5/11/2023

glimpses of how my books are carried

During the solitary months and years spent writing a book, it can be easy to forget that it 
will—if you are lucky—live a social life. That your book might enter the imaginations and memories of its readers and thrive there, that your book might be crammed into pockets or backpacks and carried up mountains or to foreign countries, or that your book might be given by one person to another. Perhaps the aspects of authorship I cherish most are the glimpses I get of how my books are themselves carried, or are themselves given. When I sign books at readings, people frequently want their copies inscribed as gifts. Would you make this out to my mother, who loves mountains?... to my brother, who lives in Calcutta?... to my best friend, who is ill?... to my father, who is no longer able to walk as far as he would wish...? Several times I’ve been asked to inscribe books to young children who can’t yet read: We want to give this book to them now, so it’s waiting for them when they’re ready for it. These conversations with readers, and the stories that arise from this giving of gifts, are among the strongest of the forces that keep me writing.

- Robert MacFarlane, from his essay The Gifts of Reading. You can read the whole thing here.

4/17/2023

that infinitely expanding shelter

Beauty can’t be canceled. O’Connor is problematic, but she’s indispensable. I think of Calvino’s “Uses of Literature,” his notion of a universal library that’s always expanding around a core of canonical books. The core may be less fixed for those of us looking for alternatives to a white, male, Eurocentric canon—but the important thing is that infinitely expanding shelter, which is tethered to history but always gravitating toward what’s still outside it, toward what Calvino calls the “apocryphal.” No books are removed from this library. No books are burned. I’m not going to remove Faulkner. I’m not going to remove Wallace Stevens. I see them as flawed, complicated, dimensional people. 

- Terrance Hayes, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


4/13/2023

what this country is like

Well, the English sonnet is twelve lines of thinking what you want to think, and then in the final couplet, the volta, you change your mind. I think this, I think this, I think this—­and only then, I think that. In the Italian sonnet, you think what you’re thinking for eight lines, two quatrains—­I think this, I think this—­and then you change your mind, and for six lines it’s, I think that. Of course the English were like, I’m right for twelve lines and wrong for two. That’s the kind of thinking that led to colonialism … Maybe the Italian sonnet is more reflective of Enlightenment thinking. 

The premise of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018) was very simple—I’ve got to change my mind more than once for it to be an American sonnet. It has to have several turns, to have voltas all over it, because that’s what this country is like, zigzagging between insight and blindness, beauty and ugliness, joy and pain. 

- Terrance Hayes, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.

3/13/2023

an acoustic pot

Among the medieval artifacts in the British Museum is an example of what’s called an acoustic pot. These earthenware vessels were placed in cavities in the chapel walls where monks and nuns would sing; they made the pitch more resonant. Lately, I’ve been thinking that poets do much the same thing when they quote or imbed allusions to other poems in their own art. When poets resonate together, especially across the divide between the living and the dead, it lends an eerie power to the work.

 

- Ange Mlinko, from her essay on The Waste Land over at Poets.org. You can read the whole thing here.

1/23/2023

toujours travailler

As for your first quotation from Auden—his assertion that no one can create a work of art “by a simple act of will . . . but must wait until what he believes to be a good idea for a work comes to him”—I agree. Still, I try never to forget that Rilke learned the opposite, or at least a complementary, lesson when he worked for Rodin in Paris. In Rodin’s words, “Il faut travailler, toujours travailler,” or in English, “One must work, always work.” So, practice is crucial, too. It certainly had a profoundly beneficial effect on Rilke’s poetry, which improved rapidly from that point on, as he started to write the two volumes of New Poems, where most of his thing-poems are to be found. Whereas before—when apparently he was always waiting for inspiration—his poetry was relatively vague and sentimental. Later, when he received the inspiration for the Duino Elegies, walking along the wall at Duino Castle—I believe the story is that he had some distressing financial business to take care of, and then suddenly he heard the opening lines of the first elegy—he was ready for it; he had the technique he needed to turn the inspiration into a masterpiece, because he’d been practicing for years.

- James Pollock, answering Alex Boyd's "One Question Interview" over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here

1/19/2023

every voyage into the mountains will furnish the answer

Song and story, like music, dance and painting, are separate though related. They are sisters, the Greeks said; daughters of one mother, whose name is Mnemosyne: memory, minding, the mind. Their father is the weather. Story and song, in other words, are daughters of knowing, playing at taking their mother's place. Their dwelling, like their mother's - every language seems to know this - is the mountains. Mountain means the wild, in the earth and in the mind. It means the living system, not a replica managed by humans for human ends. Mountains are where humans, with their self-centered notions of order and management, and their narrow definitions of profit and economy, have not yet reached, or have not yet taken control. Greed and fear will post a question: How can the home of knowing by where human organization has not reached? But every voyage into the mountains will furnish the answer: it cannot be anywhere else.


- Robert Bringhurst, from his essay "Everywhere Being is Dancing, Knowing is Known" in Poetry and Knowing: Speculative Essays & Interviews (Quarry Press, 1995). 

1/16/2023

how the poem lives as an entity

It seems to me that at its best - and this is what we search for in poems all the time - poetry approximates, through the powerful use of language, our fundamental, original  sense of life's miraculousness, its profound and mysterious meaning. When poems catch and burn as we want them to, they are taking us back to the first recognition and naming of a thing, to something like childhood wonder, a sense of our own lives and the surrounding world as possessing depth and being charged with meaning and potential discoveries, a sense of energied understanding. Poetry does this by communicating excitement through the character of the poem's language - not through the words' denotations or the poem's statement so much as through how the poem lives as an entity. The poet's excitement seems to communicate directly, subliminally to the reader. 

- John Steffler, from his essay "Language as Matter" in Poetry and Knowing: Speculative Essays & Interviews (Quarry Press, 1995).

1/12/2023

the thought-and-gesture work of poems

Poems don't get written by spending one's time exclusively in books, in front of blank screens and pages; it's crucial to get out into the world, to experience it as fully as possible, and to pay attention to that experience. Doing so is also a useful distraction from the frustration of not being able to write, or to write well. So in addition to reading and trying to write, both in a disciplined way, I also make a point each day of going for walks (a dog helps). I'm also the one who cooks in the family - cooking count. Or the weather's too lousy and I don't feel like cooking, so I look for a steady few minutes at the weather from my window, or I close my eyes and listen to the weather that, when I can't see it, actually has its own music, not so lousy after all, I hadn't noticed, how hadn't I noticed this before? This doesn't mean my next poem will concern weather or putting a Bolognese sauce together or the bark of a tree I noticed while walking, but these all get added to the countless things I've noticed, smelled, listened to across a longish life and they leave a for-the-most-untraceable imprint on each thought and gesture that follows, including the thought-and-gesture work of poems. 

- Carl Phillips, from his essay "Ambition" in My Trade is Mystery.

1/09/2023

the way flies attend horses

I used to equate winning a prize for writing with winning Wimbledon, but that's not right. Putting aside the possibility of bad calls by referees, putting aside luck - good or bad - to win Wimbledon is to have played the best game of tennis, albeit only on that particular day; today's champion could as easily be defeated tomorrow by the one who lost today. But winning a prize for art, far from meaning you were the best today, really just means that a randomly assembled group of humans and therefore subjective and each-with-their-own-biases judges came to an agreement - itself often uneasy - that your art was deserving of a prize. That doesn't make it the best or, to be honest, even good.

Prizes are part of the politics that attend art the way flies attend horses. They ultimately distract from what, as far as I can tell, art is most about: the urgency of and devotion to and sheer pleasure in the act of making some form of human expression for what it means to be alive in a human body at this moment in time.

- Carl Phillips, from his essay "Ambition" in My Trade is Mystery.

12/28/2022

the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

2022 was a year of two halves here at Roll of Nickels. The first half of the year was largely devoted to quotes on writing. I added 50 more in total this year, largely gathered from three of my favourite reads of 2022: Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing50 Years of EVENT Magazine: Collected Notes on Writing and Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversations with America's Poets (I'm still waiting for the writing-craft anthology on writing succinct titles to writing-craft anthologies...). You can read all 700+ (!) of my quotes on writing here

We're throwing out the old
year here at Roll of Nickels!
The second half of the year was devoted to my interviews: another ten this year, two of which were holdovers from 2021 (print publications which finally appeared online). I've included all of those in the year's highlights, below! 

I had two other interviews published this year, one with Steven Heighton in January for The Walrus (you can read that one here), and one with Matt Rader for in November for Arc. Both of those were excerpts from longer interviews, and I hope to publish them in full here on the blog at some point in 2023.

I also managed to squeeze in posts on new books by David Ly, Frances Boyle, and Otoniya J Okot Bitek, and tributes to Kate Braid and Matsuki Masutani

2022 was a welcome quiet year for me, my family life largely keeping me from writing - no new books, and few poetry publications outside of haiku magazines. I was able to set time aside to write a number of essays on writing, though. It was something new for me, which I found I quite enjoyed. Essays appeared in the aforementioned Resonance anthology, EVENT, Canadian Notes + Queries, the League of Canadian Poets poetry month blog, The Tyee, The Tyee again, and Brick.

That last essay, in Brick, is the most personal for me - a reflection on what Steven Heighton taught me about life and writing. Steve's sudden death in April shocked me, as it did so many, and even now hardly seems real. I was so glad I was able to talk with him in-depth about his writing for our Walrus interview, something I'd considered putting off for one more year until my time freed up (needless to say, it didn't). The issue only just came out, and if you get a chance to pick up a copy, I very much encourage you to do so. (It also features a tribute to Steve from Karen Solie, which Brick has posted online - it can be read here. And a heck of a poem about swans from 2022 interviewee Sadiqa de Meijer.)

On a lighter note, last year I wrote that 2021 was "the year my internet silliness spilled over into the real world." That continued in 2022, when my faux outrage over being excluded from The Plum Review, a UK "This is Just to Say" parody anthology, resulted in my last minute inclusion, Silliness levels went off the charts when my "This Is Actually More Of A Comment" jack-o-lantern inexplicably garnered over 3 million views on Twitter (shared between me and a UK author who stole the image and then pretended everyone was doing it). After JK Rowling retweeted my image, I got to have a little fun hurling the pumpkin off my balcony, to boot.

Ok, enough preamble. Here are my favourite posts from the year:

January 2022: To Show Up For Others: Writers on Kate Braid's Mentorship
"I was terrified of the creative writing classroom. Kate's warmth and rigor as a mentor taught me to be an engaged peer. She taught not just to respond to poetry, but to show up for other writers. To let the collective knowledge of the classroom lift us all up as poets. To this day, being taught to value my sense of belonging within literary communities has been a lesson even more powerful than being taught about craft itself." - Amber Dawn

January 2022: What Trickles Down the Line: An Interview with Ellie Sawatzky
"I think something that I’ve learned both from taking care of children and writing poetry is that some things just don’t make sense. Anyone who’s ever spent time around children knows what it is to ultimately answer a line of questioning with “I don’t know why, it just is.” It can be very humbling — and existentially terrifying — to admit that you don’t know something, or to acknowledge that there are multiple contradictory truths. In childhood so much is unknown and there are so many possibilities. As we get older things seem to narrow... To me, poetry is a space that allows adults to ask questions the way children do. So it’s not so much about “making sense” as it is about wondering." - Ellie Sawatzky
February 2022: A Congenial Barrier: An Interview with W.M. Herring
"Retirement brought with it the wonderful gift of time: time to walk slowly, to listen carefully, to contemplate; time to consider a stray thought or to research an event or historical figure; time to daydream; time to wordsmith over a mug of coffee for as long as it takes. In retrospect, I needed time to observe, absorb, and declare before I could produce even the shortest of poems. Until I had that time, I had no idea the writing that would emerge." - W.M. Herring

March 2022: Suspension, Some Dread, A Lifeline: An Interview with Neil Surkan
"I love poems that end with a near-resolution, or a statement that makes sense in a “peripheral vision” sort of way (like, if you look a little to the left you can almost glean the rationale). [Jack] Gilbert is a good example: so often, the thrust of his poetry verges on familiar sentimentality, but then he frays convention to its limit. His speaker’s personal grief transforms into sprawling, savoury, wonderful existential terror. In line with Gilbert, I try to make my poems’ music resonate in the holes left by withheld pieces. Micro-devastations. Clapper-less bells. The “click,” for me, happens when I get a hunch that the last line couldn’t be anything other than what it is, even though I never saw it coming: half-confusion, half-satisfaction, a distant cousin of comfort." - Neil Surkan
 
March 2022: A Gift of Mystery and Many Hands: An Interview with shauna paull
"My practice is rooted in a kind of deep listening, which I fail at a lot! John Berger says that art is a conversation between the maker and the materials. When I work with language then, there is a waiting and listening. And a reverence for where the text is heard in the body and where I think it wants to arrive on the page. This is partly to respond to the music of the text which I am hearing, which can be done syntactically, yes. But for me, allowing the text to find its place on a page is a part of letting go of authorship, which is important to me in the context of the noise and individualism of our world." - shauna paull

April 2022: A Woven Basket with Others: An Interview with Isabella Wang
"In the story of what I know about my family’s ancestral history, there are chasms of intergenerational narratives lost with my grandmother, lost in my forgetting of language, that I long to fill. I translate, but the untranslatable is ultimately what gives me the momentum for poetry — the trying; reaching toward a horizon that always ends up blurry, in metaphors with a double-edge." - Isabella Wang
 
April 2022: Admiration, Applause, Adoration: An Interview with Arleen Paré
"I started by writing with only Etel Adnan in mind, meaning she was the object, but as I added the titled poems, and as the project grew, I knew it was broader, for and about all lesbian poets, in the same way that former women’s and lesbian movements were aimed at and for all women and lesbians. It began to feel more political and yet still very personal. In the way of the old second wave movement saying, “The personal is political.” And how could it be otherwise?" - Arleen Paré

April 2022: My Body Knows More Than I Do: An Interview with Jónína Kirton

"When I first entered recovery, I thought that one day I would arrive at normal. I would be healed, and all would be well. That never happened and eventually I began to see the problems with my desire to be “normal” — it was never the right fit for me. I could see that many of the more successful members of my family were boxed in by religious beliefs and colonized thinking that never allow them to feel the freedom that comes with just being human. They were living proof that being judgemental — having the scorched earth thinking that comes with the colonized way of life — burns the one who is judging just as much as the one they judge. Seeing the difference between the way they were with each other and the way my Métis family would tease each other (in a good way) about their faults helped me understand that it is much kinder to myself and others if we accept our imperfections." - Jónína Kirton

April 2022: Rolling Down a Hill With Your Brain on Fire: An Interview with Andrew Chesham and Laura Farina
"I think the main thing I learned in editing this book is that the “life” of writing and the “craft” of writing are profoundly interconnected in a way that is at once cosmic and intensely practical. For a long time, I’ve felt that I’m in this whole writing business for the days when writing comes easily and it feels like you’re rolling down a hill and also your brain is on fire. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? All of a sudden you’re finding all these connections and you have a moment of "OH! That’ what I’ve thought about this thing the whole time!" - Laura Farina

April 2022: The Border Terrain: An Interview with Sadiqa de Meijer
"Before I became a parent, much of what I lived and believed was grounded in a sort of communal struggle: I was against things (like patriarchy and racism and poverty and environmental degradation). I took part in protests and organizing and talks, and that was good and important work. I’m still against all the same things, but with the sense of being responsible for someone small and new, I felt an urgent question—I wanted to know what I was for, what I could pass on as things to believe in. The Che Guevara quote goes “…the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love,”—but his preface to that is “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that…” and I believe I’d unconsciously been placing more weight on that first phrase. It was protective; a layer of cynicism over the vulnerability of feeling love and grief for what was under siege. And that has turned—I can still be a marvellous cynic, but my emphasis has shifted to the side of that love, and to risking myself in its name, whether in a playground interaction or a broader, structured campaign." - Sadiqa de Meijer
 
October  2022: A Real Donnie Brasco Situation: An Interview with Shaun Robinson
"I gravitate to the inelegant in a poem. I like the pathos of a metaphor that swings for the fences and doesn’t quite connect. I like a poem that deliberately misunderstands a phrase or contradicts itself or forgets who its speaker was. “It’s important to get things wrong,” according to my poem “Trivia Night.” By which I mean, partly, that I’d rather be rough and messy and adventurous than small and tidy and perfect." - Shaun Robinson
 
December 2022: Matsuki Masutani on Writing

"I know more than the words about these poems." - Matsuki Masutani

I've got a bunch more new interviews coming your way in 2023, as we blow past 100 total (currently at 99!) and begin inching our way towards 200. I doubt I'll hurl any gourds off my balcony, though only time will tell.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, all!