Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Missy Marston : My (small press) writing day

My favourite Elvis Costello album is Armed Forces and my favourite Elvis Costello song is Accidents will happen. It begins: I just don’t know where to begin. And it ends: I know, I know. If I am lucky, every writing day is like this. I feel like I don’t know where to begin, I begin anyway, I figure something out.

People sometimes ask me how I write books when I work full time, have a family, etc. My answer is it takes forever (I am fifty years old. I have written two books.) and, I write on Sundays. I write on vacation, too, and when I’m ill – I got an incredible amount of work done once when I had pneumonia – but mostly, it is Sundays.

Sunday begins with our two dogs, Mary and Munro, waking me up between 5:30 and 6am. (They are Chihuahuas. Their bladders are tiny. It is amazing to me that they don’t just pee on the floor in the middle of the night. But they don’t! They just get up at 5:30.) I get up, feed them, take them out into the backyard, and then we all go back to bed to sleep or read for a while. (I read, they sleep). Because it is Sunday after all.

(Munro and Mary, the dogs)

When I can’t stay in bed anymore, I get up. I go downstairs and drink coffee and eat breakfast in my pyjamas, then shower, get dressed, make a thermos of tea and head to my “office”. My office is in our son’s bedroom. After he left home to go to university, my husband built a desk and shelves at one end of the room. I keep books there that help me write or that are otherwise reassuring. Reference books, art books, books about rock and roll, books by friends. And just really astonishingly good books. Books that seem impossible to write. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Zombie by Oates, Herzog by Saul Bellow, Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis, etc. Books to dream on.

You can see there are also gadgets. A mini Christmas tree that changes colour, a rubik’s cube. Things to fiddle with or stare at while thinking.

(The desk: writing HQ)

I also have a cork board that I tack things to that seem to have something to do with what I am writing. Images, lists, timelines. Also, there are pictures of people I admire that I cut out of magazines. Sometimes I like a picture so much it feels like bad luck to throw it out. Saul Bellow mid-sentence, a young James Merrill looking exactly like Matthew Broderick. Helen MacDonald sitting in her apartment with a giant hawk on her wrist looking like she hasn’t slept in a week. Wallace Stevens looking like the undercover poetic super-hero he was. Shipwrecks. Machines. That’s what it is like in the office.

(The corkboard. I don’t know what it means. It just helps.)

This is where I am supposed to sit and write. And I do. But I also roam around the house. I like to write at the kitchen table or on the couch in the living room. The couch is the best because dogs are there and also because you can flop down on your back in frustration when you get stuck. It can be magic. You flop down on your back, totally lost, and after a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, something comes to you, a place to start, and you pop back up and write a bit more.

Other ways of unsticking myself that I use include pacing around, taking a bath, folding laundry, staring out the window. They all usually work.

Another important factor in keeping to my Sunday schedule is this: every Sunday my husband goes down to the basement and paints all day. He is committed. This helps me. If he were around to talk to, to waste time with, I would never write a word on Sundays. But he goes down into the basement and makes oil paintings like the one below and listens to music so loud that I can often hear it two floors up. Regularly, I go down two flights of stairs, scare the life out of him just by appearing in the basement, and gently ask him to turn it down. Then back up two flights of stairs. Exercise!

(the kind of thing Peter Shmelzer makes in our basement on Sundays)

That’s it. Each Sunday, I do this sort of thing (typing, sitting at the desk, flopping down on the couch, stomping up and down the stairs, bathing, folding, pacing, staring) until 4 or 5pm. Then we go to the pub.

Missy Marston’s first novel, The Love Monster, was the winner of the 2013 Ottawa Book Award, a finalist for the CBC Bookie Awards and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice. Her second novel, about daredevils and heartache, will be published by ECW Press in 2019. She lives in Ottawa.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Jenna Jarvis : my (small press) writing day

            i start by painting my nails, because if the polish is wet, then, for fear of messing it up, i'll stay at my computer and write. it's nice to worry about sullying my nails, rather than about screwing up an as-yet-unwritten poem or tarot log or something. i don't have any other tricks. finally, the executive dysfunction that tormented me for the middle part of the 2010s has vanished, along with any seasonal affective disorder, in southern taiwan's tropical climate.
            pete and heather are the only people i know here, where the cost of living is low but the quality thereof is high. i learned that they were moving here too when i backed out of a literary collective. i told the group chat that i wouldn't be around for in-person readings because i was leaving to work in taiwan, and pete revealed that he and heather would be doing the same thing. they're in taipei, though, and we haven't been able to figure out the timing for the high speed train that gets you from one end of the island to the other. i don't think that this failure is some big revelation as to why any of our post-in/words collectives haven't panned out. it's that moving to taiwan is expensive, and teaching schedules and lifestyles don't encourage early morning starts to the weekend.
            craig offered to send my teaching cohort photos of me flailing passionately on the ground at karaoke, as proof that i'm a cool person. i'm not great at making friends or forging connections. i told him that i guess i'm fundamentally awkward and unlikable. i don't get invited out to the same things as everyone, perhaps because i don't have one of those ubiquitous scooters for day trips to little ryukyu. someone else said that i'm too introverted and aloof.
             i think that it is hard not to be conspicuously uninvolved from the canadian small press scene when you aren't living in canada. canlit seemed too nationalistic and stifling a label even before the concordia bullshit broke. i wasn't as interested in midcentury canadian writing, or even in material chapbook production, as my in/words peers, so it was hard for me to feel like a good fit at home, too. i say 'home' like that's a real signifier for a twentysomething english lit graduate: in 2017, i visited ten cities and lived in three. i didn't do much writing in halifax because i was learning how to become a teacher, but i did a lot of writing (and a number of CBT worksheets) on the train ride back home, and then on the way to vancouver.
            it makes sense, then, that most of my recent publications have been online. i was a regular contributor at word and colour (before the editorial shift) and at the salvage (before i moved). right now, i'm combing twitter for submission calls and trying not to feel bad about breaking my weeklong snapstreak with jesslyn. she told me that poetry was never really her big thing, but that she had a blast at show and tell's keyboards! show. i wonder if i'd lose my shit at being asked to compose a poem on the spot using a typewriter--i'm wed to my backspace function, but who's talking about marriage?--or fall into a familiar routine of trying to be as shocking and obtuse as possible in front of my friends.
            i'm put off by a few online publication pieces because they try too hard to be alt lit, like that scene wasn't concordia before concordia. playing with memes and trying to generate some ultrahip poesis hasn't really been my deal, and i'm a little embarrassed that i once won a prize for precisely this sort of thing. despite craig's assertion, i'm not a cool person. literary cred doesn't come easy if you're too jaded and distant. a lot of my writing happens on the weekend in the evening--in ontario's early morning, like everyone else--when i haven't spent the day teaching or subbing or hustling somehow.
            they tell you not to teach to the test, and i imagine that you shouldn't write to the publication, but that's what i'm doing now. i'm trying to get some stuff in for the hart house review's upcoming call, because it seems like that's what youngish canadian poets should be doing (and because their issues are delightfully, decidedly not a sea of whiteness). angelhouse wants many more submissions by women and nonbinary or genderqueer writers for an issue that interrogates what poetry is (i.e., not just free verse by tenured academics).
            lately, i've been playing a lot of pokemon showdown online with jayce, who lives in scotland. one battle of ours devolved into a pair of literal fluffy fairies fighting each other with psychic powers and poison. this seems like the sort of material in which a press championing queirdos (queer-weirdos; there’s no comfortable way to make this portmanteau work) and esotericism would rejoice. or is it a stupid idea that screams weirdness for weirdness' apolitical sake? i will ask my friends, because writing, despite my remoteness, has, at the end of the day, been about friendship for me.

Jenna Jarvis was born in Ottawa and lives in Kaohsiung. Her writing has appeared in Word and Colour, The Salvage, Sea Foam, and other digital and print publications. Her poem "syndical not synecdochal" secured an honourable mention for the Puritan's 2014 Thomas Morton Prize, and she was the winner of the 2012 John Newlove Poetry Award, as well as Carleton University's 2011 George Johnston Poetry Award . Her third chapbook, year of pulses, is forthcoming from above/ground press.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Suzanna Derewicz : My Small Press Writing Day

When it came to writing creative work on the daily, I was more prolific three to four years ago than I currently am; there were many reasons for this. Often when I wrote, I took the wretchedness I was feeling in various precarious states of mental health to make something out of my tender experiences – art that people could read or watch on stage and appreciate, while allowing myself some space to detach from it. Playwriting and poem making became a way for me to expunge nightmarish feelings surrounding the difficult interpersonal experiences I carried around with me, experiences I carried around until I could find the words to let them live outside of myself, so I could find some release from them.

While good at my craft, I recognized how unsustainable it all was. Eventually I started to get some much-needed therapy, found other outlets, strategies, and methods for integration, and I began to feel a lot healthier. The impulse, the obsession with writing as purging started to rest quieter within me. I also started to work in content marketing as a freelance copywriter and editor, which in some ways I used as an excuse to not write as much of my own work. I think in a lot of ways I’m still scared of re-evaluating a new writing practice because what if I only wrote well or made decent work because I was sick? What if I’m not really a strong creative without anxiety or fear pressing its hands up against my back?

I’m a training psychotherapist now and between a varied and manageable work and school schedule, 2018 is offering me the opportunity to rediscover where the desire to write lives within me now, as it is irreversibly different than what it was before. For the time being, I am trying to set aside two hours a day, typically after or before work, to test some pieces out. My writing flows more freely before 9am, so some days I try to start by 6:30 or 7; admittedly I’m not always on time. If I can’t sustain the whole two hours, I spend the remainder of that time reading work by others or applying for publication.

It helps me to be working on a collaborative chapbook with fellow poet Amanda Earl based out of Ottawa; our email correspondences inspire me, and I am happy to feed off another writer’s energy when I am struggling to find my fire. I am also trying my hand at prose for the first time and liking it as it is an avenue I owe very little of myself to, and one that has virtually no expectation of me. I do not write plays anymore and think that is for the best.

When I left the theatre to let my creative voice out more authentically through poetry, I wanted it to remain something I did for me and not for others; in doing so I fostered no dreams (or misconceptions) about making it my sole career (though I respect all striving career artists and writers and hope to support their work whenever I am able and given the opportunity to). I wanted my passion for my own work to speak for itself, and that passion mutated into something ugly and soul-stealing when I was doing it to get proof for my self worth in a cut-throat industry.

My interests are changing now; for one, I’ve found my true calling and that has been instrumental to my finding necessary grounding within my life. I only hope I can find more space for writing as I continue finding my balance, as I stop needing it to fill some void or exorcise some demon. And I’m getting there.

Suzanna Derewicz is a writer and training psychotherapist working and living in Toronto. She has recently been published on Metatron's OMEGA blog, in Arc Poetry Magazine, Peach Mag, and the Minola Review, among others. She also occasionally does interviews for the Puritan's Town Crier BlogHer debut chapbook Maggie Monologues was released in Fall 2016 by words(on)pages press. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


1.      I wanted to replace the word ‘caustic’ in my own poem one morning by opening the dictionary very wide and turning the pages above my head so that I wouldn’t disturb my body’s prostrate position (which it had been in since the night before), and then the Universe (my own sense of it), until all that would remain of the task (upon finding a suitable replacement) would be to put down the tome, reach across the nightstand to the pencil and the poem, scratch out the offending word-thing so that the resulting object would be a pristine sheet of glowing paper (its bleachedness lit only by the deathly pallor of my sleep face), minus the scratched out and replaced word, upon which would shimmer a now perfect poem which little by little would annihilate the world with its wisdom, for that is how I see the end of the world.

2.      What I found in the dictionary:
adjective: caustic (ˈkôstik)
                                                        i.            able to burn or corrode organic tissue by chemical action.
synonyms:       corrosive, corroding, abrasive, mordant, acid
                                                      ii.            sarcastic in a scathing and bitter way.
"the players were making caustic comments about the refereeing"
synonyms:       sarcastic, cutting, biting, mordant, sharp, bitter, scathing, derisive, sardonic, ironic, scornful, trenchant, acerbic, abrasive, vitriolic, acidulous
                                                    iii.            PHYSICS
formed by the intersection of reflected or refracted parallel rays from a curved surface.

3.      The accruing verve that followed my brisk google search of the third definition’s image made me feel somewhat like a furloughed pony who spies a rainbow, sees herself enhanced, and suddenly remembers that the tub of gold at its end has much worth, and is in fact very real indeed -- this tub and its ejected rainbow. As I scrolled, slowly but surely I wanted to strip ‘caustic’ of every definition except for the third, and thus make a saint out of it.

4.      As is my pastime (namely, to watch science tutorials on youtube), I searched for a science tutorial on youtube, and found a singular video of “caustic”: in this video seven cubes of jello, all colours of the rainbow, are altogether tossed into a beam of light (sunlight, I believe), and bouncingly land intact, (that’s how the light jiggles through). Those jello cubes, seemingly full of mystery, are like certain closed heavens, such as libraries and Utopia, and in the beam their caustics hypnotize me as do my two federal glass iridescent moon glow white textured pearl lustre tea cups gifted to me by a friend, abandoned tiki buffet restaurants, small gasoline spills, and translated instructions to “oil boil” my sesame crackers, for translations are unshut and always communicate with the infinite.

5.      However, most gloriously of all, light in the labyrinth, the most alive of worlds, light with the tenderest flesh, is the caustic made from blue pool waves. It strews sublimity as it wobbles, and wanders web-eyed through utopias and glistening populations. I now know the pool floor (under light) is (for sure) the ceiling of the soul.

6.      A panicked phone call from a friend after I failed to mention in my text that it was in fact a “cat” that had just broken into my apartment as I was making breakfast (“broken in” being perhaps a too-strong term for “mosied in” albeit uninvited) and not, as he thought, a dangerous human person, led me to mentioning to him (after some abashed reassuring that I was in fact OK--the cat was not dangerous, as far as I could tell, and even had a name tag, strangely bone-shaped despite not being a dog, though indeed cats probably interact more with bones than dogs do over their lifetimes of hunting small living creatures--and large, if you include myself and my history with cats which is now not worth mentioning--having just been mentioned indirectly--upon which was emblazoned--or however one gets a name into a metal surface--the name Pompidou--which read only slightly dangerous, in wiliness and eyebrows perhaps, though Pompidou, the cat at least, was indeed what one might call “forward”) my recent discovery of the caustic, and how a new school of philosophy must build itself around the caustic, and how, in fact, to be quite frank, or perhaps crass, that if I were in fact a pony, or horse of some kind, at least hooved, that I could see no better fate (after being furloughed of course), at the end of a long lush life of eating clover blossoms and prancing, that, if it had to be this way, and I were to be made into gelatin (as is the fate of many horses, much to the horror of a child who loves "jello-jigglers" and horses equally, as I was), that I could see no more glorious end, than to be made, yes, into seven cubes of jello, each a colour of the rainbow, and tossed into a beam of light...and out of this conversation emerged the term (coined by said friend) permanently etched into my heart’s mind, "equestrian transcendence."

7.      To put it simply...I let caustics fuse me. My heart belonged to the caustic, my poem to the word-thing, my head to the glass of water under my lamp, where, even there, caustics furnished their thaumaturgy. A glib marbling lightway led to corridors covered with thought carpets, upon which I moved noiselessly. When the caustic was in the room, it came to pass that the thoughts of me, abashed, opened up, and there sprang forth, like a pony, from their pitiable fragments, a surface on which there lay, as in on the pool floor, a poem of light and refraction.

Sarah Burgoyne lives and writes in Montreal. Her first collection Saint Twin was nominated for the A.M. Klein Prize in Poetry. She has published three previous chapbooks including Love the Sacred Raisin Cakes (Baseline Press) and Happy Dog, Sad Dog (Proper Tales Press).