Archive for December, 2011

Ten Everywhere: Ethel Rohan and Hard To Say

  

In 10 words (no more, no less), please describe Hard to Say.
ER: My traitorous heart on the page for all to see.

(p8) – When was the last time you suffered from things hard to say?
ER: Minutes ago, when I again listened to the song mentioned below.

(p12) – “Every time I closed my eyes, I saw God pull Mother through a black hole in the sky” … what happened when you opened your eyes?
ER: It remained so dark I wasn’t sure my eyes had opened, but I took comfort in my sisters beside me and the ever present sense as a child that I was never alone, that God was always with me, watching over me.

(p14) – When your dad stared at the ceiling a lot, what did he see?
ER: The ceiling.

How does the cover art fit your book?
ER: The cover artist, Siolo Thompson, is a genius. The cover captures misery, unraveling, and the misshaping of a voiceless child. Note the golden and pretty pastel hues, though, they represent hope and the shiny human spirit.

(p19) – Tell me the best thing about the girl in the moon.
ER: The girl in the moon sings the world to sleep. Those who have had something essential inside broken can’t hear her anymore and don’t sleep well or feel at peace. Those are the people she sings her hardest for, her best for, out of her soul for, hoping someday they’ll heal and recover and will eventually hear her again and sleep like babes.

Are there times when guilt affects your writing?
ER: Interesting question. I’m not sure guilt has ever consciously affected my writing. Guilt sometimes censors my writing. Out of guilt and the worry I would hurt others with these stories, I almost didn’t publish Hard to Say.

These stories are like a continuing narration … do the stories still continue?
ER: Yes. Hard to Say captures the beginning in this continuing narration. Someday, I may or may not write the middle. A biographer may or may not write the end.

(p49) – What was the best thing you heard the sun say?
ER: “I’m untouchable, and that’s my tragedy.”

What song would be a best fit for this book?
ER: Kelly Clarkson’s “Because of You.”

Describe your writing process. What is the best and worst parts?
ER: Writing out of me stories I didn’t know I had in me is the best part of the writing process. The worst part of the writing process is failing.

In 10 words (no more, no less), please describe your next project.
ER: A novel set in Ireland in 1980 about a creep.

Ethel Rohan, Hard To Say, Little Books
bl pawelek, Ten Everywhere

review + interview /// Skin Horse by Olivia Cronk

I enjoy it when I don’t exactly know what to expect. I do make certain assumptions about the titles that Action Books produces – they will be thick in language, they will sing of desperation, they will crave and carve, they will confound but then beautifully unwind – but of Olivia Cronk, I knew little more than a few sample poems before having digested her forthcoming Action Books volume Skin Horse, and I was nicely and verily impressed. And now, thanks to the magic of our Monkeybicycle machine, we get to do a little interview + review for these wonderfully woven new words.

To begin with, I read Skin Horse as a narrative or story told in poems – was this wrong? Should I have read this book instead as a poetry collection, as only a loosely threaded volume of like-minded poems?

Well, first I’d respond that I do not believe in strictly right or wrong responses to texts, especially my own. I’d also say that I think that any sort of curated collection, or any bunch of things magically/accidentally thrown together, does suggest a narrative. And third, while I see most conventional narrative as tyrannical (a narrative tells the reader what to do, while I would rather collaborate with the reader in creative exchange/intercourse), I do and did intend to suggest a kind of coherent world where things happen—so, yes, that must be a narrative.

I have, though, just lately, thought much more about narrative than I used to—and the more recent poems in Skin Horse reflect some of what I am thinking. The poems that drop the second person pronoun (I know that this technique is not entirely apparent to the reader) are meant to tug the reader into the scene as an actor and to suggest the flimsy, excitingly thin world of storytelling. The self can split, can contain others, can project, can act voyeuristically and selfishly, can piece things together in pattern where there is none at all, where there could just as easily be recognition of an absolute empty. I favor a reader-centered poetics, and whatever narrative emerges, I hope, is created by the reader’s use of some tools that I pre-manipulated and some other wonderful—and totally unknown to me—tools with which the reader enters the exchange.

There is something about our sense of a timeline and the way we access memory that makes narrative so easy. I am excited by the feeling that this is ridiculous, seeing as we simply impose time on experience and imagine ourselves in a kind of gauzy strip of events that runs from birth to now to death. I like the failure of narratives. I like that narratives entertain; I think that readers should feel inside a poem the way we feel when we watch a film or hear music or eat dinner—inside of something that is outside of something else.

Skin Horse seems to reside, at least in tone if not in more concrete ways, in the idea of small town / farm life. Even when a poem loops out to technology or lasers or anything citified, it revolves right back to the tight fabric of community and rugged pastoral landscape just pages later. How does this extension away from and then retreat back to small town imagery connect with you as a writer? What does it tell us about you?

I adore the pastoral—for tone, for the language associated with land, for experiences in physical reality, for imaginary experiences . . . but, mostly, I just use the pastoral as a theater for other things. It is a place where I can insert electrical lemur-faces and where I can do myself in drag. I grew up very much in the city, went to warm and cheerful YMCA summer camps for my childhood exposure to “Nature,” and maybe I slightly exoticize the world you see depicted . . . ultimately, though, I see the boundaries between these different spaces as barely there. I like that the imagination can bounce and flee through and out of setting. I see a fine floral tapestry pillow on a wooden chair and I feel my grandma’s northside Chicago apartment as quickly and as easily as I feel a long winter walk in a state park, with a dip and a cliff and a deer corpse torn up on the path. These are the same to me, feeling-wise.

And when it isn’t animals pulling us into each moment of Skin Horse, the most constant images are equally nature-bound (trees, weather, etc.). For instance:

as a cougar

in the leaves a mother

in our mouths we called

one another

with black willow lip: Please It.

Or:

There is the wide stone water.

There is my own terror.

The seahorse of all this

is hacking yellow

a dry lung.

Or:

Think of my little albino deer

alone in the winter garden.

The tooth in the sky

making sea around him.

Where do these images come from and how do they manifest themselves as you write?

I often think of words as cheap trinkets that I arrange and rearrange on my dresser. Animals work very well for this. Also, aren’t animals so delightful to observe? It is an ethically appropriate sort of spying on private lives. I like to see what other creatures do, what their mannerisms and facial expressions are, and what tasks they have to complete. So, when I am not just lazily throwing around animal names for aesthetic s, I am writing about animals I have seen or imagined or obsessed over in some way.

Sometimes a poem/a word predicts the event about which it will be. The deer corpse I mentioned in the answer above was probably the result of a cougar attack. I actually saw this with my husband. It was dusk, and we were frightened and thrilled by the shock of it. Of course, I wrote “cougar/ in the leaves” a year before the “real-life” event. On another walk, we had imagined a cougar following us, and I put that in my poem. Later, it was real and the poem’s content, though not its words, changed.

As for seahorses, I just love them; I think they are amazing and alien. I used to play this strange youtube clip over and over: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaoLxR9FTwk. I was disturbed by how the filmmaker’s ordinary domestic life created the audio backdrop of this fairly dramatic event in the seahorse’s life. I like the micro/macrocosms. And my friend introduced me to Jean Painlevé’s movies (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y79UPfaHgE), where you can learn more about many strange little ones like the seahorse.

Albino deer live in northern Wisconsin. They are ghostly and ghastly. I have only seen pictures.

Likewise, over the course of Skin Horse, a rural accents slips in, as here:

I got deer-injecting to do.

Cup scams to pull.

A whole basket of others.

Or shouts in loudly, as here:

and here comes the thirsty one

a clickin’ away in the night.

A mirror pink locket all broke open

to unfold the awkward beast

a knockin’ in the night.

It’s us born to the weave

of nightmare and prairie and crow

and snow

so so piled plenty—

Why is this accentuated voice only used on occasion and what character or persona does it evoke in Skin Horse?

Like moving in and out of different spaces, I feel free to move in and out of costumes. On one hand, the different accents reflect different periods of writing, where I may have been “doing” a different persona. On the other hand, I find that in my physical life I speak in different voices all the time, obviously—and these can pop up and infect the poem or can be suppressed or mutated. Finally, I like to think there are many selves present in the poems, all very possible at once.

Lastly, there is a collective ‘us’ or ‘we’ referenced throughout the poems in Skin Horse. As in the previous sample, or this others, like this:

In us ‘til ten p.m.

In us like devil meat.

I was saying it

in us.

Who is this ‘us’, and/or what does it represent?

I don’t always know, but sometimes, often, it is my husband, with whom I write and read and have many adventures. Sometimes, it is my brother, my mother, one of my friends; sometimes it is you. And sometimes I am you or the you is me.

Olivia Cronk is making poems that read like vignettes of a total story taken apart and restructured into a new song, the same story but told in razed and rebuilt ways. Having fully eaten Skin Horse, I now know what to expect from Cronk, and it is in line with all we assume of Action Books – constant new titles that shiver and shake with goodness, that make us want to be better poets, better writers, and readers with all the time and money in the world to read books like this the instant they are released.

Buy this book here.

review + interview /// Shot by Christine Hume

In lovely white space, bites of poetic prowess fall from Christine Hume’s head, paper the pages of Shot, birth into the plane a baby breathing and absorbed in where it has been and what birthing is. Recently released from Counterpath Press, Hume’s third book Shot is a whirlwind of poetic goodness, and we are lucky enough here to ask her some questions about how this book was built.

To start with, there must be some deeper backstory to Shot that is not explained or unearthed in back cover copy or a preface. Can you give us the history on how this book came to be, where it comes from?

Shot came direct from my viscera, where I found it buried, malformed, but still alive. I wrote it while straddling three major somatic shifts (1) from being happily childless to embracing (bracing) motherhood (2) from being a major to a minor insomniac (3) from being a serial mover to living in a singular place. These transitions permutate like a pure dopamine drip.

In terms of poetic structure, Shot mostly follows an A/B rhythm, placing spare, line-break poetry between poems made of prose type blocks. What is the reason for this specific construction of the content in Shot?

To evoke the cyclic, and the kinetic engine of ambivalence, I wanted to create an architecture of alternating currents or irresolvable dialectics—yes/no, dark/light, fast/slow, prose/brokenness—as you might find in a prosemitrium, the halibun, or fu, which offer the sensation of moving through, drawing onward.

But sometimes, that rhythm is broken open, as in the opening volley of ‘Incubatory’, where the poems take an interrogative form of question and answer or call and response:

Are you comfortable?

                        I move inside night but am not its insides. I jerk and excise, I do not express. Outside is not made of the same dark as inside.

Can you open your eyes?

                        My looking does not bound back to me. It wanders further circles of eon in attempt to put the moon out of my moth-mind.

Or, as in the later piece ‘Interlude’, which works in the form of a list of pseudo definitions:

MOTHER ESTROGEN: The ultrasound picks up a luminous moon in this gray, grainy corner.

MOTHER BROKER: Looks like an owl killed by lightning.

MOTHER-IN-THE-TREES: An owl reshapes its face to shove a new sound down its ear. When you dream, you do the same. Your face reforms so that you may experience the next day.

How important is this kind of structural variety in your poetry and the books you build?

Maybe the rhythm is not so much broken as played with or swerved. I do love to enter through the doors that form/structure/method can open.

I hear you re: “Interlude,” but I think of it as a play or dialogue with an all mother cast, pregnant and aphorizing.

If we look at thematic content, the notion of clothing or fashion as metaphor recurs. As in ‘Nocturnal Dimensions of the Future’:

I stuffed night’s hem into my mouth

Night also buttoned up when it couldn’t find a thing to adorn

Or as in the opening lines of ‘My Actress’:

Costumed and impostured in her sheet, my actress cues hormonal ghosts with scheming cunts and sequin eyes.

Where does this kind of thematic pull come from?

If I put on my pjs, I might convince myself that I’m a sleeper. Cover myself with a material substance with deviant powers (language), and you misread me. Am I wearing a utilitarian enough language? Can you disguise me in yours? I’m interested in the moral drag everyone puts on or takes off. I’m interested in the fatigues we wear—the battledress and uniforms, the exhaustion and dead-time. My great hope is staked in ontological fatigue. The fatigue of being myself—the larval inaction of certain states of depression, information overload, and democracy’s abnegation of authority (voter fatigue) etc—might make me dress in slowness and self-doubt. Might redress Aristotelian dependency on catharsis, disrobing my impulse to act. In my fashion world, insomnia is the most promising step toward self-knowledge; it is the monochrome that opens up new futures that are not contained in the present; it is a heightened state of consciousness, a wakeful mission to rekindle our contract with ethics. In the insomnia suit, I writhe in and watch my own discomforts.

Another interesting thread throughout Shot is the only slightly perceptible presence of the male, as in ‘Mirabile Dictu’:

You thought he

wanted to be seen

You thought you

thought when you tire

of night stuck

full of eyes

go with him

and he’ll start

you from the start

Where does the male presence figure into a work like Shot?

Wherever he is. This observation might say more about you than me.

Touché.

Shot is really a beautifully thin and tenuous vein of poetry, like the inside of a womb or the outside of being, when we are no longer cradled. These poems rock and joust because Hume seems to have taken such care with each piece, such crafting to make each resound with the pain and outward suffering of being set irrevocably free. Shot is a wonderful book that makes poems from conception, that creates life as only words can.

Buy this book here. Read more from / about Christine Hume here.