Microliteratures and Travelogues

Part One of an Interview with Jason Price Everett, author of Xian Dyad // Jason Freure

Xian Dyad
Jason Price Everett’s “Xian Dyad”

Jason Freure: First of all, you write in your travelogue, Xian Dyad, “A sincere and true travelogue undresses the traveller and masks the places travelled.” Why did you write a travelogue, and what elements of travel did you uncover or unmask?

Jason Price Everett: When I first decided to spend a year in China teaching English, I knew exactly how I expected to use the experience: I wanted to create a long poem about motion, interior or exterior, something along the lines of the Anabase of St-John Perse. I thought that I could accelerate the verbal process a bit, and write something that was more in accord with the way that contemporary reality is experienced—instead of hearkening back to Xenophon—but still make it work as a long poem. Needless to say, it didn’t come out quite right—one can’t force that sort of thing, and SJP is a daunting standard to match—so instead I ended up with a handful of fragments, short poems that captured the effect in fits and starts, but that wouldn’t combine into a greater whole. (The patient angels at Spuyten Duyvil had the good sense to talk me out of including them in Xian Dyad.) I was then left with the remains of two different diaries: one in which I had scribbled the mundane details of my working life as a visiting professor of English at a nondescript Chinese university in Xi’An, and one that I kept over the course of a month-long journey through southern China and southeast Asia in February 2005. I sifted the material in both notebooks carefully, rearranged and rewrote a few portions, fitted them together, and—in a manner wholly unexpected—it worked. Xian Dyad, in effect, is made of what are essentially two long prose poems combined: the first half is a diary of stasis, and the second half is a diary of motion—comprising one of the many dyads involved (man/woman, light/dark, love/hate). The end result is what could be considered as a binary novella, or a poetic travelogue. Continue reading

Cryptozoology and Life Working in the Gallery: An Interview with Nina Berkhout

Five Questions with the Author of The Gallery of Lost Species // Julienne Isaacs

The Gallery of Lost Species is about addiction and family life

Nina Berkhout is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Elseworlds, which won the 2013 Archibald Lampman Award. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, she now lives in Ottawa, Ontario. The Gallery of Lost Species (House of Anansi), set for release this January, is her first novel.

Julienne Isaacs: You have a degree in Classical Studies and another degree in Museum Studies. How directly does The Gallery of Lost Species draw on your own education and professional interests, and how much did you have to supplement that training with additional research?

Nina Berkhout: The novel greatly draws on my own education and interests. In the first half of the book my protagonist, Edith, gets a part time job in a coin shop. This was easy for me to write about. During my undergraduate years, I worked with a numismatics collection of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins at The Nickle Arts Museum on the University of Calgary campus. Ancient mythology—often portrayed on coinage—is what drew me to a degree in Classics in the first place. It’s been over 15 years since I left that job, but the coins, and the stories portrayed on them, stayed with me. I always knew I’d incorporate numismatics into my writing one day. Continue reading

Author Notes: Angela Hibbs

Puritan Authors Discuss Their Craft // Angela Hibbs

Angela Hibbs
You can find Angela Hibbs in the poetry section at Indigo

Angela Hibbs contributed two poems to The Puritan Issue XXVII. Hibbs answered four questions from The Town Crier about her poems, and we are pleased to present them here.

Town Crier: Do your poems have an origin story, or a compositional history that you’d like to share?

Angela Hibbs: I am obsessed with Francis Bacon. He is my favourite artist. He is so dark, compulsive, and mysterious. I don’t read theoretical work about him on purpose, because I don’t want to read anything about him being misogynist, or stuff that might make me like him less. I find that through liking him, I have also opened up to things like wrestling and boxing, which aren’t things I liked before.

I am not a very compulsive person, except when it comes to coffee and writing, so compulsive behavior interests me, especially that pull that people feel and can’t ignore. It is fascinating to me.

I love the way Bacon depicts movement. I am interested in the way being painted affects a person. The painting is of you, but it isn’t you. It makes for interesting moments in language.

TC: Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately, or a poet/fiction writer you’re jealous of, or a story/short story collection you wish you wrote.

AH: Recently I’ve been reading journals, The Southern Review, Denver Quarterly; the recent story in The New Yorker, “The Empties,” is so good, though I usually don’t like science fiction. I’m also reading Kafka on the Shore. Continue reading

Four Questions with Roxanna Bennett

Roxanna Bennet On YA Novels, Bullshit Author Bios, and OCAD // Domenica Martinello

Roxanna Bennett
Roxanna Bennett is the author of The Uncertainty Principle

Roxanna Bennett published a review of Jon Paul Fiorentino’s I’m Not Scared of You or Anything in Issue 26, Summer 2014. Her debut collection of poems, The Uncertainty Principle (2014), will be reviewed on The Town Crier next month.

Domenica Martinello: Before studying Creative Writing at the University of Toronto under Ken Babstock, you pursued a degree in Experimental Arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design. You have also taught art education. I’m always curious about how people who’ve worked in other creative media approach the writing of poetry. Do you feel like your background has added an extra dimension to your work or changed your approach?

Roxanna Bennett: True story: I had to go through the portfolio admission process for the OCA (as [OCAD] was called back in the day) twice, because the first time I went for my interview, exactly half the jury wanted to give me Advanced Standing, and the other half thought I should never do art again. So they had to put together a new jury and the same thing happened. So they compromised and let me attend Foundation Year, and I hated it. I refused to stand up and explain any of my work, partly because I’m a fucking asshole and also painfully shy, but also because if someone assigns a colour study where the instructions are: “create a portrait using chromatic blue,” I feel that there’s nothing to talk about. Is it blue? Did you make it blue? Is it also a portrait? Good. Shut up now. Continue reading

Author Notes: Shawn Fawson

Puritan Authors Discuss Their Craft // Shawn Fawson

Shawn Fawson
Shawn Fawson is the author of Giving Way

Shawn Fawson contributed poetry to The Puritan’s fall edition, Issue XXVII. For The Town Crier, she writes about war culture and the challenge of closing the gaps left open in war’s aftermath.

This poem, Piazza with Fountain and Statues, came into being under the influence of two  writers: Larry Kent Graham’s work on war and its aftermath, and Edward Tick’s book, War and the Soul: Healing our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  When I began to think about the costs to my family in relation to war, I remembered being at a WWI memorial with a loved-one who is a veteran. Thus, in this context, the poem began.

I have learned that war is never over. It creates environments, orientations, mindsets, identities, and they become so close to home we forget where we got them—we don’t see them coming directly out of war, but they in fact shape us, our consciousness, and culture. At times, war is a hidden social, cultural, historical, and political reality that influences our consciousness in ways that we are not always aware of.

I think it is never too late to talk about war and it is almost always helpful to do so, especially if we can do it in a mutual speaking and listening context of respect. Once we all catch on that we are all in the aftermath of war together, and that someone doesn’t have to be crazy to have normal fears, hostility, distress, and guilt, then maybe we can talk about pain normally and openly without it being so costly, unusual, and stigmatizing. Continue reading

Reading Online: Literary Publishing in a Digital World

How Meatspace Ideas Fail in Digital Publishing // André Forget

Are digital magazines trapped using old print formats?

Arguments about reading in print versus reading online have been both ubiquitous and tedious for some time now. On one side of the argument, books like Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows have warned us of what reading online is doing to our attention spans, in the same way oral bards likely once lamented the damaging effect text was having on our ability to memorize. On the other side, academics such as Kenneth Goldsmith celebrate the ways in which the internet liberates our reading from the constraints of the “meatspace.” This argument is ubiquitous because it is important, but it is tedious because it so easily maps onto the coordinates of a larger and more existential argument about the role of technology in our lives, one that frequently devolves into a battle between luddites and technophiles.

Many of the defenses of print culture I have heard and read focus on the differences between how we process information absorbed through a screen and a page, or on the detrimental effects reading online has on our attention spans. I think these are probably fair points to make, and while they are certainly true in my own experience, I want to talk about how print technology has shaped the form that publications take, and what that means for the future of digital literature and reading online. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Like Blagrave’s Unlikeable Characters

A Review of Mark Blagrave’s Salt in the Wounds // Jason Freure

Mark Blagrave’s characters are unlikeable, but not for the reasons you might expect

The characters in Mark Blagrave’s Salt in the Wounds don’t often like each other, and I see no reason to, either. They’re self-obsessed, a little snobby, sometimes creepy, and usually unlikeable. Unlikeable characters are no reason to dislike a work of fiction. Duddy Kravitz, after all, may be one of the biggest assholes in Canadian literature. But Blagrave misses that part where I fall for the asshole anyway, that crucial moment of sympathy and connection when, perhaps guiltily, I recognize my own mistakes and failures reflected in a fictional character. Maybe others will find these connections in abundance in Blagrave’s characters, or they will be able laugh these characters off. Personally, I was too irritated by their obsessions over novelty salt and creepy erotic fantasies to sympathize with Blagrave’s characters, or to laugh at them.

For the most part, these stories focus on a group of academics at a university in Saint John, N.B., as well as tourist industry workers in Salzburg, Austria. Some of Blagrave’s characters suffer from over-similitude. For example, Martin and Peter, refer to their past trips to Sardinia, guided by Robert Graves’ The White Goddess and James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Martin and one of the Austrian characters, Siegfried, are both taken to fantasizing about women whom they see in public, and neither have any qualms with sleeping around. Two female characters, Liz and Claire, suffer from salt-related diseases. Liz has Addison’s, a glandular disorder in which the body wastes salt and suffers sudden drops in blood pressure. Claire develops ageusia, an inability to taste salt, at the same time that she loses sexual interest in her boyfriend. Across gender lines, the Canadians tend to obsess over their interpersonal and romantic relationships, while the Austrians often give more thought to their country and national memory. Although they often share much in common, these characters have a hard time finding a common language. Behind their relationships lurks a thinly hidden disdain. Continue reading

“I Owe It To the Book”: Angie Abdou on Marketing and Self-Promotion

Author of The Bone Cage Opens Up on Canada Reads and Small Press Publishing // Julienne Isaacs

Angie Abdou
Angie Abdou connects to her readers by staying grounded in the small town life of Fernie, B.C.

Angie Abdou is the author of the short story collection Anything Boys Can Do (2006), the 2011 Canada Reads finalist, The Bone Cage (2007), The Canterbury Trail (2011) and, most recently, Between (2014).

Julienne Isaacs: You have been published with a variety of small presses—Thistledown, Brindle & Glass, NeWest, and Arsenal Pulp Press. Small-press titles have to work hard to get attention. What kind of self-promotion has small-press publication entailed for you? How different are the marketing and promotion expectations on small-press authors versus authors publishing with major houses?

Angie Abdou: Since I have never been published with a big press, it’s a bit hard for me to compare. However, I have been exposed to big-publisher procedure when I bring certain writer friends to Fernie to speak about their work. In that situation, I often end up dealing with a publicist who makes sure we have suitable accommodation for the writer, lines up all transportation, and ensures that we will have a big enough audience to make the trip worth the author’s time and energy. That seems like such luxury! Even though I’ve been happy with each of my publishers, they have limited resources, and one publicist (at most) covers all of the writers. I, therefore, end up planning much of my own tour—if I want an extensive one, which seems necessary to get the book into readers’ hands. I sleep on friends’ couches. I fly on aeromiles. I juggle my schedule. I sometimes make mistakes and attend book events that aren’t worthwhile, in terms of time, inconvenience, energy or cost. I only realize how hard I’ve been busting my butt and the extent to which I really have been roughing it once I get invited to a festival—ah, the glamour, the luxury, the star treatment! Continue reading

“Such a Fascinating Symbiotic Ecosystem”: An Interview with the Creators of ChessBard

More From Aaron Tucker and Jody Miller // E Martin Nolan

Aaron Tucker
Aaron Tucker is one of the creators of ChessBard

This interview follows up on a post from last month about the digital poetry generator ChessBard. It was conducted over email.

E Martin Nolan: I suck at chess. But the poem I made by playing the ChessBard intrigues me. The first time I “poetified” the game, the poem ended with the line, “mate conqueringly all boxes hidden.” Another iteration of the game included the line, “binary butt blends behind binary.” This made me wonder about the amount of control you as designers had here. For you, what’s the most interesting thing about the way the ChessBard works? Is there anything in the process that has surprised you?

Aaron Tucker: We’ve tried to generate a machine that needs no editing and takes as much of the control away from Jody and I as possible. Largely, this meant getting the language templates that the ChessBard is using (in combination with the source poems and more complex word pools) to best reflect “literate” (and interesting!) results. After the first few iterations of this project it became very apparent that simply filling in “NOUN ADVERB VERB NOUN” only worked with certain verb forms and certain noun forms—a player notices now that the verbs only show up in simple present tense and nouns are only ever singular; similarly, we had to cut certain conjunctions and other words out of the language pool, as they were creating “disrupted” poems. The nuts and bolts of this process can be found at our project description. Earlier versions of the machine can be found in our archive. Continue reading

“Artists are Lepers”: Another Review of Polyamorous Love Song by Jacob Wren

The Winnipeg Review Misses Wren’s Uncanny Cultural Realism // Domenica Martinello

Jacob Wren
Jacob Wren has his own shelf at Montréal’s Drawn & Quarterly

On Monday, André Forget dissected Polyamorous Love Song by Jacob Wren. Today on The Town Crier, Domenica Martinello adds her opinion in our first ever double feature review.

The characters in Jacob Wren’s meta mash-up, Polyamorous Love Song don’t mince words when it comes to art and artists. The novel continually contrasts an inflated sense of self-importance with the presence of actual creative merit: “All you want is people to look at you and look at what you do and think you’re special and talented.” It is Paul, a character questioning the validity of repackaging life as art, who delivers this criticism to one of the novel’s numerous narrators—significantly, “a mildly successful mid-career artist” most resembling Jacob Wren himself. This narrator tends to agree; he admits that artists are “not necessarily the most creative or inspired individuals in any given community,” but are “those individuals … most willing to gain personal profit from their unconscious and its emanations, those with the most missionary zeal for the dissemination of their own idiosyncratic perspectives.” For a novel described as “experimental,” “‘avant-garde,” and “confusing,” Wren is pretty clear about what he is doing without the need for self-aggrandizement. It would be impossible or at least dishonest to attempt the illusion of neutrality when trying to deconstruct the sort of ideas the novel puts forth. Instead of trying to create a distance between producer and product, the author implicates himself directly. He is the product. In a work that challenges the legitimacy of exploiting ideas—whether mundane, compelling, or radical—for artistic gain, Wren does not hold himself above the scrutiny of his novel’s probing question: Is art valuable? Continue reading