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