Dylan Riley: From what I can tell, The Moose and Pussy is based out of Ottawa. I actually spent last summer there, and I can remember a conversation I overheard between two people, one from Toronto and one from Ottawa. The person from Toronto kept asking the person from Ottawa what they were still doing in Ottawa. How do you feel about the idea that Ottawa can get painted as a stopover between two larger cities?
Jeff Blackman: Everywhere’s a stopover town. Montreal’s a stopover for every Canadian going to Europe.
DR: How do you feel the Ottawa writing scene compares to Montreal’s?
JB: I don’t know much about the Montreal scene, beyond what I learned in modernist poetry seminars. A new poetry festival, VERSe, debuted this year. What came of that could be called a reconciliation between the page- and slam-poet communities.
DR: There’s a lot of play with spaces, indents, lack of capitalization, and italics throughout your poem “tower defense (or, our love is like 9/11 and I don’t want to jump).” What were you looking to accomplish with the form of this poem?
JB: I tend to experiment with rules and forms. “tower defense” comes from a time, about a year and change ago, when I was experimenting with multidirectional poetry, which is a term I may have invented just now. The idea was the reader can jump ahead and skip parts, or at least see a separation of ideas. I also on occasion use breaks and spaces to pace a poem. As for the lack of capitalization, that has to do with a desire to uphold proper nouns and characters above the rest of the words. I admit much of this is nonsense.
DR: What’s the intent with the sexual edge to the same poem?
JB: When you’re in a relationship, the sort that aims to last, you’ve got to keep pushing on. That means the sex has to develop, and that means danger, pushing boundaries. For me, those boundaries are articulated in speech. Dirty, dirty speech. In “tower defense” I hoped to express that need to test your lover, especially when that lover is just so damned generous it’s unnerving.
DR: On your recommendation I found another poem of yours, “Mario in Koopaland circa Movember.” Why Mario?
JB: A couple summers back I was walking home from a friend’s in the rain, heavily influenced by this and that, and I had one of those “take a look at yourself” moments: I saw myself walking hurriedly, umbrella clutched, avoiding eye contact with the locals, and realized: what a two-dimensional character! I’d blown off my old Super Mario Bros. 3 cartridge recently and everything just fell into place. “Koopaland circa Movember” was written more recently, the last day of Movember 2010, when, after muttering to friends, “what fools these mustachioed jocks be,” I realized, what a snob I have become!
As for “why Mario? Why keep with him?”: ask a random twenty-something to name all seven of King Bowser’s “Koopa Kids” and you’ll probably get at least four. Ask that same person to name four Canadian poets writing today…well, let’s just say I’m happy to write “genius poems” that have a chance for broad appeal. There’s too much damned retreat-from-society ethos among poets. Let’s at least try to meet the masses halfway, eh?
DR: Are you working on a series of these poems?
JB: These poems aren’t all about me being a jerk, but there is definitely a theme of seeing oneself. My initial plan was to write eight solid poems, one for each of the “lands” of Mario 3: Grass Land, Desert Land, etc., ultimately ending in Dark Land. I’ve had trouble sticking to that, and now, once in a while, I write a Mario poem. A lot of my poems these days that have nothing to do with Mario begin as Mario poems; i.e., I try to express something using symbols and such from the mythology and eventually edit them out.
DR: What about the process of editing the work of other people makes it easier to write your own work? What makes it more difficult?
JB: I’ve only edited little magazines, like In/Words out of Carleton. What makes a little magazine, for me at least, is personal investment. I guess even newspaper editors of major dailies will write copy one way or another. Editing is, in a form, writing. If I edit your poem I am, in a way, writing a poem, using a palette you defined.
I rather believe [editing] makes writing more complex. Reading so many of my contemporaries is humbling and inspiring. When I suggest/order an edit, I make rules which I live by for a while and then discard.
DR: By your own admission you seem to be having trouble drumming up entries for The Moose and Pussy Short Story Contest. Let’s hear the elevator pitch.
JB: Online magazines, statistically speaking and rounded up, suck. When we had a print magazine we’d get a hundred people submitting for every issue. Online, it’s hard to distinguish yourself as widely read, while print magazines are given the benefit of the doubt (there’s concrete proof of readership). We only received a dozen or so submissions by our original deadline, and not one compared with the best stories we’d ever published. It wouldn’t be right to give fifty smackers for a story in a different universe than some of the classics in our back catalogue. That being said, please submit.
DR: Your website’s “About Us” section certainly leaves a lot to the imagination: “We are transforming. That sound you hear is a car part becoming a vulva.” Care to elaborate?
JB: We should probably update that. We used to put out a big ol’ print issue every four months. We’re reaching a lot more people as a web magazine. The occasional chapbook or broadside still gets made, but it was a lot of hassle to keep things fresh while worrying about layout, advertisers, launch parties, and the rest of the mess. The trouble now is keeping a strong amount of content and distinguishing TheMoose and Pussy from a million other online mags. Right now we’re just seeing, playing it by ear, and trying to avoid a concrete definition of The Moose and Pussy.
DR: Have you started planning out a Halloween costume?
JB: The wife and I might do a gender-bending The Monarch/Dr. Mrs. The Monarch.
DR: How is progress on “Oh, Thank Heavens I’m Back To My Old Self Again!” coming along?
JB: Odourless Press requested a sample of my Mario poems and just put them out under the title “Back To My Old Self” (you can hear me read the sextet on CKCU’s Literary Landscapes via Odourless). I’ve been too busy with school and work to focus on a larger manuscript, but I’m hoping this winter, once I’m done my graduate studies, to put a more regular focus on these poems. In the meanwhile, I’m going to try to get “Back To My Old Self” for sale on the counter at the new Chumleighs used games store that just opened here in Ottawa. I just sold them a pile of games so I think we’re on good terms.
DR: Are you sending work out now? Poetry? Fiction?
JB: Poetry mostly. Bit of a windfall right now. Going to be in Burner Magazine (online/Toronto) and Nōd (student print/Calgary) this fall as well. Waiting to hear back on a few others.
DR: Fingers crossed.
JB: This is the first year in my life I’ve actually made money off of poetry. (George Johnston Poetry Prize, second place; VERSeFest opening act).
DR: How do you feel about fees for contest entries?
JB: So it goes. I’ve never paid one. Actually, I tried once, but Arc never cashed my cheque, or, presumably, read my poem.
Jeff Blackman co-founded The Moose and Pussy, Canada’s premiere sex-lit mag, with his partner Kate Maxfield and award-winning writers Jeremy Hanson-Finger and Rachael Simpson. Jeff was recently featured by the In/Words reading series and VERSeFest, Ottawa’s multi-genre poetry bash. He’s been banging out poems about maturity and Super Mario Bros. 3 for a project tentatively titled, “Oh, Thank Heavens I’m Back To My Old Self Again!”
Dylan Riley: The first things that jump out from your bio are the divergent locations — but maybe that’s two questions. First, what’s Finland like? What brought, or continues to bring you, there?
John Barger: I fell in love with a Finnish woman! This summer we lived together in Tampere, in the south, for four months. The whole country is eerie and gorgeous. So much dark. So much light. We visited a birch forest in Lapland, in the Arctic Circle, with five others in a cabin beside a frozen lake. It took two days to heat it. We chopped a hole in the lake for water, cut wood, had saunas at night. One night there were northern lights that looked like green flamenco fingers. The eternals (Väinämöinen, the eternal singer) and demons (Hiisi, the goblin who drowns children in lakes) you read about seem very close up there.
DR: I’m from the Maritimes myself, and I noticed a bit of a pattern. Young people seem to move from an obscure, small, Maritime city to Halifax, then from Halifax on to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver. How do you feel about this, and do you plan on living permanently in Halifax?
JB: I did that: moved to Vancouver at twenty. I love Halifax, but I’ve always felt separate from it. I’m envious of “regional” writers like Faulkner or Margaret Laurence, who can write about a community and have it stand for the world. I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere. My first book, Pain-proof Men, mostly takes place in Halifax, but my next book, Hummingbird, does not have a single poem set there.
DR: But do you feel regionalism can be a trap sometimes, that in a way you’re better off as a writer without it?
JB: Maybe it’s a case of the grass always being greener — because I lack it, I want it. But I love [Charles] Olson’s Maximus poems, and his connection with Gloucester, Massachusetts. It seems like knowing where you are from is a beginning point, rather than an end. Like, once you have place, then you can jump off into the cosmos. I know most of the world lacks this sense of place these days — I’m not unique for this.
DR: “Beautiful Rodney” strikes me as a prose poem. Is this a form you think highly of? One you use often?
JB: I don’t mind if it’s prose or not, if it works. I love some prose poems, like Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End. I like to try to disarm the reader by presenting an accessible (maybe non-academic?) voice and form and (sometimes) narrative. Then once you are inside the poem — feeling comfortable and at home — something shifts.
DR: I like that. Sometimes you do have to trick a reader into reading something.
JB: Do you know James Tate, the American poet?
DR: I don’t, but fill me in.
JB: I found reading him really liberating. Returnto the City of White Donkeys is an amazing book. He writes poems that don’t seem to worry about metaphors or line breaks, a bit like short stories, like micro-novels…you enter one of his poems, and feel lulled by the familiar voice, and then the scene shifts, like a dream. Like, you’re driving on the highway, getting sleepy, when the roadkill suddenly open their eyes, and you don’t know when it all changed.
DR: Do you have any new writing — or other projects — on the go?
JB: After visiting Cambodia this last winter and being blown away at the effects of the Khmer Rouge on that culture, I’ve been writing little hegemonic allegories, like dioramas of imaginary colonized villages. Truthfully, I don’t know how to write about the world falling apart without being zeitgeist or didactic or boring. A revolution seems to occur somewhere in the middle of each poem. At least one is called “Year Zero.”
DR: Are you following the Republican nomination?
JB: I would vote for Michele Bachmann as head of the Shark Eyes Coalition.
DR: Perry or Romney?
JB: I’ve wondered — why do people vote for Republicans? I mean regular, smart, non-rich people. Then it came to me: the Republicans are the fantasy party. We vote for them if we want to join in the fantasy that the American dream is still possible and relevant. That is, the illusion that we can all get as rich as Schwarzenegger; that consumerism works; that this democracy doesn’t guarantee a certain part of the population must be out of work and destitute; that the environment is not falling apart; that everything is all right.
DR: I guess we’ve lost your vote. But who are you reading right now?
JB: Joshua Trotter’s All This Could Be Yours, and Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People. The Best American Poetry 2011. And King Lear, to teach.
DR: What are you avoiding right now?
JB: I’m tempted to say I’ve been avoiding nothing, but the truth might be that I’ve been avoiding tranquility. I’ve been in a confrontational phase, as if I’m wearing a small sign around my neck saying, “LET’S FIGHT ABOUT BS!”
DR: What are you avoiding reading right now?
JB: Novels. DeLillo’s Underworld. The second book in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
DR: I know the feeling — I read the overture to Swann’s Way and now I talk about it like I’ve read the whole thing. Have you read much DeLillo, or any of the other postmodernists? Is this something that could come up later in your poetry?
JB: I think I’ve read every DeLillo besides Underworld. His characters sometimes have a kind of clairvoyance, or second sight, which is fascinating.
I’ve spent years trying to shake off the postmodern cleverness I learned at university. Now I think that a poem should involve heart, or empathy — not just speak in codes that only academics and other writers could understand.
DR: How do you feel about David Foster Wallace? He seemed to genuinely try to bridge the postmodern cleverness/heart gap.
JB: I’ll keep that in mind. I haven’t got to him yet. Although, Julian Barnes goes too far, I think. And Jeanette Winterson. John Fowles tries to bridge that gap, too. And Joyce tries, too. Proust is the shit.
DR: I guess it’s a hard thing to do; to be honest but also keep up a self-reflexive stance.
JB: I think the self-reflexiveness will not last — a footnote in 20th-century literature.
DR: Any final thoughts?
JB: If anyone is able to use the phrase, “Nights like this always make the neighbors come around,” in a poem, I’d be very grateful.
John Wall Barger’s second book, Hummingbird, is forthcoming from Palimpsest Press in Spring 2012. Barger divides his year between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Tampere, Finland.
We are accepting submissions until midnight on October 31st for consideration for publication in Soliloquies 16. Though Soliloquies is run by students from Concordia’s English & Creative Writing Undergraduate Program, anyone in Canada and the United States can submit their work.
Writing on any theme, in any style (though we do not accept science fiction or non-creative essays):
3500 words of prose
8 pages of drama
8 pages of poetry
3500 words of creative non-fiction
8 pages of comics
Up to 5 images in low-res.jpegs
All submissions should be accompanied by the writer/artist’s contact info, cover letter and a 70 word bio. Please verify the genre of your submission in the subject line.
Email your submissions to soliloquies(dot)concordia(at)gmail(dot)com.
We’re looking for independent, hard working editors with a keen eye for innovative writing. We can only accept applications from students enrolled in Concordia’s English and/or Creative Writing programs. Please apply if you are able to take initiative, are an ardent learner, care for student publications, and want to contribute to the continuation of print publishing. Individuals involved in Montreal’s and/or Concordia’s literary community, who are avid readers of literary magazines, and aware of the current publishing forecast are encouraged to apply.
We are also looking for someone with experience and/or knowledge in web design.
If you’re interested, please send us your CV and a coverletter to soliloquies.concordia(at)gmail(dot)com by September 14, 2011.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Lizy & Paula
Casual Encounter – Wallace, Idaho
The one night stand stood up- or rather, didn’t.
Hadn’t stood at attention much since ‘Nam
but Cialis and a triple bypass are worse-suited bedmates than Ed and Fifty
whom, when he called on her at her home and, it should be noted,
after a red-cheeked redirection to the in-law suite, he might very generously have described as sixty and sagging.
Her taste for chintz was unpalatable- every surface, herself included, subjected to a diarrheal splattering of mismatched floral.
Still, Ed had always been good with numbers- figured, rightly-
that internet literacy had not yet reached pandemic proportions with the mature women of Wallace, Idaho.
He’d cruised Spokane’s Casual Encounters daily on dialup and posted biweekly,
indefatigable in his conviction that there had to be at least one silver fox in the silver capital of the world,
one other senior with a hotmail account and a desire for contact in their contactivity.
Ed’s family had left the Yorkshire coal mines for the glamour of the Silver Valley in ’22-
his native British patience, coupled with an acquired American persistence, paid off.
Here was his sole fluke, a self-described fifty and fit,
sixty and sagging in faded Laura Ashley with a whiff of napthalene,
seventy-one in ungirdled truth on the scratchy Pepto-pink bedspread.
She was as rousing to Ed as the thought of Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold night.
(Also, it must be noted, that night hers was colder than the Baroness’ Milk-Snatcher must be.)
Ed’s already doubtful tumescence was decidedly less rigid
than even the most liberal constitution. He asked permission to smoke, shuddered to think that
were his Parliament a cigar and were his tastes more licentious,
he’d have been hard-pressed to wet it in the preferred fashion of a certain philandering president.
Instead, with his ash grown long as Churchill’s during speeches, he took his wordless leave-thinking the while on the prospects of old age, Had I known, I’d have sooner served in Normandy.
“Casual Encounters – Wallace, Idaho” is a counterpoint piece to “Casual Encounters – Vancouver, British Columbia” which will appear in Soliloquies 15.
Paula Wilson: Why poetry?
Candice Maddy: Brevity.
Actually, I held brevity against poetry for a while. I was on team prose for a long time — about as long as it took me to find a good shrink. I’d been curating sadness for as far back as I could remember, trying to put it all down on paper, and it was easier to justify length with prose. At the same time, I had the brutal-beauty handicap. I wanted it raw, I wanted it perfect. I tried on every confessional tone I came across. The more honest it sounded, the less it was. I spent a long time writing the sort of poetry I thought looked right, like dressing to trend. There was a pivot, where I stopped looking for a voice that sounded like what I was reading, what I was seeing. That’s where it started getting honest, when I realized the poetry I was interested in writing was nothing like what I enjoyed reading. My native tone wasn’t confessional, it was playful. I’d been fighting against form to find an honest-sounding vernacular, but I kept itching to coin a neologism, to disrupt the surface, to stage-wink at the reader. I stopped stopping myself. When the pressure of aestheticized catharsis came out of the equation, the words had room to stretch. Poetry welcomes the language elastic, because it offsets the formal canon. It’s always better to be a troublemaker in the company of rules. I had way more fun acting like a clown when I was taught by nuns than when I went to circus camp (both true, unfortunately). The tension is addictive.
PW: Your poems range from the more conceptual to the more narrative-driven. Do you have a preference? Why go one way or another when approaching a topic or beginning a poem?
CM: The chief criticism I received in my fiction workshops had to do with the relative weakness of my plot-lines. They tend to trail off. I would like to venture, half-seriously at least, that my narrative-driven poems are failed short stories. Indeed, “Casual Encounter- Vancouver, British Columbia” was originally a really lousy short story. All it needed to lose was a thousand words or so. Poetry’s forgiving in that way; the language and the rhythm are loud, the plot’s a whisper. When I’m writing poetry, I don’t usually start with a topic so much as a few words that I can’t get out of my head. Sometimes they need a plot, sometimes they don’t. Often the poem has a pretty distinct speaker-character pretty early on (if only in my head), and I like to think I trust these characters enough to decide whether they want to tell a story or just spit smugly.
PW: “Casual Encounter – Wallace, Idaho” is a counter-part to one your poems, “Casual Encounter – Vancouver, British Columbia,” forthcoming in Soliloquies 15. Both discuss the internet as a means to contact others. Do you find you are presenting an anxiety towards these things, or is the poem embracing the cold-connectivity that the present internet age can offer?
CM: Both. Every time I come back from travels to warmer (read: warm-blooded) climes, I find the North American urban disconnect depressing. Yet when I’m here, I’m no different- perpetually plugged in and tuned out. I have taken plenty of classes with people year after year and never met them. I didn’t grow up knowing all (or even most of) my neighbours. The mid-century meet-cute seems destined to go the way of the dinosaurs, but Internet dating is still kind of prickly in the mainstream conscience…we’re neither quite here nor there. I’ve found okay jobs, decent apartments, and great furniture on Craigslist; no regrets except for a lousy gig that ended up not paying what it was supposed to.
Their personals section has been useful to me in a different way; I ended up compiling a book of found poetry entirely from missed connections ads last year. It was actually one long poem- well, two, in a call-and-answer sense- a love poem from Montreal to Toronto, and Toronto to Montreal. What fascinated me was how, taken collectively, each city seemed to have a distinct voice. I guess that’s what inspired the different locations of the two Casual Encounter poems, which were written around the same time. One had been a failed short story, as I said before. While I wonder if people ever meet successfully with such a blunt premise, I think it’s more funny to imagine the ways in which the meeting could go wrong. I’m a total squirmer- you know the sort of person that can’t sit still and covers their eyes when other people embarrass themselves in movies or, worse still, in real life- and probably a bit of a masochist, because I love creating occasions for characters to do just that in my writing. Craigslist dating has to be like Blind Dating 2.0- because really, eleven-year-olds can Photoshop, if Facebook’s proof of anything. I wanted to play with the opportunity for deception from both sexes, in two very different worlds, with two very different age-groups. I would like to say that I thought deeply about the issues of Internet connectivity when I first penned the poems, but the truth is I kind of just needed a setting for some of the poor-taste humour I desperately wanted to fit onto the page. There aren’t too many poems that will support a reference to Margaret Thatcher’s nethers, unfortunately.
PW: Would you like to write more about this? What are the topics that you find yourself returning to?
CM: I don’t really have any more Craigslist poems on the agenda, for the time being. The poems I’ve been working on lately have more to do with the art and fashion worlds, in a sort of mock-critical way… great opportunities for wordplay, there.
PW: Finally, having just graduated from Concordia (congratulations!), where are you going from here?
CM: Well, I’m moving a few blocks away pretty soon. Other than that, not too far just yet. The three years of my degree have gone by as a blur- I’ve kept really, really busy. It’s nice to just bike around, get back to painting, calm down. I might learn guitar.
Candice Maddy is a new contributor. By the time Soliloquies 15 goes to print, Candice Maddy will have graduated in a new dress from Concordia University. She has previously been a special fx and prosthetics makeup artist, a made-to-measure suit specialist, a French teacher, and a Jew in a Catholic school. She writes poetry, nearly nonfiction, birthday cards, and the occasional rap song. Her writing has appeared on paper and elsewhere. Her poems, “Casual Encounters – Vancouver, British Columbia” and “A (Mostly) Macaron-Mellifluous Morning,” will appear in the forthcoming Soliloquies 15.
Giant Lizard King [Excerpt]
Outside it’s windy. I wonder about how long it’s going to be before the sickness gets here. It could be this breeze or the next one. It could be already here and we’re all already dead. Because I feel like my skin is peeling off most of the time. I feel like my head is going to explode and my flesh is on fire and if someone doesn’t touch me soon and use their fingers to remind me of the outline of my body I’m not going to exist anymore. This breeze or the next one. It could come at the end of this sentence, it could come in the middle of a vowel. I start to think about the letters in Pete’s name, that e that dips in the middle and stretches him into two syllables. What I want is to get fucked so hard my whole body is a bruise. What I want is to run into Pete afterwards, reeking of semen. I want to ask him why he never calls me, and what the fuck he was thinking leaving his underwear underneath the bed. It’s not your bed anymore. I want to tell him his tattoo is stupid. Who are you to ask me how I’ve been? Who are you to ask me anything?
Not that if you asked me a question again sometime I wouldn’t answer and I wouldn’t try to be funny and charming and cute. Not that if you told me a joke I wouldn’t laugh, even if I didn’t think it was funny.
What I want is for Liam to tell me I’m pretty. He says, you’re pretty and our legs are tangled in the green fleece blanket. He says, you’re so pretty it makes me nervous. You’re the prettiest purple in the world. That’s why I lost my hard on. Not because you’re too hairy or you’re not flexible enough or you have too much cellulite, but because you’re so so pretty. Jeeze Louise you’re gorgeous. I saw God and he told me so. So pretty I can’t even touch you.
Holy mackerel it’s crazy. You’re as pretty as the page in The Great Gatsby where Jay kisses Daisy on a sidewalk in the moonlight. You’re as pretty as a drive through the mountains and the big horned sheep we pull over the car to admire. You’re as pretty as apricot chutney on focaccia bread. The lamb is roasted and the cheese is melted. Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. I look at you and it feels like a Tyrannosaurus Rex is ripping my torso in two, so pretty it hurts, it aches and I think about all the ways in the world I will never deserve you. So pretty the aliens will take one look at you and they’ll take you to their planet and they’ll line up around the block just to catch a glimpse of you. So pretty the sickness can’t even touch you.
Paula Wilson: Your forthcoming story in Soliloquies 15 is titled Decarie. How do you feel your move from Edmonton to Montréal has affected your writing?
Frankie Barnet: Probably the most obvious difference between living in Edmonton and Montréal is that I’m going to school here. I guess what is kind of interesting is that for a long time most of my stories were about Edmonton, even after I moved here. Decarie is probably the first story I wrote that is actually set in Montréal, written half way through my second year living in Montréal.
PW: How do you feel you’ve grown or changed as a writer since living here and entering Concordia’s Creative Writing program? Where would you like to go from here?
FB: I think that the program has been great in that it really immerses you in writing, which can be really inspiring. My friends and I have this joke that goes, “I’m in creative writing. Living is my homework.” It is kind of a funny joke and kind of true in that I think there’s a lot that goes into good writing that doesn’t happen in a workshop. That being said, the criticisms and encouragements I’ve gotten from my classmates and professors have been really great. I’m a little sad to be graduating next year and hope to continue on to grad school.
PW: What topics do you find yourself coming back to repeatedly in your writing? What topics would you like to tackle in the future?
FB: I got a lot of flack in class for always talking about sex and being pervy, so I’m trying to move away from that stuff for now. Lately I’ve been interested in the role of setting in a piece, and the dynamics between mental and physical escape. It’s weird, the themes you become fixated on sometimes, most everything I’ve been working on lately deals with the wilderness and the idealistic visions characters project onto such landscapes. Mostly this has been inspired by the documentary Grizzly Man, as Timothy Treadwell struggles to reconcile his romanticized notions of the Alaskan landscape with the dangerous and brutal reality of his surroundings. While such a fantasy is crucial for Treadwell–his relationship with the grizzly bears offers his life meaning–it is ultimately through this necessity that Treadwell meets his death (spoiler alert).
Frankie Barnet is a new contributor, her short story Decarie is forthcoming in Soliloquies 15. Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Frankie is a young writer living in Montréal. She studies English Literature and Creative Writing at Concordia University.
A paperclip holds me together
Wax traps a whisper in my ear
Dry sand fills my mouth
A single palm tree dips in the distance
The scent of crushed coffee beans creaming
triggers a goosebump caravan up and down my spine
I can see the flavor of her chapstick
in the reflection of Jeremy’s San Diego shades
We’re lost in a forest, surrounded by pine
so we head back south
but Sarah won’t stop QQing about her feet
Nothing happens after something happens C’est la vie
The stoic tablecloth of faith
is primped across a trio of table tops
Grinning into the opaque compact mirror between her toes
I levitate and tear from myself my soul
(What use is it anyway?)
The Hippie blogs every moment from below
Tomorrow we will regret this
Stapled to the sky a flame licks my insides
eyes seeping caffeine, screaming
“Walk with shoes if you don’t have feet!”
All the while the walnut dances with his wife
the rusty, southern sign points north
Lizy Mostowski: As a young poet, are you consciously going for a certain aesthetic or do you allow your writing to flow freely and instinctually?
Matthew Macaskill: I definitely try to allow my poetry to flow freely and instinctually during the initial scratches of pen to paper. Most of my writing hits the page between metro stops or when I’m up late at night unable to sleep. It’s rare that I’ll sit down in front of a computer for the purpose of writing a poem. For me, that step comes when I transcribe to a word processor, where the first conscious edits are made. I live for those moments when a good idea, a line, or even only a few words come to mind and I scramble to get them down on paper.
As I continue to grow as a writer, I find that my work is shrinking, becoming more concise, economical. I find myself trying to say more by writing less—influenced, admittedly, by the restrictive form of Social Media. While my style lends itself more to free verse than traditional modes, I do find pleasure in the occasional haiku. “Memory Key,” which has been selected for Soliloquies 15, is a good example of my use of free verse to express an overall idea and theme in a poem.
LM: You read at the Pilot in November, alongside Dean Garlick, Jacob Wren, David Clink, and Doug Harris. You gave a great, well received reading, in my opinion. Did you feel as though it was a learning experience, as a student, to have read alongside established authors? Is there any advice you would give to your peers? Is there anything you would change or improve on your reading?
MM: Reading at the Pilot Reading Series in November was awesome. I’m grateful for Professor Jon Paul Fiorentino providing my Advanced Creative Writing Poetry class with the opportunity to take part throughout the year. Also, kudos to my classmate, Heather Stewart, for her great reading that night.
As a writing student, any opportunity to take in a live reading by established authors is a learning experience. The lessons vary from technical—How close should I stand to the microphone?—to timing and style—When might be the best time to use a pause for emphasis? My revision process includes reading aloud, so I become aware of the details, the way a poem sounds, and how it all plays into the overall meaning.
When I decided which pieces to read live, I picked ones that served the form best. I suppose my advice to my peers with regards to readings would be: Practice and be comfortable with what you’re reading. You don’t necessarily need to memorize it, but you should memorize how your poem feels from one line to the next. Also, if you can to choose pieces that may actually gain depth from being read aloud, it will be all the better. Even if you’re not scheduled for a reading any time soon, you should prepare as if you were—you never know what you might discover about your own writing in process.
I grew a pretty gnarly handlebar moustache for “Movember” to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer. Being that it was the 29th of November, my ‘stache was in full force in time for the reading. I think I’ll go with a cleaner look next time around.
LM: What do you plan to do with your Creative Writing degree, anyways?
MM: World domination, definitely. I’m all over place when it comes to writing. My earliest work comes in the form of some (real awful) poems I wrote a decade ago while I was in high school. Later on my writing took the form of articles about the Montreal Canadiens for HabsWorld.net where I served as Editor-in-Chief for the 2007-2008 season, as well as a collaborator and editor from 2005 to 2009. Before entering the Creative Writing department at Concordia University, I was drawn to screenplays.
While screenwriting is still one of the paths I plan to follow, I have become intrigued by the storytelling potential of the video game medium. I recognize that video games are continuously evolving and have a lot to offer thanks to advances in technology. Especially here in Montreal, a world leader in the industry, there is an increasing accessibility for a group of people who share a passion for games to get together and get creative. I’m confident the skills I pick up as I complete my Creative Writing degree will allow me the opportunity to find work that I will enjoy doing.
Matthew Macaskill is a new contributor, his poem Memory Key is forthcoming in Soliloquies 15. He is entering his third year at Concordia University in the Creative Writing program. He’s a born and raised Montrealer who bleeds bleu-blanc-rouge.
For more interviews and reviews from Soliloquies Writes, visit www.soliloquies.ca/writes.
Jeremy Hanson-Finger is a new contributor, his short story Black Clouds is forthcoming in Soliloquies 15.
Lizy Mostowski: Soliloquies, in the past, has been more Concordia-based and has only recently expanded to accepting submissions from all over Canada. Having done your Master’s degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, how did you first hear about us?
Jeremy Hanson-Finger: I went to high school in Victoria with Andrew Battershill, a previous Soliloquies contributor, and Peggy Hogan, a previous Soliloquies editor. We’ve stayed friends since.
LM: Your thesis is on “dirty bits in postmodern American novels”, what inspired your interest in American postmodern lit in particular? How do you feel that studying it has influenced your writing?
JHF: My dad mainly. He was born on Long Island and started university at Rochester in 1967, so he was in an interesting place in a really interesting time. He took a class called “Literature of the Apocalypse” or something like that, which was all Coover and Barthelme and Pynchon and all those guys. So I got really into Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Robbins and Richard Brautigan in late high school on his recommendation, and then moved on to the heavier stuff during university.
My MA thesis was on the politics of carnival imagery and terror in Pynchon’s 1973 Gravity’s Rainbow and David Foster Wallace’s 1996 Infinite Jest – Wallace’s novel being in some ways a response to what he saw as the supposed co-optation of the postmodern techniques of Pynchon’s generation by mass media.
Anyway, what I got out of working on that was a really solid understanding of the various theories of transgression in art and literature. The most useful was Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection, which allowed me to contextualize a lot of the stuff I was getting at in my own writing in terms of ideas about human subjectivity and psychoanalysis. I think for a long time my writing has been about making people uncomfortable, but the academic approach at least gave me one framework for understanding what I was doing and some of the possible reasons why.
LM: Do you believe that it is important for a writer to have an academic background? Do you think that there is a strong relationship between your academics and your creativity?
JHF: I don’t think it’s necessary. Some of the greatest writers are great because they didn’t know what writing was supposed to be from the canon. For me, I think it was a good choice, because I’m all about big ideas, and it’s big ideas that get me excited to write something, not narrative. Which means that my major problem is with narrative drive, something I’m still working on. My current inspiration is Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
LM: What inspired you to pursue a Master’s degree?
JHF: I originally applied for a few creative writing MFA programs in the last year of my undergrad, but didn’t get in anywhere, just wait-listed at UBC. I had initially planned to just work for a year and try again, but job prospects were not promising in Ottawa at that time.
Basically it was just a, “well, if the economy sucks and I can get a scholarship and a TAship so that I come out more or less even, and I can spend a year studying really interesting stuff, why not?” sort of decision, but I’m really glad I made it. I loved being a TA – I gave the filthiest lecture my prof had ever heard to his third-year American Satire and Utopia class about Gravity’s Rainbow.
I did consider going on to do my PhD, but I was so burnt out by the end of the MA (and my hundred-page thesis on two 1000-page books) that I’m glad I didn’t commit to going straight through.
I might go back at some point, but now I have a job as an editorial assistant with a publishing house in Toronto, which is a really fascinating and useful thing to do for money while I work on creative projects at night.
LM: Can you tell us about the collection of short stories you’re working on, entitled Airplanes and Bad Things Happening to Women?
JHF: My old roommate once pointed out that two things showed up in every single story she’d read of mine – airplanes, and bad things happening to women. So I figured I might as well embrace it. It’s currently 18 stories, ranging from one sentence to a 10,000 word story and a 30,000-word novella. They all combine humour with serious topics, generally focusing on the way in which men and women relate to each other. And airplanes. I guess in that respect it’s very influenced by David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Sort of David Lynch meets David Foster Wallace.
LM: You’re co-editor of Dragnet Mag, a new online literary journal, launched recently by yourself and Concordia graduate Andrew Battershill. What inspired the creation of Dragnet Mag? What do you hope to see for the future of the journal? Can you tell us more about it?
JHF: Andrew and I have always seen eye-to-eye on what sort of writing we like, and we realized that there were no electronic Canadian literary mags who published the kind of stuff we wanted to publish and took advantage of the unique opportunities of digital publishing. So we started Dragnet with the idea that it’d be a journal that published writing that didn’t take itself too seriously, even if it dealt with serious topics, and did so in a format that made it easy for everyone to read no matter what device they used.
As a result, Dragnet can be viewed on the website in columns that fit on one screen (nobody likes reading an endless single column of text), as a print magazine layout on Issuu.com, and as an ebook that works on eReaders and mobile devices. We had stories from Sheila Heti, Jacob Wren, and J.R. Carpenter in the first issue, along with a bunch of new writers, and so far we have something lined up from Susan Musgrave for the new issue, which comes out July 2.
We will have a booth at The Word on the Street literature festival in Toronto in the fall, which will hopefully get a lot of people interested – we will likely be the only digital-only magazine with a booth there. Our long term plan is to approach the government for funding and to get enough web traffic to sell ads, so that we can cover our costs and pay our amazing contributors.
Jeremy Hanson-Finger attended Carleton University, where he wrote his MA thesis on dirty bits in postmodern American novels. He now lives in Toronto, where he is the co-editor of Dragnet Mag. He is currently working on a collection of short stories entitled Airplanes and Bad Things Happening to Women. Let it be known, however, that he likes women and doesn’t want bad things to happen to them.