books about Vancouver you drew on for inspiration in your own project? Books about other cities or neighbourhoods?

Bren: Let’s get badges made up. That would be fantastic! I have read many of these books over the years and feel proud to be listed as part of that lineage. When I’m working on a project I tend to seek out books that help me to solve specific problems. In this project, the big issue to tackle was form; it’s a book length poem. So, I spent a lot of time studying the long poems of C.D. Wright and re-reading John Steffler’s The Grey Islands and Alayna Munce’s When We Were Young and In Our Prime, two of my favourite books.

I did also feel part of a zeitgeist with visual artists who were capturing similar ideas of changing urban spaces through drawings and photographs. Two books about Toronto that lived on my desk for a while were Full Frontal T.O. by Patrick Cummins and Shawn Micallef and Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes by Michael Cho.

Rob: I'm glad you touched on the challenge of writing a book length poem. As such, Hastings-Sunrise is quite a departure from your debut, Night Gears (Wolsak and Wynn, 2010), which was more of a traditional collection of discrete poems. That said, Night Gears included both a long poem ("Northern Postcards") and a sequence ("Weather Observation Record") which, in hindsight, hinted at the direction of your second book. When you think of the two books, what do you think of as the major differences and similarities? In approaching Hastings-Sunrise, did you make conscious decisions to do anything differently with Book #2?

Bren: Hastings-Sunrise feels like a natural progression from my work in the long poem form of my first book. I think the long poems in Night Gears are especially strong parts of the book because, while each section in the book explores a different place, the long poems allowed me the space and breadth to investigate conflicting ideas. In writing a second book, I wanted to take on the challenge of a book-length sequence in order to tell a story that was sustained and interconnected, not just a collection of individual ideas. Turned out it was a lot harder than I thought! Many poems I wrote didn’t make the cut because they were too similar in theme to another poem or they didn’t fit with the larger themes of seasonal changes, gentrification, belonging, and community that I was working with. I spent a lot of time playing Tetris with poems taped on the wall until the sequence felt right.

Rob: Hasting-Sunrise maps out your push-pull desires to live in the city and also get away, to "Go find your cabin in the woods." (p. 61). A string of poems near the end of the book, for instance, involve your dreaming of the fictional small town "Saska-Wollop", which is everything Vancouver isn't. Soon after you finished this book you moved to small (and be-wooded) Squamish, and upon knowing that it's hard not to read this book as a sort of goodbye letter to Vancouver (one of the "it's not you, it's me" variety). If/how did going through the process of writing this book influence your thinking about both Vancouver and its alternatives? Would you have ended up where you did, when you did, without the book?

Bren: Sometimes we need to fully embrace a place before we can let go of it. Vancouver is a great city to live in, if you want to live in a city. [Editor's Note: Nice save, City of Vancouver Book Award Finalist!] And that was the question I was exploring while writing this book. What recipe of family, friends, natural spaces, community, and art did I need to make a home in Vancouver, and in what proportions?

While I was working on revisions, the opportunity to move to Squamish presented itself and I jumped, which made writing the ending for this book tricky. Did I end the book with the move to Saska-Wollup, or did I end the book with trying to make a home in Hastings-Sunrise? I chose to end the book with trying to put down roots in the neighbourhood, which ultimately we do anywhere we live. I also feel it makes for a better story for the reader.

Rob: Official ending aside, Squamish seems like the perfect place for the speaker in this book. Close enough to Vancouver that you can dip back in from time to time, but far enough away that you can be away. How are you finding it? Is it everything you hoped it would be? And how long until we get your Squamish collection?

Bren: Squamish is a great place to live. I find the quiet and access to natural spaces deeply restorative. There’s a much slower pace here and one that lends itself to holing up in the house in front of the fire and writing. At the same time, I love being able to hop in the car and head into the city for readings or concerts or gallery openings. I have started to write some poems about Howe Sound as I get a better understanding of its history and community, though another book is a long ways off.


I'm officially starting the "Bring Bren Back" campaign - obviously, we're going to need to raise a lot of dough to get her back in Vancouver. The best way to contribute is to buy a copy of Hastings-Sunrise! You can do so at your local bookstore, or from the Harbour Publishing website, or, if you want to erase the trajectory of your thoughts with a single click, from Amazon.


Dead Poets Reading Series November Lineup Announced!

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch, Alice MacKay room, on November 8th, 2015, from 3-5 PM.

The lineup:

Edgar Allen Poe (1809 - 1849), read by Susan McCaslin
Earle Birney (1904 - 1995), read by Kate Braid
Sveva Caetani (1917 - 1994), read by Daphne Marlatt
Paul Éluard (1895 - 1952), read by Gillian Jerome
Dan Pagis (1930 - 1986), read by Barbara Pelman

Attendance is free. For more info, visit the DPRS website.

I hope to see you there!


let your inner Dude out (or, "What if your bong could talk?") - "Jabbering with Bing Bong" by Kevin Spenst

Death Star Trash Compactor - Kevin Spenst

When Luke, Han and Leah shout for joy,
the droids think they’re in agony. In grade six
I was dumbfounded by Saudi Arabia. How
many grains of sand? How much past and present?
We learn something; it’s barreled into words,
shipped off. My room in Lumsden has a crack
down one wall. Saskatchewan is shifting. Everyone
is coming for oil. I know about OPEC and the Star
Wars marketing of plastic toys. Decades crushed
together. I want to squeeze you in. My new love,
so far away. Your ex-boyfriends compiled into
one rockabilly wannabe with songs about smashing
the rebellion of women who want to be more than
a pinup on a bicep. You quip like Han. I flutter
like Leah. Is there no Empire we cannot escape?

from Jabbering with Bing Bong
(Anvil Press, 2015).
Reprinted with permission.


What do Judy Bloom, Kool-Aid Man, Archie Bunker, Jack Tripper, Kevin Arnold, David Lynch, Goombas, and Han Solo have in common? And no, they haven't all having smashed through a brick wall bellowing "Oh Yeah!" - not even figuratively - if that's what you're thinking...

The correct answer is that they all share close-quarters in the opening section of Kevin Spenst's debut poetry collection, Jabbering with Bing Bong (Anvil Press, 2015). The book, which in large part explores Spenst's early influences (family, community, religion, and a healthy dose of pop culture) is shot through with energy and humour. But for all their fun, the poems in Jabbering are also weighty things, dealing with themes of loss, love, alienation and illness.

Like the bidet which "jolts [you] / with joy everyday atop our fount of civilization" ("Jabbering with Bing Bong", 70), these poems please, shock and cleanse all at once, and aren't afraid to get a little dirty. It's a delightful book, and one I can't recommend enough.

I sat down with Kevin in the living room of his childhood home in Surrey, BC, where we played with Star Wars toys and I watched him complete a flawless game of Super Mario. Eventually, we settled into our interview, which was as weird and funny and thoughtful as I'd expected it would be. I hope you enjoy it!

Up to date on your child's learning? Kevin is.
And he's stolen their glasses.


Rob: You're known for your live performances, which are often so enthusiastic they make Christian Bök sound like Napoleon Dynamite on Nyquil (feel free to compare here). At many points in reading Jabbering with Bing Bong, it was hard for me not to hear your voice galloping along, bellowing out the lines. It some ways that doesn't seem unreasonable, as your attention to rhythm, pacing and rhyme are clearly written into the poems themselves, and not simply part of the performance - but it does make me wonder how this book would "sound" to someone unacquainted with your readings. How do you feel about your book being out in the world without you there providing the audio?

Kevin: There are a number of gearshifts through Jabbering with Bing Bong. While the first section consists of Jackpine sonnets, the style moves from lyric to mashups of prayers with TV theme songs to L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E-L-I-T-E experiments in sonic association. (There’s no jump from Napoleon Dynamite to Christian Bök but that might be in some future book.) I hope that through these different RPMs, the reader is inspired to let his or her imagination cut loose (or put his or her imaginative pedal to the metal). In an alternate reality, I can easily imagine myself selling Jabbering door to door, pitching the book with a half hour lesson on how to speak in funny voices. I would minister to shut-ins on the importance of projection and stoned video-gamers on the value of letting your inner Dude out. Really, it’s all in the stance that you take. What sounds come from what postures? What if your bong could talk?

All this is to say that, yes, I’m a bit of a control freak. There’s a fascinating little ficcione by Robert Szend about a man who divides into two every time he’s confronted with a decision. While I am still in that stunned state of having a book in the world, the control freak part of me would like to divide for every copy of my book so that I could read it to each and every one of my readers. (Which isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination if we put this in terms of poetry book sales.) I’m open enough to allow for whatever interpretation they want so long as they hear the book in my voice. I don’t know how all those other Kevins would survive in the world though. Vancouver’s expensive enough for the first version.

Kevin lecturing on the importance of projection.
("The Biology of Belief", from Jabbering)

Rob: Now you've got me wondering how you learned to let your inner Dude out, and get your bong to talk... Could you speak about the development of your performance and writing styles? Did one come first, informing and shaping the other, or did they develop in tandem?

Kevin: After “jean jacket or mac?” the next tough decision I had to make in grade eight was between art and acting. I chose the acting route and that made all the difference through my high school years. It helped release and stretch all the characters and voices in my imagination. After graduating from SFU in English Literature (I believe that was your major and alma mater, n’est pas?) [Editor's Note: alma mater, yes; major, no - keep guessing!] I moved to Vancouver, next door to a theater student who encouraged me to audition for a play at the Jericho Arts center. I ended up acting for five years in various productions around town and it allowed me to explore literature from the inside. Instead of analyzing Stoppard’s lines in search of some thesis, I was embodying the character of Rosencrantz. The first poems that I wrote in 2006 and 2007 were very rooted in a dramatis persona, a voice that controlled the content.

These days, a poem might start from a phrase in my head as I bike to work or a line in response to something I’m reading. As I tease out more language, a distinct voice might emerge, but usually it comes from the performance side of reading. Being in front of a bunch of people produces a lot of performative zap and my muscle memory wrenches me into acting mode. That’s where I’ve discovered the “outerwear” of the poems. One might say that when you read a poem silently to yourself it’s naked, but when it’s read out loud it’s dressed in a parka or a minister’s suit. So, here we end at the beginning: T.S. Eliot in a jean jacket or mac?

Rob: Ah, the eternal question. Speaking of beginnings, the first section of Jabbering with Bing Bong, "Nonesuch Surrey" - most of which was first published in your chapbooks Surrey Sonnets (Jackpine Press, 2014) and Pray Goodbye (Alfred Gustav Press, 2013) - is a series of loose sonnets (sonnets in shape and length, if not in rhyme scheme and metre). The sections that follow feature more loose sonnets, prose poems, and poems with consistent stanza lengths. Then, near the end of the book, comes one of its strongest and most formally creative, "Spaces", which uses looping thematic repetition (a "thought rhyme" of sorts, in well-masked quatrains) to drill down into its subject matter. All of this speaks to an interest you appear to have in the controlled (dare I say "restrained"?) use of space on the page, which seems to bump up against your free-wheeling performances (and often-free-wheeling subject matter). Could you speak a bit about your interest in, and resistance to, formal or traditional (looking and/or sounding) poetry?

Kevin: Behind the scenes, my poetry might be seen as tradition-bound in that my work often begins in a feeling or metaphor. A feeling is often a hazy hunch that some idea or image is nearby. A metaphor gives shape to this intuition. This morning, for example, on my ride to work, I realized that I spend too much time in a vulnerable state at work. I’ve been teaching ESL for twenty years, but my feelings still fluctuate wildly from joy to despair. “I leave the door to my heart open all day long, which is just downright ridiculous and lazy,” were the words that came to mind. Metaphors speak to me in some very clear and helpful ways. There are more experimental writers who might equate metaphors with tea cosies, but they’re vital to me as an individual and writer.

“Spaces” got a lot of help from Ken Babstock who, when he heard me say, “The first time I took acid was to understand my dad,” suggested I write a poem with that as a first line. The chiasmic pattern grew out of the tension between memory as it is felt and as it is observed. The pattern also holds together the wildness of its subject matter: schizophrenia and drugs.

It seems to me that the form of any poem is itself a kind of buried metaphor. The compact space of a sonnet brings to mind the quick love poem (an extended pickup line) or some metaphysical argument by John Donne packed with wit. Any repetitive form (villanelle or pantoum) suggests a certain obsessiveness, a turning of words over and over in your mind. (“Spaces” is a kind of repetitive form in my mind.) You can work within the constraints of those forms or try to bust loose. Growing up on heavy-metal, punk rock, and then more experimental music, I’ve learned to enjoy the sound of building and smashing.

Rob: Hey now, that's some pretty dismissive talk about tea cosies. You don't want to fall afoul of Big Cosy, what with all them sharp knitting needles...

In "Nintendo 64" you describe a magic trick (involving an N64 and a VCR) the speaker pulls on his nephews was a "feat that secularized wonder" (p. 32). That line resonated for me - as a minister's son who found himself drawn to poetry instead of the clergy - as speaking to much more than VCR tricks. Do you think there's a connection between your religious upbringing and your current interest in poetry? Do you think of poetry as a "feat that secularizes wonder"?

Kevin, performing miracles.
Kevin: Even before we articulate the wonders of the world, we’re stuck by the fact that language is an invisible technology that evolved out of our mouths. Wonders abound in every direction. In growing up in a church, I learned a language that expressed some of this awe, but in an organized religion’s more fundamental iteration, it’s blind to the gob-smacking wonders of something like evolution. In “Nintendo 64” I take “secularizes wonder” to mean that the VCR trick brings something amazing into my nephew’s ordinary world. It doesn’t flatten wonder, but makes it more available. Yes, poetry is a place open to all kinds of miraculous performances (or at least that’s what I aspire towards).

Rob: A good number of the poems in Jabbering with Bing Bong are set in, or reference, Lumsden (Saskatchewan) and the Sage Hill Writing Experience, which you attended on two occasions: clearly you were very productive during your stays! At the back of the book you thank all of the teachers and participants in both sessions, as well as a few of your teachers and fellow classmates at UBC, where you completed an MFA in Creative Writing. How did attending Sage Hill shape or transform your writing? How do you think this book would have been different if you hadn't attended Sage Hill? And how did it compare with the UBC MFA program?

Kevin: This book wouldn’t exist without my two stays at Sage Hill. Ken Babstock kicked off my sonnet spree and Don McKay led me towards Fenris wolf (a central character in the middle of Jabbering). I have them to thank for so much along with Phil Hall for helping to create such an open atmosphere. It felt like anything was possible. Also, the environment was astonishingly beautiful and allowed for the easy emergence of new ideas and approaches.

UBC was foundational. I had only been writing poetry for a couple of years when I got into the program. (Recently, reading at Salt Spring Island’s wonderful monthly series in their library, a friend in attendance suggested that I’d been writing poetry in the form of flash fiction from 2003 to 2007 and maybe he’s right, but I never thought of it in terms of any poetic tradition.) The first poem I heard at UBC was from Keith Malliard, who read us some John Berryman on the first day of poetry. At the end of the puzzling poem, Keith looked up and laughed, “I mean, what is this?!”

Rob: Jabbering with Bing Bong closes with a series of poems about your father, focused largely on his schizophrenia ("Incompletes", "Spaces", "Living on Borderblur"...). Knowing that you already have a book in the works for 2016 (Ignite, also from Anvil Press) entirely devoted to writing about your father, this left me wondering why these poems were in this book and not the next. How do these poems differ from what's to come in 2016? And, more generally, what can we anticipate from your next book?

Kevin: Jabbering is a kind of bildungsroman, a coming of poetic age and so in order to give a complete picture, I needed to include those poems about my father, but Ignite consists largely of poems written during my MFA at UBC and it’s more focused on my dad as a character, our relationship and schizophrenia itself. Rhea Tregebov, an amazingly big-hearted and brilliant thesis advisor, helped me gain access to medical records of his various stays at Riverview, which I explore through a variety of poetic strategies. With this next book, I have the double role of writer and advocate for mental health issues.


Help us overpopulate the world with Kevins by buying a copy of Jabbering with Bing Bong! You can do so at your local bookstore, or from the Anvil press website, or, if you want to be blind to the gob-smacking wonders of the world, from Amazon.