Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lisa Pasold : A typical writing day…

Every day/any day. Everywhere/anywhere. Café tables, bars, kitchen counters. Bus terminals, metros, trains. Paused while standing at my bicycle. Cars, gas stations, airports. I never write on airplanes. I am too busy putting psychic energy into helping to fly the plane while drinking heavily.

I’ve been writing a poem of some kind every day for the past decade, so that’s part of any typical day. All my poetry and much of my prose come from this daily writing. Overheard remarks, passing observations, an interesting turn of phrase in a conversation, street signs, misunderstood foreign words—all of that gets written down in daily notebooks and then recrafted at the desk.

My new book, The Riparian, was mostly written on the terraces of three different cafés: Who Dat in New Orleans, Dionis in Paris, and the Good & Cheap in Hoi An, Vietnam. Here is a photo of the chicken there:

A typical writing day starts with a coffee in a café, accompanied by my very shaggy dog. Often all I do is read. Sometimes I write. Then we walk home, the dog lies on the rug, and I go to my desk, where I spend the rest of the day. I drink a lot of green tea. I work at home—wherever home is at the time. The desk is for writing, journalism, editing— everything, really.

This August photo from Paris is pretty typical of my work area, mid-project (I was writing about literary Paris.) My husband, Bremner Duthie, made me this desk over twenty years ago in Vancouver—every few months, I clear it off and start a new project and marvel at the fact that this desk is still with me, after so many different addresses.

Lisa Pasold’s third book of poetry, Any Bright Horse (Frontenac House, Calgary) was shortlisted for the 2012 Governor General’s Award. She has been thrown off a train in Belarus, eaten the world’s best pigeon pie in Marrakech, and been cheated in the Venetian gambling halls of Ca’Vendramin Calergi. Frontenac House is bringing out her new book, The Riparian, this month.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Karl E. Jirgens : My Writing Day

Yesterday, rob mclennan asked me to prepare a piece on “my writing day” in the style of authors writing similar accounts for the Guardian. I agreed. Overnight, I dreamt this response. I regularly record my dreams with the hope that one day my unconscious will write a great story-line, but the best I’ve managed are grade B movie-plots. The night before, I dreamt of a teenager who invented a laser-apparatus that animated every statue in the city. They all came to life and started going about their business. This “animation” caused congestion on city buses and elevators, but otherwise life went on in its usual mundane manner. – So, I suppose my “writing day” begins at night because in a way, I write in my sleep. Anyway, here’s the response I dreamt of for rob:

Typically, I begin my writing day at my old hardwood desk. The desk has a crack running across the middle. My laptop computer regularly gets stuck on that crack. Sometimes, I imagine my writing is being held back because I work at a cracked desk (it might be bad luck). But, I remember what Leonard Cohen said about how there’s a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in. So, maybe this desk is all right. Today, I’m editing a story that I’m sending to a radio station. I’m considering exchanging the semi-colons for colons. In this story, semi-colons represent a connection between the narrative voice and the protagonist’s thoughts. It’s all second-person and sounds like this: “You’re working at a fitness and colonic irrigation centre ruminating about how to re-write your life. You’re thinking; I want to rip the rose-tint sunglasses from the nose of my floundering plot, and march out of this end-of-the-road job forever.” Now, if I replace the semi-colons with colons, then, it diminishes the conceptual link between narrator and protagonist; between, “You’re thinking” and “I want to rip, etc.” Colons are signals to pause, and then move ahead: to list outcomes, proceed to culminations. Semi-colons indicate hesitations stronger than commas; however, they’re weaker than full-stop periods. Acoustically, it’s subtle. I doubt the radio-station people will notice, but I obsess over such things. It might be grammatically correct to change the semi-colons to colons, but it might be conceptually correct to keep the semi-colons. Phil Hall and Gary Barwin both told me that semi-colons are just colons with strap-ons. I’m unsure how that information helps. – When editing, I often pause to read literary tips, including from authors I’ve published in Rampike. Here are a few:  Don’t wait, just write.” (Una McDonnell). Good! I began this piece at night, in my sleep.  Launch with a conflict.” (Rick Mofina). Yes! I’m incensed by global politics, and the U.S. reaction to North-Korean nuclear threats. Tacit public acceptance of militarism horrifies me. We, the Sheeple! “Get out of your comfort zone.” (Jordan Abel). My neighbour cuts his lawn thrice weekly. The noise drives me batty. I agonize over cutting my lawn. I like tall grass. While painting my front porch, I encountered a hornet’s nest and was stung on my right hand. I don’t want to harm the hornets. I deliberate about visiting a walk-in-clinic. My right hand looks like a boxing glove. Read it out loud,” (Carol Shields). Right! bpNichol said the same thing to me years ago in Toronto. It’s a sunny-hot September day. Outside, cicada concertos resonate. Competing insect orchestras assemble in diverse trees. The Oak cicadas’ sonata closes with a gentle diminuendo, the Maple’s orchestra replies with a flourishing crescendo, soon answered by the Pine ensemble’s allargando. – One of my favourites is, “Play with language.” (Kyo Maclear). I consider palindromes, and wonder: “Do geese see god?” I’m sure it works the other way around. I read onward. “Keep your drafts drafty,” (Ryan Knighton). I fear that a hurricane will gut Florida’s nuclear-waste storage sites. I envision sleazy radio-active alligators prowling Miami night-clubs. Write what only you can write.”(Lawrence Hill). It’s comforting to think that there might be some advantage to my eclecticism. I listen to classical music; write fiction; do laundry; discuss the Baltic, NATO and Russia with my son; watch the Gong Show with Bella; and eat marzipan while riding my unicycle. How does that become literature? Then, there’s Cut, cut, cut!” (Carmen Aquirre). FYI, after I wrote this, I cut it by half. So, I’ll stop now. Or, maybe not… my favourite tip is, “Forget the rules.” (Ross Belot). Yes!  I’ll plagiarize openly, disjoin plot-lines, and dangle participles while mocking pointless literary rules. Later today, I’m phoning my agent to announce that I won’t produce anything further until I get a complimentary case of Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin. So, that’s my writing day; now, back to those semi-colons! KJ

Karl Jirgens, former Head of the English Dept., at U Windsor, is author of four books (Coach House, Mercury, and ECW Presses). He also edited two books, one on painter, Jack Bush, and another on poet, Christopher Dewdney, as well as an issue of Open Letter magazine. His scholarly and creative pieces are published globally. His research on digital media investigates literature and performance. He has new fictions coming out with Fiction International (USA), and with Someone Press (Canada), as well as poetry with Stanza Room Only (Canada), and in Short Flights 2 (USA). He has a scholarly essay forthcoming with McGill Queen’s University Press in Un-archiving the Literary Event. Jirgens is a black-belt grandmaster of Tae Kwon Do. He edited and published Rampike (1979-2016) an international journal featuring contemporary art, writing and theory. He currently serves as a professor at the University of Windsor.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jean Van Loon : Feeling My Way. September 8, 2017

On the top shelf of the bookcase facing the desk in my study, there’s a white Stelco hard hat with my name on a brass plate affixed over the bill. The hard hat leans against a large black and white knitted cat. The cat was pressed into my possession by a compulsively generous friend when I made the mistake of admiring it during a visit to her house.

A picture of that friend, whom I’d known since Grade 3, is propped on the shelf below the cat. She died last spring after decades of coping in resolute good cheer with various forms of cancer. In the picture, she leans forward with a smile of enthusiastic encouragement that helps me in writing’s darker moments.

The next row down features a small photograph of my father aged about three, dressed in white and gazing with puzzled curiosity toward the camera. My childhood basement held porcelain developing pans. On the same shelf are two small artworks by one of my granddaughters, who carries a shoulder bag filled with sketching supplies wherever she goes. Below that are a couple of books on the Boer War, acquired when I was thinking of writing something set in the era. My father’s father volunteered for that war. His photo, taken in Halifax pre-embarkation, his ammunition belt and bayonet, and a letter from South Africa to his sister in Manitoba, are in a paper bag in the closet to the left of my desk. A couple of Bibles share the shelf with the Boer War books, available for a dip when I crave the rhythms of King James prose.

No one of these bookcase items has inspired a poem or story. But they confirm my rootedness in this space and remind me of the richness of life’s small details.

Originally this room served for sewing, ironing and the hiding and wrapping of gifts. Over the years, the sewing gear moved away and the drawers of the credenza behind my desk filled with stationery, files, clippings for inspiration, computer and sotftware manuals, and specialized cords for successive generations of electronics.

My desk itself is actually a writing table, its legs cut down a bit to suit my height. Normally it is covered by heaps of more or less organized books and papers, my preferred reminder system being visual, my most effective motivation being to get one more thing off the desk.

At the moment, desk and room are unusually tidy, having been emptied ten days ago for a paint job. The books have been weeded down to poetry and short fiction that I might actually want to consult. The new wall colour, slightly less yellow than the one I’d enjoyed for many years, is called “Sand Castle.” It is my hope that it will free my mind to roam in empty spaces where interesting shapes and sounds may emerge.

I took my first literary workshop in my fifties. By then, my work habits had been formed by years of office jobs. I get up between six and seven, depending (now that I have retired) on the light from the east window. After an initial mug of coffee and radio news with my husband in our bedroom, I get dressed, eat breakfast with him at the kitchen table he built, and go to my study, with greater or lesser dilly-dallying on the way.  Usually I work till 12:30 or 1:00. Then, after lunch, go for a long walk. This routine-based approach used to feel wrong to me as an aspiring creative person, until I learned about Alex Colville. Six days a week, he put on a jacket and tie, and after breakfast walked upstairs to his studio. There, he took off his jacket, hung it up, and worked until noon. I don’t suppose he dilly-dallied.

Jean Van Loon, an Ottawa writer, holds an MFA from UBC. Her short prose, poetry and reviews have appeared in numerous Canadian literary magazines. Her first book of poems, Building on River, will be published by Cormorant Press in April 2018.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Amanda Earl : my (small press) writing day

I write in fits and starts throughout the weekdays, sandwiching my writing in between other activities (wanking, chatting up men on OK Cupid, exercising, inputting events and poems to, the site I run, answering e-mail,  cracking the whip on various deadlines for Bywords, AngelHousePress, the micropress I run).

For the current work-in-progress, “Syn”: let’s say it’s six thirty a.m. by the time I’m on my red couch with my favourite mug perched on my belly and the incense burning. On dark days, I light a candle. Ghostpoet is playing on my music system. I don’t always listen to music while I’m writing, but for this manuscript, “Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam” has the right sound, vibe and rhythm.

My living room/dining room area is the perfect environment for writing. I live on the nineteenth floor, which feels like an aerie, high above the trivialities and troubles of the city.  Shelves are full of books and curiosities. The couch is comfortable and red, a colour I associate with defiance and passion. The kettle and the Scotch bottle are not far away.

“Syn” (short for synaesthesia) is a series of prose poems which remixes sources from art, philosophy and psychology. Tea is an effective mind-wandering substance, while incense, music and a calm and familiar, non-distracting environment help put me in a creative state of mind.

I write and flip through various books on my coffee table, plucking out a few words and phrases here and there to jumpstart what I refer to as guided remixes that attempt to reach deep into my subconscious—and, all being well, the reader’s--through the use of abstractions and imagery that evokes colour, motion, texture, emotion . I might include the line as is, change it, or delete it entirely, substituting another turn of phrase that I like better or an image that comes to mind and seems more effective. My journal is covered in scratched out bafflegab and false starts.

The physical act of writing in a journal is highly sensual (like a caress) and conducive to creativity. The journal I am currently using has a battered, brown leather cover, which smells…well...leathery, kinda sexy. The journal’s pages are blank. I do not care for lined pages, which feel as if they’re dictating a sense of order to me and I feel constrained. It’s not that I can’t compose from scratch on a keyboard--I do it often enough; however, for this project, I need to commune with the senses as much as possible. If you’d like to buy me a dozen multi-coloured roses to aid in the creation of a sensual environment, please do so. I’m also fond of Mumm’s Extra Dry or a fine, leggy Malbec.

I read the work aloud from the journal. Nothing I write, not even this piece, is allowed to sit silently on the page. I have to read it aloud in order to ensure that the sound and rhythm match the tone I need.

This might be time for another cup of tea. I might switch to Lapsang Souchong, the Lagavulin of tea, or an Earl Grey Cream, depending on whether I’m feeling in need of firing up or creaming down.

I type my scrawlings on the computer before the work becomes indecipherable. My handwriting is notoriously illegible. I know because a doctor told me so. I print out what I’ve written and let it sit for a while, take a nap, do my exercises again, wank more, meet with a pal or a lover for lunch or a drink or I go out on walkabout alone for an hour or so. I will bring the print out of the day’s work along to peruse or I will leave it be to reread the next morning and edit it then. I don’t fret about progress or have specific goals for the day’s writing. I don’t feel guilty if I haven’t written much that day. I write daily because writing is an intrinsic part of my life. When I’m not able to write, it feels weird, as if I haven’t had space to think or to breathe.

Tea: A World of Tea Irish Breakfast steeped for 6 minutes, with a dollop of mil;.
Mug: (gift from a kind friend) Write Like A Motherfucker, The Rumpus Store;
Incense: Triloka patchouli or cedar sandalwood, Herb and Spice Wellness Shop;
Music: Ghostpoet, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam;
Accompaniment: Pigeons, Sirens;
Attire: Plaid PJ bottoms and a Fuit of the Loom Men’s Undershirt, Grey;
Wank-material: Internet grope porn or one of my own erotic stories.

Amanda Earl’s books include the self-published erotic novella, A World of Yes, DevilHouse, 2015; Kiki, a poetic celebration of Montparnasse between the Wars, Chaudiere Books, 2014; and a collection of short, filthy tales, Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl, Coming Together, 2014. Chapbooks published in 2017 include Lady Lazarus Redux, above/ground press; Electric Garden, winner of the Tree Press Chapbook Award and I Owe Saint Hildegard the Light, unarmed press. Amanda is the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. She and a.m. kozak cohost the podcast, the Small Machine Talks. More information is available at or connect with her on Twitter @KikiFolle or OK Cupid: Ottawa Kiki.