most of it has not been covered up well

Suzanna Derewicz: Something I noticed in Shiner is how often the speaker(s) call out to history... The desire to call out to that which preceded you, where does that live in you?

Eva HD: I guess I feel like it’s doing the same to me, so I feel like I’m responding. In today’s world, it feels sometimes like everyone has the memory of a goldfish, but history and context are very clearly present in everything we experience, though some of it might be willfully passed over. I find it difficult to write anything that is disassociated from it.

SD: Like we’re tethered to it.

HD: More like it’s a palimpsest—most of it has not been erased or covered up very well and I’m constantly stumbling upon it. Your question is a very good one. And people are shouting out to history all the time, whether intentionally or otherwise. The term Puritan, for example, is something I can’t really hear without thinking about the ethnic cleansings of Ireland and North America. We contend daily with the consequences of history, which manifest themselves more obviously for some of us than for others. Try telling some kids in Attawapiskat that history doesn’t matter. I think a person would have to live in a peculiar state of privilege to imagine that they lived outside of history.

- Eva HD, discussing her second poetry collection, Shiner, with Suzanna Derewicz over at The Puritan's Town Crier blog. You can read the whole thing here.


a cheap way to scooch your audience closer

There’s a link between poets and comedians. Both inspect and wrestle with the status quo, and both do so to share the experience of discovery.

But I think comedy has unseated poetry over the past 100 years in popular culture because its core purpose is more straightforward—laughter. The other stuff, the “Thinky Pain” as Marc Maron puts it, gets to tag along like a rider provision in a congress bill. Comedy has this way of leading different interpretations to the same general response—again, laughter.

Poetry doesn’t have a core purpose as easily definable as comedy (look at all the ink spilled everywhere), so maybe people are unsure what they’re supposed to glean from it, or how they’re to react. I love poetry for that. I love that a single line can elicit all sorts of interpretations.

The reason I guess that I use humour sometimes—maybe you could back me up—is to toss a little life raft into the storm and say, let’s all convene to have the same response to something, if just for a moment. It’s a cheap way to scooch your audience closer.

- Vincent Colistro, in interview with Catriona Wright over at The Puritan's Town Crier blog. You can read the whole thing here.


a live-streamed match report of an epiphany

The older I get, the more I’m inclined to have poems announce themselves through necessity, rather than seek them out or write them out of habit or obligation. Increasingly, I feel guilty about writing anything that might take up the time someone would otherwise have had free to, I don’t know — go read that Frost poem again. Besides, if a poem doesn’t half kill you I’m not convinced you’re doing it right. So when one finally does push through, it’s urgent enough to shove aside everything else. I’m a great believer in the poem being a live-streamed match report of an epiphany, not a neat forensic account of how it went down. And if there’s no intensity to the feeling you have as you write, there’s no intensity to the language either. (That doesn’t mean you won’t spend a year trying to fix it up, however. I always have to.)

- Don Paterson, answering a questionnaire from Open Book Toronto, along with the other finalists for the Griffin Prize. You can read the whole thing here.


the Caine Prize is unmaking her

I think all you Nigerian literati are way too addicted to the Caine Prize. I give the Caine Prize its due credit, but it just isn’t our institution. All these young people who are ending up in that place were built up by many people’s work. If there was no Saraba, if there was no Farafina workshop, if there was no Cassava republic, if there was no Tolu Ogunlesi meeting Nick in South Africa and then workshoping stories, if there was no Ivor Hartmann, if there were no thirty thousand Facebook groups that I know off or don’t know, there will be no Okwiri, there will be no Elnathan, etc. What is happening is you people are allowing the Caine Prize to receive funding and build itself as a brand and make money and people’s career there in London while the vast majority of these institutions are vastly underfunded and vastly ungrown, and they are the ones who create the ground that is building these new writers. Why do I have to sit in interviews with Nigerian journalists who want to help Caine Prize get more money in the sixth richest country in the world?

I want people to say, Okwiri, who won the Caine Prize, is the founder of Jalada, an online magazine that has won five prizes in the last year and published, I think, the most exciting fiction I’ve seen in ten years. Just that magazine, has more excitement than many known ones, but they are invisible. Seven years ago, I came here (Nigeria) and I felt nothing is going on in the online community in Kenya. Then Dami Ajayi and Emmanuel Iduma went and started Saraba. People there in Kenya smelled Saraba, made their own and that was it. Now, writers in America and approaching writers published in Saraba and these online magazines to give them fellowships abroad. Okwiri made her name long before the Caine prize. I picked her for a long list of under-20 writers. I didn’t even know her then. Because the ecosystem is so big that you don’t even know each other anymore... The idea that she won the Caine Prize, and journalists now want to feed the fact that she was made by the Caine Prize, is unmaking her... We must lose this s**t. Give due credit but don’t go giving free money and free legitimacy. Because the Caine Prize right now needs your legitimacy to get money. They take press clipping from all Nigerian media and use that to source for funding. We need to focus on how we can grow our own ecosystem.

- Binyavanga Wainaina, in interview with Chiagozie Nwonwu, discussing the Caine Prize for African Writing, and how big international awards overshadow, and block out, all the work being done on the ground, over at This is Africa. You can read the whole thing here.


wriggling out from under a new clamp

These prizes are like oracles. They promise something like authority, something like justice. They tell you that you’re finally going to know how things stand. Come up here with me and I’ll tell you. Come closer. I’ll tell you what it all means. But what they say never makes sense. You’re left with as many questions as answers, and the same messy feelings you walked in with, wriggling out from under a new clamp.

- Damian Tarnopolsky, reporting from the Amazon.ca First Novel Award gala in his essay "It's Really Hard, Writing a Book", over at Partisan. You can read the whole thing here.


you pledge allegiance to poetry

I mistrust all labels (who doesn’t?) and despise custodial nouns like “formalist” or “experimentalist.” I expect you feel the same way— that nouning the world is an unhealthy, essentially lazy practice. Yet we all do it, and we do it for the same reason that we map territories— to help us immobilize the chaos and navigate it. But the practice creates verbal/mental berms against reality, since reality is all flux: growth, decay, death, rebirth etc. Any artist should want to resist being nouned into nullity that way— being pinned down or penned in (pun unintentional) by abstract descriptions. Only verbs, especially present participles, can really capture what artists are trying to do— and then only for a moment. So when labellers libel Christian Bök as a mere “avant-gardist” or “Oulipian,” or describe Amanda Jernigan as a “formalist” or “neo-formalist,” I get frustrated and impatient.

As for my actual writing, I’ll use techniques that could be described as “formalist” if a particular poem seems to demand them; or I’ll write a poem that will look, on the page, almost Black Mountainish if that’s what the evolving poem seems to require. To me, such flexibility of approach is essentially just what it means to be a poet— you pledge allegiance to poetry, to language, and to the work of trying to re-enact poetic impulses in the most effective way possible, rather than flashing your membership card in the “experimental” or “lyrical” school. Or any number of other schools.

- Steven Heighton, in conversation with Jenny Haysom over at ARC Poetry Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.


when you embrace the power of not caring, everything rhymes with orange - "Country Club" by Andy McGuire

Zero Experience - Andy McGuire

The Agency tells us the world is our oyster.
They say optimism is an art,
The slice of the pie chart that remains cheerful
Through starving. Temping is all about potential.

You can’t stop a fire that doesn’t start.
All of my matches were made in China.
I’ve hit my head too many times
Dancing in the dark. The odd Friday afternoon

Francine serenades our frayed platoon
In the crude theatre we call the copy room.
She has a history of using colourful language
In the workplace. Being let go is a refrain.

I dream of her doorbell
But a gulf of grey separates her cubicle from mine.
Too many people are sitting in this oyster.
Management will have to put up a sign.

from Country Club
(Coach House Books, 2015).
Reprinted with permission.


Andy McGuire killed a mouse for me. Accidentally, leaving some dishwater out - a mucky, soapy swimming pool for the tiny thing. We'd just met that evening, when he'd come by to visit the Al Purdy A-frame, where I was writer-in-residence. He's efficient like that. And his poems are equally efficient, and mucky, and soapy, and secretly lethal. "Secretly" because they are so damn funny, poking at the worst of our language ("fat cats killed curiosity") and the worst of our people (the "leathery Ohioans" ringing Florida's pools). Like andrea bennett's Canoodlers before it, McGuire's debut poetry collection, Country Club (Coach House Books, 2015), explores the weird and wonderful in Florida, and the Florida in everything weird and wonderful that lives and thrives here in Canada.

When you kill a mouse for me, the least I can do is offer an interview in return. Also, when your book made me laugh this many times, made my tongue this happy reading your poems aloud in Al's living room. Though I do often wonder, is being interviewed (peppered? barraged?) by me a gift or a trauma? My wife definitely felt it more of a trauma than a gift when she reached into that dishwater the next morning and nudged up against the poor little guy, then screamed so loud the covers I was asleep under shot airborn. It was a very mixed up, very unsettling, very funny, very Florida, very Country Club moment, and I'm glad it led, in its own strange way, to this interview, which was perhaps my silliest yet (yes, Kevin Spenst, that's a direct challenge).

In it we talk about idioms, Florida, Serious Canadian Poetry, blurbs, and Frank O'Hara's ghost. Oh, and Andy makes up at least one word. I hope you enjoy!

Andy McGuire is pleased to you-know-what you.


Rob: Frequently in Country Club you play with, and invert, popular idioms. You get great mileage from "the world is my oyster" in "Zero Experience," and some of my other favourites include: "This always happens/ When I buy a fish a river." ("Music Row"), "There's plenty of fish in the barrel" ("Butchers Holler"), and "Things are not as they kick and scream to be" ("Shotgun Infinity"). Seafood obsession aside, could you speak a bit about your interests in playing with idioms? Have you come to praise or bury them? In what ways, if any, is your interest in idioms tied to your focus on writing about Florida?

Andy: Popular idioms and verse are the expired table butter of the vernacular, the lazy river of language, anathema to poetry. I rewrite and recombine them because it gives me great pleasure. The pleasure has to do with reclaiming such familiar phrases as sites of discovery. It's a bit like the reverse gentrification of common usage. Repurposing the clichéd. I've never thought about my interest in idioms in relation to writing about Florida. Both, I would say, are forms of non-sequitarian violence.

Rob: Continuing on that idea - the idioms, not the weird fish stuff - Country Club centres around poems about the wonderful and weird State of Florida, and the style of your poems - playful, winking, often shirtless, somewhat unhinged - seems perfectly suited to the subject. Which came first, Florida or your style? Were you writing in this way before you let Florida into your heart, or did Florida transform your writing? Or both?

Andy: The qualities you mention existed in my poems before my Floridian escapade. But something did happen there. The strange exuberance in my work flourished. Florida let my playful, winking and slightly demented poetic tendencies off-leash. I felt like I could write this way with impunity. The leathery Ohioan I saw every day at the pool led my spirit-animal entourage. When you embrace the power of not caring, everything rhymes with orange.

Rob: Even non-sequitarian. The poems in Country Club contain humour, rhyme and sex - sometimes all three in the same poem. What kind of a Serious Canadian Poet are you? Do you worry they'll take back your membership card? Which, if any, of the three elements of your work has made you most nervous when reading your poems in public?

Andy: Good comedy delivers a healthy dose of newness the way the rewired idioms do. In my poems I usually aim for what Freud calls the laughter of unease. When you read a great line by Oscar Wilde—for example, "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances"—you smile and then realize the joke might be on you. The ability to amuse, confound, inspire, intrigue and provoke all at once is the incredible intelligence of humour. Plus, it just feels good to make someone laugh. I like doing that at readings. Firing up all the pistons (humour, rhyme and sex) usually produces the desired result. I have found that most audiences are happy to take those multiple medications. In the end, I want my poems to be enjoyable, even if that means enjoyably bleak or astringent. Of course I want them to be other things as well, but I do care deeply about other people's pleasure. Someone recently accused me of writing delightfully upsetting poetry. They compared my poems to pickled eggs made by Miranda July. I lol'd.

Rob: Sticking with one of your three pistons, rhyme, when did you start using rhyme heavily in your work? How did embracing rhyme affect the nature of the poems you were writing?

Andy: For a long time I thought that rhyme was something "serious" poets avoided. Serious rhyme was a revelation for which I blame Frederick Seidel. His rhymes feel like malfeasance. I'm especially drawn to the delinquency of perfect end rhyme. No matter how subtle or brazen, successful rhyme is an agent of new realities, relations and possibility. You can spot the Florida poems in Country Club from the neighbouring state. They are the ones rifling around in sandboxes of metre, rhyme and repetition. Florida held a mirror up to those poems, is all.

Rob In "Toronto" you refer to book blurbs as "the lower back tattoos of literature", and you reinforce that assertion by having no blurbs on the back cover of Country Club. As a fellow non-blurber, I salute you. What is it about blurbs that turns you off?

Andy: There are books that I think might benefit from laser blurb removal. It's just so humiliating to ask someone whose work you admire to consider praising your book. I might break my vow of blurb celibacy for some praise from Frank O'Hara. I like those odds.

Rob: My understanding is that your second book is already well in the works, with a blurb from Frank O'Hara's ghost, and all. Could you tell us a little about it, and more generally where you see your writing going from here?

Andy: My second book will be a collection of top-ten poems. A portable flotsam honking its heart out at the intersection of culture, categorization, ranking and linguistic slippage. Beyond that, I've been amassing poems for a third collection and also just finished my first novel. At some point I hope to record the new album I meant to make three books ago.


It seems like Andy's just going to keep writing books, and not songs, until he feels some love. Maybe if you buy his book it'll give him enough confidence to venture off and write a manatee-themed power ballad. You can pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or from the comfort of your home via the Coach House Books website. Or, if you wish to upset me in a very un-delightful way, from Amazon.


July Dead Poets Lineup Announced!

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch, Alice MacKay room, on July 10th, 2016, from 3-5 PM.

The lineup:
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 - 2000), read by Chelene Knight
H.D. (1886 - 1961), read by Adèle Barclay
Weldon Kees (1914 - 1955), read by Matthew Walsh
Christopher Smart (1722 - 1771), read by Kevin Spenst
CD Wright (1949 - 2016), read by Cathy Stonehouse
Attendance is free. For more info, visit the DPRS website.

It should be a great one. Don't miss it!


Pinterest for books

Poetry especially seems like such a small world. Everyone is always fighting, and it seems laughable when we’re fighting over something that doesn’t really matter at all in the larger world. To get so hateful and apoplectic over an audience of hundreds (ideally). I’m not immune either. Social media can make me crazy with insecurity and jealousy and negativity. It’s toxic in a way that we never acknowledge. It’s like Pinterest for books — everyone is perfect and all the projects are perfect. Whereas on a day to day basis I feel more like a “nailed it” kind of gal.

- Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, in interview with Sachiko Murikami over on her The Hardest Thing About Being a Writer blog. You can read the whole thing here.