(if such a place exists)

David Ishaya Osu: Where does art come from? Your art.

Jumoke Verissimo: I have no idea where art comes from. I am, however, interested in a chance meeting with art, you know, at the restaurant, playground, on the bus, in the bathroom, on people’s lips, in rumpled sheets.

I really do not want to know where art comes from. I guess, there is a thrill in chancing upon art.

As for my art, I think it invests itself in the process of hunting for meaning, in things that are not vague, yet remain unnoticed, unknown, undiscovered. And just as I do not know where art comes from, I don’t go searching for art in its abode (if such a place exists).


Osu: And how is Canada?

Verissimo: I remember I was talking to a friend on the phone when I first arrived in the country, and she wanted to know how I was enjoying the Canadian cold (she was trying to be sarcastic). My response to her was that the Canadian winter teaches piety. You’ll wake up each morning asking God for mercy. And you’ll feel at peace assured that after winter, there’ll always be spring and summer.

- Jumoke Verissimo, in conversation with David Ishaya Osu over at The Puritan. You can read the whole thing here.


the second-guessing and hesitation of losers

Certainty seldom seems to me an adequate response to the world, to the other humans or to myself. I often feel that there is such pressure to be certain, and to be certain quickly—maybe this is a consequence of living in an age of Twitter and the “hot take,” or maybe it’s just part of the human equipment, a need to avoid the pain of ambivalence or doubt and lay claim to comfort of feeling oneself in the right. It’s difficult—it’s impossible—to take in too much reality. Art draws a frame around a bit of reality; it creates a kind of magic circle in which we can exercise our faculties to the fullest, allowing ourselves to live in bewilderment. Certainty is the attribute of victors. I guess I’m interested in the second-guessing and hesitation of losers. I guess that feels to me like a truer perspective on the world.

- Garth Greenwell, in conversation with Sara Mang over at PRISM international. You can read the whole thing here.


poetry is for the nighttime

rob mclennan: Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

William Vallières: Theory is important in helping us understand reality. I read theory and philosophy avidly. But I think, in the end, they’re for the daytime. Poetry is for the nighttime. Poetry is about “always working / beyond your own intelligence,” as Les Murray put it. [Italo] Calvino talks about keeping your cards close to your chest.

mclennan: What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Vallières: The role of the writer should be to remind people how to be free. Gary Snyder said: “Three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they like the cage they were tricked into entering.” Poetry should smash the cage and build a nest instead.

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


one hand up one hand down

Early into my writing life I was sitting at an Indigenous writers conference, it was one of the first I believe, and Lee Maracle got on the stage and she spoke to us. And one of the things she said was something I always felt but could never articulate, and it’s really the way I have set my life up now. The teaching she gave us was that we must live by the one hand up one hand down teaching. Meaning as we climb the ladder, we must always have one hand down pulling up the youth behind us. For me that is how I always want to live my life. I currently spend about half my year working with Indigenous youth teaching writing and visual art. It gives my life joy. And the more youth I can bring with me as I continue writing the more they can bring and so on and so on. There’s no limit to how many of us can rise, which is something I try to teach to. I feel like in some artistic fields that is the attitude, that there’s a limited amount of spots, but it’s not true. The more Indigenous voices I see on the shelf the more happiness I feel.

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


Poetry in Transit 2020

If you've followed this blog for a good long time (two thoughts: "Wow," and also, "Who else would still be following a blog?") you'll know that I have a deep and abiding love for the Poetry in Transit program. Who couldn't? A free poem! On the bus! Where there's usually an add for cheque cashing or energy drinks. 

So it was an honour to be able to introduce this year's selections in a little essay. Think of it as the editor's introduction that opens an anthology or an issue of a lit mag, with the selected poems as the book's content:

My introduction features the poems, and also cameos by wise seagulls, Russian winds, and the *expletive* wasp that stung my toddler on the eyelid this summer... 

Poetry in Transit 2020 will officially launch next Friday at 1 PM as part of Word Vancouver (hosted by Evelyn Lau!). The free online event will feature readings by Susan Buis, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Francine Cunningham,
Ruth Daniell
, Adrienne Drobnies, Cornelia Hoogland, Kyla Jamieson, Fiona Tinwei Lam, John Pass and Russell Thornton. You can learn more about the event, and register for it, here.

And the next time you're on transit (in BC), keep an eye out for the poems!

p.s. On the subject of Word Vancouver, I'll be hosting the event "The Poetics of Place" on Saturday, September 26th at 1 PM. It will feature three poets who write about Vancouver: Alex Leslie, Betsy Warland and Trevor Carolan. Learn more and register (it's free and online) here.


to extract from them a form

In a talk [Bronwen Wallace] gave in 1987, she spoke of the day when, as a student twenty-one years prior, she’d attended her first meeting about the “women’s movement.” She recalled, “For me, that meeting represented the first time I had ever been in a room full of women talking consciously about their lives, trying to make sense of them, trying to see how the unique and private anecdotes became part of a story that gave each of our lives a public and collective meaning as well.”

Coming up a full generation behind Wallace, I can claim no corresponding turning point. What I remember, as far back as memory goes, is my mother and her friends, my cousins, and me and my own friends talking in exactly that way, fully engaged in sharing and examining the events of our lives, their contexts and substrata, seeking sense and meaning. It’s a gripping, lifelong, all-in kind of project. It’s exactly what Wallace undertook in her poems: not to represent or mimic these conversations, not to make of them metaphors but to stage them in verse, to extract from them a form—and perhaps a new way of being in the world.

- Anita Lahey, from her essay "The Poet Whose Work Helped Set the Stage for #MeToo" in The Walrus (May 2020). You can read the whole thing here.


a little printing of a little poem

I've taken great joy in reading and teaching haiku over recent years, and have started writing them more frequently this year (three will appear in my next book).

I haven't really started sending them out in the world, but I was intrigued by The Blasted Tree's "Flash Haiku" competition. The barrier between haiku publications and general literary publications is usually impermeable, so it was exciting to find a publisher who liked to jump the divide. I sent in a few haiku and one of mine - a senryu, technically - was picked as the winner!

As the winner, it was published as a "mini-leaflet":

You can order a copy here for $1 (8 cents per syllable, though that number swells up to 40 cents per syllable with shipping). You can justify the shipping cost by picking up a few other of The Blasted Tree's publications, which are varied and wonderful.

Thanks so much to Kyle Flemmer and The Blasted Tree for the contest, and for making space for haiku in the world!


how to talk about drowning without drowning

Mandy Grathwohl: I find that your poetry gives readers strategies on how to understand and digest their grief and trauma—and also their longings and desires, the underbellies of their own selves. Your art has given comfort to those that needed it, even when it seemed that on your end, as artist, there was little comfort at all. With this in mind, what does the writing of a poem look like—"The Field of Rooms and Halls" from War of the Foxes, for example?

Richard Siken: A man found a door and hung it on the wall. What kind of strategy is that? It's not Socratic; it's not scientific. I envy it. I strive for it. How should we size the days, where should we put our sadness, how can we find the hallway that isn't there? Reframe the question, the poem suggests. I love that poem. I love the fact that I can read it in public without crying. It's about desperation but it doesn't enact the desperation, which is the kind of poem I usually write. Admitting failure hurts. Admitting desire hurts.

Remembering with or without feeling hurts. I like all kinds of poems—emotionally distant or emotionally close—and I'm still amazed that words in a certain order can re-enact an event, but I want to learn how to talk about drowning without drowning. And sometimes I worry: what if I'm only painting the walls of the room I'm locked in? That's a really uncomfortable question to consider.

- Richard Siken, in conversation with Mandy Grathwohl over at The Matador Review. You can read the whole thing here.


pulling all the feathers off

rob mclennan: Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Emily Davidson: Both, oh my land, both. Having Michael Kenyon edit Lift made the book so much more than it was to begin with—he pushed me, very gently, on the order of the manuscript, the poems included and left to the side, the section headings, the themes. But I really had to keep coming to the table, and it was raw. I took a day off work in the fall to implement a round of edits and ended up spending the day wandering my apartment in circles crying (this is probably the most poet thing I will ever admit to). The editing process felt like someone had pulled all the feathers off my beautiful poems, and I had to decide how to reassemble them. (This is zero commentary on Michael, he was a gem.) “Kill your darlings” is merciless and unkind, is what I think I’m saying. I love darlings. More darlings.

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


necessarily disfigured by history

I’m not in a position to know everything about how whiteness inflects or determines or delimits my writing. Part of what makes writing worthwhile—for the writer and for the reader—is not just what artistry achieves but how it fails, how it is necessarily disfigured by history, which includes, which is dominated by, what Baldwin called the “lie” of whiteness. Certainly [The Topeka School] is a book about whiteness, is more intensely focused than my others on how racist (and other forms of) violence fills the vacuum at the heart of privilege for white boys on the cusp of becoming white men, how whiteness is a radical imaginative poverty. But I don’t pretend I got it right or that getting it right is the point of making art.

I like what you say about the powerlessness of whiteness, which is why I thought of Baldwin’s “On Being White and Other Lies,” and the “terrible paradox” with which that little essay ends: “those who believed that they could control and define Black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves,” which makes me think, too, of Fred Moten’s urgent and loving demand in The Undercommons, which you no doubt know: “The coalition emerges out of your recognition that it’s fucked up for you, in the same way that we’ve already recognized that it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?”

I feel hailed by that—as a person, as a writer, as a member of an interracial family—that I need to work towards the recognition he’s describing, without pretending I can achieve it singly or finally, without reinscribing some kind of white victimhood (the flipside of the savior complex), without expecting to be congratulated for it, and so on. And/but to keep faith with that possibility of emergent “coalition,” new modes of filiation, a sense of a future beyond repetition.

- Ben Lerner, in conversation with Ocean Vuong over at Lit Hub. You can read the whole thing here.


eyes to see otherwise

I have something very simple to share. Make it a force of habit as early as you can. Don’t stick yourself with a single project, if you can help it, and don’t make writing your everything you do every day. Get a partner, fall in love, squabble as partners do, make up, or if you go off on your own, join a political party or an indoor bowling, lawn bowling or curling team. Any kind of team to get you out of yourself and into the place where you live, so that you come back to the page with… as Homero Aridjis put it in the title of one of his books — Ojos de otro mirar, which I translated as "Eyes to see otherwise."

- George McWhirter, in conversation with Gerard Beirne over at The Honest Ulsterman. The interview also talks about his relationship with Seamus Heaney, UBC in-fighting, and Laurence (Larry) Lerner dropping his feet in a desk drawer (in other words, it's pretty fun). You can read the whole thing here.