stand on our shit-hill and hope it will grow

In my early thirties I saw myself as a Hemingwayesque realist. My material: the time I'd spent working in the oil fields of Asia. I wrote story after story out of that material, and everything I wrote was minimal and strict and efficient and lifeless and humor-free, even though, in real life, I reflexively turned to humor at any difficult or important or awkward or beautiful moment.

I had chosen what to write, but I couldn't seem to make it live...

Having gone about as high up Hemingway Mountain as I could go, having realized that even at my best I could only ever hope to be an acolyte up there, resolving never again to commit the sin of being imitative, I stumbled back down into the valley and came upon a little shit-hill labeled "Saunders Mountain."

"Hmm," I thought. "It's so little. And it's a shit-hill."

Then again, that was my name on it.

This is a big moment for any artist (this moment of combined triumph and disappointment), when we have to decide whether to accept a work of art that we have to admit we weren't in control of as we made it and of which we are not entirely sure we approve. It is less, less than we wanted it to be, and yet it's more, too - it's small and a bit pathetic, judged against the work of the great masters, but there it is, all ours. 

What we do at that point, I think, is go over, sheepishly but boldly, and stand on our shit-hill, and hope it will grow.

And - to belabor this already questionable metaphor - what will make that shit-hill grow is our commitment to it, the extent to which we say, "Well, yes, this is a shit-hill, but it's my shit hill, so let me assume that if I continue to work in this mode that is mine, this hill will eventually stop being made of shit, and will grow, and from it, I will eventually be able to see (and encompass in my work) the whole of the world."

- George Saunders, from his essay "The Heart of the Story" in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.

truth forced out through a restricted opening

Even in translation, one of the pleasures of Gogol's prose is the way a genuine emotion, passed through the distortive skaz filter, comes out the other side, still genuine but twisted.

I heard a version of this growing up. Late at some neighborhood party, cornered by some pal of my parents' who'd had too much to drink and longed to convey to someone, anyone, how the world seemed to him (beautiful, unfair, full of hidden messages he'd missed), a sort of Chicago skaz got performed: "You got moxie but, trust me, the fucks are gonna fuck with you, and you gotta give 'em this" - insert raised middle finger - "first time they try that shit!" 

Every soul is vast and wants to express itself fully. If it's denied an adequate instrument (and we're all denied that, at birth, some more than others), out comes... poetry, i.e. truth forced out through a restricted opening.

That's all poetry is, really: something odd, coming out. Normal speech, overflowed. A failed attempt to do justice to the world. The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at hte fence of language and being bound by it. 

- George Saunders, from his essay "The Door to the Truth Might be Strangeness" in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.


Strangers in the Wild, pt. 3

 Strangers continues rooting about in the woods, turning up all sorts of delights! (You can read part one here and part two here.)

Kim Fahner published a very thoughtful review of Strangers in Periodicities: A Journal of Poetry and Poetics. Here's how Kim ends the review:

This collection is stunning in its poignant intimacy, in how the poet opens the door to his readers, inviting them to listen to his stories, but also bravely nudging them to consider their own recollections of how memory and story are woven into one another.

You can read the whole review here.

Over at The Ormsby Review, Linda Rogers has provided some coverage of Strangers as part of an eleven (11!) book omnibus review of "pandemic books." An excerpt:

This is the book that reminds us of the steps in finding coherence in fear. “Don’t be a stranger” the poet reminds himself and us as life slips through our fingers, as every one of his fresh and vital poems reminds us of the firm grip of the newborn.

You can read the whole review (which also covers wonderful books by Junie Desil, Patrick Friesen, Stephen Collis and more) here

Of all the cultural criticism the book's received, though, nothing has a hope of surpassing this Twitter post by David Ly, from his thread comparing Canadian poetry books and Lady Gaga outfits:

The whole thread is a delight - do check it out. And check out my interview with David about his debut collection, Mythical Man, here.

More generally, I've been very moved by all the poem and cover photos from Strangers that readers are posting to Twitter. I'm not sure if it indicates that the book is getting out there in the world more than my others, or if it's just that this is what people do on Twitter now, but stuff like this and this and this and this and this and this and this: 

brings me such joy.

That said, I like interacting with human beings in real life even more so! So if you're in Vancouver, check out the upcoming "Strangers Summer Series" events (including one in Douglas Park tonight!). I've also received word that I'll be reading at the Vancouver Writers' Fest this year (a first for one of my own books). Stay tuned for more info on that (and also some secret emoji-related nonsense I'm brewing up). 

If you're not in Vancouver, I won't be touring this book around, but the recording of my book launch (with Luke Hathaway, Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair!) is now available online:

It's a weird experience, launching a book entirely from your home town (and mostly from your home office, which doubles as your family's living room), but looking back over all this goodness, it's hard to say it's a bad one.


"Nostalgia for Moving Parts" by Diane Tucker

Long-time friend of the blog, Diane Tucker, has just released her fourth poetry collection, "Nostalgia for Moving Parts", from Turnstone Press (you can read my interview with Diane, about her third collection Bonsai Love, here).

The book officially "launched" online last week, and will be celebrated in person this Thursday at the July "Strangers Summer Series" event in Vancouver's Douglas Park. To whet your appetite for both the book and the event, here's a sample poem from the book:


VanDusen Garden in October

Imagine being planted long enough
that your roots grow up through the earth,
breaking the mossy surface the way
a fish’s spine rises from the bronze lake.

Imagine walking in a chilled silence
until you hear three black squirrels
chewing and hear their tiny hearts beat
when the raven screams. Imagine

white-gowned women in a fern dell.
Imagine they’ve swallowed all of the
October light and shine with it like
walking birches. Imagine small bridges

over a dry stream. Imagine every leaf
assembling, red-gold current of autumn
wind running under ice-hearted stones.
Imagine pausing there, letting the chill

slip itself down your back, into your
lungs. Imagine your coat, your scarf,
your boots loosen, open, and let slip in
November’s sleek and blandishing hands. 

"November’s sleek and blandishing hands"! I think about that line often. I was honoured to be able to read the book in advance and provide a blurb, which summarises my feelings on both the book and, in some ways, this poem:
When Diane Tucker hangs up a payphone in Nostalgia for Moving Parts' title poem, she observes that "there is (oh unexpected pleasure) a real click." When she lays down to sleep: "the prayers / that fight up through me make a sort of hum." Click and hum. Nostalgia and prayer. What's been and what will always be. Nostalgia for Moving Parts reminds us how to hear and see the ephemeral in the eternal and the eternal in the ephemeral: the moving parts of all our lives.

Do pick up a copy of the book, either online from the Turnstone Press website, or from your local bookstore, or in person on Thursday, July 15th from Diane herself!


Diane Tucker is a poet, editor, fiction writer, and playwright from Vancouver, BC. Her work has been widely anthologized and published in more than seventy journals in Canada and abroad. Her first poetry collection, God on His Haunches (Nightwood Editions, 1996), was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Nostalgia for Moving Parts is her fourth book of poems.


Strangers Summer Series - Updated Lineups

Well, if COVID couldn't stop us, apocalyptic weather could! The first in-person event of the "Strangers Summer Series" was canceled due to the record-shattering heatwave that descended upon Vancouver that weekend.

But if the last year and a half has taught us anything, it's resilience! I've rescheduled the readers from the canceled event (Jen Sookfong Lee and Tolu Oloruntoba), and expanded all remaining events to include four readers. The next one is only a few days away!

The details:

Strangers Summer Series July Event
Thursday, July 15, 7 PM
Douglas Park, Vancouver
Featuring: Tanja Bartel, Aidan Chafe, Diane Tucker, and me!


Strangers Summer Series August Event
Wednesday, August 11, 7 PM
Clark Park, Vancouver
Featuring: Dallas Hunt, Tolu Oloruntoba, Shaun Robinson, and me!


Strangers Summer Series September Event
Saturday, September 11, 3 PM
McSpadden Park, Vancouver
Featuring: Jen Sookfong Lee, Barbara Nickel, Molly Cross-Blanchard and me!


All events are free, but require pre-registration. You can learn more, or register, by clicking here:

I'd love to see you at any/all of these events!

If you're not in Vancouver, my virtual launch which happened back in May is still visible online. It's not nearly as fun as sweating and eating freezies in a park together, but it'll have to do:


an awful core of ego


Elizabeth Bishop: I've never really sat down and said to myself, I'm going to be a poet. Never in my life. I'm still surprised that people think I am... There's nothing more embarrassing than being a poet, really.

Elizabeth Spires: It's especially difficult to tell people you're meeting for the first time that that's what you do.

Bishop: Just last week a friend and I went to visit a wonderful lady I know in Quebec. She's seventy-four or seventy-five. And she didn't say this to me but she said to my friend, Alice, I'd like to ask my neighbor who has the big house next door to dinner, and she's so nice, but she'd be bound to ask Elizabeth what she does and if Elizabeth said she wrote poetry, the poor woman wouldn't say another word all evening! This is awful, you know, and I think no matter how modest you think you feel or how minor you think you are, there must be an awful core of ego somewhere for you to set yourself up to write poetry. I've never felt it, but it must be there. 


- Elizabeth Bishop, from her Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


carpenters build houses, mechanics fix automobiles


Kurt Vonnegut: I don't have the will to teach anymore. I only know the theory. 

Interviewer: Could you put the theory into a few words? 

Vonnegut: It was stated by Paul Engle - the founder of the Writers' Workshop at Iowa. He told me that, if the Workshop ever got a building of its own, these words should be inscribed over the entrance: Don't take it all so seriously.

Interviewer: And how would that be helpful? 

Vonnegut: It would remind the students that they were learning to play practical jokes. 

Interviewer: Practical jokes? 

Vonnegut: If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again.

Interviewer: Can you give an example?

Vonnegut: The Gothic novel. Dozens of the things are published every year, and they all sell. My friend Borden Deal recently wrote a Gothic novel for the fun of it, and I asked him what the plot was, and he said, A young woman takes a job in an old house and gets the pants scared off her.

Interviewer: Some more examples?

Vonnegut: The others aren't that much fun to describe: somebody gets into trouble, and then gets out again; somebody loses something and gets it back; somebody is wronged and gets revenge; Cinderella; somebody hits the skids and just goes down, down, down, down; people fall in love with each other, and a lot of other people get in the way; a virtuous person is falsely accused of sin; a sinful person is believed to be virtuous; a person faces a challenge bravely, and succeeds or fails; a person lies, a person steals, a person kills, a person commits fornication.

Interviewer: If you will pardon my saying so, these are very old-fashioned plots.

Vonnegut: I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction, unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don't praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away - even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn't get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger. Now there's an admirable practical joke for you. When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyone's wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are -

Interviewer: And what they want.

Vonnegut: Yes. And you can put him to sleep by never having characters confront each other. Students like to say that they stage no confrontations because people avoid confrontations in modern life. Modern life is so lonely, they say. This is laziness. It's the writer's job to stage confrontations, so the characters will say surprising and revealing things, and educate and entertain us all. If a writer can't or won't do that, he should withdraw from the trade.

Interviewer: Trade?

Vonnegut: Trade. Carpenters build houses. Storytellers use a reader's leisure time in such a way that the reader will not feel that his time has been wasted. Mechanics fix automobiles.

- Kurt Vonnegut, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


one orange would perfume the whole room

Eleanor Wachtel: The first story that you ever wrote, but didn't publish, was called "The Suicide of an American Girl," and then the second story, which you did publish, was called "To Hell with Dying." This was when you were just twenty and twenty-one. I don't want to put too much weight on the titles, but what happened to get you from "The Suicide of an American Girl" to "To Hell with Dying"?

Alice Walker: Well, just life itself. After a while, the thought of suicide as the remedy, which takes you out of the picture but leaves this wonderful earth that you would be missing, started to pall and my love of life won over. I realized I would miss the smallest things in life. I just had a friend visiting me in the country over the weekend - she put them in a bowl and every time I passed by I would smell these oranges and I finally stopped in my tracks and stuck my whole head in the bowl, smelling those oranges, and I said to her, "You know, when I'm dead, this is what I'll miss." They reminded me of the oranges of my childhood, when one orange would perfume the whole room and it was the most amazing thing. It was like having a very small sun that had a scent in the room with you. And it's as basic as that. The scent of an orange, the feel of the breeze, how water feels when you get in it when it's really cold in a creek. Whatever madness is going on in the world that seems impossible, there's also the orange and the stream and the breeze. 

- Alice Walker, in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel. As published in More Writers & Company: New Conversations with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel. 


the English language is very poor in its vocabulary

Eleanor Wachtel: You mentioned the idea of numinous moments. Do you think of yourself as spiritual or religious?

Carol Shields: I'm not religious. I was brought up in the Methodist Church and for a while I went to the Quaker meeting. I do believe in these moments, though I don't know where that belief comes from. Not from any spiritual centre. I think it comes from the accidental collision of certain events. I think the English language is very poor in its vocabulary to describe mysticism, so a lot of this never gets talked about. Or only clumsily, or by people that we think are only marginally sane. Or it's something discoverable through poetry.

- Carol Shields, in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel. As published in More Writers & Company: New Conversations with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel. 


playing their legacy

Music shapes my perception of my work. Learning a classical piano piece is, far as I’ve found, the most intimate experience of historical art. Classical music influences how I view my relationship with my subjects, namely Tang poetry. I often doubt my legitimacy to dialogue with one of the greatest generations of poets in history; who am I, an unknown poet living on a far continent and writing in a foreign language 1200 years later? I ground myself in the rationale that, as with the works of Mozart or Beethoven, it’s right for their brilliance to inspire further creativity. Their sufferings and triumphs are a universal inheritance. My intent is not to supplant their words, but “play” their legacy.

- A.R. Kung, in conversation with Chris Horne over at The Malahat Review. You can read the whole thing here


mucking around with this wound

For some time, like a lot of people, I've been wondering why people like writers do what they do, because it is a rather odd thing to do, to keep locking yourself up in a room and writing; it's a bit anti-social and a bit weird. Indeed, why do painters and musicians get so obsessed? And all these people, why do they do what they do? I know people who write novel after novel that will never get published. People who are otherwise quite busy somehow still find a couple hours at the end of the day to write a little bit, even though they have to do a job and look after their children. I suppose I have to admit that I must be one of those people too, because that's what I do. 

After a while you start to wonder, what is this all about? I came to a kind of conclusion that what all these people had in common was that they were slightly unbalanced. I don't mean in any crazy way. A lot of them are very able people and they get through life in a very good way. But at some fundamental level, their lives have been build on something that got broken way back - not necessarily a trauma, but something, some equilibrium got lost - in other words, some kind of wound that will never heal was received early on. And this business of locking yourself up in a room and trying to write novels for week after week has to do with mucking about with this wound, it seemed to be. You know at some level you can never heal these things, you can never fix these things, but a lot of this activity is nevertheless about caressing this wound. What you're trying to create is an imaginary world that you have some control over, that you can reorder, and maybe that's some way of trying to go back, if only in your imagination, to try to fiddle around with some area of experience that you know is broken. The most you can hope for - because you know that you can't go back and fix these things - is some kind of consolation, some way to caress the wound.

- Kazuo Ishiguro, in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel. As published in More Writers & Company: New Conversations with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel.


the horse and rider have to be together

Sarah Fay: How do you know when you’ve finished [a poem]? 

Jack Gilbert: If I’m writing well it comes to an end with an almost-audible click. When I started out I wouldn’t write a poem until I knew the first line and the last line and what it was about and what would make it a success. I was a tyrant and I was good at it. But the most important day in my career as a writer was when Linda said, Did you ever think of listening to your poems? And my poetry changed. I didn’t give up making precreated poetry, but you have to write a poem the way you ride a horse—you have to know what to do with it. You have to be in charge of a horse or it will eat all day—you’ll never get back to the barn. But if you tell the horse how to be a horse, if you force it, the horse will probably break a leg. The horse and rider have to be together. 

Fay: Is that why your style is unadorned and not ornamental? 

Gilbert: Oh, I like ornament at the right time, but I don’t want a poem to be made out of decoration. If you like that kind of poetry, more power to you, but it doesn’t interest me. When I read the poems that matter to me, it stuns me how much the presence of the heart—in all its forms—is endlessly available there. To experience ourselves in an important way just knocks me out. It puzzles me why people have given that up for cleverness. Some of them are ingenious, more ingenious than I am, but so many of them aren’t any good at being alive.

Fay: You once likened it to a poet giving birth without ever getting pregnant. 

Gilbert: Yes. A lot of poets don’t have any poems to write. After their first book, what are they going to do? They can’t keep saying their hearts are broken. They start to write poems about childhood. Then what do they do? Some of it is just academic poetry—they learn how to write the poem perfectly. But I don’t think anybody should be criticized because their taste is different from mine. Such poems are extraordinarily deft. There’s a lot of art in them. But I don’t understand where the meat is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this kind of poetry. It won’t change my life, so why should I read it? Why should I write it? 
By the time some writers—particularly poets—are twenty-seven or twenty-eight they’ve often used up the germinal quality that is their writing, the thing that is their heart. Not for the great poets, but for many poets this is true. The inspiration starts to wane. Many have learned enough to cover that with devices or technique or they just go back and write the same stories about their childhood over and over. It’s why so much poetry feels artificial.

- Jack Gilbert in conversation with Sarah Fay, for Gilbert's Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


adult dreams

A couple of decades ago, I finished going all the way around the world. And after that I suddenly realized I had lived all of my dreams. I had lots of them and I’ve fulfilled them all. Now it’s time to live the adult dreams, if I can find them. The others were dreams from childhood—first love and such, which is wonderful. It’s interesting to discover that we don’t have adult dreams—pleasure and pride, but not really adult dreams.

Let me try to explain. I have a poem, “Trying to Have Something Left Over,” in which I’ve been unfaithful to my wife and she knows it and she’s mad. It’s the last night and I’m going to say goodbye to Anna, the other woman. She’s had a baby—not by me—and her husband has left her because he couldn’t take all that muck of a baby being born. This is the last night I’ll ever see her and I feel incredibly tender and grateful and loving toward her. And we’re not in bed—previously we had a wild relationship. Anyway, here’s the last night to say goodbye. She’s cleaning house quietly and sadly, and I’m entertaining her boy, her baby, throwing him up in the air and catching him. It’s a poem about that. Sad and tender. A truly adult dream. Profound tenderness.

That’s what I like to write as poems. Not because it’s sad, but because it matters. So much poetry that’s written today doesn’t need to be written. I don’t understand the need for trickery or some new way of arranging words on a page. You’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to write all kinds of poetry, but there’s a whole world out there.

- Jack Gilbert, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


done and undone by his own writing

Ronald Christ: You have written many reviews and journal articles. 

Jorge Luis Borges: Well, I had to do it. 

Christ: Did you choose the books you wanted to review? 

Borges: Yes, I generally did. 

Christ: So the choice does express your own tastes? 

Borges: Oh yes, yes. For example, when somebody told me to write a review of a certain history of literature, I found there were so many howlers and blunders, and as I greatly admire the author as a poet, I said, No, I don't want to write about it, because if I write about it I shall write against it. I don't like to attack people, especially now - when I was a young man, yes, I was very fond of it, but as time goes on, one finds that it is no good. When people write in favor or against anybody, that hardly helps or hurts them. I think that a man can be helped, well, the man can be done or undone by his own writing, not by what other people say of him, so that even if you brag a lot and people say that you are a genius - well, you'll be found out.

- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


a poet has maybe five or six poems to write


Ronald Christ: I have often wondered how you go about arranging works in those collections. Obviously the principle is not chronological. Is it similarity of theme? 

Jorge Luis Borges: No, not chronology; but sometimes I find out that I've written the same parable or story twice over, or that two different stories carry the same meaning, and so I try to put them alongside each other. That's the only principle. Because, for example, once it happened to me to write a poem, a not too good poem, and then to rewrite it many years afterwards. After the poem was written, some of my friends told me, Well, that's the same poem you published some five years ago. And I said, Well, so it is! But I hadn't the faintest notion that it was. After all, I think that a poet has maybe five or six poems to write and not more than that. He's trying his hand at rewriting them from different angles and perhaps with different plots and in different ages and different characters, but the poems are essentially and innerly the same.

- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


Strangers in the wild, pt. 2

Strangers keeps doing its little thing in the world! (You can read part one here.)

Jeremy Shepherd of the Tri-Cities Dispatch published a very generous profile of me and the book.

An excerpt which got me giggling:

"He was a student at Gleneagle when a teacher presented him with the poetry of William Carlos Williams (Taylor recently cultivated a poetry nerd following on Twitter by composing numerous tweets about eating icebox plums)... Since then, poetry has become a lifelong vocation."

You can read the whole profile here.

rob mclennan, whose eponymous blog has been much linked-to here, has provided a very generous review of Strangers. A quote:

“The poems exude grief and joy, enthusiasm and fear; at times, simultaneously, as though an emotional well has found new depths. When one first begins to have children, parallels present themselves quickly, offering opportunities to reevaluate one’s own childhood, often for the first time, and in new and unexpected ways. And yet, this is a book of multiple transitions, repeatedly asking how one might get there from here, and wondering how one might survive.”

You can read the whole review here.

Joseph Planta of thecommentary.ca was kind enough to take time to interview me about the book! 

We talked about all sorts of things, including how poetry can help us explore dark territory and keep us company during difficult times.

You can listen to/download that interview here.

Lastly, I posted last week that Chris Banks had provided a thoughtful review of Strangers for The Miramichi Reader. The good news has kept coming from their site, where Strangers was just longlisted for their "The Very Best!" Book Award for Poetry (alongside amazing titles by Shaun Robinson, Evelyn Lau, and others I have yet to have a chance to read). It's a heck of an honour (I love awards that are grassroots organized and have a sense of humour about themselves!), especially as the book has yet to even be officially "launched" into the world!

That launch will take place online tomorrow (May 27th, at 7 PM EDT/ 4 PM PDT) and will feature Luke Hathaway, Sue Sinclair and Sadiqa de Meijer. You can RSVP for the event via Facebook or simply click over to the YouTube page at the correct time.

Thank you - yeesh! - to everyone who's helped support the book so far, via reviews, interviews, profiles, etc. It means so much to me!


New Strangers Review

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks "quotes" here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris' second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book's dedication to my father and two brothers: "For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons" ("LaHave River, Cable Ferry").

So I suppose Chris wasn't a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris' attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on "grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past" echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the"presentiment of loss" in Coles' poetry. I hadn't realized - slow as one is to see their own work - that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

You can read the whole review here: 

Huge thanks to Chris and to The Miramichi Reader for giving the book this space and attention. TMR is doing such excellent work on the other side of the country. Do check them out if you haven't before.

And if you're interested in my book, my online launch of Strangers is less than two weeks away - May 27th! You can learn more (and sign up for an email reminder) here, and RSVP via Facebook here.


Strangers in the wild!

Strangers is officially out there in the world and making things happen!

The book's first review came in, a very thoughtful, generous one courtesy of  Bryce Warnes and The Poetry Question. An excerpt:

“Taylor’s explorations of personal grief are masterful… Strangers is not “just” about grief, any more than grief is “just” about feeling sad. Throughout, we see connections between people in all their tangled, tangling glory, the movement of love running down the lines like electric pulses… Love is immanent, and so is everything else. In Strangers, Taylor welcomes us into his world with open arms.”

You can read the whole review here

I've been able to do two interview for the book, too - one audio and one in print. The spoken one was for Andrew French's Page Fright podcast. Andrew has been good to me in the past, interviewing me last year (just pre-pandemic) about Best Canadian Poetry 2019 and What the Poets Are Doing. This time we talked about the new book, and all sorts of other stuff: creating community during a pandemic, how I like to read a poetry book, my superhero origin story, etc.

You can listen to/download/subscribe to the podcast here.

My second interview was with Michael Edwards, who runs the Red Alder Review. Michael has also been good to me in the past, publishing a haiku of mine just this January. We talked about both Strangers and haiku a good deal in the interview, among other topics. Most pleasing for me, Michael's questions reached back over all four of my books, allowing me to take a bit of a long-view on my writing, and how its led me to this current book. 

You can give that interview a read here.

I've also been delighted to have Strangers appear in all thee of the Quill & QuireCBC Books and 49th Shelf's Spring book roundups, and to see photos of the book appearing here and there on social media, the highest of these honours being Vicki "BookGaga" Ziegler handwriting a poem of mine in her journal (weighed down by the famous tiny pink dumbbell!) - a long held dream for any Canadian poet on Twitter:

I hope I'll have even more updates going forward, but this has been a tremendous start so far! We still have almost a month to go until my Strangers' online launch (feat. Luke Hathaway, Sue Sinclair and Sadiqa de Meijer) and even longer until my (hopefully possible!) in-person outdoor launches in the summer. You can learn more about those here!

If you're interested in the book, I encourage you to order a copy from your local bookstore, or on the Biblioasis website (or, ok, ChaptersAmazon, etc).


Strangers Summer Series

I'm very pleased to announce my plans for launching Strangers over the coming months. It will all kick off with an online launch on May 27th, featuring readings by Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. The event will be co-hosted by Biblioasis and Massy Books, which will have books available for sale:

The online launch will *hopefully* **tentatively** ***COVID-willingly*** be followed by a series of small in-person readings in parks around the Lower Mainland, featuring guest readings by Jen Sookfong Lee, Tolu Oloruntoba, Diane Tucker, Tanja Bartel, Dallas Hunt, Shaun Robinson, Barbara Nickel and Molly Cross-Blanchard:

You can learn more about all the events, and register for them, on my website: http://roblucastaylor.com/strangerstour/

You can also RSVP for the online launch on its Facebook Event Page

I'd love to see you at any (or all???) of these events! And if you can't make any events, but are interested in getting a copy of the book, they're now available for order at your local bookstore, or on the Biblioasis website, or those other places.


intelligence has little to do with poetry

Ronald Christ: Did Eliot's work, his poetry, have any effect on your own writing?

Jorge Luis Borges: No, I don't think so.

Christ: I have been struck by certain resemblances between The Waste Land and your story "The Immortal."

Borges: Well, there may be something there, but in that case I'm quite unaware of it because he's not one of the poets I love. I should rank Yeats far above him. In fact, if you don't mind my saying so, I think Frost is a finer poet than Eliot. I mean, a finer poet. But I suppose Eliot was a far more intelligent man; however, intelligence has little to do with poetry. Poetry springs from something deeper; it's beyond intelligence. It may not even be linked with wisdom. It's a thing of its own; it has a nature of its own. Undefinable.   


- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


really good metaphors are always the same

Jorge Luis Borges: I remember a joke of Oscar Wilde's: a friend of his had a tie with yellow, red, and so on, in it, and Wilde said, Oh, my dear fellow, only a deaf man could wear a tie like that!

Ronald Christ: He might have been talking about the yellow necktie I have on now.

Borges: Ah, well. I remember telling that story to a lady who missed the whole point. She said, Of course, it must be because being deaf he couldn't hear what people were saying about his necktie. That might hae amused Oscar Wilde, no?

Christ: I'd like to have heard his reply to that.

Borges: Yes, of course. I never heard of such a case of something being so perfectly misunderstood. The perfection of stupidity. Of course, Wilde's remark is a witty translation of an idea; in Spanish as well as English you speak of a "loud color." A "loud color" is a common phrase, but then the things that are said in literature are always the same. What is important is the way they are said. Look at metaphors, for example: When I was a young man I was always hunting for new metaphors. Then I found out that really good metaphors are always the same. I mean you compare time to a road, death to sleeping, life to dreaming, and those are the great metaphors in literature because they correspond to something essential. If you invent metaphors, they are apt to be surprising during the fraction of a second, but they strike no deep emotion whatever. If you think of life as a dream, that is a thought, a thought that is real, or at least that most men are bound to have, no? “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” I think that’s better than the idea of shocking people, than finding connections between things that have never been connected before, because there is no real connection, so the whole thing is a kind of juggling.

Christ: Juggling just words?

Borges: Just words.

- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


difficult to explain and more difficult to earn

The alienation between original text and new language is not the problem in translation - though many assume it is. The text and the language exist and are solid. It is the translator who is alienated. Misunderstood, misjudged, the gap a translator aims to fill is impossible and problematic and common and everyday. How to move a word, an image, a phrase, from one language to another, where words and images and phrases have different resonances and etymological histories. It is also an issue of trust, thought this is difficult to explain and more difficult to earn. I have learned over the years to trust other poets to lead me into and out of the problems translation presents. When an image, a line, a rhyme won't come together, I look to other poets to see how they assemble their ideas. In this, recent English-language poet-translators are the most useful: Pound, Lowell, Christopher Middleton, Daryl Hine, Elaine Feinstein, Marilyn Hacker, Michael Hofmann, A.E. Stallings. Those who have gone beyond simple accuracy and moved the poem into a space between the original and their own, so that the translated poem becomes its own contraption.

- Evan Jones, from the afterword to his translation of C.P. Cavafy, The Barbarians Arrive Today: Poems & Prose


words are also things

In my poems, I see meaning in small details of the natural world. To see such details is a way of being human, of appreciating and understanding the world and our place in it. A poem may begin as the result of a visual image or a particular sound. In these cases, it is an image (or sound image) awaiting words. A poem may being with an observation of the aural effects of a particular word or combination of words. In this case, words await an image.

I try to combine an apprehension of what I've seen in the visual world with an expression in words that will delight or surprise in a similar manner. I attempt to express the ineffable. One is constantly surprised by the visual appearance of things in the world. Likewise is one surprised by words and language. Words, but their meanings and visual and aural aspects, lead or link, forward, backward, sideways, and inside out, to other words. Language is filled with surprises.

Part of trying to make things of the world immanent in words is having the awareness that letters of the alphabet and words, as well as being signs and symbols, are also things - they have visual shape and aural sound apart from literal meaning.

- Nelson Ball, from his afterword to Certain Details: The Poets of Nelson Ball.


not reaction at all

Donald Hall: Do you feel that younger poets in general have repudiated the experimentalism of the early poetry of this century? Few poets now seem to be resisted the way you were resisted, but some older critics like Herbert Read believe that poetry after you has been a regression to outdated modes. When you talked about Milton the second time, you spoke of the function of poetry as a retarder of change, as well as a maker of change, in language. 

T.S. Eliot: Yes, I don’t think you want a revolution every ten years. 

Hall: But is it possible to think that there has been a counterrevolution rather than an exploration of new possibilities? 

Eliot: No, I don’t see anything that looks to me like a counterrevolution. After a period of getting away from the traditional forms, comes a period of curiosity in making new experiments with traditional forms. This can produce very good work if what has happened in between has made a difference: when it’s not merely going back, but taking up an old form, which has been out of use for a time, and making something new with it. That is not counterrevolution. Nor does mere regression deserve the name. There is a tendency in some quarters to revert to Georgian scenery and sentiments; and among the public there are always people who prefer mediocrity, and when they get it, say, “What a relief! Here’s some real poetry again.” And there are also people who like poetry to be modern but for whom the really creative stuff is too strong—they need something diluted. 

What seems to me the best of what I’ve seen in young poets is not reaction at all. I’m not going to mention any names, for I don’t like to make public judgments about younger poets. The best stuff is a further development of a less revolutionary character than what appeared in earlier years of the century.

- T.S. Eliot, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


it has prevented me from writing too much

Donald Hall: Do you think that the optimal career for a poet would involve no work at all but writing and reading? 

T.S. Eliot: No, I think that would be... —but there again one can only talk about oneself. It is very dangerous to give an optimal career for everybody, but I feel quite sure that if I’d started by having independent means, if I hadn’t had to bother about earning a living and could have given all my time to poetry, it would have had a deadening influence on me. 

Hall: Why? 

Eliot: I think that for me it’s been very useful to exercise other activities, such as working in a bank, or publishing even. And I think also that the difficulty of not having as much time as I would like has given me a greater pressure of concentration. I mean it has prevented me from writing too much. The danger, as a rule, of having nothing else to do is that one might write too much rather than concentrating and perfecting smaller amounts. That would be my danger.

- T.S. Eliot, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


work is the only device I know of

Pati Hill: What did you first write? 

Truman Capote: Short stories. And my more unswerving ambitions still revolve around this form. When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium. 

PH: What do you mean exactly by “control”? 

TC: I mean maintaining a stylistic and emotional upper hand over your material. Call it precious and go to hell, but I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence—especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation. Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence. I don’t mean to imply that I successfully practice what I preach. I try, that’s all. 

PH: How does one arrive at short-story technique? 

TC: Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can’t generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right. 

PH: Are there devices one can use in improving one’s technique? 

TC: Work is the only device I know of. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners. Too many writers seem to consider the writing of short stories as a kind of finger exercise. Well, in such cases, it is certainly only their fingers they are exercising.


- Truman Capote, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


you have to make a bet

Michael Edwards: Poet Sharon Olds has talked about “being brave” in poems. Does this resonate with you in any way? The sense of being more brave on the page, than in everyday life? 

Kayla Czaga: Always with a poem I believe something must be at stake. Like in poker, you have to make a bet in order to have a chance at winning. When the bet is larger, you have the chance of winning more. There’s a natural bravery involved. If I try to capture a moment, if it feels necessary to do that, I run the risk of not doing it justice, of failing, of losing my shirt, my car and my house. Coming back to a new page again and again, failing constantly, not doing my memories and the people in my life justice is tough work, but if I don’t make the bet I’ll never have the chance of winning the whole pot. 


ME: What keeps you writing poems, where do they come from for you? Are these things possible to articulate? 

KC: What keeps me writing is the part I can’t articulate. Though I have more skills as a poet now than I did a decade ago, I still can’t plan a good poem. Every time, it feels like a miracle to write one. And that feeling never gets old. It’ll always be magical. To some extent I can encourage my process through reading, routine, and exercise, but there’s still no formula, no predictability.

- Kayla Czaga, in conversation with Michael Edwards over at Red Alder Review. You can read the whole thing here


My Read Local BC Interview Series is back!

Like in each of the last two years, things have been quiet here on the blog, as I am busily preparing for a deluge of interviews (8!) over Read Local BC. Starting tomorrow (April 1st - not a joke!), a new interview between me and a BC poet will go up on their site every Tuesday and Thursday all month long, culminating in a special ninth posting at the end of the month.

I can't thank Read Local BC enough for the space and support they've provided for this project over the last three years. It's an immense amount of work (I start the interviews in September), but I love doing it, and love having a partner who believes in championing BC poets as much as I do (and tolerates unreasonably long interviews!).

To show you how serious we are about this, the good folk at Read Local BC have made not one, but TWO promotional graphics for this year's edition:

All of the interviews will eventually make their way over to this here blog, to join the 70+ interviews currently on this blog (you can read all of my Read Local BC interviews from past years here). But if you like your interviews hot and fresh (and who likes cold, soggy interviews?) keep an eye on ReadLocalBC.ca, and the Read Local BC "#NPM2021" hashtag, all month long!


it’s never one poem that changes me

The revelations I get from reading poetry are so tiny and inward. It’s never one poem that changes me. For instance, I looked at Pam Rehm’s poems for a number of years and had very little response. I’d call her my favourite poet now. But it was not something that I recognized for a long time. It’s like falling in love, but in an arranged marriage over many years. Strangely, while writing my own poems, I’ve usually had to have one of her books in my hands. And this was going on long before I liked her poems. I was dependent on the tactility of that book just to write my own stuff. Could I have acquired a taste for her poems through my hands? (Now I’m thinking about Oliver Sacks.) What’s certainly true however: I spend significantly more time with books of poetry that are easy to tote, hold and to flip through than ones that aren’t. If I had larger hands, it’s very possible that I’d love other poets.

- Emily Tristan Jones, in conversation with The LeHave Review, which profiles one poem/poet each season. You can read the whole thing here


more than one thing happening at one time

The problem of emotion in poetry is twofold: 1) Direct statements of feeling, with notable exceptions, generally fail to elicit that feeling in the reader. People who talk about their feelings all the time are tedious and so are poems with similar inclinations. 2) Unalloyed emotions - pure grief, pure terror, pure joy - don't tend to be very interesting written down. They're pre-verbal, they activate primitive brain regions too far from our language centres. They either write white or purple. The most authentic and the most poignant emotions tend to be the mixed ones, and mixed feelings defy articulation because there's more than one thing happening at one time. Which is the same thing language does in a poem. So there's a kind of black magic involved in trying to write something that instills emotion in the reader. Shortcuts are always tempting, but they almost never get you where you want to be.


- Zachariah Wells, from his interview with Jesse Eckerlin entitled "Deep Time, Black Magic and Ugly Stuff", as published in Wells' Career Limiting Moves: Interviews, Rejoinders, Essays, Reviews. 


wrestling chaos into music

The present can definitely “deform” the past in the sense of blurring it, making it formless, but also the present can warp the past, I think, by objectifying and decontextualizing it. Poetry’s artifice objectifies, too—things like rhyme and meter do—by introducing tidy patterns of organization. Paul Fussell says the first way meter means, for example, is by reminding us that someone is out there, wrestling chaos into music.

- Allison Adair, in interview with the The LaHave Review, which profiles one poem/poet each season. You can read the whole thing here.


truthful and selfish

In my earlier poetry I was really fixated on the reader’s experience of my poem, not whether it felt honest to me. As soon as I started being truthful and, frankly, selfish, that’s when the poems started feeling important. And I needed to let go of the control that I thought was necessary to have over a poem. I learned to let my instincts lead, and trust that all the reading and studying had built enough of a framework of knowledge in me that the poetic merit would show through on its own.

- Molly Cross-Blanchard, in conversation with Manahil Bandukwala about Molly's debut collection, Exhibitionist, over at Canthius. You can read the whole thing here.


be intensely themselves and remain themselves

rob 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? 
stephanie roberts: My answer is paradoxical. The writer shouldn't give a fuck about their role in culture, and their role is vital. The role of the poet is to, as much as possible, be themselves intensely and remain themselves. Not to say who we are is static. I think the healthy psyche is subject to the same pressures [as] on a caterpillar to become butterfly. 
Wallace Stevens believed that poetry achieves more for the knowledge of human nature than history. In an essay on poetry and the imagination, he looked to Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt for affirmation, "Burckhardt considers the status of poetry at various epochs, among various peoples and classes, asking each time who is singing or writing, and for whom. Poetry is the voice of religion, prophecy, mythology, history, national life and inexplicably, for [Burckhardt], of literature." I tend to agree. 

 - stephanie roberts, in reply to rob mclennan's 12 or 21 questions over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.


great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things

When I first became aware of the exhilarations of poetry as a community college freshman on the Mojave Desert, the poets who moved me were immaculately remote from my world. That was one of their attractions: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesuit priest, so incantatory I could barely understand him; John Donne, priest again, even earlier in the British lineage, and glorious crafter of something called c o n c e i t s. 
Lots of British priests in the poetry business, it looked like. Plus Emily Dickinson. I loved the strenuousness of it all, the rigors, the long lonely vigil of it, the doomed quality. Here, I thought, is fit meat for the mind. And the fact was that my mind was very hungry. Hungry minds — the selfish, burrowing, opportunistic minds of the young who will rip the flesh off anything that might feed them — these are the salvation of writers. I often think about this, how the readers who keep writing alive are comically self-serving; they are trying to find access to their own brains, some way in, some key to make their own heads work. They rummage and plunder with catholic zeal, accidentally performing a service to culture that no number of academics or disinterested readers could accomplish. They have demonstrated one more time how great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things. 

 - Kay Ryan, from her essay "Fit Meat for a Hungry Mind" over at the Pulitzer Prize's website. The essay is also collected, as "Against Influence", in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


poetry is the shape and size of the mind

A poem really has no beginning and end, although it does appear to. All the parts of a poem exist as a sort of plasma, simultaneously apprehended, existing in the mind all at once, as soon as we have become familiar with them. The word “blight” [in "Spring and Fall"] constantly and forever charges every word in the poem, shores every word in the poem. It is Indra’s net, everywhere is the center, reflecting all. This great capacity of poetry is seldom so well exercised as it is here. The fact that the mind can move around in a poem—is asked to do this—is why poetry is considered the supreme art. Poetry is the shape and size of the mind. It works the way the mind works. It is deeply compatible with whatever it is we are. We dissolve in it; it dissolves in us. 

- Kay Ryan, discussing Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring and Fall", from her essay "On a Poem by Hopkins" in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


a poem means you're in too deep

Peppering [Robert Frost's] notebooks is the phrase "Dark Darker Darkest" standing alone, as though it were a code for something he kept working at in his mind. (The editor offers some context for it, but this doesn't explain away its perseverance.) On one occasion Frost does begin developing what he means—venturing well past the usual sparring tenor of the notebooks and touching the dangerously marshy places usually reserved for his best poems: 

Here where we are life wells up as a strong . . . spring perpetually . . . piling water on water . . . with the dancing high lights upon it. But it flows away on all sides as into a marsh of its own making. It flows away into poverty into insanity into crime. . . . Dark as it is that there are these sorrows and darker still that we can do so little to get rid of them . . . the darkest is that perhaps we ought not to want to get rid of them. . . . What life . . . craves most is signs of life. 

In Frost's poetry, of course, this flowing away and draining off of original strength is a deep, repeated thought (and fear). Think of how everything golden "goes down" in "Nothing Gold Can Stay," or even better think of Frost's dazzling and diabolical poem, "Spring Pools," where dark powers "blot out and drink up and sweep away" the freshets of life. Such a rare patch of deep probing in the notebooks, ending in a pronouncement ("What life . . . craves most is signs of life"), lets us see the greater genius of his poems. In the notebooks, Frost moves quickly to the abstract; in the poems, he steers clear of the abstract altogether and instead overloads nature until dark stuff drips out the bottom. Frost is riveting, prose or poetry, but in the poetry the rivets rust through. A poem by its nature operates beyond rational control, which is a great service to a mind as controlling as Frost's. A poem means you're in too deep. In "Spring Pools," for all its balanced, reflected imagery of pools and flowers and all its tidy buttoned-up rhyming, Frost has got himself just where he craves to be—in an elemental battle where he's not the boss. The best form can do is serve as a barricade, giving the illusion of containment to the forces he's unleashed.


- Kay Ryan, from her review of The Notebooks of Robert Frost, originally published in Poetry Magazine and included in her essay collection Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole review here.


the memory that might result from repetition

I don’t think I can speak at sufficient length about the importance to the poet of avoiding or ignoring Kodak moments. If a poet seeks to make or keep memories, how will she ever know which ones contain true power, which would assert themselves on their own? Perhaps her very definition of memory would change if she didn’t get her Kodak moments developed. Maybe memory would not hold individual scenes at all; maybe it would have no detail; maybe it would not rise up—the pines of that morning in Yosemite scraping the interior of her skull; maybe it would be nacreous, layered regions of pleasure and attraction in the mind. Any sense of tint in the depth of the gleam would arise so slowly as to be imperceptible. I am speaking of the memory that might result from repetition. I am interested in the long ways of knowing where the mind does not seek strangeness. We must be less in love with foreground if we want to see far.


- Kay Ryan, from her essay "Notes on the Danger of Notebooks", originally published in Parnassus Review and included in her essay collection Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


the humility necessary to listen

After a certain lecture which had as usual bewildered the sober note-takers (the serious people laboring to understand by writing parts down, making decisions about what was important to write down and what wasn’t, seeking a pattern in what was said, attempting to get a fix on it—determining its coordinates like an alien craft’s) a photographer came up to [Gertrude] Stein. He was elated, ravished by what she had been saying. It was no trouble for him to understand as it was for the audience which had come with the intention of understanding rather than with the intention of taking pictures for the local newspaper. His ease was no surprise to Gertrude Stein. The photographer had simply listened and therefore he had understood, since what Gertrude Stein was saying was always simple, plus she repeated it. The serious note-takers couldn’t listen and therefore couldn’t understand because they were trying to remember.

The serious note-takers intended to make sense later of what Gertrude Stein was saying, so they needed to remember the main points of her lecture. They would not have been pleased with the idea that they didn’t have to go back to their offices and make sense of it because it already was sense. One might say that they lacked the humility necessary to listen. One might observe that, paradoxically, what appeared to be submissive behavior on the part of the note-takers, taking notes, was in fact arrogance.

But of course the serious note-takers were not worse people than the photographer. The photographer’s humility was no more intentional than the note-takers’ arrogance. The humility necessary to listen cannot be achieved head-on, and that is what gave the photographer his edge. He was partly thinking about getting good photographs—about his equipment, about the lighting. He didn’t have to concern himself with these professional things very much because they were almost automatic, but a little. This slight distraction, this slight angle that his job as photographer required, along with the feeling that he was not a professional in the area that Gertrude Stein was talking about, made him more open to what she was saying. He wasn’t going to have to summarize her remarks or offer an evaluation. He was just the newspaper photographer.

Isn’t it odd to think that in order to listen we must be a little bit relieved of the intention to understand?


- Kay Ryan, from her essay "Notes on the Danger of Notebooks", originally published in Parnassus Review and included in her essay collection Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


visited but not carried away

Experience has proven that it is impossible to give away secrets. Even when I write them down as clearly as I can, people seem to receive another secret, which is secret from me. I like that. And that's not all: my own secrets can become secret from me again. Which is to say, having exposed them as best I can - in a poem, say - the secrets remain there, to be visited but not carried away. Is it as though I had never whispered them, I am so little changed by what the poem knows. 

 - Kay Ryan, from her essay "Derichment" in Synthesising Gravity: Selected Prose.


far greater difficulties

Poetry is superior amusement. I do not mean an amusement for superior people. I call it an amusement, an amusement pour distraire les honnêtes gens, not because that is a true definition, but because if you call it anything else you are likely to call it something still more false. If we think of the nature of amusement, then poetry is not amusing; but if we think of anything else that poetry may seem to be, we are led into far greater difficulties. 

 - T.S. Eliot, from his essay collection The Sacred Wood.


a matter of syntax

[Kay] Ryan has forged—no other verb will do, for it has taken great patience and will—a style of art that is also a style of life. Such strong economy comes with limitations, of course, but the compensations are immense. It is a style capable of withstanding great pressure. It repels all manner of cant, gush, and less-than-exquisite gloom. Sometimes just a drop of it serves as a kind of existential smelling salts: "She gives us poems in shapes that might result in a chamber free of the heart’s gravity." It’s not a fashionable notion. That limits liberate, that there can be in some forms of refusal the greatest freedom (another crucial word for Ryan’s aesthetic), that all life’s troubles and treasures might be—I think of Julian of Norwich suddenly seeing all of creation in a single hazelnut—a matter of syntax. 

 - Christian Wiman, from his introduction to Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose by Kay Ryan.


perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion

I am aware and most grateful for the benefits of the age. No matter what complaints we may have, Japan has chosen to follow the West, and there is nothing for her to do but move bravely ahead and leave us old ones behind... I have written all this because I have thought that there might still be somewhere, possibly in literature or the arts, where something could be saved. I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them. 

- Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, from his 1933 essay on Japanese aesthetics In Praise of Shadows (trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward F. Seidensticker).


how poems finally have to live

Some of these journals I’ve had dealings with for decades. Slow dealings, sending off poems in the mail, waiting for a reply. By the time I’d get my poems back (usually all of them) they would look new to me. I could see them in a new way, maybe like children getting off the bus from their first day of school. They’d been somewhere where they had to fend for themselves. You could get a new respect for them, and also you could think to yourself, How could I have sent them off looking like that?

In any case, it was a distant, silent relationship with these presses and journals. I wanted something from them, but I had to count on the words I’d put on the page to get it for me. Whether or not I started out liking the patient discipline of this exchange, I came to like it. It slowed me down. If I’d gotten those poems back at email speed, say, they wouldn’t have been away long enough for me to lose hope the way you need to. You really shouldn’t be living for a reaction all the time.

I also liked the fact that there were no faces or voices; we were all disembodied, writer and editor alike. Just the slow old mail. I wanted my poems to fight their way like that. Fight and fight again. No networking, no friends in high places, no internships. I think that’s how poems finally have to live, alone without your help, so they should get used to it.
- Kay Ryan, on the joyful process of acquiring a rejection letter, from her essay "I Go To AWP" in Poetry Magazine on attending the 2005 Associaion of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Vancouver. The essay is included in Ryan's Synthesising Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


you have to defend before it looks like you have anything to defend

I was invited to attend [AWP] as an outsider, and to write a piece for Poetry. I could go but retain my alienation. This was so doable. Of course, in truth I could only do this now, when I am quite old. If I were young and hadn’t published anything, it would be different. Now, even if my sense of self is threatened, shouldn’t I already have used most of it up? How much more can there be left? Maybe I would never have been influenced, as I feared I would, but to this day I believe I needed to guard against something, even if that something was imaginary. I needed to protect something valuable. The most important thing a beginning writer may have going for her is her bone-deep impulse to defend a self that at the time might not look all that worth getting worked up about. You’ll note a feral protectiveness—a wariness, a mistrust. But the important point is that this mistrust is the outside of the place that has to be kept empty for the slow development of self-trust. You have to defend before it looks like you have anything to defend. But if you don’t do it too early, it’s too late. One must truly HOLD A SPACE for oneself. All things conspire to close up this space. Everything about AWP has always struck me as closing the space.
- Kay Ryan, from her utterly delightful essay "I Go To AWP" in Poetry Magazine on attending the 2005 Associaion of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Vancouver. The essay is included in Ryan's Synthesising Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.