Sunday, April 22, 2018

Isabella Wang : my (small press) writing day

This is what a writing day looks for me, on a typical school day.

3:30 am: wake up. Shower, get dressed, brush my teeth. I wake up so early because I write best in the morning. This time is very important to me.

4:00 am: I get out a pen and any paper I can find, lying around at my desk, and start writing. I can be working on any assortment of writing projects, from academic papers for my Ap English Literature and Composition class at school, to any assignments for my fiction, non-fiction, and poetry creative writing classes, to any ongoing projects that I have for upcoming magazine deadlines and contests. Prioritizing is important, but I also like to go with the flow. If there isn’t anything urgent, I just work on whatever my mind feels like on that morning. Today, I’ll be writing a draft for a new poem. It will be messy. Really messy. But that is okay.

6:00 am : I go downstairs and make coffee with my coffee press. I like light roast. I take that back up to my room, and drink it while I work on revising an older piece that I’ve been working on for quite some time.

7:00 am: I pack my bag and walk over to school, while listening to a playlist of my favourite music along the way.

7:30 am: Having arrived at school, I’ll work on any homework I have for that day before my first class starts. Today, I am studying for my French vocabulary quiz.

8:40 am: Today is a day 1. That means my first class is French. We do our quiz. I realize that I forgot to study for a section. My next class is Ap English Lit, so I have trouble focusing in this class because I’m always looking forward to the class after. I glance at the clock, and again, and again. When is class over?

10:00 am: French finishes. I walk down the corridor for my next class, Ap Lit. This is the only class I can actually focus in. We are reading from Milton’s Paradise Lost today. We had trouble understanding a lot, so my English teacher explained to us. “God’s angels drive him everywhere in an Uber. That’s why he’s everywhere all at once,” he says.

11:30 am: Class ends. We have 45 minutes for lunch. I go to the library everyday and sleep on the couch there. What can I say? 5 hours of sleep is not enough.

12:20 pm: I head over to physics class. I really like my teacher. He is very passionate and supportive of my writing, but like Sylvia Plath once said in The Bell Jar, “Physics made me sick the whole time I learned it.” He assigns a problem. I doodle koalas in my notebook to make it look as if I know what I’m doing. My notebook is filled with koalas.

1:40 pm: I head over to my last class of the day. By now, I’m just exhausted.

3:03 pm : School ends. I head over to volunteering.

3:45 pm: I arrive at volunteering. It is a wellness centre for cancer patients, and I love it there. I help take down for an event and I make cookies for another event. The food there is really good. I take the left overs for dinner.

5:30 pm: I walk over to Downtown, to the public library to attend a literary event called Incite. It is hosted by Vancouver’s Writer’s Festival.

7:00 pm: The doors for Incite open.

7:30 pm: The event for Incite starts. We have a line up of readers who read their works, and there is a panel at the end where they answer questions from the public.

9:00 pm: I walk and bus home, while thinking about any ongoing projects or coming up with new ideas. I think thinking is a really pivotal writing process.

9:45 pm: I arrive home. I make some hot chocolate and drink that with a bowl of cereal. I work on my Ap Calculus homework until bedtime, while questioning what drove mathematicians so bored that they had to create integrals. I’m also questioning my life decisions here, wondering where I had gone wrong, and what had made me deserve this.

11:30 pm : I check social media quickly, reply to emails, before going to bed. Relief and numbness overwhelms me before I fall asleep. Then, its off to another day.

Isabella Wang is is an emerging poet and non-fiction writer from Vancouver, BC.  She is in her last year of high school, and is ecstatic that high school is almost over. She has completed multiple creative writing courses for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction with Simon Fraser University’s continuing studies program, paid for by her lunch money. At 17, she is the youngest writer to be shortlisted for The New Quarterly Magazine’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest. Her poetry will be published in V5 of LooseLeaf Magazine (May 2018). She will be doing her undergrad for English Literature in the fall of 2018.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Torin Jensen : Writing Day

Even if I had structured hours in which to write, let alone an entire day, I would mostly spend the time reading and taking notes and slowly circling and circling and circling around the actual writing. If you could separate the “writing” part from everything else, from research and reading to taking notes and sketching, the “writing” never amounts to much time. I write in bursts; every so often I’ll go through a phase where I’ll produce an entire project in a short amount of time and then go back to slowly gathering material and ideas and quotes and see what comes out of them all.

But, I don’t think you can really separate writing from its adjacent work. Like a lot of poets, I have a full-time day job. And like a lot of poets, I have probably too many commitments on the side: I run a small chapbook press with my wife, I write book and art reviews, I do contract freelance work when I can find it. So my writing process is really a gathering process throughout every day with occasional writing bursts in the cracks, when they appear. I try to filter most of what I do (with the exception of my day job) through a broad filter of my poetic interests. If I was a venn diagram, I’d be at the center with a mess of intersecting circles with subjects like space, visual art, sculpture, translation, architecture, language, etc. The broad, abstract nature of these interests allows me to relate whatever I happen to be reading or doing to my writing work in some way. To be more specific though, I’d say my writing practice is a way of working through the physicalities of language and how those aspects manifest in different ways, from sculpture and drawings to spoken and written language.

Writing art reviews and considering visual art is helpful in this regard. And reviewing books is also good practice, especially when the book being reviewed is one that speaks specifically to my work. Overall, I’ve found prose is a useful tool in that it contours thinking through language in ways that are very different than poetry, and it forces me to try and explain ideas and follow them through instead of a very poetic impulse of mine to obfuscate and blur and symbolize and then revel in all the possible readings!

I always have multiple books in my bag with me along with my sketchbook and notebook, and on a good day, I’m constantly writing things down and taking pictures with my phone and noting references to track down later and books to put on hold (I work at a library). The whole writing process is partly following various threads and seeing where they lead, say, reading Renee Gladman’s collection of architectural drawings and then an interview with an architect and then part of an art history textbook with a focus on ancient developments in monumental sculpture. The other part is just enjoying what comes my way, whether it’s a book I happen to stumble upon or a movie I end up seeing and figuring out how it relates to my own work.

Let it be said: I have no idea what I’m doing! I guess I’d call that writing.

Torin Jensen is a poet and translator living in Denver by way of Washington, D.C., Boise, and Missoula. He holds an MFA from Boise State University, and he's taught creative writing for BSU, the DC Public Library, and The Cabin Literary Center. His poetry and translations have appeared in numerous journals including The VoltaAsymptoteRadioactive MoatCircumference, and the Harriet Foundation Poetry Blog, and he's the author of Phase-sponge [ ] the keep (Solar Luxuriance, 2014). His criticism has appeared in One Good EyeYes Poetry, and Entropy and he's the co-editor of Goodmorning Menagerie, a chapbook press for experimental poetry and translation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Violetta Leigh : my (small press) writing day

6:12am: The cat jumps on the bed and walks, back and forth, over me. Get up to feed him. Keep eyes closed.

6:23am-10:44am: Continue sleeping.

10:45am: Grasped by consciousness and sustained by a sense of obligations.

10:51am: Boil water. Grind Kicking Horse coffee beans and tap into French press. Communicate nothing. Think about nothing. Keep lights off and sweep the curtains aside the window to invite tentative light.

10:52am: Morning is a violent time. Stare at the room and consider that corners are points of collision.

11:01am: Coffee.

11:16am: Join the realm of the living. 

11:20am: Blend a smoothie with frozen fruit and protein powder, relying on nutrients that don’t require my attention. Sit down to work.

11:30-4:00pm: Continue writing the first draft of the second story in my current triptych. Three years ago, I started writing a series of triptychs. Each series coils around a central icon. The first triptych featured the holy trinity of depression, anxiety, and dissociation. It’s named drone philosophy i/ii/iii. drone philosophy ii is published as polynya in SAND Journal.

Spirits catalyzed the narratives of the second triptych. The stories included are, spirit demolition, the electromagnetics of latex & rabbit, and seeing versus perceiving. the electromagnetics of latex & rabbit is published by In Shades Magazine. As a child, I obsessed over the paranormal section of my elementary school’s library: second row from the back, tucked to the left on the highest shelf. Paranormal books shape the narrative to follow, or focus on, the subject. Ghost stories typically begin with famous haunting incidents, progress to descriptions of the spirit, and finish with theories on who the spirit may have been before death. However, in contrast, a lived paranormal experience is a brief disruption of day-to-day normalcy. The second triptych explores this; spirit presence catalyzes human drama.

5:00pm: Reheat leftovers on the stove. Cooking pulls my attention away from writing. Fiction requires the writer to be outside of the room they’re sitting in.

5:20pm: The current triptych explores lichen-like relationships between white marble, a symbol of antiquity, and technology. I review notes on veiled marble statues, like Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Christ lying under the Shroud or Giovanni Strazza’s Veiled Virgin. I research machine learning, a method of building artificial intelligence that postulates artificial systems can learn data, recognize patterns, and execute decisions with minimal human intervention. Google’s AutoML system, a machine learning AI, replicates self-learning code faster and more efficiently than its human creators.

6:30pm: Each day holds between three to five hours of efficient brain energy. I’ve used today’s quota. Experience is of equal importance to fiction as the organizing of thoughts and physical act of writing. As David Foster Wallace said in his essay, E Unibus Pluram, “Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers… they need that straightforward visual theft of watching somebody who hasn’t prepared a special watchable self.” Social media and television are sugar water to fiction writers - enjoyable without substance. Real writer food is firsthand.

7:15pm: Systematically fifteen minutes late to meet J at our favourite cocktail bar, hidden up a flight of green carpeted stairs on the edge of Chinatown. Honeycombed lattices separate curling leather booths. The interior smells of the markets below: cases of dehydrated mushrooms, dried fish, one thousand herbal notes: an array of dynamic smells I lack the knowledge to know the true names.

7:31: Order Death in the Afternoon, a jewelled cocktail fusing champagne and absinthe. The bartender garnishes the seaglass green liquor with dried rosebuds. Ernest Hemingway claimed to first mix Death in the Afternoon and named it after his book on bullfighting. He recommended drinking three to five in one sitting… I enjoy one.

J and I exchange handmarked drafts of our most recent fiction pieces. We prefer physical copy edits to digital, adding notes in the margins and underlining our favourite lines in each other’s work. The tealight on the table flickers out and the server brings us a bright new one. J’s work thrills me: he offers consistent surprises, fresh turns of phrases, and rapidly growing ability. His praise of my work always warms and invigorates me. I’m motivated to edit with a scalpel and bring fingers to keyboard. It’s a priceless friendship.

9:12pm: Cab to the galley. Greet B, minding the door. He wears a three-piece suit and carries a clipboard. It holds several sheets of blank paper. Those approaching the gallery respond with apprehensive respect towards a Man in a Suit Holding a Clipboard.

Ascend the worn carpeted stairs. After two flights, horn instruments noodle from behind a closed door. The jazz club shivers, their space to the left of the gallery. Sometimes, the door slits open and a trombone player in a striped scarf or a frenetic man wielding a clarinet breezes past without smiling. To the right, the door to the gallery opens.

Mid-century décor engulfs visitors: wood panelled walls, geometric tiles patterning the floor, a worn walnut credenza here, and slouching chrome and wicker chairs there. A performance artist hunches on a stool in front of a table set with a candle and white rose tucked in a tall glass vase. He’s handsome in the classic American sense: blonde and built like the California coastline. He rests one hand on his thigh and clutches a book in the other, costumed in a loose blazer, jeans, and sneakers. I listen for a moment. Miller? No, Anaïs Nin. Not her diaries: Delta of Venus or Little Birds. His hand on the book cover shifts. Ah, it’s Delta of Venus. Arguably, her more well-known collection of short fiction. People lean against the walls and listen. The quiet room reverberates with the low roll of his voice and intermittent crackling of the tiny candle flame.

The next room offers a seating area around a surfboard-shaped coffee table and beyond that the bar: a wave of jatoba wood, chosen for its medicinal usage and association with summoning spirits. The staff, who built the gallery, salvaged the steel and red vinyl stools circling the bar from a closing diner. L bartends with constant calculated movement: cracking cans, mixing simple cocktails, stacking clean glassware, and rubbing the bar down, with a wet cloth, in large circles she emphasizes with her whole shoulders. Behind her, an oversized set of wooden cutlery hangs from the wall next to a sailboat cresting a wave in jagged brass.

I sit on the stool at the end of the bar, closest to roof door, and order a negroni. L mixes it and I ask her about her day. She serves full-time in a restaurant and runs the gallery after work and out of pocket. It’s an eroding love that won’t last, as culture sustained on fumes will starve. Or, in Vancouver, the building will be purchased by one of the real estate speculating wealthy who can’t see value beyond dirty talking their bank accounts, shovelling money into homes as empty investments or metastasizing them into unaffordable luxury condos. As a sentient being, I have more in common with the black bear who eased himself into an empty pool on a hot summer day in North Vancouver than another human who values an excess of fictive currency over human safety and companionship.

9:44pm: Closed spaces fit me like an undersized blazer and I step outside onto the roof, the cool air refreshing. A few people smoke inside the fenced pen. The north side of the building faces a shipping container port. Candy colourful shipping containers rise in rows from flat-bed ships like a paused game of Tetris. Red cranes, bright as lipstick, hover and wait. Overhead lights line the scene with an unreal vibrancy, like the etched contours of actors on stage. I exhale and pick over the objects, filing the snapshot in my mind with words to describe them later: a forgotten game of lego blocks and unplaced industrial hum. The first phrase that comes to mind is often a reflexive cliché. I discard it. I play a game; if square green container is the first phrase to come to mind, what would the inversion be? Ridged seafoam pod. Greet the reader with a familiar experience described in a fresh way.

10:01pm: S steps onto the roof with a beer. We discuss administrative aspects of Real Vancouver Writers’ Series. We propose tighter data recording and methods of sharing it with the board. A broadening platform allows us to support more writers. He elaborates on the roster for our event coming up at the end of the month. Despite immersing myself in literature since learning to read, I’m unfamiliar with half of them and appreciative of his knowledge. He drops his finished cigarette in the tin pail and we move inside.

10:33pm: I sit at the bar, enjoying chit-chat with those who trickle in. In the other room, a poet replaces the performance artist. She unwinds prose poems spun from the etymology of words like snail and clue.

11:00pm: The gallery folds down. L stacks clean glasses and wipes down the bar and counters one last time. I cab home.

11:20pm: Select from the To Read pile and finish the day with a few short stories written by Clarice Lispector. Pick up The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield and compare the techniques of the two short fiction writers.

1:04am: Sleep.

Violetta Leigh majored in creative writing and political ecology at the University of Victoria. She has been published by SAND Journal, Litro Magazine, Minola Review, In Shades Magazine, HER Collective, So to Speak, Situate Magazine, and Active Fiction Project

She coordinates inclusive, diverse literary events with Real Vancouver Writers' Series. She thinks perfection is ugly and in the things humans make wants to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion. Find her online at