and this...

David Ly: With poetry, what do you think it can do in terms of telling a story that you don’t find prose can achieve?

Tess Liem: The first thing I thought was that it’s just the difference between saying “and then…” or “and this…” to imply that poetry may be less concerned with organizing things in linear time than prose; maybe poetry is more concerned with pointing one’s attention to moments, and accumulations or inventories, but I don’t think that’s fair to prose. I’ve actually been trying to revive my short story writing lately, and when I was asking my friend for advice about craft books, we actually came to the conclusion that I was not a very good story teller, but that that was OK. This also reminds me that my first workshop was for fiction and I had a habit of editing my stories by cutting out most of what I’d written initially, and breaking the lines until they were poems. So maybe it is that poems leave space, literally and figuratively, for stories to happen in a different way, maybe by mood rather than action.

- Tess Liem, in conversation with David Ly over at PRISM international. You can read the whole thing here.


to be seen and known

Albina Retyunskikh: With the pandemic, so many people are being confronted with the ways in which illness can disrupt parental duty. What lessons or comforts do you hope these poems offer in this time?

Sadiqa de Meijer: I'm not sure I expected the poems to be of comfort—they were written almost as a witnessing of something painful—but I've been moved to hear from people that they do find solace in them. I believe the line "Tell me of your life without evasions" is an arrow towards an answer. To be seen and known, past our surface constructs of identity, is a longing in us, no matter what our life stage. And when we do make that moment of contact, within a relationship, it is atemporal in nature—meaning that it somehow holds its own within the pain of the losses, which are always losses of time with a person, the nature or the length of time you expected or imagined.

- Sadiqa de Meijer, in conversation with Albina Retyunskikh over at Maisonneuve. You can read the whole thing here.


not real matter

The internet has done some wonderful things but, in my opinion, publishing is not one it does well. Since I began reading, my fascination with the written word has been as much with texts as it has been with book (or print) objects, which I view as physical manifestations of language. Analogous with digital music, the digital poem is not real matter, but a collection of ordered ones and zeros translated into a form our eyes can understand. You can not hold a digital poem in your hand, smell the ink, or feel the grit of the paper between your fingers. These tactile pleasures are equal to the interpretation of content in how I experience poetry. Books and broadsides can live for hundreds of years, can be read far into the future. How long can we honestly expect the internet to last before it devours itself?

- Geoffrey Nilson, in conversation with Shazia Hafiz Ramji over on the Invisible Press blog. You can read the whole thing here.


poems do things with the language that the language wants to do

There’s been a lot of disagreement on... whether writers have a social responsibility or should be artists for art’s sake. As a poet, I think my role is to keep writing poems, even though it’s hardly the most lucrative job in the world, and causes a great deal more grief than it does satisfaction (if you’re doing it right). There’s a reason that poems are read at weddings and funerals, at presidential inaugurations and on other milestone life occasions: poems are both products and articulations of what we value most as a culture. They can be calls to action, or they can be assertions of the primacy of lived experience, which I believe is a political act in itself. As the poet Matthew Zapruder puts it so eloquently in his recent book, Why Poetry, poetry “trains us in a radical kind of empathy that is maybe what’s missing in our culture more than anything.” I believe poems are important, that by bringing them into existence, we can and do change the world. Poems do things with the language that the language wants to do, so the very least we as poets can do is to provide containers for language to shape-shift into.

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


writing outward

My practise is to invite words over time to share and chronicle my living processes, as opposed to making set pieces that are products in that they would strive for perfection and publication.

The long sequence and collage—forms I mostly work in—are anti-perfection. I seek words to embellish my flaws.

I am trying to change the nature of revision—so that instead of chiselling away at a first draft to sculpt it, I might instead invite more into it, and keep adding, toward cornucopia.

That’s why I started writing essay-poems: so the kitchen sink would know it was welcome.

I expose myself in my poems because I trust the reader to know what is dishonest and what isn’t.

I try to be honest. I try to find forms in which to be honest. I try to be musically honest.

When I first write something it is usually occasional and personal, but if I keep writing outward, I will come to an underlying rage, or an underlying joy that is impersonal—and that is shareable.

That’s why I write: to share music and form, rage and joy.

- Phil Hall, discussing his writing practice over at Atlantic Books Today. You can read the whole interview here.


god-like sorting

Elise Partridge: Avison is... refreshing to read in my opinion because she avoided joining one of the major movements of the 20th century, one that still holds sway in North America: confessionalism. In the Foreword, Avison pays tribute to a grade nine teacher who gave her what Avison refers to as “this valuable counsel: ‘For the next ten years do not use the first person in any poem you write.’” One author said that when Avison examines her work, she allows her “no self-pity... Her most frequent comment to me is: ‘Forget the I’s.’”

Barbara Nickel: A voice that avoids the “I” can take on an authority it otherwise wouldn’t. “The Swimmer’s Moment,” for example, opens with the sweeping statement “For everyone/The swimmer’s moment at the whirlpool comes,” and then goes on to divide people into those who will not recognize the whirlpool, and those who are “whirled into the ominous center.” Elsewhere, in another poem, that omniscient voice divides people between “Those who fling off, toss head,/Taste the bitter morning, and have at it” – and “Those who are flung off, sit/Dazed awhile, gather concentration...”

Part of the reason I’m convinced by the voice is because it’s not trying to support these observations of humanity, this god-like sorting, with personal experiences, emotions, and anecdotes. One of the benefits of having so much of Avison’s work brought together in one volume is that the distant, omniscient narrator can become a presence for the reader over a space of many poems. You come to simply accept that there is no poetic “I” here – and with that, after reading many poems, comes an acceptance of the authority of the all-knowing voice.

- Elise Partridge and Barbara Nickel in conversation about Margaret Avison's Always Now: The Collected Poems, Volume One. The whole discussion is so good that even I, an avowed confessionalist, am sharing it!

"The Wholehearted Poet: A Conversation about Margaret Avison" was originally published in Books in Canada (September 2004), and is now available in full on Barbara Nickel's website. You can read it here.


more or less blindly

In this mortal frame of mind, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something can be called, for lack of a better name, a windswept soul, for it is much like thin drapery that is torn and swept away by the slightest stirring of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always waving between doubts of one kind or another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of the court, or at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to become a scholar, but it was prevented from either by its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore it hangs onto it more or less blindly.

- Matsuo Bashō, from the section "Bashō on Poetry" in The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson & Issa, translated by Robert Hass.


trapped in the skin of your imagination

Every poet I've ever translated has taught me something. One of the perils of poetry is to be trapped in the skin of your own imagination and to remain there all your life. Translation lets you crack your own skin and enter the skin of another. You identify with somebody else's imagination and rhythm, and that makes it possible for you to become other. It's an opening towards transformation and renewal. I wish I could translate from all the languages. If I could live forever, I'd do that.

- Stanley Kunitz, from his Paris Review interview (Spring 1982). I originally found the quote in The Other 23 & a Half Hours by Catherine Owen, which is chock-full of poetry goodness.


vines need lattice

Poems are unpredictable. A good poem contains some discovery that takes us by surprise. But there’s a contradiction there, since you also have to have predictability in order to appreciate a surprise. (Otherwise, you have surprises exploding like war—or, in my case, like growing up with an alcoholic father.)

For a richly lived life—as well as for a poem—there has to be a basis of predictability punctuated by surprise...

My marriage crosshatches periods of illness and health. My husband is a 9-time cancer survivor. I’m the anchoring wife. Yet he’s the steady one—the thinker; I’m the flow—the feeler. (Just to massively over simplify!) When he is sick, I’m called upon to think and feel for both of us. It’s huge to have to take on both roles. At those times I’m so glad to have poetry.

The contradictions that serve our marriage are love and anger. That goes for periods of dramatic illness and for the badminton court. My husband is a super strong badminton player with a speedburst of a strategic, shallow serve, illness notwithstanding. I am a butterfly of a badminton player who depends on my intuition. He is stronger at the game than I am, and you would think he would win every time. But I play intuitively, and he cannot predict me. So I can win just with sheer footwork and body response. I baffle him. I surprise. Together we make a kind of poem that depends on predictability and surprise.

You cannot have the surprise without an underpinning constancy. Vine needs lattice. My husband has huge respect when I return a shot he never thought I’d get (his surprise causes him to miss), and I have huge respect for his steady strength and speed. We’re a match.

- Molly Peacock, in conversation with Susan Gillis over on her Concrete & River blog. You can read the whole thing here.


a continual reinsertion of me into this

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson: The liberation of Black people’s bodies and Indigenous People’s bodies is, as Robyn Maynard says, “an interlocking justice project” because of this, although our experiences and perspectives are different. This erasure, disappearing, outright killing is a continual, relentless process and it plays out differently in each community. It is important for me to continually and critically think through visibility in this context. There is a gendered asymmetry to the disappearance of Indigenous bodies, and there are a large number of ways that being Nishnaabeg is not okay, and makes one a target. There are benefits to performing a certain kind of Indigeneity particularly in the shadow of state reconciliation. There are certain kinds of Indigeneity that are acceptable in the context of liberal multiculturalism.

Dionne Brand: Right, having to perform a certain kind of Indigeneity.

Simpson: And so what happens when you write books that I think are perhaps opaque, but then they are getting recognized for book awards? That makes me think that maybe I’ve made a mistake….

Brand: That’s the paradox…

Simpson: …and so for me there is a continual negotiation and a continual refusal and a continual reinsertion of me into this. Whiteness erases it, and we reinsert it. Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson and Dene scholar Glen Coulthard’s work on recognition and refusal was so influential in the formation of As We Have Always Done.

Brand: Yes. There is a certain dexterity, I’ve certainly learned, about living Black. About producing creative work that gets co-opted and that must be reconstituted all the time. I mean, you think about Black music in particular, which is constantly being reconstituted, mainstreamed, and then of course when the living conditions that art evinces haven’t changed, one must always make more imaginaries for one to live in. Art is often reproduced as belonging somehow to the national, to the nation-state, if you will. But artists such as you and I have to constantly undo that. You are living the undoing of it and constantly have to produce against it. So it is a real paradox, what becomes of one’s work.

- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in conversation with Dionne Brand over at The Literary Review of Canada (June 2018). You can read the whole thing here.


an irrational, sensual link

The freedom to not-rhyme must include the freedom to rhyme. Then verse will be “free.”


Rhymes may be so far apart, you cannot hear them, but they can hear each other, as if whispering on a toy telephone made of two paper cups and a length of string.


Off rhymes founded on consonants are more literary than off rhymes founded on vowels (assonance). Vowels are shifty. Assonance is in the mouth, not the ear. It is performative.

Consonance brings forth what is different, so we listen for what is the same (harmonic). Assonance brings forth likeness; we listen for dissonance. The vowel is the third of the chord.

Translators who translate poems that rhyme into poems that don’t rhyme solely because they claim keeping the rhyme is impossible without doing violence to the poem have done violence to the poem. They are also lazy.

Rhyme is an irrational, sensual link between two words. It is chemical. It is alchemical.


Rhyme frees the poet from what he wants to say.

- A.E Stallings, from her essay "Presto Manifesto!", as published in Poetry Magazine (February 2009). You can read the whole thing here.


ask for the work you want to see

Recently, you asked me for some work. I sent you a poem called "Conspiracy of Love," which I thought I could avoid sharing, because it's a harrowing poem for me. The fact that you asked me for work made me feel okay and safe to share this scary poem, which was received surprisingly well! It was a relief to see this poem in the world because it's a very important poem for me. It's dedicated to those who have experienced addiction and clinical depression. It's not meant to be a poem for anyone else. This was partly the nervousness around this poem. My point is that editors have to ask for the work they want to see.

- Shazia Hafiz Ramji, in conversation with D.W. Adams over at Train: a poetry journal. You can read the whole thing here.