Friday, February 27, 2015

Joanne Page (d. February 20, 2015)

Sad news from Kingston: after an extended illness, Kingston poet Joanne Page has died. She was the author of three poetry collections: The River & The Lake (Quarry Press, 1993), Persuasion for a Mathematician (Pedlar Press, 2003) and Watermarks (Pedlar Press, 2008) [see my short review of such here].

In 2012, while writer-in-residence at Queen's University, poet Phil Hall founded a lecture series in her name.

A short interview exists here at Open Book: Toronto. A larger author bio exists here, at the Kingston Writers Festival website.

Her obituary, from The Globe and Mail:
PAGE, Joanne
(nee Bowles)


On February 20, 2015, at age 71, Joanne died in the home she loved in Barriefield. Beloved wife of Steve, cherished by Geoff, Ian and Vero, doting 'Grandma Joanie' to Zoe and Elliot and 'Bean' to Anna, loving sister to Patsy (Jim). She will be deeply missed by her extended family and her many good friends. She had a natural talent for friendship, and cemented it with voluminous correspondence both written and verbal. She touched many lives.
   A talented painter in her early years, Joanne spread her wings when she and Steve moved to Kingston. For five years she wrote the 'In Other Words' column in the Whig-Standard, dispensing wisdom and common sense on feminist issues of the day. From there she turned to poetry, with 3 published books (the last of which - Watermarks - was nominated for a Trillium Prize). Sadly, the onset of metastatic breast cancer cut short her writing life. Joanne was an active participant in Kingston's literary community, and in 2014 Stan Dragland, delivering the annual Page lecture at Queen's University (a series named in Joanne's honour) celebrated her work and its ongoing contribution to Canadian literature.
   We were able to keep Joanne at home until the end thanks to the devoted caregiving of Jean and Ana, and the palliative care-at-home program (Dr. Connidis) Thanks also to Drs. V. Mohr and G. Linn for being anchors for the past 5 years. In lieu of flowers, donations in her name to the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario (through the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation, 55 Rideau Street, Suite 4, Kingston ON K7K 2Z8) would be appreciated.
   As per her wishes cremation has taken place, and no funeral service will be held. Her life will be celebrated at an event in the spring.
   In care of SIMPLER TIMES CREMATION SERVICE 613-389-7223 /613-382-3683 On-line condolences www.simplertimes.org

Thursday, February 26, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Sims

Laura Sims is the author of three books of poetry: My god is this a man, Stranger, and Practice, Restraint (Fence Books); her fourth collection, Staying Alive, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2016. She edited Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson, a book of her correspondence with the celebrated experimental novelist (powerHouse Books), and has also published five chapbooks of poetry. Sims has been a featured writer for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog, and has been a co-editor of Instance Press since 2009. She teaches literature and creative writing at NYU-SCPS and lives with her family in Brooklyn.

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?
My first book made me feel like I’d been rubber-stamped “poet” at last. Now I can look back and laugh a bit at that imagined sense of legitimacy, but…it’s how I felt. It also made me start thinking in terms of “books” vs. “poems.” I became more likely to write a few poems in a similar vein and think “this is a new book” instead of “this is a new poem”…even though there’s never any guarantee, of course, that there will be a next book.

My recent work is truly a departure from my earlier work. In the last two years, I’ve begun to feel like I’ve exhausted my particular voice and style and a new voice and style have been bubbling up from the depths. My new work is still dark, but there’s room in it for levity and playfulness. The poems are still short, but they’re more congested—with words, images and ideas—so there’s less space on the page, and less mental space inside the poems, too. I think of them as my “mid-life crisis” poems since they’re grounded in an age-specific frustration, bitterness, and impatience, but they also have a certain swagger that I don’t think I could have pulled off as a younger writer.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to all of them at once, actually—I wrote a book at age 5 that included poems, stories (deeply indebted to my favorite books), drawings of ballerinas, and one essay on the relationship between Native Americans and the deer they hunt. But I got “serious” about poetry in high school, when my 9th grade English teacher encouraged my poems, and from then on that became my chosen métier. I have occasionally written essays and reviews, though, and I’ve recently started to get serious about returning to fiction. 

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?

Usually a new direction for my work starts suddenly—I write a poem, and it’s somehow different, and then if I write a few more like it, I recognize that it’s building into something larger. Right now I’m writing poems in a voice that takes me over—so the voice is dictating this new direction, this new series. Whenever that voice quiets, I’ll be done.

I usually write a first draft pretty quickly. My first drafts are awful, overlong and bloated with excess. After I write that draft, I put it away—I don’t tinker with it immediately. Then after some time has passed I look at it again, and cringe at most of it, but hopefully find a line or two worth saving; I start over with those. And then I write another draft, and winnow down from draft to draft until the poem starts to emerge.

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?
See answers to questions 1 and 3! Though I will add: usually a poem starts with a line I’ve heard or read, or one that pops into my head.

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

I do enjoy doing readings, once I’m there and in the moment, but I find that when I have several readings scheduled in a relatively short period of time, I feel scattered and too unfocused or rattled to write. So I guess I’d say readings are counter to my creative process, though they are also creative events in themselves. What’s “created” at a reading when your work meets a live audience is more fleeting, of course, than the daily work of writing, but it’s also more socially satisfying. And if part of the work of writing is about connecting with other human beings, then readings must be an important part of the writing life, the writing process.

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?
Why are we here, how did we get here, why do we die, how will we die, what happens after we die, who am I, who are you, who are we, why are we like this, what made us like this, why do I love you, why do you love me, how long does this not knowing go on?

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?
Our role is to be marginal to the culture at large, and in our marginality lies our ability to look at the culture at large and reflect it, destroy it (in words), rebuild it (in other words), embody it, critique it, embrace it. I think this is exactly what the role of the writer should be, so even though I would love to see, say, Susan Howe on a billboard instead of Taylor Swift, if we were ever co-opted by the culture at large it would probably destroy our capacity for art. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think it’s always difficult to have others look at and evaluate your work, and sometimes it’s painful, but it can be fruitful, too. Can give you insights into your work that you couldn’t have had yourself, because you’re too close to it. Working with an editor (whether that’s a professional editor or a trusted friend) can change your work and develop it in deep, meaningful ways. Or not. In which case, you can simply ignore the edits.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Do your own fucking work.” –David Markson, given to me directly

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

I formerly moved between poetry and critical prose much more often than I do now. I always found it very challenging but mentally rewarding to move between the two – from one genre (poetry) that allowed me to speak from someplace deep and inexplicable, to another (critical prose) that forced me to iterate and explain my response to a work of art, and make that response intelligible and valuable to others who might read it. Writing critical prose is always good brain work, I find—it forces me to use my brain in a way that poetry simply does not (and vice-versa). It makes me feel like I’m back in school, grinding my brain against words in a really satisfying way, a way that almost feels like hands-on labor. But, of course, isn’t. Now I move between poetry and fiction—most days I write a little fiction and tinker with a poem, too. Fiction requires so many things of me that poetry does not – like character and plot development, for instance – but poetry remains for me the genre that takes me to the deepest and most wholly satisfying place.

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?
My day begins early, when my son wakes up. But after he goes to school, I sit down and write for several hours. Before having kids, I never had a routine, and I would write in unscheduled bursts. Now I’m extremely scheduled and even efficient. I can’t afford not to be—I no longer have any time to waste.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

It depends. I always, always turn to reading fiction for sustenance and rejuvenation. If I’m not reading a good novel, I feel out of whack – creatively and existentially. It’s not exactly inspiration (though it can be), but somehow the narrative flow keeps me…in line, in tune, and generally sane. I turn to other poets, too, of course – to my friends’ work, or to work that I’ve always loved, like Dickinson and Stein. But sometimes I turn to TV or film—lately The Walking Dead has been (entertaining and) inspiring me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Old wood warmed by the sun.

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?
Film is the most influential other medium for me; other forms of visual art—like paintings, photography, sculpture, installation art, etc.—have also been influential. Indie rock & pop music, too.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, David Markson, Rae Armantrout, Diane Williams, Lorine Niedecker, Denis Johnson, John Berryman, Gertrude Stein…those are a few longstanding loves for me.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish fiction.

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?
Is writing an occupation? I’ve had to do all sorts of things, occupation-wise, while also being a writer. I’ve taught and done administrative work; I’ve copy-edited other people’s manuscripts and tutored students privately. I expect this will go on and on as I continue to be occupied with writing.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing is something I’ve always done. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Poetry: Bough Down by Karen Green

Novel: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara or My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Prose: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison or MOTHERs by Rachel Zucker

Film: Boyhood or Zero Dark Thirty or Her

20 - What are you currently working on?
The manuscript for my next poetry book, Staying Alive; a series of poems tentatively called “The Olga Poems”; a young adult murder-mystery novel; and another as-yet-unmentionable prose project.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, February 23, 2015

announcing: VERSeFest 2015, March 24 – 29, 2015

The schedule for our fifth annual poetry festival, VERSeFest, is now online!

Readers to this year's festival include Alessandra Naccarato, Amanda Earl, Anne Compton, Anthony Bansfield, Arleen Paré, Armand Ruffo, Artemysia Fragiskapof, bill bissett, Claire Caldwell, dalton derkson, Daphne Marlatt, Deanna Young, Dennis Cooley, Eric Charlebois, El Jones, Emily McRae, Emma Blue, Forrest Gander, Frances Itani, Frederic Lanouette, Gail Scott, Gary Geddes, Geneviève Bouchard, Gilles Latour, Gillian Wigmore, Herménégilde Chiasson, Ikenna Onyegbula a.k.a OpenSecret, JC Bouchard, Rational Rebel, Jeramy Dodds, John Akpata, Kande Mbeu, Kathleen Goulet, King Kimbit, Komi Olaf, Lillian Allen, Lisa Jarnot, Lise Gaboury-Diallo, Lorna Crozier, Margaret Michèle Cook, Marilyn Dumont, Marshall Hryciuk, Mehdi Hamda, Michel Therien, Nick Laird, Nicole Brossard, Patrick Friesen, Patrick Lane, Paul Vermeersch, Pearl Pirie, Raúl Zurita Canessa, Roland Prevost, Sacha Vachon, Sandra Ridley, Sheri-D Wilson, Stan Dragland, Stephen Brockwell, Steven Artelle, Stevie Howell and Titilope Sonuga. See the entire schedule, including author bios, information on tickets (as well as a number of free events) (and even how to volunteer) here.

The Factory Reading Series is once again participating, with lectures by Armand Ruffo and Lisa Jarnot.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Katie L. Price

Katie L. Price is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Fence, the Journal of Medical Humanities, Canadian Literature, and Jacket2, where she serves as Interviews Editor.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I haven’t published my first book yet, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. For quite some time now I’ve been working on two related projects—BRCA and Sik. While I, at times, have viewed them as macro and micro versions of the same kind of poetic work, I’m currently trying to see if I can successfully combine the macro and micro elements into a single volume that combines the best of both. BRCA was always meant as a grand gesture, and Sik a minute surgical procedure. But the landscape of contemporary poetry has changed since I began work on BRCA, and now it feels more appropriate to produce a series of surgical procedures that, together, amount to a grand gesture.   

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to difficult and experimental literature. In high school and college, I realized that what I found most exciting and invigorating in literature was marketing itself as poetry. And I say “marketing” because I find the best poetry often looks nothing like Poetry. Yet, that term seems to give writers a license to be more bold and courageous in their writing practices.  

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?
I only like to write when I have an idea. If I have an idea, I try it out. It happens rather quickly. If it works, I keep it. If it doesn’t, I move it to the scrap pile.

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?
A poem always begins with a punctum, to borrow a term from Roland Barthes. It starts from some small, piercing detail that seems to demand exploration. For me, writing has always been about a larger project; I’m less concerned with individual poems. I’m interested in language that makes interventions into specific discourses, and I this kind of work requires sustained engagement. Writing is always tied to inquiry, experiment, and discovery. I like to explore big questions from multiple angles, which is a project best suited to the book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
It’s always a delight to share my work with others. The process absolutely impacts my work, and readings give me the creative energy to continue writing. It prompts revisions, deletions, and expansions that enhance the work.

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?
Absolutely. I don’t try to give answers, so much as query topics along particular lines. My current work, for example, queries the relationship between language and the body. I’m particularly interested in how bodies are described in clinical settings, and how these descriptions impact clinical practices. In other words, I’m not just interested in how the clinic writes the body, but also how the body writes the clinic. In the clinic, language has very particular uses (to diagnose, to document, to protect against lawsuit, etc.). What happens when we put that language itself under the microscope?

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?
The writer’s only role is to produce writing that is fresh to its reader. A contemporary writer should intervene, disrupt, subvert, challenge, push, swerve, parody, and divert. A relevant writer should never insist, demand, reinforce, proselytize, or preach. I had a conversation with a good friend a few weeks ago in which we concluded that to be contemporaneous now is to recognize that insincerity is the only way to sincerity; humor is our only avenue to any kind of seriousness that might matter. I hope that readers can find insight—through surprise, humor, and the unexpected—in my writing.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The process of working with an outside editor is essential, rewarding, and pleasurable. Good editors bring out the best in your work, push you in new directions, and challenge you to exceed your own expectations. What writer wouldn’t want to cultivate such relationships?

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Art is what you can get away with. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically. You don’t have a brother and he likes cheese.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Writing has never come easily to me. It’s something that I’m always glad I did, but is inevitably difficult to do.  

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?
I like to write in the mornings, read in the afternoons, and write emails in the evenings. My days almost always end with television. As a friend of mine once claimed, “the only thing Katie likes more than weird poetry is twisted television.”

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read. I listen. I watch. I talk with friends. Nothing invigorates me as much as good writing, a gripping show, or a compelling conversation. More and more, I find myself gravitating toward writing that comes from disciplines outside of literature. What can literature teach other disciplines, and what can other disciplines teach literature? This, to me, is our most pressing current question.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Mountain air.

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?

The obvious influence on my current projects is medicine and the medical field. I find inspiration in writing outside the purview of literature. I’m interested in how writing is used by other fields, disciplines, people, and places. What happens to writing when we strip it of its utility? What are the poetics of uselessness?

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I feel lucky to have had extraordinary teachers that introduced me to great writing and difficult ideas: Charles Bernstein, Craig Dworkin, and Brian Kubarycz. Other writers that are important to my work include Beth Blum, Emily Dickinson, Sarah Dowling, Susan Howe, Rosalind Krauss, Mina Loy, Sianne Ngai, Vanessa Place, Lisa Robertson, Gertrude Stein, Michelle Taransky, Orchid Tierney.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish my first book.

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?
I’m not sure I would consider myself to be “a writer.” I’m a reader, thinker, teacher, editor, organizer, and facilitator. I’m deeply committed to creative thought, the arts, and life-long intellectual exploration. Writing always comes from these other activities. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing always seemed accessible to me. There’s something democratic about writing. It’s something I can do over lunch, on the weekends, with a glass of wine, at a park, or—as was frequent in my youth—as a form of protest while sitting in the back row at church.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Sarah Dowling’s DOWN, which was just published with Coach House Press. It’s smart, sexy, engaging, and rewards close engagement—all the things you want in a good book of poetry. For the last five years or so, television has captivated my interest much more than film. I’m currently watching—and forcing all my friends to watch—Showtime’s The Affair.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Sik and BRCA, which are beginning to merge into one project. My current work uses medical records as its source text to query how medical professionals describe the body, sickness, and health. I’m also interested in the connection between textual error, genetic error, and clinical error. In the clinic, a typo can have very real consequences. Conversely, genetic code, itself prone to errors, is the language that dictates our bodies. The clinic becomes a kind of border zone between text and bodies, and this aspect of the clinic fascinates me. My work on these projects began at a very specific moment. I was reading through a huge stack of medical records when I came across the phrase “umor present.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition of the gravity of that phrase (indicating that a tumor was present), coupled with its sonic corollary “humor present.” I suppose I have a dark sense of humor, but this was the punctum that prompted me to begin the poetic work.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;