Monday, February 19, 2018

announcing : versefest 2018!

Six days, seventy poets, one festival. Celebrating written poetry and spoken word in English and French, VF ’18 brings you some of the most exciting poets on the planet.


MARCH 20 – 25, 2018

Ahmed Ali, Alice Notley, Allison LaSorda, Carolyn Marie Souaid, Chris Tse, Christine McNair, Claire Kelly, Colette Bryce, Daniel Dugas, David Charette, David Groulx, Di Brandt, Didi Jackson, Faith Arkorful, Frédéric Lanouette, Gary Barwin, Georgette LaBlanc, Gonzalo Hermo, Hans Jongman, Henry Beissel, Hoa Nguyen, Holly Painter, Jamaal Jackson Rogers, Jan Zwicky, Jean Van Loon, Jeff Latosik, Jennifer Baker, Jonathan Lamy, Kama La Mackerel, Kate Cayley, Klara du Plessis, Lady Vanessa Cardona, Louise Bernice Halfe, Louise Dupré, Luce Pelleteir, Lynn Crosbie, Madeleine Stratford, Major Jackson, Miles Hodges, Natalee Wee, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, Nyla Matuk, Peter Sirr, Rachel McCrum, Robyn Schiff, Sjón, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Steve McCaffery, Tina Charlebois and Victoria Gravesande, as well as this year's Hall of Honour inductees!

For a full schedule, including ticket information (and festival passes!) check out

Sunday, February 18, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essays

I’ve started posting a series of short essays/reminiscences by a variety of authors and friends of the press to help mark the quarter century mark of above/ground press, aiming to appear on the above/ground press blog throughout 2018. 

So far, short essays have appeared by above/ground press authors
Erín Moure, Stan Rogal, Eleni Zisimatos, Derek Beaulieu and Jessica Smith, with forthcoming pieces by Gary Barwin, Amanda Earl and Jason Christie, among others. You can see links to the whole series as it develops, here. 

And of course, 2018 subscriptions (backdated to January 1st) are still completely possible. New and forthcoming 2018 titles include chapbooks by (in reverse order): Allison Cardon, Melissa Eleftherion, Uxío Novoneyra (trans. Erín Moure), Travis Sharp, Dani Spinosa, Andrew Wessels, Stuart Kinmond / Phil Hall, Natalee Caple, Jon Boisvert, Lise Downe, Dennis Cooley, Edward Smallfield, Sean Braune, Kate Siklosi, Michael Martin Shea, Jennifer Stella, Miguel E. Ortiz Rodríguez, Sara Renee Marshall, Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, Stephanie Gray, Amish Trivedi, Stan Rogal, Eleni Zisimatos, Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, Rachel Mindell, Adrienne Gruber, Andrew Cantrell, kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff and Anna Gurton-Wachter (as well as four issues of the quarterly Touch the Donkey, and at least one issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club).

I mean, the press produced forty chapbooks last year (roughly half by Canadian writers and the rest by American writers). Isn’t that work a mere sixty-five dollars?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Eléna Rivera, Scaffolding


“To read what is hidden” the conversation
begins with that, the silence, the cloaked waiting
It must be paid attention to no matter
what—it demands to be first as is its right,
and too much accretion woven around it
will hide instinct’s way if ego’s unwilling
to bond with, to taste the dialogue’s intense
distance—that entering of mind’s divisions,
bringing one tongue forward reading the other’s
silence without unraveling completely,
having a sense of direction a desire
to meet the poem’s density where thickness
clings to a cloaked rendering that doesn’t end
but meets with isolated words: tuff, gorse, edge

Somewhere during the later 1990s, I picked up a second-hand copy of poet and translator Eléna Rivera’s small title Wale; or The Corse (Buffalo NY: Leave Books, 1994) at Montreal’s The Word Bookstore and was immediately struck by the flow of her lyric, and the structure of the book-length poem, and spent years curious about how what she might end up doing next. Given that, I’m very pleased to finally be able to get into her most recent title, Scaffolding (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), a collection of eighty-two sonnets composed as a kind of “day book” project over the space of nearly a year (the dates run from mid-July through to the end of the following April). Composed around the sights, sounds, buildings and figures, both contemporary and historical, of New York City, where Rivera now lives, Scaffolding is well-named, with a collection of sonnets entirely centred around structure. As part of an interview around the book published on the Princeton University Press blog soon after the book appeared, she spoke on the combination of title and her use of the sonnet: “The sonnet form is a kind of ‘scaffolding,’ a structure, for the substance and sounds of the poem, as is the hendecasyllable line. I also like the darker meaning of the word, ‘an elevated platform on which a criminal is executed;’ there was something that felt dangerous about these poems, about what I was doing.” Earlier in the same interview, she wrote:

I’ve always been interested in form, the interplay between form and content, between the inner and the outer. I wanted to experience what it would be like to write discreet poems over time. I had been engaged with writing long poems for a while. I’d work on a piece, playing with different possibilities, until the form would come to me and I knew then that the poem had found its direction (the amount of time I have, and the concerns of the poem, are what dictate the poem’s length). I was interested in the book as form (a love of the epic) and made one-of-a-kind books, and books in hand-letterpress editions (fascinated by the weight of the single lead letter). At first the sonnet seemed the complete opposite of what I had been doing, but really it wasn’t that different, the form got smaller, tighter, and I filled it rather than found it; it shaped the conversation, the music of it. I really became fascinated by the fourteen-line form, what such a compact container could give rise to, and once I committed myself to it I felt compelled to continue.

While some have argued for the limitations of the sonnet, Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell has argued, as others have, the sonnet’s infinite possibilities and endless mutability, which most likely suggests why the sonnet is still in such use. With the form of the sonnet and the idea of scaffolding, Rivera’s Scaffolding exists as a kind of catch-all, able to hold anything and everything, picking up multiple elements from her knowledge of New York City to compose collage-sonnets tight enough that even a bird might land upon them.


It’s madness this falling in love with sadness,
that faint sound a song that keeps resurfacing
between thoughts that Icarus carried too far
seen from the river’s edge painting by Bruegel
She’s able to swim with help from a large dog
(over and beyond tale of the falling youth)
I envy the comfort that she takes from him
(falling brusquely into a dream) bathed in a
sunlit world where “the whole pageantry” deepest
when at my desk voluntarily holding
“it” the absent, the falling, the dangerous
just balances at the edge of the tale, of
dangerous dropping places where “knights” “ladies”
plummet and cannot recover from madness—

Friday, February 16, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Aditi Machado

Aditi Machado is an Indian poet who lives in the United States. Her first book of poems, Some Beheadings, appeared from Nightboat Books in 2017. She is also the translator of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia (Action Books, 2016) and author of the chapbooks Route: Marienbad (Further Other Book Works, 2016) and The Robing of the Bride (Dzanc Books, 2013), as well as texts appearing in Western Humanities Review, Jacket2, Volt, and The Capilano Review, among other journals. She edits poetry in translation for Asymptote.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook was called The Robing of the Bride. It won The Collagist Chapbook Contest in 2012 and was published by Dzanc in 2013. At the time, the great change in my life was to have this object in the world that I had made but which was also made by others, physically. It was a gift. But now that you ask this question, I realize also that that was my first long poem—or one that got into the world somehow. I wrote the early drafts for a class called Poetry and History taught by Carl Phillips and it forced me to engage certain materials and ideas for a prolonged period of time, so that the form of the poem was also prolonged. And though I think I write differently now (less narrative, more meditation) I’m still primarily writing long poems. And they keep getting longer.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I was a child I wrote all sorts of things. When I was sixteen I wrote a novel which I was certain would rock the very foundations of “literary fiction.” What happened actually was that I got something out of myself that was necessary to get out, so that I could look at it and realize I had no real affinity for narrative or personality. Toward the end of high school and through college I mostly wrote poems on/for the internet and realized that’s what I wanted to do.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I don’t write often. I used to. But in the past two or three years I’ve slowed down considerably. Typically, I’ll write a few lines or brief stanzas almost every day for several weeks; then I’ll rewrite that material several times, with long breaks between successive drafts. But I do occasionally get certain sections “right” the first time.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
The current manuscript I’m working on, tentatively called Emporium, I knew would be a book even as I wrote the first poem. Each poem is fairly long, because an image or line or word gets poured over, re-examined, and transformed over the course of several pages. So I suppose it begins with an image, line, or word. But words, especially. I learned some Old English and Latin recently, which makes me ever more curious about the life of certain words. I told some of my students, thereby shocking them, that I was obsessed with the word “cunt.” But it wasn’t meant to be shocking. The OED entry for “cunt” is fascinating. Among other things, in medieval times, a particular flower was called “cuntehoare” and, at another point in time, the word “quaint” was used as a variant of “cunt.” It remains to be seen whether I’ll work this into a poem …

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

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
In my first book, Some Beheadings, I think a lot about thinking. I’d been reading Etel Adnan and Geoffrey Hill who are both very philosophical writers whose intellect is incredibly, though differently, sensuous. So I got caught up in this question of what it would it mean to feel your own thoughts and whether those feelings change in relation to different landscapes (it turns out they do). Right now I’m writing more about haptic encounters, especially in marketplaces. And I’m wondering what it does to us to collapse distance as against seeing across distance. The wondering seeps into my non-writing life (if not the other way round), so when I’m shopping, I’ll think about the difference between paying with cash (and how you pay with cash—do you place it on the counter or into the cashier’s hands and how long you take to count your money) and paying with virtual money.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
In some ways I think writing is the culture, if one thinks of writing as a kind of making-of-the-world that’s happening all the time, even in speech. It’s just that the culture doesn’t recognize this about itself. I also keep noticing that ideas have been alive in language even before they have put forth as ideas. So maybe all writing is speculative, even when it’s looking at the past, and the role of writers is to speculate and to be always avant, without even knowing it? I mean, let’s be bold.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I can’t think of a single bad experience I’ve had with an editor—maybe I’ve been lucky? I’ve certainly been lucky working with Nightboat, Action, and Further Other Book Works. It’s like having an incredible and detail-oriented conversation about language. I would say good editing is an art and, as art, is essential.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Maybe something like: practice kindness.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Translation is a salve. You get to make all of these intricate decisions at the level of word, syntax, and sound (and, well, more), but you don’t experience the psychosis of the supposed “starting from scratch” that writing your own poems precipitates. Or maybe it’s a different type (pleasanter?) of psychosis. And of course, I don’t really see translating and writing as oppositional moves. This is to say, I’ll often work on translation and my-own-poetry projects simultaneously and sometimes also translate for the sake (=fun) of it.

Critical prose is another matter. I hate most of it and hate writing it. I do love essays and nonfiction, particularly when they’re, at heart, poetic: as in, they make something, or enact discovery or thought in some way. A small amount of critical prose does this and I don’t have a good sense of my own capacities here. The few essays I’ve written that I go back to are about poets I love, so it’s a way of reading them ever more deeply.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
It depends on what other work (adjuncting, etc.) I have to do, but I’ve learned to stop feeling ashamed that I don’t have a set routine. I’m answering this question in December, when I’m off-term, so these days, I’ve been writing an hour or so in the morning and I try to do some translating in the evening. It’s lovely.

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

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Petrichor. Also, there’s a particular kind of soft, humid breeze on a temperate day that is very precisely Bangalore (where I’m from), which I very occasionally experience in the United States.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Maybe not nature exactly, but landscape, yes. I’ve written a few site-specific texts and felt very deeply the thinking I was doing in those places (dense, extremely biodiverse, tropical jungle), and felt it shaped by what was around me. And cinema. I love a lot of French and Russian cinema, and almost everything by David Cronenberg and Todd Haynes. I like movies that are incredibly spare (Robert Bresson) or terribly excessive (Paul Verhoeven)—they seem to operate like poems, with multiple systems of meaning not reducible to elements of narration.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

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

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Fine-dining chef. (Would attempt; not inevitable).

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t think I was good at anything else, really.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

20 - What are you currently working on?
A book of poems tentatively titled Emporium. A translation project that isn’t official yet, so I won’t name it. Various syllabi.