Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Control Lit Mag was good enough to publish my short story, “Silence” back in June, in their second issue. Given that some of the spacing is off in their journal, I decided to re-post the piece here (and yet, I am extremely appreciative they were kind enough to accept the story). Other stories from the same work-in-progress have been appearing in various places lately (which is enormously cool, including Grain, The Puritan, Matrix Magazine, Atlas Review and Numero Cinq, with another forthcoming in The New Quarterly.

Books themselves take time, more time than most of us are used to giving them.
Ali Smith, Artful


I awoke from a dream of fire. In my dream, I was standing alone in our two-bedroom condo, which morphed into a three-storey Victorian house. The flame was deep. The air sparked.
            White curtains shriveled. The pulse of my footprints burned into the hardwood.
            The fire surrounded me, feral, and grew. It concurrently curtseyed, swung, screamed running, jumped bare boned and stood, stock-still.
I wake, woke, startled. A confusion of tenses. Bedsheets damp at my chest and my belly, smelling of sweat-musk.
Asleep on my left side, I pushed slightly back, jostling against him just enough to hear him grumble, feel his slight shift of torso. Make room.

We settled, both of us, and melted, returned immediately to sleep.


I don’t know anything about you.

At thirteen years old, she salvaged three books of matches her mother had abandoned on the kitchen counter. Each held a busty outline with neon lettering, plucked from her father’s laundry.
            From the back step she caught the firefly of passing headlights sprinkle up from the highway, through summer dark. The evening settled, inch by noticeable inch. She flicked matches, lit, at the moon.
            The moon rose, orange-pink. She did not know the name of it. She did not know that each moon had a name. Pink, Wolf, Harvest. Errant Blue.

The breeze stole the last of the matches and flung it, mid-air, into a stack of cardboard, set resting against the house. Before she could salvage it, flame began to devour. Cardboard refuse smoldering slow from the inside. It took. Burning cardboard, up against brick.
            She panicked. She stomped with her feet and mashed the worst of it out and the rest in succession, ash floating free in small gusts.


What is often most important is what is the most mundane. The jars beneath the kitchen sink. The coupons that created her stockpile. Dish soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cereals, toilet and tissue papers, diapers, wipes, crackers and salad dressings. This is what has kept us, she knows. What stretched them beyond their small incomes. It had helped make them strong.

Her father’s only advice: never pay full price for anything.

She clipped and saved, negotiating the spaces between the world, between commerce and income.

Couponista, she called herself. It was more soothing, even impish, compared to what her husband had named her: crazy coupon lady.


I woke from a dream, which was a dream of fire. My skin was warm, and yet, would not burn. I was hot metal naked, deep through the conflagration. Not a hair on my body was singed.
            In the mirror, I could see only what the fire had left.
            It flickered deep inside me. I felt the flame harden blue, low in my abdomen, resting just on the bladder. The baby kicked, and I became agitated. I feared for my baby, trapped inside with the fire. I clawed at my belly with hands and fingernails, finding little but blood.
            And then I stopped, realizing that the baby wasn’t trapped inside with the fire. He was the fire.
            My skin froze. Water vapour rose from the surface.
            And I was afraid.


According to stories, what Gilles de Montmorency-Laval, Baron de Rais caught first was the smell. It was May, 1431, and he had arrived too late to save the maid, Joan, from her death at the stake.
            The skin blisters, bubbles, burns. Skin blackens, fades and slowly crumbles to ash.

The sight of my old flame: a meaning that didn’t emerge until far later, into the 1840s.
            Joan, burning up into fable, and legend. Cremated, burned alive. De Rais arrived too late, and spent subsequent years killing and burning the bodies of young boys and girls, releasing the scent of burnt flesh. He might have killed hundreds.

He, who has been falsely identified as the model for Bluebeard.

He killed, savagely. By recreating the loss, he had also recreated the moment immediately preceding that loss, when his life with his near-lover Joan was still possible. He burned.
Is this love turned impossibly ugly, or a form of pure narcissism?

Whatever might have been beautiful in him had been broken.


I don’t think I am afraid of my unborn child. A flutter, evolved into a kick. The sensation is impossible to describe, but for what is obvious: the feeling of being kicked from the inside.

I dream cannibal dreams. Sometimes I am ravenous, violently attacking everyone around me, and feeding off the remains. Sometimes I am the one being consumed, from the inside. Like some dark version of Victorian consumption, a cough bleeding into white linen. To waste away in a sigh, the back of my right hand affixed to my forehead.

I am afraid of what I do not yet know. I am afraid of fire. This soft, growing flesh within coincides with but one of those fears.

Most days I am certain which one, but other days, I am not sure.


It is not uncommon for pregnant women to dream of being devoured.
Geena Davis in The Fly (1986), and her nightmare of giving birth to larvae, the result of her husband’s terrible metamorphosis.

They say to know a person is to read what they’ve written. I write in my journal, daily. I wonder what it might say about me.

There is a lonely teenage boy in every pop song.


The way you can see heat in the air outside, shimmer. My father, who once melted aluminum siding along one side of the homestead, unaware of the potential heat generated from the back of his barbecue.

From my third-storey vantage point, a sequence of neighbourhood cats skulk about, each with their own shady purpose. This Saturday afternoon deck, and the yard behind ours, as small children scream through their turns on the swingset.

I am learning to filter out everything.

Monday, July 21, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Steven Seidenberg

Steven Seidenberg [photo by Kevin Killian] is a San Francisco based writer and artist. His first book of lyric, philosophical prose, Itch, was released from RAW ArT Press in January 2014. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, most recently Null Set from Spooky Actions Books, and is co-editor of the poetry journal pallaksch.pallaksch.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Constitutionally dissatisfied with the reception of his work, Kierkegaard postulates a readership only brought into existence by the advent of the work itself, an ideal reader ineluctably surrendered to its pull. He fails to suggest, however, the ways in which the artist is reciprocally conscripted into novel pathways of provenience by the same communal forces, fixed to fit the community such supplication seeks, regardless if that posture takes the form of approbation or rebuke. I wrote in relative isolation for many years before seeking public airing in the past few, and though I can’t entirely delineate the ways in which the turn from the prospective possibility of readers to an actual attempt at the inveiglement of such has changed the nature of what I’ve done since, the distortion of the work by its reflection in a readership–no matter how limited–ongoingly transforms my picture of the project limned by that reflection.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry and philosophy at the same time, other forms of narrative too, which in youthful isolation seemed all ‘of a piece’, an early insight still intrinsic to my work, prose and verse alike. My life as an academic philosopher–now behind me–was equally structured around a reading of the canon as narrative, and the pursuit of the Husserlian epoche–eccentrically understood as the first moment in the construction of a ‘Naturphilosophie’–by chiefly lyric means.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Everything I’m doing responds to what I’m reading, and I often begin with a reading agenda that can take years to complete. Sometimes the writing is coincident with that project, sometimes what happens in coincidence is subsequently appropriated to some other end. In all instances, the product comes from long periods of working and reworking–in the case of Itch, it was a full 5 years of continuous, daily writing and revision.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Fragments composed in aggregation. I almost always conceive of poems in cycle, although I don’t always need them seen within that generative consecution. As a prose writer, I’m interested in exploring a form between lyric aphorism and argument laid out in propositional series–the ‘plot points’ of the fiction turn on the transition from premise to conclusion, to premise again, and the same text read as didactic prose presents fleeting renderings of visceral states as both material for and manner of deduction.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I think of reading as its own work, requiring its own preparations, goals etc. To this end, the enunciation integral to the act of composition is distinct from the ostensive performance of the same.

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

The centrality of philosophical literature to my practice brings such concerns to the forefront, but also makes them difficult to explicate to those not similarly possessed. One begins at the beginning, at the risk of appearing impossibly pedantic and obscure: Kant’s germinal position in pursuit of the limits–thus the possibility–of philosophically coherent knowledge equally yields the confines of any meaningful engagement with ontological concerns, whether of exhortative or aesthetic nature. The system thereby underpinned reveals the compulsory character of the question posed most effectively by Leibniz, most famously by Heidegger (Why is there something rather than nothing?), but with the concomitant realization of the essential failure–the ‘fallacy’ or ‘amphibology’, in Kant’s polemical formulation–that confounds any stab at intelligible answer. A joyous, desperate wallow in the aftermath of this disaster directs my particular brand of lyric eschatology, conceiving of the material superfluity of representational forms as a loophole in the metaphysics of imaginative reasoning.

7 – 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?
I don’t see any one role for the writer, nor any singular culture that can be similarly circumscribed. There are multiple roles in every next cultural convergence, each requiring some new variance of acculturations–an infinite regress of shifting foci, set on shifting grounds. The least common denominator, the dying need not admit of their condition to realize the benefits of hospice.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Neither–not particularly difficult, occasionally useful.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

‘Every position is a failure. The successful failure reveals its necessity.’

(Advice given to me by the philosopher John Findlay, claimed by Findlay to have been given to him by Wittgenstein.)

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to lyric prose to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
All three genres have always been a part of my practice. I do find differences in the character of query available to each, thus the continuing drive to write both poetry and prose. The poetic voice addresses what the narrative voice discovers, and visa versa. My commitment to critical prose has waned in recent years, and generally requires some kind of outside motivation–a request or advantage emanating from some otherwise indifferent quarter.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

It depends on what I have to pay for, what I have to do for pay, and where I am in various reading agendas, set considerably in advance. When I’ve outlined a project, I’ll write for a certain number of hours a day, wage labor permitting. If I’m between contracts, I’ll read for a couple of hours/write for a couple of hours/repeat, and sequester time for visual work.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read and reread. I pace. Play music. Reading while pacing helps.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Pavement drying in the sun. Camphor and old paper.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I also work as a visual artist, and on projects in contemporary archaeology in collaboration with my wife, who’s an archaeologist by trade. In short, I find challenge and novelty in the work of many painters, sculptors and photographers; in various forms of artifact collection/classification; and in simultaneously pursuing material culture analysis through a distillation of aesthetic judgment and analysis of the aesthetic through a distillation of the mechanisms of production.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

It changes in accordance with each present project/focus.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Trout fishing. Learn to use a lathe.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Some form of inductive work, another indulgence of my intermittent (seemingly autonomic) obeisance to the delusion of revelation.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I write in addition to other practices, and each involves an attempt to respond to the quandary (or set of quandaries) explicated above, in relation to which one wants to give to others what one has gotten from them–an ecstatic surrender to this dialectic of antinomies.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Words in Blood, Like Flowers, by Babette Babich

Recently saw ‘The Third Man’ in theatre.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m in the process of revising another book length prose work, called Situ, and in the middle of a long cycle of poems called ‘Exile,’. Also in preparation for a show of photographs.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Renée Sarojini Saklikar, children of air india


This is a work of the imagination.
This is a work of fiction, weaving fact in with the fiction,
merging subject-voice with object-voice, the “I” of the author,
submerged, poet-persona: N—
who loses her aunt and uncle in the bombing of an airplane: Air India Flight 182.

This is a sequence of elegies. This is an essay of fragments:
            a child’s battered shoe, a widow’s lament—

This is a lament for children, dead, and dead again in representation. Released.
This is a series of transgressions: to name other people’s dead, to imagine them.
This is a dirge for the world. This is a tall tale. This is saga, for a nation.
This is about lies. This is about truth.

Another version of this introduction exists.
It has been redacted.

And so opens Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s first poetry collection, children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Gibsons BC: Nighwood Editions, 2013), recent winner of the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry. children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections is an investigative book-length study into the facts and fractures of what has been referred to as “Canada’s worst mass murder”—the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985 that killed 329 people, including 82 children. Working from a vast archive, from newspaper reports to personal stories, Saklikar’s investigation through the material left behind and generated by such an event to create a rich and complex tapestry of grief, absence, rage, incomprehension, compassion and all the internal and external systems that surrounded the trajedy, including the “Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182,” which wasn’t released until 2010, and the subsequent trial and acquittal of the accused: “there is not reconciliation. There is plausible and implausible. / Catastrophic and unreasonable, / Eighty-two children under the age of thirteen. There is time-consuming and / inconvenient. / There is manual and reasonably balanced. There are costs.” (“from the archive, the weight—”). Throughout the collection, poems exist as examinations of what remains, composed as a sequence of autopsies, archaeological studies, explorations and regret at such a loss of human life and potential, reported to and by the narrator, described only as “N”:

Informant to N: in the after-time

My name is [redacted] and my mother was [redacted].
I was three months old when my mother died.
I am without memory of my mother. I am not familiar with this record of events.
June 23, 1985 and after.
I get older. I am her only child.

For such a weighty subject matter, Saklikar’s thoughtful questioning works through language as much as it does through subject, managing a playful display of sound and shape, allowing form and function to ebb and flow, strike and slice as required. Saklikar’s book-length investigation of such a tragic event through poetry is reminiscent of other recent titles by Vancouver poets, including Jordan Abel’s The Place of Scraps (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], Cecily Nicholson’s From the Poplars (Talonbooks, 2014) [see my review of such here] and Mercedes Eng’s Mercenary English (Vancouver BC: CUE Books, 2013) [see my review of such here], each of which explore, engage and challenge a series of dark histories through various experimental poetic forms. As Saklikar writes in the poem “C-A-N-A-D-A: in the after-time, always, there is also the before…”: “each story-bit / a laceration / inside her deep down / secrets / dismembered / one limb after another— / incident as saga, saga as tragedy, / tragedy as occurrence / so what a plane explodes / so what people die, they die every day / in her body, blast and counter blast / (Air India Flight 182) / her story and the stories of other people / interact—a toxin?” As Saklikar, who lost an aunt and uncle in the attack, responded in a recent interview conducted by Daniel Zomparelli for Lemonhound: “My hope for children of air india, which by the way comes to me only now, after the fact of writing it, is that readers/listeners will view it as a site of query, of contemplation: what does it mean to lose someone to murder, on both a micro-level, that is, on a personal level, but also within a macro-context, within a public event.”

Testimony: her name was [redacted]

She was seven years old.
Her mother said: she was full of life.
Her mother said: she was very pretty.
Her mother said: she loved to dance.
Her mother said: she loved music.
Her name was [redacted].
She was seven years old.

Friday, July 18, 2014

rob's (ongoing) editing service: poetry manuscript reading, editing, evaluation

For a few years now, I've been offering, to anyone interested, evaluation, editing and otherwise help with shaping a poetry manuscript for potential publication. I'd be thinking a series of back-and-forths, including notes, questions and revisions. $200 for a manuscript up to 100 pages, or $250 for up to 150 pages.

If you are interested, send me an email at rob_mclennan (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Capilano Review 3.23: Languages


already deep in the macchia, when you
finally edged into view.
Nevertheless, we could not
darken out to you:
ruled by


The lark-figured
stone from the fallow.
No tone, only that mortalbrightness carried

The height
whirls itself
out, more violently still
than you. (“from Schwarzmaut (Blacktoll) by Paul Celan,” Mark Goldstein)

As Jenny Penberthy writes in the “Editor’s Note” for the new issue of The Capilano Review, the “Languages” issue (May 2014) is filled with “Multilingual poetry, ‘the clockwork discourse of Doctor Who,’ the language of invertebrates, the Red River Twang, Chiac, the language of the Psalms, html, and much more. An extraordinary variety of voices and languages is embedded in these pages, each piece a response to TCR’s call for ‘translations of new or old texts, re-translations, comparative translations, experimental translation, language/s behaving in unexpected ways, multilingual writing, older Englishes, mimicry, mis-translation, fumblings between languages, faux-translation, trans-translation, the ‘languages’ of different genres and the interplay between them.’” One of the most striking sections in the issue has to be by Christian Bök, another interplay on bpNichol’s infamous Translating Translating Apollinaire as “Translating Translating Apollinaire (Gallifreyan),” raising the bar on a piece that Darren Wershler once translated into Klingon. Through his sequence of circular visuals, Bök translates bpNichol’s piece into “the clockwork discourse” of Gallifrayan, the language of the Time Lords in Doctor Who. There are some other lovely interplays throughout the issue, some by writers emerging as some of our most challenging and engaged, from Jordan Abel to Oana Avasilichioaei to Liz Howard to Sarah Dowling, as well as more established poets such as Colin Browne, Nicole Brossard, Erín Moure, George Stanley, Rachel Zolf, Peter Culley, Steve McCaffery, Ted Byrne and Stephen Collis. Collis’ contribution to the issue is a translation of Empedocles' Fragment 17. As he includes in his short piece on the translation:

I began translating Empedocles when, after publishing too many books too quickly, I didn’t know what to write, and didn’t want to write anything really. Translation, especially the slowness of translating ancient Greek, seemed the ideal stop-gap—the ideal way of feeding my compulsion, while in some sense avoiding writing. A means of resistance. A brake.        
            Empedocles had been an interest since I re-read the Presocratics while working on a book about change. That dialectic—it struck me as a dialectic—of Love and Strife, of attraction and repulsion, union and division, stuck with me. Everything now especially seems such a tug of war—the things I want to join, defend, and hold together—those things I want to resist, cut loose, disperse forever. To at once love and struggle against a humanity bent on the beauty of creation and the ugliness of destruction. To find these human attributes incommensurable and yet indissoluble. Walter Benjamin: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” How to resolve this? I fear we cannot.

Part of the appeal of The Capilano Review is how each issue works to engage with the visual arts as well as writing. Allyson Clay, who provided the cover art, has a sequence of paintings reproduced in the issue, “Groundsplatpink,” which she writes of to introduce her section: “My recent body of paintings, collectively titled Groundsplatpink (2013/14), stems from my longtime fascination with how paintings, particularly abstract paintings, are written about and described. Such descriptions are ubiquitous in art history texts and catalogue essays dealing with modern and contemporary painting. Books about painting tend to concentrate on surface treatments. (Interesting writing about painting can also be found occasionally in ‘how to’ books on painting.)” Really, there’s an enormous amount of worthy material in this issue, and far too much to write about in a single posting, from the synaesthesia works by Nyla Matuk, visual works by Margeaux Williamson, Michael Turner’s essay, “Text-based Public Art Works in Vancouver,” and Colin Browne’s exploration of Apollinaire’s Vancouver. Well known as being a translator as well as one of our finest poets and thinkers, Moure, for example, includes “A tale of a translation in process: François Turcot’s Mon dinosaur,” composing an essay as a sequence of journal entries:

I’m almost halfway through a first draft of Montrealer François Turcot’s fourth book of poems, a homage to a father, his father, and a co-presence with the final days of co-being with his father. And, après, a meditation on his absence. It is a Book of Hours, lost by the father and rewritten by the son. The book accompanies me eerily in these first months that follow my own father’s finale, in Edmonton.

Here, almost halfway: what does it mean to be almost halfway? Time’s membrane?

As well as a piece by Brossard, there are three translations of her works, by Amy Butcher, Karen Ocaña and Lary Timewell, who writes:

love cobbles its unreal span, a fragile above
among animals amongst words among doves

in the present continuous we wake, are awoken
repossessed of now as our own, the body s/urges
all possible plurality, ecstatic narrative of
the continuum caresses, (each)
tendril-exfoliate, (each) root of (each)world
knows this a confoundment / an exhuberance

babies boom all day, full-bodied from the hip, become
‘boys & girls’ rolling out from (onto) flat tradition script

to be ‘just & fair’ in the ‘near & far’, lost
realms & sentiments & solitudes require
vertiginous words & animal names, energies given that
in dreams from genre & gender escape