Monday, 25 May 2015

Wondrous Metaphysical Depth

Zulfikar Ghose rediscovers the work of Theodore Roethke:
There are some reputations that fall into cryonic hibernation and are brought back to life when the epidemic of neglect and forgetfulness has passed. One of the American poets whose books I looked at again was Theodore Roethke (pronounced “Rhett-key”) who died aged 55 a few months after Plath in 1963. I had never doubted his major status and not having re-read him for some years, my high estimation of him was based largely on the retrospective pleasure that performs its charming dance in one’s memory from time to time when we remember past happiness. Now re-reading him more than confirmed that former high regard: some of the poems in his last book, ‘The Far Field’, are the work of an extraordinary imagination and constitute poetry of a wondrous metaphysical depth. One would have to go back to Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ to find poetry of comparable beauty.

Heightened Conversation

Patrick Friesen is a fan of Raoul Fernandes's poetry (sample poem here).
Raoul creates his own voice, a voice of heightened conversation. You wish people spoke that way, but they don’t. They could. The rhythms are drawn-out but tightened by a skillful balance of talk and precise image. The images are sometimes startling and unexpected. Raoul also occasionally employs unusual word orders making the reader see/hear the line a little differently. It feels as if his voice is on the verge of finding another texture, a deepening, but that may simply be an air of anticipation, as if one is watching the headlights of a car appearing and reappearing as it approaches on a hilly road. What could arrive is danger.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Pay Back

Irish poet Elaine Feeney is interviewed about her poem "Mass":
Maeve Mulrennan: I prepared for this interview by listening to your work rather than reading it, and I was wondering about your poem, "Mass," which you performed to the camera. Did you find that an intense thing to do?

Elaine Feeney: Colm Keegan told me that he was talking to Séamus Rutledge about that poem, joking that it should have been nominated as the poem for Ireland. There was no decent recording of it, so Colm recommended that I record the poem and put it on YouTube. It was a scary experience, I did it in my house, I put it out there and within minutes it got two thumbs down in the comments section—probably from the local bishops!

MM: I’d find that so frustrating! I’d love to know who those two people were.

EF: "Mass" is not supposed to sit well, people are supposed to find it uncomfortable. Some people think that "list poems" don’t work and I agree to a certain extent, but this works as a list-piece. We had to listen to enough mass growing up, so this is the pay back. Some people are shocked when it turns nasty at the end, mentioning homophobia and how there won’t ever be a women’s mass. It is easier to delude ourselves and keep going to mass. When I see crowds going to mass it unnerves me.

Sunday Poem

You have this thing you can only explain
by driving me out to the port at night
to watch the towering cranes moving containers
from ship to train. Or we go skipping stones
across the mirror of the lake, a ghost ship
in a bottle of blue Bombay gin by your side.
I have this thing I can only explain to you
by showing you a pile of computer hardware
chucked into the ravine. We hike down there
and blackberry vines grab our clothes as if to say,
stop, wait, I want to tell you something too.
You have an old photograph you keep in your
bedside drawer. I have this song I learned
on my guitar. By way of clarification, you send
me a YouTube video of a tornado filmed up close
from a parked car. Or a live-stream from a public
camera whose view is obscured by red leaves.
I cut you a key to this room, this door.
There's this thing. A dictionary being consumed
by fire. The two of us standing in front of a Rothko
until time starts again. A mixtape that is primarily
about the clicks and hums between songs. What if
we walk there instead of driving? What if we just drive,
without a destination? There's this thing I've always
wanted to talk about with someone. Now
with you here, with you listening, with all
the antennae raised, I no longer have to.
From Transmitter and Receiver (Nightwood, 2015) by Raoul Fernandes

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Waking Up in the Writers' Room

by Anita Anand
This is a story about errors, dreams, and other ways of seeing.
I never thought I would get a book published. I am happy, a little bewildered, and very apprehensive about the next step in the process, the attention that this book may or may not get. My book is not perfect; parts of it were written by my sub-conscious, and its beauty and its flaws will be in the eye of the beholder.
Two years ago, I took a correspondence course in creative writing at Humber College. A text was assigned. I don’t remember its title. What I do know is that somehow, I ended up ordering the wrong book. This wrong book was From Where you Dream, by Robert Olen Butler, and it contained strange but ultimately profound and helpful advice. One of the strange things was that it was very specific: “Write in the morning!” it exhorted. Yes, when you are still groggy! Write from where you dream!
The author provided many samples of writing that positively echoed with wonderfully lyrical, evocative, yet unobtrusive metaphors, which he felt certain emerged from the author’s unconscious mind.
His words rang true to me. It doesn’t happen often enough, but I have noticed a few clever, almost sly metaphors in my own writing that I don’t even remember writing. It is as though my keyboard were being operated by two sets of hands, one of which is connected to my unconscious mind. When someone else points out these metaphors first, I don’t know whether to marvel at the surprising wisdom and poetry of my own unconscious thoughts, or be embarrassed by what I might be revealing.
The dreams I remember are embarrassingly obvious, and they are almost always about embarrassing situations: finding myself half-naked at work, or in a public bathroom with no doors on the stalls, or voiceless, or in the wrong room, one reserved for people more worthy than me. In the past this was the white room, but recently I think it has represented the real writers’ room, the one I seem to have stumbled into by mistake.
I have always regretted not writing a letter to Margaret Laurence. She was one of my favourite authors when I was a teenager, and when she died, I was very moved to learn from reading her obituary that, first, we shared a birthday; second, she was very shy and found it impossible to believe that anyone enjoyed her books; and third, when she reviewed other authors’ works, her editor had to tell her to be more critical, more negative. I imagine her blinking in surprise. She told her editor that it was very hard to write a book, and that she couldn’t imagine tearing another author down.
I wished that I had known all this and had written to her that people really did love her books, they weren’t just being kind, but that, on the other hand, I agreed with her attitude of kindness when it came to writing reviews. I know that very few people would agree with us. Reviewers, we are told, are there to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is their job. I can’t agree, can’t understand why anyone would believe there is anything like objective worth in a work of fiction.
One critic’s wheat is another’s chaff.  For one thing, from the reviews I have read recently, everyone seems to be looking for something different. Jonathan Franzen wants “the internal lives of characters, with an emphasis on their emotions.” Sarah Woolf, writing about Véhicule Press’s own short story anthology Salut King Kong, wants innovation; fiction that will take her away from “the thematic stomping grounds of sex and youth” and depart from something she calls “Short Story Style”.
Steven Beattie, writing in Quill & Quire, would never enjoy anything I have written. “As a(n)… editor,” he writes, “I am not terribly interested in identity politics, which I realize is easy for me to say as a white man who has surely benefitted from the status quo ante…” For him, the writer’s focus “should be on story and technique, not the importance of the theme or the potential for improvement in readers.” Such concerns must never be “the foundational reasons” for writing anything besides essays.
So a person like me, who writes about such things as identity issues because they matter to her, even tend to haunt her dreams, should stifle this impulse in writing fiction because this would be writing for the wrong reason. If you have something to say, write an essay.
Personally, the only kind of story I dislike is one that has no point to it at all.  I like learning about life through fiction. That could make me an earnest, humourless sort of person, but a lesson I actually enjoy learning over and over is that everything is potentially absurd, from the Seinfeld moments of everyday existence to the self-doubt that plagues writers in contrast to the certainty of critics and editors. Life’s absurdity is a theme worth exploring. This is what drives me to write: something bugging me, something that I understand well enough to communicate, but which lends itself well to an easily accessible metaphor, like a dream about shyness. So that I don’t have to go and rant about it in an essay.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunday Poem

And I came to in a room with a draft
that issued from beneath a swinging door,
my head plugged up like a sink stuffed
with months of shed hair,
shaving stubble, other things
that thought to disappear. 
And the covers were bunched
at my waist like a marble effigy
of Christ newly sprung from the cross,
unveiling an inch of midriff,
my navel, which in the hospital light
looked like a wound from a hollow-point. 
And the old man in a nearby bed
kept dying. The monitor would shriek
its air-raid warning and he would die
and come back. That was his trick.
He did it and did it. The slap-slap
of the nurses’ soles was deliberate

applause. Then he left for good.
My wife said that when I was dead,
or during my death, she paced the garden
with my jacket on, cupping votive flames
to cigarettes. She killed each
match with a flick of her wrist, 
then laid the burnt corpses to rest
in a packet scored with scratches
from matchstick heads that sought
to light the way, and did, and died.
Tendrils of smoke grew into the sky
as vines climbing from tomblike shade.
She stood, then, and helped me to my feet,
led me down the corridor
to find a cup of tea—past an orderly
who wheeled an assemblage
of bed, old woman, and IV—
not looking back to see if I was there.
From Earth and Heaven: An Anthology of Myth Poetry (eds. Amanda Jernigan and Evan Jones, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015) by Mark Callanan.  

Friday, 15 May 2015

Inverse Snobbery

Steven Heighton tries to put Al Purdy's legacy in perspective:
For me, unlike some young male poets, it wasn’t hard to resist imitating Al’s voice, syntax, and signature mannerisms, partly because I’d already found other acoustical models, other musics, that better suited my sense of rhythm and tune: poets such as Dylan Thomas, G. M. Hopkins, Sylvia Plath, W.B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Wilfred Owen, and P.K. Page—all in their diverse ways great acoustical technicians. Plainspokenness didn’t appeal to me. It bored me. And I felt that some of my Canadian male peers, who were trying to imitate Al’s seemingly plain voice, were really just caving in to good old North American anti-intellectualism – the fear of seeming unmanly, fussy, heady, elitist, European. I sensed something spurious in their embrace and veneration of the demotic and colloquial. I thought it a kind of inverse snobbery. When Al invented himself, he had good reason to react against the Edwardian models he’d encountered in school—and at the same time to find a voice that squared with his own background, class, and autodidacticism. But his middle-class, college-educated acolytes were not forging a voice under the same urgent, and solitary, pressures. They were just mimicking.