Writing the Body

Post-Cartesian Crises and Aesthetic Drag // Kilby Smith-McGregor

Writing the Body
Kilby Smith-McGregor is this month’s Town Crier guest editor

In a matter of days I’ll be publishing my first book—a poetry collection called Kids in Triage. That this first book turned out to be poetry and not prose is a surprise to me. That this first book takes the body as its subject; that this encounter with the body manifests in emergency, rupture, domestic disturbance—interrogations of consciousness—does not. It’s been a creative flashpoint for me for as long as I can remember, and the centre of many Life Questions (often stemming from experiences with depression and other forms of mind-body insurgency). Writing Questions, it turns out, are just Life Questions in aesthetic drag.

The body, as theme, is also so capital C Classical that it makes my eye teeth ache. Yet here we are. Because I inhabit one and so do you and it’s the palace and/or prison within which our respective consciousnesses mark out their mortality. If I could write about anything else I would. I just haven’t found anything else. Every story, poem, or grocery list’s detailing of daybreak, computer code, or canned coffee will always be underpinned by the body. Or more specifically, the mind-body bond, that fraught relationship between cogito ergo and actual sum. Continue reading

BC Publishing Focus: Joe Denham

Commercial Fishing, Defining the Ineffable, and Wilderness and Wildness in Poetry // Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Joe Denham
Joe Denham’s Regeneration Machine (Nightwood Editions, 2015)

Over the next couple of months, The Puritan’s Town Crier blog will be featuring short interviews with Canadian authors published by BC publishers, conducted by BC publishing professionals. The fourth in the series is an interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji of Talonbooks and BC poet Joe Denham, author of Regeneration Machine (Nightwood Editions, 2015).

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: Why did you choose the title Regeneration Machine?

Joe Denham: I started writing RM over eight years ago. This while still finishing my second book, Windstorm, and also sort of preparing (which means having strange dreams and daydreams about a couple of characters, a glass fishing float, a mystical sea creature, and a sunken continent!) to write my first novel, The Year of Broken Glass. And also building a house and preparing to go out to sea for a two-month trip, plus fathering a newborn and a one year old infant, etc. Which is all to excuse myself for a lack of clear memory here: I remember writing the title on the top of the page, then just writing RM’s first stanza. What the initial thinking behind the title was, that’s fuzzy. Probably I knew I wanted to write a very long poem that—unlike Windstorm, which is a book-length poem broken up into sections of free verse, terza rima, and a round of sonnets—would continue uninterrupted from beginning to end. I’m really into book-length poems. Continue reading

Author Note: Francine Cunningham

Exploding Minds, Fort Mac, and Adult Store Night Shifts // Francine Cunningham

Francine Cunningham
Francine Cunningham is an Aboriginal writer, artist, and educator from Calgary, Alberta

Francine Cunningham’s short story “Pornorama” was published in The Puritan Issue 30 with guest fiction editor Doretta Lau. “Pornorama” is about a woman who works at an adult movie store in Fort McMurray, AB.

My story “Pornorama” takes place in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. It is apart of a collection of linked short stories I am writing that all take place during the course of one harrowing day in Fort McMurray when the sun rises red, smoke hangs in the streets, and the people of this town fight to stay alive.

When I was 19 I moved to Fort Mac to go to college and study acting. I lived there for two years and during my time, like the protagonist in my story, I worked the graveyard shift at a local adult store. Let’s just say that not everything in this story is true, but also that not everything is fiction. That adage, write what you know, is what really started the idea for this collection. I found that many people who have never lived up in Fort Mac are curious about it. I was only there for a short period of my life, but it was an informative period. I always described the town as an entirely different world. Some days it felt like I was living in a world of magic realism, where things were so crazy they couldn’t be totally true. I am hoping to bring this element of magic realism, lived experience, and all the things that go with living in an oil town to the page. Continue reading

Something Borrowed, Something New

Ancient Mythology in André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs and Other Contemporary Works // Dana Ewachow

Fifteen Dogs
André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs (Coach House, 2015)

Stories inspired by ancient mythologies persist in contemporary works, whether it’s on our movie screens (Gods of Egypt, Clash of the Titans, Hercules, Thor); our TV screens (Vikings); in our video games (God of War); on our bookshelves (Fifteen Dogs, American Gods, Percy Jackson & the Olympians); or as Shannon Page previously mentioned, in our comics. Even after these cultures have “fallen” and the languages have faded, we still know elements of their mythologies. We know about the Minotaur, Medusa, and sirens that sink ships. We remember their monsters and we also remember their gods.

The fact that we still write about “ancient” gods is fascinating to me. The modern world’s population primarily worships the Abrahamic religions Islam and Christianity. These two heavyweights in spiritual practice are followed by the smaller, but still considerable numbers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and folk religions. These current religions have figures and texts to reference, so why do writers continue to pull from so-called dead religions instead?

An obvious reason why some writers would want to avoid writing about current religions is because it comes with backlash. Certain religions, such as Islam, disapprove of idolatry, so creating a physical image of God would be offensive. Exploring religion in writing, whether it’s adding oppositional opinion or creative license, can end in controversy. Dan Brown’s best seller The Da Vinci Code received backlash for its depictions of the Christian religion, which included the speculation that Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene. The archbishop Angelo Amato said the book was “full of calumnies, offenses and historical and theological errors regarding Jesus, the Gospels and the church.” Amato claimed this while calling for Christians to boycott the book and movie. Continue reading

Author Note: Marlin M. Jenkins

Romance, Poetry, and Kanye West // Marlin M. Jenkins

Marlin M. Jenkins
Marlin M. Jenkins is a writer, runner, dancer, and MFA student at U Michigan

Marlin M. Jenkins is the author “Pull my ends/ and see if/ they return/ to centre,” published in The Puritan Issue 30, poetry edited by Katherena Vermette.

I’ve tried for a long time to write about romantic relationships and about dance (I teach and DJ for a dance called West Coast Swing), but for a long time both of those efforts failed. I had plenty of drafts that didn’t go anywhere, so I decided to stop trying—figured after so much forceful effort I would leave it alone for a while and let writing poems about these topics happen organically.

When a Facebook friend posted the music video for Kanye West’s song “Runaway,” I finally found a jumping point to craft a poem exploring both relationships and dance. I felt incredibly inspired by the song and video. Musically, I loved the build from the piano, how the song starts out so minimal and then layers on top of that. Then, the lyrics: the song is filled with self-awareness and guilt as the character asks his partner to run away because he knows how difficult a relationship with him must be. These expressed feelings resonated all too closely with how I felt about myself in regards to a break-up a few months before. Most notably, I found the visuals striking—the way the ballerinas act as individuals within a collected mass, how they moved sharply to the crashing percussion in unison but with different movements, how the woman sits at the table (facing away from Kanye and the dancers—stoically watching and not participating in the toast everyone else at the table is raising. Continue reading

October Call for Submissions

Writing in English as a Second Language // Klara du Plessis

Klara du Plessis
Klara du Plessis curates the Resonance Reading Series in Montreal

Six times a year, the Town Crier hands itself over to a guest editor. Curators are free to publish for a month on any literary topic of their choosing. Klara du Plessis will be curating the Town Crier blog in the month of October. Her call-out for submissions follows.

I’m looking for essays (non-fiction, personal, interview) for the Town Crier on the experience of writing in English as a second-language speaker. Did you grow up speaking a different language than you communicate in as an adult? Does this language function as a mask to depersonalize or a medium to express more clearly? As a polyglot, is self-translation part of the creative process? How does a plurality of vocabularies influence writing in a single language? Do you do multilingual writing? How could this alienate the intended audience or exoticize a foreign language? Is there a creative or intellectual hierarchy between the languages you speak or write in? Have you lived in communities/countries that communicate in different languages and has this move had political-linguistic implications? Responses to these questions and more. Continue reading

Author Note: Anna Leventhal

Laval, The ’95 Referendum, and Writing From the Outside // Anna Leventhal

Anna Leventhal
Anna Leventhal is the author of Sweet Affliction (Invisible Publishing, 2014)

Anna Leventhal wrote the story “L’Horloge” for the Summer Supplement, “À la prochaine fois”: 1995 and Literature in Post-Referendum Quebec” in The Puritan Issue 30. The story is set in a retirement home in Laval in the 21st century.

I wasn’t sure at first how to approach writing about the ’95 referendum. I was a teenager in Manitoba at the time and don’t have any personal experience of it to speak from; I could have put myself in the shoes of someone who did, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to write about the repercussions of the referendum (and separatism in general) in terms of Quebec national identity today, and what that means, if anything.

I decided the best way to do that was to write as an outsider. My previous stories set in Montreal were insiderish, to a certain extent. Even though the characters were a mix of Quebecois and from elsewhere, there was a general feeling of insularity, maybe even cliquishness—a sense that everyone belonged in some way to a broad, shaggy, but still cohesive civic structure, even as they often felt estranged or alienated from it. There was a shared vocabulary or set of touchstones that were maybe obscure enough that they felt like they came from, if not an “authentic” Montrealer (whatever that means) then at least from a fairly successful sleeper agent. For this newer piece, I took a bit of distance and used a narrator whose perspective is that of another kind of person who’s a big part of the “Montreal experience”: an anglophone emigre who stops here for a bit on her way to somewhere else. For a lot of people, especially young anglophones, Montreal is a kind of Neverland, a sandbox they play around in for a while until they mature and get on with their lives. And it’s a place that’s so thick with myth, so brimming with the ideals and expectations of generations of people with very different backgrounds, it can be hard to figure out what it really is. Of course, the Neverland thing is part of the mythology too. Continue reading

The Blodwyn Memorial Prize

On Crapshoots, a Rad Grandmother, and So it Goes // words(on)pages

Blodwyn Memorial Prize
May 6th is the deadline for the Blodwyn Memorial Prize

It was in the summer of 2015, in Jay and Hazel Millar/MillAr’s backyard with a s’more lodged in my mouth, that the Blodwyn Memorial Prize became a thing. Nicole Brewer was asking what BookThug—good friends, mentors, some of my favourite publishers—would expect to get out of sponsoring a prize. It was a casual conversation that, yeah, we were kinda serious about, but really we had no fucking clue what we were doing.

Continue reading

Author Note: Finn Harvor

Youtube, Literary Tears, and Hip-Hop Poetry // Finn Harvor

Finn Harvor
Finn Harvor is a writer, artist, musician, and academic

Finn Harvor’s poem nHI-lizm was featured in Issue 20 of The Puritan. Here he discusses his writing process and influences, both literary and musical.

Town Crier: Does your poem or story have an interesting origin story/compositional history you’d like to share? This could include interesting factoids or bits of research that informed the poems or the story.

Finn Harvor: I was reading a lot of comment threads, especially at places like YouTube or weird political sites. A lot of texting argot—also, a lot of bleakness, for example clips of people dying in a boat (THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE) and some guy commenting underneath: Hahaha, LOL, suckers. Continue reading

Interview with Toronto Poet Ewan Whyte

Aesthetic Art, Eternity, and Acts of Creation // Ray McClaughlin

Ewan Whyte
Ewan Whyte is a poet, reviewer, translator, and bookseller living in Toronto

Entrainment explores interrelatedness, the intellectual, and the ubiquitous with lyrical vision. Ewan Whyte’s debut poetry collection follows up a translation of the poetry of Catullus which Ewan published in 2004. His passion for art, the absurdity of life, and presenting a real characterization (hallucinating vagrants singing to vegetables, the end of the medieval Cathar and Albigensian crusades) in his poetry are only some of the hidden moments found in Whyte’s unique work. A bookseller, book reviewer, poet, and translator, Ewan Whyte lives and works in Toronto where he contributes to periodicals such as The Globe & Mail and The Literary Review of Canada.

Ray McCLaughlin: Who are some contemporary poets you admire? Continue reading