Thursday, February 28, 2019

Helen Hajnoczky : Writing Day

There is a little knot in me, getting more and more tangled up. I go out for a walk at lunch and I can feel it whirl a little. I can feel it tightening all evening. So at night I pick it apart and find it is much denser than I thought.

Sometimes things vanish so slowly I don’t notice. I resent this. There are materials of irreparable breaks and there are materials of mending. I feel the break in both equally. The objects around me that breathe in this air and moment, bound in memories. I run my hand over one of these things just quickly, and think about it as I make dinner.

I write a raw feeling out bluntly. I pull the stitches of the poem together messily, gathering the fabric of it into an uncomfortable lump. I write that sort of thing for me. I like to keep the reader in mind, but sometimes I alone am that reader that I have in mind. I like the ugliness of the knot. It speaks to me.

Or I bring the pieces together with quick little stitches, pull them tight, and to my surprise find the thing looks unexpectedly nice. I appreciate this and consider that I might come back to it someday when I’m ready to wear it, or ready to loan it out, ready to give it away.

I mend something torn and precious to me, holding it in my hands. Repairing it doesn’t hide the tear. Pulling the needle in and out and in and out and messing it up. I debate going back to fix the last stitch. Decide it’s worth it. Or I don’t, and I let the mistake become part of it.

I have another idea as I untangle this and mend that. An idea like a braid. I think about its strands for a year. And then late one night I hide under the blankets and weave it into the glowing void of an app on my phone. It looks so smooth.

The clouds are beautiful today. The sunset sent just for me. I don’t care what anyone else thinks the sunset means. I don’t care if it has nothing to do with the sewing theme. I depend on that light, on the heart that metaphor means to me. It’s not a metaphor, at all really. That’s the sort of thing I write for anyone who isn’t me. That’s the sort of thing I write just for me.

Words aren’t a tool in this case. Words are a medium and I like to study their sheen in the light like a monochrome painting. I like to admire the shadows their heavy impasto casts. I mean, of course, yes, I write a lot of emails, for instance. I write a lot of text messages with the winking tongue out face. I add that one to about 80% of my texts. This is more something sore or ebullient or ruined.

It’s only the poem that holds its making, not me.  I am or am not that poem in essence. It becomes in me. It works itself down and through me like a seam. Like that sunset. I know and I don’t know what words mean. I let the sunset creep in. I thread a needle, make dinner. I am reminded, I am bothered by something. By a blunt edge, a glow, a sharp needle.

As a general note, I love notebooks but I find myself writing on my phone a lot. I’m going to have to accept that these aren’t stopgap works. This is it.

And I like being in the room with others at home. I always thought I wanted a desk looking out a window, so in looking out the window I could think important solitary arty thoughts, and write them in a resplendent notebook, and readers could read my poems and then stare out of windows, thinking insightful arty thoughts, but I mostly find myself slouched on the couch, feet up on the coffee table. Or once everyone else is sleeping but the aura of their warmth still lingers in the room with me, and I can listen to them snoring loudly in the adjacent rooms, I write. I find that a productive kind of safety.

Night. Night is definitely my writing day. Except when it isn’t. But it usually is. Except it isn’t sometimes. But usually. Or sometimes I flip through photos, often now that I think about it, or the smooth arc of brush or a knife across paper or canvass. Or the slice of a thread being drawn through fabric. The closing sound of the thread drawn taught brims in me.

The table is littered with bits of trimmed thread. I gather these up and put them in a beautiful glass vessel that my dad gave me just because I said I liked it. It was his. The kind of thing I’d never be able to give away, and he gave it to me just like that. It shimmers like a sunset in the midday sun, or like a sunrise in the lamplight at night.

Bits of the ball of string and yarn from a project I made for my dad could be used for mending, but formed into the shape of the dish, when I hold it in my palm, it’s its own purpose. There’s mending and there’s making and there’s memory and there’s me. And there’s the poem somewhere in there. Each one that forms I notice I’ve been pulling together for years.  

The poem is the tangle in me that I untangle, but in untangling it I create a tangle, and this is what I have to offer, like the glass vessel. Everything we do together seems so fragile to me.

Helen Hajnoczky is the author of Margyarázni (Coach House, 2016), which explores ideas of family and first generation cultural identity through folkart and poetry. She shares her visual art, poetry, and eyeSnowScape artworks made with her late father Steve Hajnoczky on Instagram @ateacozyisasometimes, and online at Her above/ground chapbooks include No Right on Red and A History of Button Collecting. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Jason Purcell: Writing Towards Care, a (small press) writing day

Despite the wealth of earth placements in my chart, and so despite my need for order, I have never developed a writing routine. I could blame that on my Pluto. My Taurus Sun and Mercury and my Virgo Rising goad me toward creativity, yes, but more strongly toward perfection, which paralyzes before it inspires. Anyway, aside from my astrology, there is also the matter of my material life, constellated with more things pull me away from writing than toward it.

First there is economics, a precarity which affects almost all of us who write or would like to. I would style myself as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette: “Queen of Debt!” slashed across my mental life. And so, like many of us, I work first. A blessing is that my work is somewhere that feeds my writing life immensely—the University of Alberta’s Canadian Literature Centre—and I have a boss who is generous, understanding, and who has given me every opportunity that has made even the thought of a writing life possible. Through this work I meet so many of the writers I admire and am able to provide paid reading gigs for them, find small ways to sustain their practice. But even worthwhile work drains.

Which might, of course, have something to do with trying to attend to one’s mental health at the intersections of body chemistry, the persistence of racism, colonialism, queer phobia, late capitalism, climate change, et al. Everything drains, and I’m just a white guy. We have incredible writers with world-making words to share who experience marginalization at a level I could never imagine. Think of all the writing that could be if folks didn’t have to expend so much and endure so much to survive all of this.

And then the reality of illness that for four years flares on its own schedule, swelling my stomach with its sharp pain and leaving me clasping at the bathmat or writhing in bed. This illness, through medication, through cleanses and elimination diets that flirt with disordered eating habits that I already carry with me, tires me and hurts me. I can’t concentrate through it, let alone sit or write, let alone participate in the world. But lines slice through my mind when the pain comes and I repeat them like a chant between heaving and whimpering. I write them in the notes app of my phone, which has become an archive of writing through illness.

But then the privilege of working toward hope: opening a bookstore—Glass Bookshop—with my dear friend and fellow writer Matthew Stepanic, trying to devote a space in Edmonton for literature and conversation and kinship. And so, writing business plans, trying to understand financial projections and cash flow, marketing plans, and emails expand to fill whatever’s left of a writing day.

It isn’t until very late at night, and at the expense of so much else—dishes, laundry, sometimes cooking—that I can sit down in this apartment and write the things that feel like my own. A list: poems for submission, revisions on a novel and a chapbook, the beginnings of another novel, a short article on a friend’s work, a song, and still, after all that, I feel guilty for not accomplishing more. This is another of my writing realities, feeling like I haven’t capitalized enough on each available minute, that is shared by many of the millennials I know (and don’t know) trying to find a way to sustain themselves and find meaning in their lives.

But another reality is that I have found myself among a beautiful group of writers who might have similar experiences—certainly they write under similar conditions—who, without sounding trite, remind me that, in this world, writing matters. A sink full of dishes or a full laundry hamper don’t, not quite as much. Matthew Stepanic, Vivek Shraya, Emily Hoven, Jessica Johns, Austen Lee, Lisa Martin, writers who I can turn to, in life or on the page, who pull me back toward a writing life, always at the end of a day of living, when I need it most, to be reminded that writing is care, and we should nurture the habit of caring daily. 

Jason Purcell is a writer and musician living on Treaty 6 territory in Edmonton, Alberta. His writing has appeared in CV2, The Malahat Review, PRISM International, and Poetry is Dead, among others. He is Interviews Editor for Glass Buffalo and co-editor of Ten Canadian Writers in Context (UAP 2016). His chapbook, A Place More Hospitable, will be published by Anstruther Press in Spring 2019. Alongside Matthew Stepanic, he is co-founder of Glass Bookshop, Edmonton’s newest bookstore.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

the writing process : Anton Pooles

I often think I dream more when I am awake than when I am asleep. All my ghosts and all the monsters I’ve dreamt up tell me things about myself and of the world, things I don’t fully understand. I write to understand.

I keep a notebook, write sporadically throughout the day, and if I’m lucky, I get a day or two to dedicate fully to writing. I never know the outcome of those days. Sometimes I feel I have done something worthwhile, and other days I’m beaten black and blue, but that just makes me anxious to return to it. 

It’s important for me to shut out the outside world as much as possible. Music (usually instrumental) is a good way to mask the outside noises and keep me focused.

Research is very important. I spend as much time doing research and reading articles as I do writing. No matter how dream-like my poems might get, they all have to have a grain of truth to them. Otherwise, they can feel hollow.

Reading is important to all writers, but equally important to me is film. Film feeds me imagery I can’t always get from reading. Due to my poor working memory I will often have to read a paragraph or a page twice just to retain it. Reading is not a soothing activity, it’s a lot of work. But I can analyse a scene in a movie and pull from it all the elements that make it seem real: light; shadow; colour; temperature; motion; sound; and camera angles. Not all these elements will appear on the page, but they’re all in the mixing pot. If I can’t visualize the poem, it will never work, but I give every idea a chance to live.

I also keep a sketch pad on my desk. When I’m having difficulty describing something in words, I draw it. It also allows me to clear my head when writing begins to drive me a little mad. I am not an artist by any means, but I find it incredibly freeing.

It is impossible for me to ever truly leave the world of my imagination. I’m always thinking of something that leads back to writing or film. But I do fear growing bored. I fear losing my curiosity. Without curiosity, the imagination dies. So I’ve surrounded myself with things that have inspired, thrilled and terrified me. A piece of art, a toy, a model or a little knick knack I’ve collected — it’s all there to keep the blood of the imagination circulating.

I know I am done with a poem when I feel relief.

Anton Pooles was born in Novosibirsk, Siberia and raised in Toronto. He is a graduate of Humber’s Film program and the University of Toronto’s Creative Writing program. His debut chapbook Monster 36 was published with Anstruther Press in November 2018. He watches far too many movies and is obsessed with things that don’t exist.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Pearl Pirie : My (small press) writing day

Since it’s not a day for volunteering at the community centre, since the exercise class with our merry band of stretchers was cancelled due to weather, since I did a big batch cook yesterday putting a few days of meals in fridge and freezer, since I don’t have a headache, nausea from pain, nor vertigo today, I’m more free than usual to bear down and write. I woke at 10 instead of my planned 8:30 but at least it’s not 11 yet. As I write, the local Quebec power grid is down again for a few hours but we have solar backup.

For a lot of years, 3-5 hours out at a reading meant being useless for 3-4 days, but my energy has been more truncated from a concussion, so most of my time is well, rest. I don’t have many functional hours a day. I suppose rest uses up what others use on employment, kids and sleep deficit.

What time remains mostly gets used in making meals and other life maintenance, brushing the dog, connecting with hubby, and planning my ambitions to get a poetry class up and running.

I was awake in wee hours composing in my head; I jot that down to evaluate in a few days. I make sketches of an asemic chapbook. I explore making acrylic paintings when I feel non-verbal but today I have the verbals. I consider photographing my office as writing space but a) it’s a midden b) couch and bed are more usually my work space. Breakfast in bed with the cat trying to commandeer the boxes. Laptop bedside to move straight into the day.

Typical mornings, I review my to-do lists, comforted that even if it was an item from 2 months ago, I can check it off. I have to keep myself busy waiting for mail. Should be a newspaper day. Or my Frog Hollow chapbooks might arrive today. Slowing breath and tempo, I read more of Yellow Crane by by Susan Gillis.

After lunch, I peck away at something in a notes app. These days I grease the gears with NaHaiWriMo (National Haiku Writing Month, the shortest month for the shortest form) where there are daily prompts. I have always responded well to prompts. That probably amounts to under 10 minutes a day but like the 7-minute intense workout (which I don’t do yet), it’s enough to keep the brain more fit. You write more poems by trying than by waiting for “inspiration”. Take a breath and write.

I write differently than a decade and two ago. Not only because I was wed to non-lyrical and now am exploring them. I have no more desparation of all-afternoon sessions or 2 days locked in my office in verbal barfs. No 2-8 poems a day habit and every moment is a writing day. Maybe that’s aging, maybe that’s Maybelline healing. Maybe I have more of the repressed, angry, and unprocessed worked out. Maybe I don’t overstim myself into overload the way I did. Helps that I currently don’t have active stalkers and am not front-line worker with refugees anymore so that brings the baseline of stress down again.

When my brain gets full, I’ll nap or shovel snow, walk the dog, read about diseases of goat, or poll for new emails for doing data entry.

I’m currently working on cover and layout on a chapbook that may be out this May or June with phafours press.

I say I haven’t written a poem for the last 3 years, between managing a reading series and recovering from a concussion, but I guess I have made 50 or 60 poems from scratch that work well enough to polish. Mostly I edit poems from the last 12 years, getting manuscripts in order. I have 3 book manuscripts done, and 2 more underway. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to find poems to submit but the rabbit hole of editing smells like carrots.

Pearl Pirie’s poems have appeared in 18 group chapbooks and 18 more single-author chapbooks since the mid-90s as well as 3 full collections with inclusions in some anthologies. The most recently published include Call Down the Walls (Frog Hollow Press, 2019), rob plunder gift (Battleaxe, 2018), broken fractal fractions (No Press, 2018), Sex in Sevens (above/ground press, 2016), An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion (words(on)pages, 2016), Salt Stains (Haiku Canada Review broadside, Feb 2016), Please don't tickle the salamander's belly (In/Words, 2015) and Reviews of Non-existent Titles (Shreeking Violet Press, 2015). Forthcoming, with éditions des petits nuages in 2019, is a chapbook of haiku.