Archive for the ‘poetry’ Tag

Vallum’s poem of the week: David Bradford’s “Cute Bear”

IMG_2617 (2) “Cute Bear” is Vallum‘s poem of the week by long-ago ex-student and poet contemporary David Bradford, readable and hearable, here.

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Back to the Skunkworks!

Just last week, a friend recently publicized a chapbook of mine composed and published airship2over twenty years ago, and the response, livelier than any to any of my work in recent memory, encourages me to return to the work that chapbook began.

I shouldn’t be surprised, in a way. This poem was the center-piece of the performances I gave during a tour of Germany in 1996, and then, too, the response was gratifying:  one audience member excitedly came up to me to say he would buy everything I would publish, and a friend I made during that tour, the German novelist Georg Oswald, approved with pleasure the approach I took to the material. And a few years later this sequence was well-received by Terry Matheson, a professor of English who has applied narratology to alien abduction reports and who was kind enough to even teach the poem below in one of his classes.

arnold_ufoSo, for interested parties, I append one of the first poems from this project, the last poem of my first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central and other poems. and return to  back-engineering this “modern myth of things seen in the sky”.

 

Flying Saucers

 

Tuesday three in the afternoon 24 June 1947

Kenneth Arnold of Boise, rescue pilot, businessman, deputy sheriff and federal marshal, U.S. Forest Serviceman

At 9,000 feet crystal-clear conditions

Alone in his Callair between Chehalis and Yakima

An hour’s detour searching for a lost transport

Out of the blue a flash like just before a midair crash

Made him look left north of Mount Rainier

To see at ninety degrees

Nine seeming jet planes in a V pointed south

 

The echelon vaguely bobbing and weaving

Flashing reflections

Twenty-four miles off

Against Rainier’s snows, tailless—

Flying nearly forty miles

Between Mounts Rainier and Adams

Three times the speed of sound

The first crossed the ridge bridging the mountains

As the last came over its north crest five miles back

 

Nine crescents needing to be

Half a mile long to be seen

Flying that fast that far away

So smooth mirroring sunlight

Like speedboats on rough water

Wavering in formation

Like the tail of a Chinese kite

Wings tipping flashing blue white

Each like a saucer skipped over water

 

For the Record: “Reading Dudek’s The Caged Tiger”

One of the ironic aspects of the digitization of cultural artefacts and the blissfully ignorant acceptance if not celebration of this process is, apart from those documents excluded from the process in the first place, the inevitable decay of links and websites and the consequent disappearance of the works they hosted. Such was the case with the poem below.

When Louis Dudek’s penultimate volume of poetry The Caged Tiger was published, I read img20171218_14235601it with some irritation and sought a way to express it other than in a review. The compositional answer was to write poems that intervened in the original, engaging in a kind of dialogue; the relation of the new poem to the original is underlined in [28], below. The words in bold are Dudek’s; the numbers in [] are the page numbers of his original book.

The novelty or singularity of this formal maneuver to contemporaneous and subsequent compositional practice I leave to the determination of the learning of the reader; the poem was written the year of the publication of Dudek’s volume, 1997.

 

Reading Dudek’s The Caged Tiger

 

[10]

 

The transcendental then is merely the unknown

—No: how what’s known is—

inside out:  no silhouette

no eidos no idea:

The transcendental’s how you know

you’re facing the mirror

 

 

Aside from yourself

the world

things

How it all happened

to come

together

‘s beyond you

 

 

Neither this nor any mystery’s gnawed

The mystic’s “the tight-lipped”

Tongue’s quiver locked up

 

[3]

 

Art is a dead god’s tongue

whose words

we still like the sound of

“the music of the spheres”

night’s white noise

the whole spectrum

of electromagnetic radiation

visible and audible

only to the radio-telescopes’

timpani tipped to listen

idle humming

“I-am-I”’s sound poem

 

[8]

 

Time’s transcendental

A watch

 

[15]

 

As one of those

in downy feathers

mouth open

happened on

spring mornings

 

[39]

 

in the cage too tight to lie in

a small pot nobody empties

wire mesh hardly a reach up

nights icy rain

days the sun throbs

the face in the cool mud

 

[28]

 

The bass beat faster than a raver’s heart at daybreak

shudders the whole body in the spot and strobelit dark

College boys and girls in their personal fashion statements

each writhe alone in cigarette smoke fog and pheremones

 

[99]

 

The old are removed

to their graves

and the young come up

to fill their places

i.e., as a “[f]ine bod”y

closed in a dipping casket

Old Heracleitus

renewed every sun

 

 

Tha stance toward Reality

A week back I shared an unpublished poem “Unreal, that is, to the real itself…” and in the week since by a kind of weird serendipity I’ve been engaged in a dialogue concerning evolutionary psychology, reductive physicalism, by extension materialism and transcendentalism, so on and so forth, all of which tie into the question of the Real and what can be known of it.

I’ve made my polemical stance in this regard known in an ironic manner in the poem inf.26.47.dore“Get Real” (it is a poem after all; how can it not be ironic?) so in light of the past week’s ink spilled (what is the on-line, digital version of this expression?) on the matter, I share here the prefatory poem to my second trade edition, Ladonian Magnitudes ‘topos tropos typos” (a confession’. The opening words are Charles Olson’s.

 

“for nine years
“three words constantly
“forced me down

“or kept me
“in or possibly
“steadied me…

 

topos tropos typos” (a confession

 

there is a freedom to be learned

a tradition earned

every wave of particular

 

not men or women, some

generation, not a sapling

scored around the oak’s core

 

but decision

not to attend what’s passed

for the new, not to accept the world

 

as given), &

stopped my reflection
stepped

the light
red

antistrophe

more vivid
that night

than the rain
wet street

(“E’en thus along the gulf moves every flame,

“A sinner so enfolded close in each

“That none exhibits token of the thief

O

read

the archetext!

“…where lives the virtue of poetry…”

Yesterday, Canada’s Chris Banks baldly posed the question to his Facebook friends “What is authentic poetry?”. I (mis)remembered, after my own initial contributions to winding or snarling the ensuing thread, I had written a poem that addressed at least “the virtue of all authentic thinking” (and I’m hardly the first to imagine or suggest that poetry can be a kind of thinking). I post that poem, below.

It was written at the same time as the poem that opens Ladonian Magnitudes, “topos tropos typos’ (a confession”, itself composed before even my first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central. It’s title is a quotation from Charles Olson. Whether it is possessed of any qualities that might be construed as “authentic” I leave to the judgement of the reader. For my part, I cite again, as I did first in yesterday’s thread, Novalis, from his Fragments and Studies 1799-1800, #671:  Schwer schon ist zu entscheiden, doch einzig mögliche Entscheidung, ob etwas Poesie sei oder nicht”:  It’s already difficult to decide, but it’s the only decision possible, whether something is poetry or not.

 

“Unreal, that is, to the real itself”

 

where lives the virtue of poetry

and all thinking free

of the tyranny of the real

 

in perceiving the real

flow, elementally

fluid, hence watery

 

form forms

breath

seen in Winter

 

as slippery

hard and cold

as ice to the head

cracked

 

as the sea, unfathomable

God as Melville says

pondering

from the masthead

 

a shriek above

the water

 

a shriek

above the water

 

the same

‘Thanks’, plural of ‘thank’

IMG_2516In part because it’s American Thanksgiving and in part as preface to my launching a new chapbook this Sunday, I post here a sequence of faux haikus originally shared over a number of days on my Facebook author’s page in 2016 that each mark (or, more philosophically, “trace”) a moment or spot-in-time of gratitude.

 

Thanks

 

Walk to work over Park Mont

Royale:  birdsong &

melt burble in stereo.

 

#

 

Ekphrastic “tiny heroes

hunting flying grass-

hair butts” from an ex-student.

 

Facebook messenger giggle

threads nearly daily

with ex-student writer friend.

 

#

 

Not my fault but likely got

a student expelled

& yet I still feel regret.

 

Is it the Waldmeister garb?

Everyone asks me

directions on the Mountain!

 

Suffocating poetry

festival panel:

Happy, two friends to sit with.

 

#

 

An invitation to watch

a friend’s family eat

chicken, vegetables for all.

 

“He thinks everything he says

is a pearl”—a brown

pearl, a soft brown oblong pearl.

 

[This gratitude haiku is

in breach of Facebook’s

Terms and Conditions of Use]

 

#

 

A session on the Holy

Mountain, the Living

Room, Eichendorff Anlage.

 

The Extending the Table

cookbook my sister

gave us years back used daily.

 

Everything for tomorrow’s

Basic Raw Vegan

Protein Overnight Oats on hand.

 

#

 

A damp, cool, April Monday

morning; walk signal

turns as I step to the curb;

green buds heart high on

pussy willow; chickadee

trio met on Mont

Royale for palmseed breakfast;

lithe black Lab mongrel

mindless joy hunting squirrel,

redpink tongue aflap;

retiree, I imagine,

crouches down before

March End Prill, camera balanced

to film the melt stream.

 

#

 

Feeding the Mountain

chickadees again this time

four & lower down.

 

Fritz Lang on meeting Goebbels

& high-tailing it

out of Germany on YouTube.

 

Realizing a friend’s “today’s good”

status updates are

his own gratitude haikus.

 

#

 

Rainer in Heidelberg e-

mails me RE: a fish

& crow for a new haiku.

 

I’m here! Chickadees call; in

among roots, under

a bench two tiny Chipping

Sparrows; standing still

roadside a Mallard I could

look in her black eye;

white underwing then bark grey

back of a Cooper’s

Hawk pair; trunks and branches arch

a hall for birdsong;

quack honk pair call overhead

two Canada Geese.

 

#

 

Haematite & red

jasper pendant stones gifted

from friends worn daily.

 

#

 

Overhead overheard a

sparrow hen’s sighing

invitation to her cock.

 

Searching for chickadees I

spot a hawk broad wings

spread glide in two slow circles.

 

The gratitude haiku I

could write every day

about my Bedrock of Love.

 

#

 

More to be grateful

for today than seventeen

syllables can say.

 

#

 

Kisses waking me

three times last night after three

days cities apart.

 

Discussing poems

& coming to understand

some matters are style.

 

#

 

One martini to

dissolve pedagogical

moronicity.

 

#

 

Sunday morning sun warms rain

wet pavement; German

summers rise to memory.

 

#

 

Sitting myself free

from an intoxicating

toxic old mentor.

 

Getting progressives

have fought so much against they

forget what they’re for.

 

That uncanny first

green of grass & full foliage;

May in Montreal.

 

#

 

Scholarly duties

discharged—time to write & read

& think—poetry!

 

Morning walk to school;

chance meeting with Adrian,

gentle bookseller.

 

#

 

Distant Keel scholar

friend reads my latest poems:

“More soon! Herzlich, d.”

 

Brunette shoulder-length

mop, fair-face toddler; behind-

soother grin, “Bonjour!”

 

#

 

Doktor Pfeiler asks to read

“Bochum” at the Ruhr

Uni Anniversary.

 

#

 

France outlaws food waste;

Neckar gulls rise & circle

Hölderlin’s tower.

 

[Dear friend, the pseudo

haiku means thanks for the news

& Celan’s poem!]

 

I read hash high mice

horny but too stoned to climb on

yawn then lick themselves.

 

#

 

Tropical muggy

Montreal summer monsoons

cooling afternoons.

 

#

 

Despite knowing better grave

nostalgia wins out;

music of my youth.

 

#

 

Day after I’m told

chemo’s on the horizon

Archer season six.

 

#

 

The chick says Feed me!

The cock says Fuck me! The hen

says Leave me alone!

 

Message with Georg

about how The Walking Dead

is a great Western.

 

Every day Petra’s

home not teaching I ambush

and stroke her soft skin.

 

#

 

The naturopath

asks if I was an athlete

in my younger days.

 

#

 

The inanities

of my fellow travellers

to Toronto end.

 

Cloudless skies warmer

than forecast; little Grey Goose;

yellow fields like home.

 

The wisdom of George

mindful of his feet; Uncle

Andrew’s belly breaths.

 

#

 

A baker’s dozen

sparrows flutter dust bath tubs

in reno dirtsand.

 

#

 

Three hot tropical

I imagine days; frozen

red grapes to snack on.

 

#

 

Rigpa, Amor, learning, Poesie:  what more do I need in my life?

 

#

 

What I have to say to you friends needs more than a haiku’s syllables

 

#

 

Couchlock or sitting full lotus, meditation bench, or straightbacked chair

 

#

 

Empty the cache, re

boot, meditate, and get back

down to the real work

 

 

New Chapbook: Blank Song / sangue blanc

Though it’s been six years since my last trade edition, March End Prill, I haven’t been utterly unproductive.

leukemiaSunday 26 November I appear with four other performers at Montreal’s Words and Music show where I’ll launch my new chapbook, Blank Song / sangue blanc, that collects recent, miscellaneous poems along with the collection’s title sequence that addresses my recent experience with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

The show happens 20h30-23h30 at the Casa del Popolo, 4873 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. Entrance is CAN$6.00.

Copies of Blank Song / sangue blanc, in a limited edition of 26, lettered, signed, and handbound by the author will be available.

The event’s Facebook page is here https://www.facebook.com/events/201784977033640/

Coming (back) to Jakarta

This week, files concerning US involvement in the massacres following the anti-communist coup in Indonesia led by General Mohammed Suharto in 1965 were declassified. Their reception illuminates both that dark time and continuing efforts of the US establishment to mitigate that involvement.

A by turns harrowing and clear-eyed poetic probing of this time is Peter Dale Scott‘s Coming_To_Jakarta_300_444Coming to Jakarta, the first volume in his monumental Seculum trilogy ( which includes Listening to the Candle and Minding the Darkness). If poetry can be “news that stays news”, then maybe a rereading of that first volume, if not the trilogy, is in order.

Happily, Freeman Ng has recorded Scott reading the entirety of Coming to Jakarta, supplemented by Ng’s interviewing Scott after each part concerning that part’s genesis and details.

My appreciation of Scott’s Seculum can be read here.

 

Some Questions for David Bradford on the Publication of his Call Out

David BradfordDavid Bradford is the author of Nell Zink Is Damn Free (Blank Cheque Press, 2017) and Call Out (Knife|Fork|Book, 2017). His work has appeared in Lemon Hound, Prairie Fire, Vallum, and, most recently, Faded Out and Toronto Lit Up’s The Unpublished City. An MFA candidate at the University of Guelph, he splits his time between Toronto and Montreal. Call Out launches in Toronto at Knife|Fork|Book on October 6th. This interview was conducted electronically during the heatwave that engulfed Toronto and Montreal in late September, 2017.

Poeta Doctus:  Which poems or poets are important influences or models for you, i.e. which inform what and how you write and why? Are there other arts—music, cinema, theatre, etc.—that influence or inspire your poetry?

David Bradford:  In a way, this is a tricky question. I came back to poetry about three years ago, after years away from it fiddling with a bunch of other things that weren’t quite my thing. So, when we talk about my influences we’re talking about the people that got me back here. Wallace Stevens teaching me about opacity. Fred Moten and Nathaniel Mackey teaching me about the music I was taught to leave behind. Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets teaching me about self-incrimination, new narrative depths, hybridity. Tyrone Williams teaching me about complicating identity. Mary Ruefle teaching me about emergency. Renée Gladman teaching me about slipperiness and the generativeness of failure as a subject. Rebecca Wolff’s Warden jostling something in me about a mean kind of speed I’ve been moving toward this last year. Dawn Lundy Martin slowly creeping up on me, like an ear worm. These are some of the folks and things I’ve been in conversation with for a while.

Then there are the things I know continue to impact me, I’m just not sure how yet. A.R. Ammons’s recording of “The Mechanism” comes to mind, which I’ve returned to dozens of times.  Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels is one of the most riveting, brutal, oddly tense films I’ve ever seen, and tells me something about mannerist political strategies in collaboration I’m still unpacking. But sometimes it’s just a principled practice that inspires, you know? Like in Gerhard Richter Painting—how the painter claims, now fifty years into his practice, to still have no idea what he’s doing. I remember him being asked when he knew a work was done. And he said something like, “when I can’t think of anything to do to it anymore.” I deeply relate to that kind of desperate, intuitive grappling with the work. That way of working has been a crucial influence in me figuring out how I work.

PD:  Lately, you’ve moved to Toronto and expanded your poetry-related activity, as an editor for the Knife|Fork|Book chapbook series, as a contributing editor to the newly re-launched Lemon Hound site, and as a delegate to the International Festival of Authors. How has this move and expansion influenced your writing?

 DB:  I’ve been lucky. I think the place I’ve made for myself in Toronto has been a matter of right place and time for me. It’s interesting to think I only had a few weeks in Toronto before Jeff Kirby opened up the bookshop. So, in a way, I don’t really know a Toronto poetry scene that doesn’t have K|F|B in it—both as a poetry shop/hub and publisher—and that’s made a big difference in how open the Toronto poetry community feels to me. There’s a real excellence in how generous the scene is right now, and I’m glad to have learned what folks like Kirby, Hoa Nguyen, Jacquelyn Ross, and Kate Sutherland have taught me about what community can be. And the work of what that can look like as a collaborative component of my practice is something I’m invested in figuring out.

Being involved in Lemon Hound, on the other hand, has given me an opportunity to delve into research I’ve been circling for a while. I’m currently finishing up some work about Fred Moten’s latest, The Service Porch, in preparation for his visit to Montreal. It gave me a chance to reread several of his books, track down some harder-to-find lectures, and earmark work and people he’s in conversation with that I need to look at more closely down the line. I’m also looking forward to writing a couple of things around Renée Gladman’s writing and drawing practice, and am pondering something about M. Nourbese Philip’s upcoming book of essays, Blank. I think I’ll be doing that kind of work indefinitely, with Lemon Hound, elsewhere, and on my own.

As for IFOA, I’m still not sure what to expect. I’m hosting a handful of talks and attending a bunch of roundtables. I’ll also be writing a piece for the IFOA blog about my experience as a delegate. Otherwise, I’m very much looking forward to the chance to meet some more of my people.

PD:  One element of poetic art of concern the past hundred years has been the line; there was even “a conference for writers” held at the University of Winnipeg this spring, Writing the Line. I know you have reflected explicitly on how you articulate the line in your poems. How do you handle this element of the art? Which others (voice, diction, imagery, figures of speech, etc.) are important to you and why?

DB:  I think I learned from a handful of people that I want my voice to give way to what moulded it. And I’m always invested in resisting or questioning the kind of personal-wisdom-making rhetoric we see in a lot of lyrical poetry. At best, I’m trying to collect and arrange the debris of an inquiry, a kind of rigorous not-knowing. For me, that means often taking advantage of the jarring construction of figures of speech, an often jagged, deliberately messed-up grammar, and a very physical, simple diction deployed way out of its wheelhouse.

The line, though, is probably the most crucial element in deploying all of it effectively. It’s the building block to the architecture that will make the above as relationally disorienting and generative as I want it to be. In a way, I think it’s a matter of my process getting me farther from the sentence and closer to words as a material—all in an effort toward a non-linguistic end, with the line as a key mover in that mix.

Like, I think a lot about the imprecision of language—the inevitable gap between exactly what we think we mean and the word(s) we use to say it—and find it increasingly useful to think of it as a built-in feature to exploit. As in, talking and writing come alive when we take advantage of English’s inadequacies as we arrange its pieces together—experiment with them, really—in working through what we’ve got to say. Short lines (four to five words, in my case, most of the time) can help me multiply the tension of the arrangement. And give it the brain/breath rhythm to hold it in movement. And work against any rhetorical display of knowledge that I find emerges in more easily recognized and legible formal structures.

PD:  I wonder if your feelings about “the imprecision of language” might spring in part from your being fluently bilingual, raised as you were on Montreal’s South Shore. Speakers of more than one language know first hand how languages fail to map one-to-one onto each other and consequently how there’s a gap between word and world. Does your being bilingual play into your poetry? Can you detect any way French might exert an influence on your English texts?

DB:  Ha! You know, I’m reminded of how when John Ashbery died just a few weeks ago, my first reaction was, “He wrote some of the best translations of French poetry I’ve ever read!”

Interestingly, I think the biggest impact of French was as my point of comparison in realizing how highly manipulatable English is. I can honestly say I was a better French speaker (and writer) right up until I entered an English CEGEP (where we first met!) and started writing. At which point the excess of French’s Latinate influence on English became apparent—not to mention how much English has, over its sprawling colonial history, soaked up from other languages. But also: English is nimble. French is one of those languages that’s just difficult to write—and one that it can feel like you can only write two ways, correctly or poorly. With my starting to write English, suddenly style came into the mix. And coming from such a rigid, rules-heavy language—one which cannot be figured out by ear—I took to it quickly. And suddenly I was a writer.

 PD:  Despite the relative rigidity of French for you, have you attempted to write prose or poetry in French, or given thought to translating your own work (the example of Samuel Beckett comes to mind)?

 DB:  Unilingual English-speakers ask this a lot. I find it astounding that Beckett managed it. And managed it well. I’d love to think I’m a Beckett, but let’s face it, none of us are Beckett. Although, ironically, my favourite Beckett novel, Watt, was composed in English.

Honestly, I think the rigidity of French put me off the writing-in-French idea terminally. It’s a language I had to work very hard—and which a lot of people, honestly, have to work very hard—just to write adequately. Let alone artistically. French literary culture (not to mention Québec’s) reflects that pretty starkly, I think. So, yeah, no thank you.

I’ve started digging into French poetry, though, with an eye toward translating into English. Slowly, I’m finding things I may like to work on. Time will tell.

 PD:  At least one of your poems deals explicitly with race. Is this consciousness of race a constant? What about other, related, concerns, such as gender or class? Where do these considerations leave a trace on your work?

 DB:  There’s this thing bell hooks said in a talk once that stuck with me. She spoke about how it may feel like your exceptional enough when you’re young that race won’t matter in your day-to-day, but you’re going to figure out how false that is as you get older. I feel that. I came up in some very white places and very white schools and a lot of these predominantly white liberal rooms were wholeheartedly invested in convincing us we were done with all that race stuff. That at least those in the room were done with it. That we were beyond that. As long as we kept acting white enough.

That disconnect between the post-racial, “we don’t see colour” point of view and the simultaneous imposition of white criteria is a mind-fuck. And being back in an institution now, I’m reminded how much it can also be gendered, class-based, middlebrow liberalist criteria.

I’m also reminded how Concordia was one of those places for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I realize my time in the school’s creative writing department did a number on me, and the extent of it took a long time to map. I remember opening up Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio for the first time, maybe 6 months after I got back into poems, and thinking, “This is the kind of stuff I was trying to work toward when I was 20, and was told to stop…” The poems there thrived on precision over clarity, as well as disorientation, music, code-switching, improvisation, an overt blackness, all wrapped up in very complex philosophical and political inquiries. At Concordia, I’d been told to: back off the music, make sense, be clear or die. Over and over again. Things that didn’t seem coded at the time but were. And the worst part is it was just passive; a kind of white wash slurping over everything. The general consensus from my teachers was I had talent, but the place my work was headed back then—a place invested in music and experimentation, a haptic relationship to others’ work, precision over clarity—was nowhere. That there was an inherent misconception in investing myself in what read as musical, improvisational, dense and “colored” work. That’s how I entered the program as an experimental poet and left it as a conventionally lyrical one. And stopped writing poetry for a long while. And had to relearn many things, and unlearn many more, when I came back to it.

So the traces now: they’re everywhere in my work. In a roundabout way, I think I needed those years between stopping and starting again to get started on understanding what mattered to me. I was 24 when Obama was elected and I stopped thinking of myself as a poet. I quit drinking, I quit the Montreal’s very white, very turfy writing community (I was only ever on the inner edge of its periphery), and with the help of friends, mentors, and partners, I worked my way into conversations with feminism, intersectionality, and vulnerability. I grew more radical and less angry. More receptive and less difficult. I learned to critically engage with the privileges I lack, and to better interrogate those I have. Ultimately, I figured out how to start writing my blackness by figuring out how to write about things like class and gender.

So, when I write poems, they’re always coming from an intersectional, experimental, black voice, whether or not race, gender or class are addressed directly in the work. That relationship to language I described earlier, it’s there in the trace of the parts that make me. It’s there in the people and traditions worked into my flesh, trying to decolonialize the language that was never intended for me. And it’s there working to align my aesthetic concerns with my ethical ones, even in a poem about being sad in the bathtub.

PD:  You seem, here, to relate musicality to race, to a certain extent, but this seems odd:  there is undoubtedly a kind of workshop aesthetic that stresses plain-spokenness, but there is, at the same time, a very strong tradition of sonorous verse in (white) English-language poetry, both canonically and in contemporary Canada:  it wasn’t too long back that the influence of Seamus Heaney on the poetry of Ken Babstock or Tim Bowling was lamented. And, in terms of the fetish for clarity, one can point to the recent debate between Matthew Zapruder (championing a kind of accessibility) and Johannes Göransson (who argues for strangeness). What then is, I wonder, the relation between race and a poetry of the signifier over against a poetry of the signified (to use a somewhat old-fashioned language)?

 DB:  Hm. I don’t think it’s odd. I think I relate a certain kind of musicality to race, but not in a preternatural sense. I just mean the musicality that goes into my poetry isn’t white-coded. And I’m not interested in writing stuff that’s white-passing.

For instance, I’m reminded of something Andre Alexis said in a talk last year at IFOA. A friend asked him, in a master class, if he felt a responsibility toward a Caribbean, and more specifically a Trinidadian, readership. His answer was a flat no.

I think it took hearing him refuse the responsibility to start going full tilt in the other direction. I think the most radical, powerful, helpful thing I can do for writers of colour who are just starting out and looking for their voice and coming up against the latest iterations of white (and gendered, class-based, middlebrow, etc.) criteria that it took me years to recover from and work around is: try to provide them with an example of a writer of colour working hard to be themselves, to voice their concerns, to live an intellectual, literary life, without erasing their colour. To help convince them their point of view, identity-wise, can and should exist without bleaching it out.

Moten and Mackey are examples of that I’ve pointed to above that were formative for me, Simone White and Nikki Wallschraeger are excellent ones I look to now, but I’m also happy to say it goes beyond poetry. A book that comes to mind is last year’s Man Booker winner, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. It’s such a smart, political, intellectual, hilarious-but-dead-serious, razor-fucking-sharp book, all while being written in one of the blackest voices I’ve read in years. It’s hard to describe how powerful it is to read a book like that—to see that part of yourself represented without hearing it watered down, without any other part watered down. It’s a book that was turned down by 18 publishers, he claims. A fact that speaks, as he puts it, “to the kind of fiction we are ‘allowed’ to write.”

I just want to allow myself to write whatever I need to write. And what I need to write, turns out, is increasingly best placed in the black radical tradition. And there’s a sonic trace to that, and it’s not Seamus Heaney’s. Hopefully, that helps enable a handful of 20-year-old black and brown kids (and white kids too, of course) to stick to their fucked-up music. And not lose the years that I did.

Anecdotally, when I asked Alexis if he had read The Sellout, he said he hadn’t. But he was really, really looking forward to it.

PD:  How would you describe or introduce Call Out? How does the work in your new chapbook relate to others of your poems?

DB:  It’s funny: Call Out is the oldest part of the manuscript I’m working to finish up. It says a lot about a few places I’ve been headed in thinking through the intersections described above in discussing voice, race and process. It’s political and personal, and highly invested in a kind of ontology of uncertainty I’ve come to really need and value.

In reality, Call Out became my way of grappling with the implications of call-out culture by turning a necessary call on you, one of my oldest friends, to explore the complications inherent in the nuance at play where the target is a loved one and not merely reducible. It’s not something I thought I might ever share. It’s something I needed to write essentially to you, and which you were incredibly accepting of, and generous in talking out—speaking to the full portrait I tried to present, I think, in the work. So, with your blessing, I sent it out into the world.

While the long poem emerged as a series of slow, fugal false starts building toward a sequential whole, soon after K|F|B acquired it I decided the work wanted to be modular and set on cards. In fact, I have never read the work in sequence and have arranged both short and long versions of it to perform, dramatically altering the focus of it along the way. With K|F|B publishing it, I wanted to ensure the reader could physically reorder, omit and emphasize the poem’s parts in order to construct a different poem as I have in performing it. I wanted to force them to investigate the shifting tone and ethics of the work as they, too, rebuilt it. I wanted the cardholder to face the biases they were authoring as they took shape.

Kirby, amazingly, has gone all-in in indulging the concept of the work as a kind of choose-your-own-call-out. I’m happy to say it will appear as a set of 20 or so gorgeous cards, numbered on the back. And will force the reader to implicate themselves as they choose what parts to leave in or out, and which to shift into and out of focus. Considerations I experienced when I composed it.

 

The Day Sid Marty Didn’t Kill Andrew Suknaski

This Labour Day seems a critical mass of synchronicities:  yesterday, John Ashbery’s death was announced; the final two episodes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks:  The Return were broadcast; and this morning a memorial to Canada’s (Saskatchewan’s?) Andrew Suknaski appeared. Even more, the anecdote it concerns took place at exactly the same time I was writing my first poems under the tutelage of John Newlove, “then writer-in-residence” at the Regina Public Library, who was kind enough to introduce me to Andy.

All this seems to urge a wider dissemination of Sid Marty’s article, which you can read by clicking on the portrait of Andy, below.

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