An interview with Clementine Morrigan

 

Clementine Morrigan – writer, filmmaker and professional tarot reader– is about to release her second collection of poetry The Size of a Bird. Soliloquies Anthology web content editor, Megan Hunt, recently sat down with them to chat about its upcoming release.

 

Megan Hunt: How has your writing evolved since the release of Rupture in 2012?

Clementine Morrigan: I wrote Rupture in active addiction and early sobriety. It’s a work that comes straight from [a] place of struggling to survive. The Size of a Bird grapples with some of the same themes as Rupture: trauma, violence, addiction, desire, but it does so from a different place. Writing for me is deeply tied up with my own process of recovery, healing, and growth, so as I change, so does my writing. 

 

Hunt: Your poem Anyway, which was published in Soliloquies 21.2, discusses the dirt of Toronto’s Don Valley river.” I know our poetry editors were especially drawn to the last line “but I love the water/ like I love myself:/ anyway”. How does The Size of a Bird continue to tackle these questions of what is good and lovable versus what is ugly and therefore unlovable?

Morrigan: My work is deeply invested in loving and staying with what is, even as we work towards healing and justice. Anyway looks at the relationship between loving my traumatized mind and loving this polluted, deeply harmed world, and then using that love as a starting point for the work of justice, healing, and change. The Size of a Bird explores the intersections of trauma, sexuality, and desire. Despite dealing with heavy themes including violence, addiction, and suicide, The Size of a Bird is a book about survival and hope and the power of staying alive. I am really interested in demonstrating that as survivors of violence we are literally fucking magic.

 

Hunt: “You have described The Size of a Bird as “refusing to shy away from difficult topics.” How have you worked to maintain this honesty within your writing? Has the way you approach this honesty and rawness changed?

Morrigan: I write about a lot of things which are considered to be taboo to talk about. I write about sex and desire, trauma and surviving violence, and especially the places where these converge. My writing is often described as raw because of the way I engage with these themes directly. My relationship to these themes has changed, and deepened as I have grown in my own recovery. But my commitment to writing about the things I have always felt silenced and shamed about remains strong. My writing is a magic spell, an attempt to carve out space for our secrets, to name the things we are not allowed to talk about.

 

Hunt: You’ve also released a zine series, Fucking Magic and it mentions your position and privilege as a white person and colonial settler in Canada. How do you think white writers can work to acknowledge privilege in their works and literary communities, and why do you feel it’s important for you to do so in your own writing?

Morrigan: As I explore themes of violence in my work it is important for me to name and to recognize the violence that grants me access to the land I am living, and writing, on. Within literary communities an important part of this is promoting and supporting the work of Indigenous writers, Black writers, and writers of colour.

 

If you are interesting in reading  The Size of a Bird, it will be available to purchase after its Montreal launch on October 12th, 2017. The event is being held at L’Euguelionne, 1426 Rue Beaudry, and starts at 6pm.

 

Soliloquies 22.1 Call for Submissions

Soliloquies Anthology is looking to start off the new school year iwith sparkling work from emerging and established authors.
We want smart, confident work from a multitude of perspectives, schools, and backgrounds.

Please send us work that knows how to dance on the edge of the precipice.

Submissions are open as of tomorrow September 11th until October 5th at midnight. For more information on how to submit, look here.

Call for Editors 2017/18

Soliloquies Anthology is currently seeking applicants for our 2017-2018 Editorial Committee. We are Concordia’s undergraduate literary journal that publishes both in print and online, giving students the opportunity to gain valuable publishing and editorial experience. We are hiring for the following positions:

  • Social Media Editor
  • Web Content Editor
  • Poetry Editors
  • Prose Editors

Next year will be the 22nd volume of Soliloquies Anthology—a journal which has since become an established part of Concordia and Montreal’s literary community. If you have a strong interest in publishing and wish to contribute to our Editorial Committee, please submit a 300 word cover letter and a relevant CV to soliloquies.concordia@gmail.com.

The application deadline is April 11th at 11:59pm. Please see the further information on the available positions below..

The Social Media Editor is one of the Online Editors on staff. The Online Editors are dedicated to generating an online presence and increasing readership and contributor outreach. The Online Editors work in collaboration to orchestrate and curate Flash Fiction contests and any online contributor engagement initiatives affiliated with the journal. The Social Media Editor manages the journal’s social media presence. They are responsible for regularly uploading content to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and (in cooperation with the Web Content Editor) to the website.

The Web Content Editor is one of the Online Editors on staff. The Online Editors are dedicated to generating an online presence and increasing readership and contributor outreach. The Online Editors work in collaboration to orchestrate and curate Flash Fiction contests and any online contributor engagement initiatives affiliated with the journal. The Web Content Editor actively produces content for the website, including interviews with past contributors, multimedia content, and articles on current events relating to the journal or literary community.

Poetry Editors review, curate, and work with contributors to prepare their work for our publication. Poetry Editors may work with other genres of writing in addition to poetry. Poetry Editors engage with their genre as writers, readers, and members of the larger literary community, and align with the aesthetic tastes of the journal as a venue for poetry.

Fiction Editors review, curate, and work with contributors to prepare their work for our publication. Fiction Editors may work with fiction, non-fiction, and drama submissions. Fiction Editors engage with their genre as writers, readers, and members of the larger literary community, and align with the aesthetic tastes of the journal as a venue for fiction.

All members of the Editorial Committee contribute to other aspects of the production of the journal, outside of their job descriptions. They actively participating in editorial meetings, offer suggestions for the development of our journal’s reputation, and assist in the execution of our publication, launch parties, and other contributor engagement initiatives affiliated with the journal. Interests and skills beyond the scope of the job description are an asset.

Preference will be given to applicants who are undergraduate students in the English Literature or Creative Writing program. Editors must be Montreal-based Concordia students through the 2017-2018 academic year. Email us at soliloquies.concordia@gmail.com for any further inquiries.

Soliloquies 22.X: Call for Managing Editor

Soliloquies Anthology is currently seeking a Managing Editor for the 2017-2018 academic year, to work in collaboration with the Editor-in-Chief. These positions are a great opportunity to gain valuable publishing and editing experience, and to contribute to the literary community on campus.

The Managing Editor works closely with the Editors-in-Chief to perform the day-to-day operations of the journal. The Managing Editor contributes to various aspects of the anthology’s executive operations, including:

Responsibilities for the Managing Editor:

• Organizing the production of our bi-annual print publication, including submissions, printing, and dissemination
• Oversee online Soliloquies Writes content, social media accounts and our relationship with Montreal’s literary scene
• Maintain the archive of past publications, editors, and contributors
• Aiding the Editor-in-Chief with the management of the editorial committee, particularly overseeing media
• Correspondence with contributors, venues, publishers, and other external parties
• Planning the launch events and overseeing other initiatives

Qualified applicants will have some interest in the publishing industry and excellent organizational and managerial skills.

To apply:

Send an updated CV and a max. 500 word cover letter detailing past editing experience and relevant assets to soliloquies.concordia@gmail.com by Wednesday, March 22nd at 11:59pm. Applicants may be asked to interview through March and early April. Applicants should be prepared to intern for the duration of the 2016-2017 academic year if hired.

Note:

Undergraduate Concordia students who are not eligible for this position but interested in joining the Soliloquies Anthology editorial committee may apply during our April call for editors. Information will be available on our Facebook page and website in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

Soliloquies Writes: An Interview with Laura Broadbent

Julia Weber, Poetry Editor: First of all, congratulations on the publication of your second book In On The Great Joke (Coach House, 2016). I’d like to begin by asking you about the title. Do you remember the first time you came across the expression The Great Joke”? I was once told that by the end of my degree in the humanities I would at least be “in on the joke.” This was presented to me as a sort of resolve for a future of minimal job prospects. Did you ever have a similar conversation?

Laura Broadbent: Thanks! I can’t remember the first time I heard the phrase, though I like to think of it as what happens when we are born: out of the vagina and into the joke, on our way of being in on the joke (death). I probably heard the phrase for the first time in elementary school when I was finally let in on a joke rather than being the butt of it. As the book’s title, “In on the Great Joke” is a ludic little description of knowing that the things we believe aren’t what we think they are – a direct wink to Buddhist and Taoist thought.

As per the humanities comment, yesI was told that plenty. I’ve been in on the post-humanities-degree joke now for two and a half years and in that time I dropped out of my PhD twice, I published my second book, I taught at Concordia and La Salle, I wrote freelance as a copy/content writer/editor for a bunch of different companies, I catered, I cut hair, I’m now managing Drawn and Quarterly full-time, and I’m helping develop an artist collective called Godberd. I’m applying for grants, writing articles, and writing my next books in the mornings. It’s not as much of a joke as the ‘lol-good-luck-with-post-humanities-degree’ admonition implies. Though I had plenty of more-than-broke spells, terribly sad spells, and I grew my first gray hairs. Life itself is the great joke.

JW: Part of what I love about your work is how often you weave philosophy from a variety of traditions into your pieces. For example: In “Lao Tzu Applies for a University Position”, you imagine what a post-secondary syllabus by Lao Tzu might look likehow in working as a professor he might “gently exploit the rigid systems that articulate our institutions”. In one of your earlier poems,Between A and B” from Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining? (Invisible Publishing, 2012) you use the mathematical language of the Ancient Greek philosopher Zeno to grapple with questions around the formation of identity. Can you speak a bit about your understanding of the convergences between Eastern and Western philosophical traditions? What elements from either canon do you find most engaging?

LB: Both traditions are animating forces in my life – they animate my creativity, my thinking and refine the structure of my values. I wish there was a convergence between Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. There are many books on the subject of said convergence but honestly, much of these attempts are largely dismissed. Meanwhile, many Western theorists or philosophers (like, say, Deleuze) ‘come up with’ theories that have actually existed in the East for decades if not thousands of years. In short and in my opinion, Western philosophy and theory has often thought itself into its own corners, yet still refuses (or refuses to acknowledge) the guidance of older, non-Western thought.  It seems to me that the Western tradition egotistically and defiantly isolates itself in myopia and looks upon many eastern traditions with derision (if it looks at all) which is just a petulant, adolescent thing to do. I honestly think of the Western tradition as a precocious teenage boy – he gets A-pluses, he’s doing his PhD at 17, but he’s totally unbearable in crucial ways: he’s precocious, but not wise, and he’s proooobably sexist and racist.

The old and tired Freud/Jung dichotomy in academia is exemplary of this. In academia (aside from religion and theology), if you sincerely reference Jung or think him a serious and viable scholar, you will be dismissed as much as Eastern Philosophy is, simply because spirituality is considered implicit to thought. Honestly I think Freud was exceptionally brilliant and groundbreaking, but much of his theories were/are limiting if not damning (especially to the female species) while Jung’s theories were and are so generative. Plus he’s exquisitely nuts – look at his Red Book. Honestly an abstract part of why I left academia is because Jung is literally laughed at and thanks-but-no-thanks to being surrounded by a bunch of neurotic Freudian dudes. It’s about as comfortable as being naked in a meat freezer.

That said, I’m an ardent student of Western thinkers, to say the least. Ultimately I am after wisdom, not just disembodied cleverness, so what I do is I converge and bridge elements of different traditions within myself – they speak to and enrich each other. I didn’t answer your question specifically because I find many elements of both traditions highly engaging. Western philosophy has a preoccupation with investigating what constitutes the Self and how and why, while a lot of Eastern thought is concerned with dismantling that self and how and why. Philosophy is supposed to be about the love of wisdom and the search therein but I find nothing wise in an exclusive canon, which the Western Canon is. I mean, where are the women, even, let alone other traditions? It’s certainly not because women and ‘foreigners’ are not capable of rigorous thought, it’s because the Western canon was curated by a snotty-nosed trust-fund boy.

JW: Both OTYAICSYIIR and In On The Great Joke are concerned with the limits of language and problems of translation. Do you have any advice for someone dealing with these frustrations? Whether in writing or in day-to-day interactions?  

LB: Well, with the frustrating limits always in mind, what I try to live by are these:

  • In writing – be playful with language. Bend words to point to what lies outside of words (that conundrum, that thing that is both so close to and elusive from our lived experience).
  •  In day-to-day interactions, say as little as possible and and when you do have to speak, make it concise or speak in koans.

JW: During Concordia University’s Writers Read event this Fall where you read alongside Lisa Robertson, an audience member asked about the role of the self in poetry. Robertson said it was important for her to get rid of the self entirely. If I remember correctly—let me know if I’m mistaken—you agreed with this sentiment. I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit. As you know, there’s a tendency in the West to associate poetry with the personal, lyrical I”; to conflate speaker and writer—especially in the works of female-identified poets. You definitely have a voice in your work, and yet you move effortlessly in and out of the voices of others: deceased writers; jealous men; two personified sides of a brain. Would you define this as your process of “getting rid of the self”?

LB: A line in my posthumous interview with Lispector has everything to do with this. She says, “If I say “I” it’s because I don’t dare say “you” or “we” or “a person,” I am the you—are.” This is everything to me. “I am the you-are.” Why I am often really candid in writing or interviews is because I don’t hold my “I” as a precious – it could easily be you, or anybody. I am not special and it is very important that I know this. Life is special, and I am part of life. So in that way I am just as you are and pylons are. And the different characters or voices I inhabit in my writing could just as easily be me – the ‘I” can be entirely fluid if you let it. Then there’s the more spiritual or mystical aspect of this, as in “God” can only be an expression through oneself if that sense of ‘self’ is removed. A Buddhist definition of true music is when the musician is rendered an empty bamboo—hollowed out from the inside so the air (Spirit) can flow through it and create sound. As opposed to a pejorative sense of emptiness associated with hollowing oneself of the self, it is a very full and complex emptiness, maybe like dark matter. Anne Carson’s titular essay ‘Decreation’ is all about this and about how three different hardcore mystic femmes went about this. I think one thinks that they’d lose their identity or become schizo[phrenic] if they ventured too fully into the ‘no I’ territory. But for me and in my experiments with this it is a profoundly liberating experience that opens me to this huge cosmic joke.

JW: Finally, in your Short Film” pieces, the genre of screenplay informs poetry and vice versa. What is it about the cinematic form that attracts you most? And: have you seen any good films lately?

I see things as films in my head – I think a lot of people do. The “Short Films” honestly just appeared in my mind’s eye and I went with it. I see them so vividly. Aesthetically I saw them very much resembling the vignettes in the film “You the Living” directed by Roy Anderson. The tone of them tooslightly absurdist, darkly comic, but also carrying a lot of weight, Roy Anderson does that well. I just wanted to see if I could get away with it, and to explore the possibilities of working within those parameters. I really want to get my Short Films made.

The last movie I saw was “Hidden Figures” with my mom. It’s a Hollywood film, not terribly artistic, but I just approve of any film that celebrates the intelligence, grit and grace of women, especially women of colour. Last film-film I re-watched was Close Up by Abbas Kiarostami whom I revere. 

 

Laura Broadbent is a writer, and the author of In On The Great Joke.

Soliloquies Anthology 21.1 Launch

            At this point in 2016, to do any more grieving or reflecting or preaching about loss & doom and work & hope is sheer tautology; yet here I am, writing a review of last week’s launch of Soliloquies Anthology’s 21.1 edition and I don’t think it makes any sense to attempt avoidance of the aforementioned depression that we’ve all been stuck in. This year has been brutal, painful to look at, difficult to endure, and it can’t (and shouldn’t) be ignored.

The fact that we have the time, resources, and freedom to gather in warm rooms to listen to friends and strangers read stories and poems (things that they have created) is a testament to our privilege, and this is (continually) a necessarily difficult thing to grapple with; however this does not make the event (the coming together, the literature, the love) any less amazing or worth celebrating.

It was a Tuesday night, it was cold out, and exams were being forced into lives that barely have enough space for sound sleep. Despite this, the turnout at Divan Orange was impressive; people filed in, hung up their coats (Divan Orange has a coat rack!), and found room at tables, along the walls, and eventually, out of necessity, on the floor. This edition of Soliloquies proudly published several new writers for the first time; Nahrin Youkhanna, Michael Lottner, Bronwyn Haney, and Ryan Tellier published impressive poems of varying sensibilities and intensities. Among the lines that they shared on this evening (which can be found in the journal) listeners met postcards to Anne Carson and “Damascus at night […] smoke rising”; the massive spaces beyond and in-between the limits of “the eye of language”; the solitary lover reconciling the “desire to desire / many things—” with amazing words like “psithurism” [whispering, or the sound of the wind moving through leaves and trees] (perhaps the wind, too, desires many things); and a monk sitting, eating, walking, trying to do everything and nothing, as simply as one may “grow wings!”. In similar fashion, Elizabeth Smith, Mark Grenon, and Evan J. Hoskins held the attention of the audience with care and force. These are writers I was previously unfamiliar with but each took the stage and read in memorable ways: Grenon delivered the short lines of “Black Box” with meticulously weighed and measured breaths; Smith led us through her story “Amazing Grace” with an abundance of it; and Hoskins sped through numerous images and voices (within and without his poems), aiming for gravity and laughter.

This Tuesday was the last official day of the semester. Some things ended, other things began, and most things remained the same—totally unobserved. What was observed, however, on this night, was (incoming: something you’ve heard a lot of and will continue to hear in the days to come) the importance of continuing to make things in a world that with every passing day is more at risk of being unmade. These things may be beautiful, they may be violent, they may be hard to describe in any categorical way; one thing, though, that they definitely will not be, is trivial.

This edition of Soliloquies Anthology is something we are very proud of. One of my professors closed his end-of-semester email to our class by saying: “I certainly learned at least as much from you as I taught”. This is a sentiment that I’ve witnessed in my peers and mentors before, and something that I personally feel more and more of these days. There could be no learning, no growth, no creating (of which there is no end so long as we continue) without cooperation. We, therefore, are indebted to you for your participation: your writing, your patience, your performances, your attention, and your space–in your hearts but also in reality (s/o to Divan Orange!). Thank you for doing what you do. We at Soliloquies wish you a restful holiday—if you’re taking one—and look forward to returning in the new year re-energized, to do the work that we have decided is worth doing. We hope you feel this way too. Submissions for edition 21.2 open on January 9th. See you then.

— C.G

 

 

Writing, Speaking, Reading, Listening: In Tandem with Lisa Robertson and Laura Broadbent

What is the shape of a sound? Is a sound the essence of a word, the word being an accident of a sound, or is a word the essence of a sound, the wellspring of meaning to which everything returns? And what is the word’s colour? The sound’s weight? What metrics do we use, consciously and not, when engaging with the page or the speaker? Where do we locate them–the text and the author, the sound and the speaker–in time and space? What can we learn if we commit our closest attention to our poets?  

When I arrived at Concordia’s York Amphitheatre, which was housing a reading by Lisa Robertson and Laura Broadbent, the room was already almost full. I was five minutes early; there would be no punk-time tonight. The air was charged with a kind of excitement that is not always present at poetry readings. I found a seat at the very back and watched people find space on the floor, stairwells, and along the walls—pretty much anywhere they could fit.

I went into this event knowing virtually nothing about either poet. Earlier in the day I participated in a marathon reading and performance of Robertson’s 1998 Governor General’s Award finalist Debbie: An Epic, which I absolutely loved. The event was organized by Writers Read and it gathered nearly twenty writers to grapple with, interpret, and reify Robertson’s dense poem as a group, through choral speech and movement throughout the English department. For an hour and a half the group occupied hallways and stairwells, filling the otherwise silent spaces with the incantations and lamentations of Debbie, making the text into sound–and that sound into something physical, embodied, visible. The Writers Read organizers are focusing their energies this fall on hauntings–how literature, its texts and readers, oscillate between visibility and invisibility, permanence and impermanence. This weekend they start their Off The Page series, which includes readings by authors like Evie Shockley and Trish Salah, as well as collaborations with The Void and Soliloquies. Last weekend, however, I went in blind–gleaning only what Tatum Howey and Tessa Liem chose to reveal and celebrate in their introductions.

When Broadbent began speaking, even before she read any actual poetry, the focus in the room tightened; when she read from her suites of poems, the crowd became an admixture of casual observance and palpable catharsis. Her poem, “Things Said In a Domestic Setting”, in which two lovers try to describe what the other means when they say “mean things that mean mean things”, generated waves of laughter that rose and fell with the grace of the poem itself. From her most recently published book, In on the Great Joke, Broadbent read Lao Tzu’s hypothetical application for a professorial position at Concordia, in which he describes with cosmic candour, his syllabi and teaching methods. The poem was light by nature but heavy by way of profundity; I could feel each chest lighten with every laugh, each mind sink into tranquility with every insight–the size of the universe doubling” as each person became more comfortable in it. Broadbent’s measured use of sound, the masterful delivery of her circular poetry, the sensitive and innovative appropriation of timeless wisdom: life made harmonious.

Robertson approached the stage differently: she leaned into the microphone and just started reading. Almost instantly my sense of time dissolved. I was struck by how unusually slow she was speaking, how she seemed to be nailing every word to a different focal point in the room as if weaving a psychic web among the audience—breathing her will into the ecosystem of every syllable. As she continued I became dislocated from the actual poetry, uncertain where and even if poems were ending and beginning. I found myself hypnotized by her cadence—which was relentless—and the seriousness with which she was constructing these worlds in speech. I felt I was listening to someone who occupies some region on the margin of space-time, as she recounted scenes and experiences with extreme, almost omniscient precision. This individual, with her ultimate purview, has the power to reveal to us things that we may never apprehend about ourselves, or the world, with her words–with their shape, weight, colour, and sound: life made extra-sensible.

Listening to Broadbent and Robertson read was an incredible privilege. It was an experience of the power of sound to communicate what is fundamentally human—not just linguistically, but intuitively—by the sheer force of being spoken. But above all it was a showcase of generosity. Having spent eight years at Concordia, Broadbent’s sincerity was unaffected—in her performance and responses. And when Robertson was asked who she would consider her literary precursors, she responded that she would like to consider herself writing in tandem with everyone engaged in the art—with Virgil, just over 2000 years removed, with Broadbent, standing right next to her. On this evening these two poets contributed masterfully to the tradition of tirelessly distilling life lived into sound for the benefit of those willing to listen.

— 

Books by both Robertson and Broadbent can be found at the Concordia Co-op Bookstore. Information on upcoming Writers Read events can be found here.

— C.G

 

“Passenger”

My mother is driving me home from Christmas. For the first time, I think to ask her if she was a virgin when she got married. And I am 24 and truly shocked. I am thinking about being a child between the ages of 4 and 9, watching my parents’ wedding ceremony on VHS, I am thinking about “getting married” at 19 because we wanted to move in, and I am thinking about avoiding the conversation about the white dress altogether by buying a blue and yellow dress. I am thinking about being 21 and my mother asking how many abortions I’ve had. And still, lately, I am thinking about having children.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Lizzie Derksen is a writer from the Canadian prairies. She lives on 118 Ave in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner Dylan and Simpkin the cat. She’s working on a collection of short stories tentatively titled Modular, which will double as the portfolio by which she hopes to win the affections of at least one MFA program’s admissions committee. She’s also moving into the editing stage in the production of Build God, a short film funded by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and shot in Saskatchewan in August 2016. She’s also pouring beer at The Empress.

Charles Gonsalves in Conversation with Daniel Perry

Daniel Perry is the author two short fiction collections: Hamburger (Thistledown, 2016) and Nobody Looks That Young Here (Guernica, 2018). He was recently in Montreal and I got a chance to chat with him after he read at the “Lit Pop Number 1 Year Beginning Bonanza” (Lit Pop features amazing writers on the last Sunday of each month at The Brass Door–if you missed this one you can redeem yourself in a couple weeks). 

C: Do you ever find yourself repeating formulas in your writing? You’ve been at it for some time now, having penned your earliest story in 2006 and the most recent in 2015. I imagine that that would become a possibility.

D: No, if I do find that I’m repeating themes I have to ask myself why that’s happening. Over a long enough time I can usually realize what’s going on and how to do it better.

C: In an interview for Prism Magazine you said that you feel a piece is complete only when you can no longer stand to look at it. Is there any advice you can perhaps think of to give someone who struggles to know when their editing has stopped being effective?

D: By day I’m in the advertising industry, and I walk past a David Ogilvy quote on my way to work every day: “Perfection isn’t when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away.” I cut my teeth as a newspaper copy editor and as a communications officer. What I’m getting at is that my instinct is usually to go shorter. I’ll often write a flabby draft, then cut it to the bone, and only put meat back on where it’s needed; a lot of what gets cut is never thought of again, though.

C: It’s appropriate that you should use a meat metaphor to talk about your writing. The title of the book you’ve just put out is Hamburger, so I have to ask: what do you think about the meat industry?

D: Oh boy. I, uh, have a very rational objection to the meat industry and a very irrational love of meat. I love to eat meat and I eat meat all the time despite knowing that it is extremely bad for the environment and probably very bad for me. When you think about it, it seems more and more like the case that meat is a huge mistake that we’ve made as humanity, and yet, – bacon.

C: Would you eat a hamburger grown in a lab?

D: I may already have, I have no idea. But yes, in theory, definitely. If it tastes as good as the real thing, for sure.

C: In an interview for Pages Unbound you were asked about the relationship of labour and creative work, and for The Town Crier you said that, to your mind, one’s work is inseparable from one’s life—that “our obligations and expectations say a lot about us”. I can’t help but agree and would like to ask you to elaborate on how your work and your art may cross-pollinate with respect to method, execution, and expectations—professionally and personally.

D: I expect that I will always have to do work other than my writing to make a living. I’m not sure everyone who’s attempted to write (successfully or otherwise) has had the same expectation. I think some writers and other kinds of artists are really disappointed by the reality of having to earn an income from a job they’d rather wasn’t their full-time job. But as concerns my own full-time job in the advertising industry, I sometimes wonder if I might be reverse-engineering stories: instead of being free to make up whatever I want, I have to work within constraints that aren’t my own to come up with solutions. It might be comparable to wind-sprints in preparation for the longer race day that is writing and editing my fiction.

C: For Prism you also talked about following arbitrary rules slavishly, and this answer echoes that sentiment. Both remind me, in a way, of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. Have you heard of them? Do you like Eno? And do you ever apply this kind of thinking to other areas of your life?

D: No I haven’t, and I only know Eno vaguely, as a producer. As for strategies, I try not to think about it too much. If anything there are ways that I try to find space in my life. I actually play a lot of sports, which is valuable to me because I’m always thinking about so many things. But when I’m on the ice all I’m thinking about is the puck, where is the puck, how can I get the puck. I also run a lot.

C: Writers that run always remind me of Murakami.

D:  Ah, yes, that was the first Murakami that I read actually. But yeah, I run until I’m not thinking anymore; it’s not necessarily a runner’s high for me, but eventually it’s just me and my feet, and I’m doing something where that is the only thing that I’m doing.

C: I recently discovered this idea, that movement generates relief, in one of the Russian Futurist painting manifestos of all places. It’s obviously meant in a pretty specific way there, but can be interpreted in this way too: that if you just move you will inevitably relieve yourself of whatever is literally and figuratively in your way, blocking you.

D: That’s it.

C: So that’s how you relieve yourself of stress related to your work, but I’d like to ask you about the other side of the process. How do you justify what you do? You’ve already enjoyed a lot of success, and things should logically only keep getting better for you. Despite this, most people on our planet, even most people that read books, will never read your work or know who you are. What do you say to that?

D: I think in the fact that there is no practical reason to do any of it. That’s possibly one of the best reasons to do it really. You’re not doing it for fame or money, since none of that really exists for writers. I think I do it maybe for a sense of play, freedom, space, where … I don’t know, I think it might come down to part of me just says do it because you will go crazy if you don’t. I’m compelled to express myself and whatever the results of that are I’d like to think that I’ll continue to do it. Setting up expectations that are bigger than the satisfaction of completing the work is the wrong way to go about it, I think. If it’s out there maybe someone will love it, and maybe that’s enough. That’s kind of a wandering answer, but..

C: Well maybe it’s appropriate that it’s a wandering answer, because that’s kind of what we’re all doing whether we’re writing or acting or practicing medicine. None of us see the real end—it’s actually precisely at the end that we stop seeing.

D: Yeah, you challenge yourself too. Can you think of something new, can you set your own bars higher, can you can satisfy yourself—can I do that.

C: Is there anything you dislike about literature?

D: Well I have a complicated understanding of prize culture I guess, or the commercial aspect of literature. The idea that if something sells well it must be great or if it wins prizes it must be great, that the forces at play here kind of squeeze out everything else, that there might not be enough space for everyone.

C: To speak about space and career-ends some more, maybe you will be able to recall the interview in which DFW predicts that no matter the degree of success, in commercial or alternative veins, writers will inevitably continue to reach smaller and smaller audiences (by way of an increasing number of virtual non-readers and an increasing number of people publishing writing). In an article for the New York Times earlier this year, Eileen Myles reflected on how there isn’t enough work for everyone and said that men should stop making art for roughly 50-100 years. How do you react to this? How do you continue to (should you attempt to?) reconcile your identity and passions within contexts of deepening resistance, criticism, or allyship? How much space do you see in your art for politics? Would you consider making such a political space by not making art?

D: Myself, I won’t stop; I don’t think it’s productive for anyone to silence themselves, to be excluded or to feel like they have to exclude themselves. The question reminds me somewhat of two arguments I’ve heard about different topics in recent years: one is Michael Lista, blaming the lack of funding for Canadian literary journals on the fact that there are too many of them and saying some should be done away with so that the truly good ones (whatever that means) can prosper; the other is Dave Eggers’ contention (about something other than literary journals, granted) that less isn’t more, but rather, more is more is more is more. There are journals in Canada that only publish women, or that focus on writing by/for/about a given ethnicity; there are book publishers entirely or almost entirely for queer writers; I also know of a liberal-minded literary magazine published in pdf only by a couple of older white men that proudly declares on its cover that it’s “a magazine for fifty people”. I bring up these examples because I do like to think that any magazine or book publisher starting up today would be doing so out of a desire to provide more space for literature that doesn’t seem to have enough space at the moment; I also like to think that any magazine or book publisher that’s been around at least a couple of years understands why it’s important to publish diverse authors. Unfortunately, I also understand that it doesn’t always work out so well, and that the same hegemony continues to repeat itself to the systemic exclusion of non-male, non-white, non-heterosexual writers. My short answer is: fewer men making art or making decisions about which art gets exhibited, published, funded, reviewed, rewarded with prizes would probably be a good thing, but that I’d rather see better men than no men, by which I mean men who are conscious of their privilege and who endeavour to make space for non-men who’ve been (intentionally or otherwise) pushed to the margins.

C: So there is a space in-between the two extremes that men should aim for, a space in which perhaps the most creative—and political—thing they can do is to make space, but not necessarily remove themselves from an entire world altogether.

D: That’s it. White, male, English speaking—there is a legacy and it is a bad legacy. So everyone needs to make the necessary effort to make spaces safer, more supportive.

C: Last big question: In literature there are any number of moments that one would call sublime, but I often wonder how often writers actually experience or witness moments of the kind of intensity they create in their stories. When was the last time you had a ~sublime~ experience?

D: I guess my most recent kind of moving moment was this week. My high school English teacher just passed away. It was one of those things where we had not stayed in touch—not for any ill-will but there wasn’t necessarily any good-will either. I loved his class but it was just one of those things. Anyways, my book came out, I tried to reach him, and learned that he was very sick. I wasn’t able to talk to him. And then I found out that he passed away. I was hit with this sense of loss for the four months fifteen years ago or something. It reminded me of Whitman, this feeling of containing multitudes, the idea that there is a whole section of your brain or your life or your experience that is just dormant, just waiting, and that you can fall back into it anytime, that suddenly you are seventeen again and you are maybe in need of a role model, or someone to believe in you, someone to tell you there is some value in literature, to encourage you to do it. I don’t know if I’d call it sublime, but it was certainly surprising to find this, this kind of a lake somewhere, to end up plunging into it again.

Poetry, Madness, Justice: Where and What and Who

Kafka's
Kafka’s “Three Runners”

As this is my first post as one of Soliloquies Anthology’s Web Editors not mediated by the need to promote our fervent desire for your writing, I thought that I would dedicate it, broadly, to celebrating, firstly, our access to sites of communication and communion like the internet and literature, and secondly, more specifically, briefly raise a question about how these spaces should be occupied, shared, or criticized. To this end, Mary Ruefle’s juxtaposition of insects and humans in Madness, Rack, and Honey should help us reflect on the problems our communities and literatures may face. Perhaps a third point should be made about my trouble with run-on sentences, but I’ll leave that to y’all and just thank you for reading.

Last winter was my first winter in Montreal and, despite its mildness, it bore a new kind of darkness that I had to cope with. A now very close friend lent me Mary Ruefle’s book of essays to aid me in this. Then, this individual could not claim to know me all too intimately, but obviously recognized some place inside me that this book belonged in. And I can confirm that not only does this book belong inside of me but in anyone with any kind of faith in language and awe for the ways it allows human beings to express themselves. There are too many (and not enough) things that I could say about this book, but as I wanted to talk about how spaces, both virtual and actual, should be filled with poetry, prose, criticism—anything human—I will limit myself to talking about only two of Ruefle’s essays. The first is titled “Why All Our Literary Pursuits Are Useless”, and proves itself with exemplary brevity:

Eighty-five percent of all existing species are beetles and various forms of insects.

English is spoken by only 5 percent of the world’s population.

Before reflecting too quickly on these facts I want to present the essay that directly follows this one and which represents beautifully how Ruefle uses a kind of dialectic to reconcile lightness and darkness throughout her book. It is titled “Why There May Be Hope”, and is as follows:

One of the greatest stories ever written is the story of a man who wakes to find himself transformed into a giant beetle.

Our efforts as writers may be futile, but within that futility there is a potential for greatness that can never be anticipated, and maybe never completely explained. The second essay refers to “The Metamorphosis” and puts forth the idea that although the human project of literature may be dwarfed by the presence and indifference of insect life, that absurd relationship may yield profound revelations about our nature and experience on Earth. Ruefle’s book is full of wisdom and advice, both anecdotal and scholarly, that helps one endure not only long winters but calls attention to the ways in which one can express oneself holistically: balancing creativity with sincerity and ambition and responsibility. Responsibility is what I want to talk about next.

I also wanted to talk about Ben Lerner (because who can resist him, seriously), but not without good reason. Lerner is a poet with degrees in creative writing and political theory, and whether you’ve read just his poetry or prose it is impossible to ignore his awareness (and maybe exploitation) of not just the political but the social, economical, and industrial aspects of academia and literature. In The Lichtenburg Figures he “invite[s] [us] to think creatively about politics” while confessing that “we must recall our lines of verse like faulty tires … / and enter the Academy single file.” Lerner is not the only poet to occupy such a fraught position–one that is simultaneously critical of the institutions that he benefits from–but he is an excellent contemporary example, and useful for trying to assess what the value of such a person is. Furthermore, in both of Lerner’s novels, his narrators (who are admittedly ciphers and fragmentations of the author) both suffer from different kinds of illnesses. In 10:04 it may be a heart condition or it may be hypochondria, and in Leaving the Atocha Station anxiety and substance abuse are the afflictions. I bring up madness, not only to relate to one of Ruefle’s foundational poetic tenets, but because it is useful for thinking about responsibility and justice.

Justice is, or should be, the force that guides our conduct. At the beginning of The Republic, it is madness that first complicates how one person should treat another and poetry that is dangerous if misused. This is incredibly resonant for me, and relevant to the conversation about responsibility within communities–literary or otherwise. Whether one’s madness or illness be hereditary, post-traumatic, chronic, or spontaneous, it is hard to see the world through the same lens if you are suffering. And when you suffer you can justify almost anything—right? How do we then hold ourselves accountable in the spaces we share, in what we create, while still honouring ourselves and fulfilling our needs?

I am thinking about justice because it is impossible not to do so when trying to answer the question I initially raised: how do we occupy and share–critically–spaces online or offline, how do we justify what we do? When I ask myself about my creative impulses, I am with more and more regularity also asking myself how I can go about reconciling them with what I consider to be obligations to serve, support, and make space for people in my community. If we want to model our communities how we would like to model the world, these questions assume a lot of importance. So what the heck do we do with our egos if our egos inevitably cause others harm? What does illness permit, what does power demand? When does subjectivity reach its logical end, and how do we know if that end is justifiably amplification or silence? I think these are questions that both Ruefle and Lerner try to answer in their own very different yet equally beautifully complicated ways.

At this point I can’t help but return to insects. Not just because of my love for Kafka, or Ruefle’s essays, or the idea that we move about the hallways of our academies like ants move about their homes (both wonders of different varieties), or because we will likely actually return to them in the sense that they will survive us and once again become the dominant species on Earth—I return to insects because I can’t help but see a striking resemblance between us. Put yourself in outer space for a moment, if you can, and look at Earth. Try to see, simultaneously, all the humans. Now try to see just the poets. What are they doing, how many of them are moving? Observe how even at this level, at a substratum of species-being, we never stop moving, doing, making. Ah! – making – that word that we poets, by our nature, practice, discipline, vocation, helplessness, submission, obsession, responsibility, cannot escape. Where would we go? What does it mean? Who are we living for? What do we owe each other?

I don’t think that this image resolves the problem, and I don’t think that I know any better now, than I did when I sat down to start writing this, what I am supposed to do when I wake up tomorrow. Do you?

— Charles Gonsalves