Monday, July 20, 2009

Just When I Was Wondering What Kind of Handbag V. Woolf Would Have Carried....

Read about the new "Woolf" handbag on Blogging Woolf and would be remiss if I hadn't posted something about it. Handbag or pockets? Thoughts?

From the London Evening Standard, on Emma Watson, the new 'face' of Burberry:

Dangling off her arm are a bevy of cute accessories, from hot male models du jour Tom Guinness, Charlie France and Douglas Booth to Burberry's Woolf bag, a capacious suede tote with embroidered overlay costing a cool £1,095. The collection is inspired by Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set.

Well, at least it's capacious. Really, I think they should send me one.

and then once you get started wondering, wandering....

Here's a link to a Woolf book handbag on Etsy. (Photo above).

Call for Submissions - How to Expect What You're Not Expecting

Lisa Martin-DeMoor has sent out a submissions call for an anthology she's co-editing, titled How to Expect What You're Not Expecting. Wonderful idea for an anthology!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer - Author of Perfecting - Guest Post

Shawna Lemay gave me quotes from my own novel Perfecting, and they became the viewfinder through which I commented on the book. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to look at the work in this way. It was provocative, the purse being a trigger for my own way in to the text. Unwittingly, the quotes seem to line up into a compressed novel however elliptical and elusive. The quotes worked like interview questions, so you may read them as such.

p. 11 "She been walking so long, hadn't talked to another soul in days. She carried that big, floppy leather purse."

The purse in my novel Perfecting was imagined out of the hold of childhood memory. I was born in 1965 and, although the story’s inception had many roots, one was a deliberate need to investigate the time of my beginning consciousness, so the era of peaceniks, Vietnam, Cold War politics, and hand-tooled leather purses. I wanted the book to span, temporally, 1972 to 2004; politically, the end of Cold War; geographically, Canada/USA; thematically, perspectives of family and religion. It is a lot to ask of a novel, I suppose, but I get bored easily, and the project, once I started, did become necessarily more complicated.

The novelist’s job, of course, is to make the reasons for writing the book its undercurrent. I did not want the above motivations to be apparent, but to be felt and experienced by the reader. In other words, no one ought to be conscious of any of the above reasons, but certainly reviewers have noted some. A priest who reviewed the book for The Catholic Register wrote: Perfecting is St Augustine’s worst nightmare come true. This made me very happy.

p. 13. "Martha pulled the purse onto her hip, folded it down, and held it close. She had the lure in her other hand."

There was an unabashed attempt to formulate something that felt epic. For this purpose, I read or reread various texts: Gilgamesh, Beowulf, the Shahnameh, the Old Testament, Parsifal, Song of Roland, Kalevala etc. I was interested in the texture of the epic because it seemed to inform the structure and tempo of the writing.

Martha was a difficult character for me. In earlier versions her clarity was dissipated by a lack of motivation. She was lost inside her damaged self. This made her very difficult to apprehend. I really needed to pin her somehow to something. It made sense that she should mirror Parsifal, the young naïf who is brought up outside of civilization, and whose initial exit from his shrouded upbringing leads him into all sorts of misadventure. Yet, he is a grail seeker, a goodly, though stumbling, knight. Martha, too, became in my mind a peacekeeper: a kind of peaceful soldier. The gun in her purse, on the one hand, and the Biblical lure, drawing who knows what terrible fish, in the other, factored in my mind as an analogue to any number of iconic artifacts. There are certain scenes in the book that work like tableaux in my mind, and this is one of them: it is a snapshot moment, or a long slow shot where the camera would hold and pull slowly away. There were filmmakers who influenced this book – Bergman was one, Herzog, another.

p. 58 "Martha pulled her clothing off in Hattie's little house, sitting with her face to the window, her reflection sharp in the glass. She got her purse up onto the bed, groped around for the gun, and sat there, her ass pressing into the soft coverlet, looking at the gun as if it could tell her anything at all."

In fairytale and folktale, the reader comes across many tropes, and the purse is one of them. The purse, or wallet, is usually magical in that it can recreate meals or refill with gold. In short, it can fulfill dreams, dreams that often turn nightmarish for the dreamer. It is a vessel that empties and fills, like a bladder or a womb. There is always something portentous about a bag. It hides. It holds secrets. It holds possibilities. And for the owner, it protects what is hidden, and maintains the secret. In this case, it holds a gun.

p. 134 "The purse, which she'd been clutching the whole night through, as if the idea of a gun, loaded or not, could protect her, she let clunk to the floor at her feet."

The gun Martha holds is a reproduction of an original John Browning handgun, heavily engraved. Browning was a Mormon convert, who made the guns the Mormons used to protect themselves and their beliefs as they fled and/or confronted their detractors across America. I have always found it particularly intriguing that the Mormons were initially persecuted largely for the fact they were abolitionists, and not, as most believe, because of their pluralist (polygamist) tenets. The reason the gun needed to be Mormon forged has to do with the play of religion, ideology, and war in the novel. As well, and perhaps more importantly, Mormonism was especially interesting to me because it is uniquely American, created as a response to the native population in North America. America, as seen through the lens of Mormonism, is a simultaneous Eden. The inclusion of Mormonism in the novel’s fabric also points to early American communism, and therefore became an important link between Communism and early American ideology.

The gun in the purse is a handy analogue for Martha gaining power; she has a gun and is thinking about buying ammunition for it. It is also the metaphoric key to the real story of Curtis, the man who has sheltered her within his religious ideology for most of her adult life. So, it holds her future, and loaded or not, it holds the decision that will be her fork in the road.

Also, if the purse is a stand-in for womb, and keeping in mind Martha is barren, her impotence is further defined by the empty pistol. In short, the gun in the purse can be seen in Freudian terms, and therefore as a kind of weirdo-Kathryn-Kuitenbrouwer-in- joke. It is an instance of the author amusing herself. Like I said, I get bored easily.

p. 196 "Martha leaned over, fussed with her leather bag, getting something out and then securing the bag good. There was a pull string and then a latch, and she tied the one in a double knot and latched the other and shoved the bag under the seat. Aubie got to thinking what else besides memories might be in that bag but decided to save that thought."


p. 266 "Martha told herself she would not cry in front of these men, whatever they might now do to her. Her mind went to the gun in her purse. She was finding it troublesome to breathe. She grappled with her purse without any clear intention and said, 'What do I want from you? I just only ever wanted to solve Curtis, and maybe I just did.'"

The gun Martha carries turns out to be the sister gun to Aubie’s. This is not something Martha knows, but the reader does. The symbol leather hippie bag (and all the corollary aspects of hippie that might hold: peacefulness, handmade, natural etc.) gives way to the potential of the gun (potential evil, protection, fear, freedom), and in terms of story, Martha is not ready to reveal her secret, nor is she entirely ready for the answers it might give to her questions about Curtis. In other words, she is keeping the gun a secret for her own sake. She’s afraid of what is real.

p. 269 " 'What's in that purse, lady?'
'It isn't your business,' she said. It came out so solid, even though she knew it was his business."

The gun in Martha’s purse, which is the gun Curtis used to shoot his half-brother, is one piece of a larger puzzle in the book, as well. It ties up to Aubie’s gun, to the MANPAD in Pakistan that this shadowy Cpl Michael Dama is buying and selling, and, therefore, to the war rugs that Dama is exporting and selling through Aubie. The small story of how Curtis shot his half-brother was something of a parallel in my mind to larger world events.

The questions I was asking myself as I wrote the book were: how did the events in Vietnam relate globally to the events in Afghanistan/Pakistan in the 1980s and how did those events precipitate 9/11 and the events that followed? What is the central aspect of the fear of communism? What is protection as seen locally as opposed to as seen globally?

The gun imagery was a way to form a matrix inside the novel connecting these visually. The MANPAD, or Stinger, was a US weapon designed specifically to shoot down armoured Russian helicopters, and it is essentially the reason the Mujahedin conquered Russia. Once the US pulled out of Afghanistan, once they’d propped up the Taliban in those early days, mistakenly viewing it as a stable governing force, and a potential oil ally, things went wrong. The Muj were largely rogue soldiers the rest of the Middle East had been happy to expunge from their own territories. The Muj ‘army’ had nowhere to go, nothing to do with their particular skill sets, and they weren’t that keen on giving the guns back. The US tried futilely to buy them back, but many of the guns are still unaccounted for. To me, the guns became a symbol for a particular type of naivety. A type of naivety that is slightly tinged with racism: We’ll get the little brown guys to fight the war, and they’ll be so grateful we helped them out. The Americans greatly underestimated the will of the hill-tribe people, and the complexity of the mess they left behind; they were assuming a particular reciprocity. As it turned out, there was reciprocity: the Muj were using the US just as much or more than the other way around. Seen in this way, the events in Pakistan and Afghanistan are the detritus of the end of the Cold War.

I am not suggesting that the novel is an allegory. It is not meant to be. It is really a story with another story as its undercurrent. It was my hope that it could be read fairly superficially and still work as a fast read. The sword proves, in this scene, to be double edged for Martha. She has loaded the gun and is confronting her nemesis – Curtis’s patriarchal dragony father. Instead of giving her power, the loaded gun takes some of it away. It shifts her from the divine to the mortal. It gives her groundedness and reality, and so she loses the spiritual perspective, the ethereal, the godly. It is a fall from grace – seen from the perspective of a Believer – and a deliverance – seen from an atheistic perspective. It was important to me that the ending bent in both directions, that it question without a clear answer.

p. 270 "Martha was holding her purse so close she'd formed sweat on her shirt. She'd held on to the Browning for so long, and it was still there in her purse, a weapon, with a weapon's power. She was mortal..."

The nice thing about the purse in the novel, as it turns out, is that it holds the entire story. There would be no story if Martha had not found the gun, and engaged with it as her central problem/need. In this way, the purse is like the book, a handy container for story, a way to transport the material of the story and – one hopes – the reader!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blogging and the Creative Process - A Short Interview with Sina Queyras

Sina Queyras is the author most recently of the poetry collections Lemon Hound (2006) and Expressway (2009) both from Coach House Books. She edited Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, for Persea Books (2005), and continues to serve as contributing editor for Drunken Boat where she most recently edited a folio on conceptual fiction with Vanessa Place, and a folio on Visual Poetry with derek beaulieu. Lemon Hound won the Pat Lowther and a Lambda Literary award, and an excerpt from Expressway recently received Gold in the National Magazine Awards. Her work has been published internationally in journals and anthologies. She has lived across Canada, in New Jersey, Brooklyn and Philadelphia and Montreal where she currently teaches. She keeps a blog, Lemon Hound, which BookThug will publish a selection of writing from in 2009.

Capacious Hold-All
: Lemon Hound, the book, came out in 2006 with Coach House, but the blog started in May of 2004. Can you talk about the ways in which the book and the blog intersected at the beginning and the ways in which you separate the poetry you write from the blog? How entangled do the two processes become?

Lemon Hound
: The processes are indeed entangled. I am not one to compartmentalize so the thinking in one area very much leaks into others.

CH: Your first post questions, wonders:

Now she is blogging. Now she is sitting on the black couch listening to the sirens wail and the rain fall. Now she is thinking of oysters. Now she is wondering why this is worth sharing. Now she is thinking how decipher what is worth reading? Who is to say? Sifters. She thinks we have become a nation of sifters. We dial up and sift through the wreckage. And what is the use of adding one more paragraph to the motherload? She supposes that soon she will find out.

CH: How far have you moved away from this first post, or is this the nature of the blog - this continuing questioning, deciphering, sifting?

LH: This post was written while I was working on and thinking about Lemon Hound the book. Being May I can say that I had likely just finished teaching and was finding my way back to the manuscript itself, which Coach House accepted sometime during the following spring of 2005 if I recall correctly. But during that silence I was editing Open Field. So yes, sifting is very much at the core of the book, and the anthology, and it is at the core of what I do here on this blog I think too, wanting to find a fresh way to compose, wanting, through composition to emphasize different aspects of words, sentences, narratives, notions. I am more interested in questioning, opening up, than I am offering some kind of master equation and then defending.

CH: Times passes. In September of 2005 you consider ending your blogging 'adventure' but resume in November of that year. How important was that lapse in blogging? What did you learn from it? In what ways do you see women shaping the (literary) blogosphere in say, the last year or two? Heartening or disheartening?
Back in September I posted a note that said I was likely going to end my blogging adventure. Clearly I have decided not to. There are a number of reasons why, but the most important one may be­, dare I say it­, a question of gender. Tired old dialogue that it is, I notice there are not enough women engaged in the discussion of poetry and poetics. Over and over again the voices seem to be male, shouting out about this or that school or lineage…deciding what is important and what not in such confident and reductive tones as to shut out the more cautious, or considered voices. Where, one might ask, are the women? Are there still more men writing than women? I think not. So why are there more men’s voices out in the world than women’s voices? I have my theories. Look to the deletions, the hesitations, the reflective responses…the women are still out there thinking, their voices not quite up for the often bombastic and instantaneous responses.

LH: In general I find things quite disheartening. There are women out there blogging, yourself among them, but these voices are marginal, no offense, I include myself in that description. The dominant bloggers are still men, the dominant discourses are still shaped by men, mostly white men by the way. Asher Ghaffar pointed this out in his recent interview with Rob McLennan. The over-riding core of whiteness, even in the avant garde poetry world, and in the lyric world, and in the discussions by journalists, and in the critical world, is very obvious, and very dull indeed.

I periodically take screen shots of the G&M list of authors, usually five white men all in a row. The National Post book bloggers are all men, most of the regular G&M reviewers are male. Most of the literary journals are edited by men. The "new" Canadian Notes & Queries for example--Dan, John, Alex, Zachariah, Carmine--sound familiar? There are a few women editing--Anita Lahey, Kim Jerrigan, and Jenny Penberthy over at the new and awesome Capilano Review, for example, but largely it's men that are doing this work: men who expect to have a voice in literary discourses, and men who are expected to have the voice.

I don't have a problem with the NP blog, in fact I like it very much, and I appreciate what the G&M does, and the Quill & Quire. But the fact that things can be so homogeneous, so conservative, that we can still be in a discourse where there is little self-awareness about the limited perspectives these conversations perpetuate is disheartening. Canada a cultural mosaic? Not in the literary world. I'm not sure it will ever change. I don't think people want things to change. I mean if not now, when?

CH: The discussion of art, photography in particular, has played a big part on your blog. You often post your own photographs as well. How do you see the photographs operating in terms of the way they might shape or personalize a blog, reconfigure the space, add or relieve tension to the text that has gone before or after?

LH: I love visual art, particularly photography, and I miss New York most for this reason. Visual art has always been completely bound to my writing, but New York really allowed me to play my fantasy out, to investigate the overlap between art forms, to trace the similar strands of inquiry in sculpture, installation, video, paint, so yes, it's certainly adjacent, or woven into how I operate in the world. I have occasionally thought I would try to see the blog only as a space for visual arts, both the discussion of and publication of photos etc., but again, it is all bound, all connected, so that seemed impossible to do.

CH: You have a book coming out that has been developed through the blog. Can you describe the process, how the blog shaped the book, and also how the book has shaped the blog?

LH: It would not have occurred to me to publish a book from the blog. Kate Eichorn approached me with the idea and the publisher in place. I am very grateful to her for that. She is an awesome force in publishing and totally gives me hope for the future. Of course now the book seems logical too, and I'm very excited about the project. There is so much to consider though, not only the selection but how it will be organized, how the page will look, and what it does that is different from the blog form. In a way I think blogging is already an outdated mode. My blog feels like an 8-Track cassette sometimes, you know, trying to fit it into a DVD slot.

What's next? If it's any comfort, I don't think we have any idea what's next. Kindle? I don't think so.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Blogging and the Creative Process - A Short Interview with Tracy Hamon

Tracy Hamon was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and still resides there. She holds a BA Honours in English from the University of Regina and is a MA candidate in English with a creative thesis at that institution. She works part-time as a barber/stylist and is the Colony Coordinator for the SWG. She is currently serving on the board of the Sage Hill Writing Experience and is the director of the Vertigo Reading Series. While her work has been published in numerous literary magazines, Thistledown Press published her first book of poetry, This is Not Eden in April of 2005, and was a finalist for two Saskatchewan Book Awards that same year. More recently, she was short-listed for the 2007 CBC Literary Awards for “Standing at the Window,” a section from a manuscript of poems based on the expressionist painter Egon Schiele. Her second book of poems, tentatively titled Some People Eat Cars, is forthcoming from Coteau in spring 2010.

SL: Could you talk about the relationship between your blogs - Manageable Imaginations and The Plural Hoe - and the poetry you're writing? Can you describe the interplay?

TH: While my main blog, Manageable Imaginations isn’t a critical review blog, or predominantly a poetic blog, it’s a space where I can work out my concerns with writing and the world (large and small). I very rarely put my own poetry on this blog; I prefer to create conversations about poetics, about writers that interest me, and about theory that interests me (I have a great passion for discussing the topic of “prairie writing” and the community of prairie writing). In finishing one degree and starting another, I’ve often discussed writing assignments, sharing what I’m doing in classes. In the past six months, I’ve been posting interviews with poets about their books (I do plan to do more, I’ve just not had time). I’m the kind of writer that needs to keep writing to be productive, and writing a blog is a good way to generate ideas.

The idea, at least in theory, is that the other blog, The Plural Hoe, is a place where I can go to write experimental material—to explore numerous forms and conventions—in the blog format. My two blogs don’t compete with each other at all, and often a poem can stem from a blog post (or even someone else’s blog post). Although my creative blog is similar in style to a workshop blog, feedback from people isn’t necessary; however, I’m always interested in what people have to say if they do comment. What I’m going to do with the poems is unclear, and it isn’t something I worry about right now—I’m just going to keep writing them and will see what I’ve built whenever there is an end to the process.

SL: WJT Mitchell said that "in what is often characterized as an age of "spectacle," "surveillance," and all-pervasive image-making, we still do not know exactly what pictures are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and on the world, how their history is to be understood, and what is to be done with or about them." I know that you're interested in ekphrasis, and have written pretty extensively about it and also written ekphrastic poems. Does thinking about and playing with images in this way change the way you develop your blog posts? I know that since blogging, my handwritten journal has actually changed shape. I now choose unlined journals and integrate drawings and photographs into the whole. Has blogging changed your writing in any measurable way?

TH: I’m a visual person, whatever that means. I jot down the things I see/hear/think (okay, not everything, but close) in little books all over the house (in my purse, in my car). As my relationship with images and text shifts and evolves, I’m pleased to see the blog hosts advancing their product, making it simpler and easier to link and to upload photos and videos. The ease with which I can upload photos, allows me to incorporate more visual elements on the blog, esp. on The Plural Hoe, where I can use the image/text to relate to the self-portrait. Sometimes I can just share an image, which is a good way to maintain contact with others via the blog (or so I think). In a way, I guess much of the blog experience is a form of the self-portrait, in the medium of text (and often image). I don’t think blogging has changed my writing, but it’s an integral part of the writing process. It provides another medium to work out (The Plural Hoe) and think/play through (Manageable Imaginations).

SL: What strategies have you developed to keep the blog "manageable?" and can you talk about how you developed the blog and how it has evolved?

TH: An editor once coined my imagination as unmanageable (imagine that!). While I was confused about why an abundance of imagination was unmanageable, the comment inspired me to experiment with the blog format as a place to exploit (or use up) some of that uncontrollable creative energy. I started a blog and called it Unmanageable Imaginations (I remember spending all day on the email with Brenda Schmidt trying to figure the blogging world out). Unfortunately, my beginner blog was deleted from the blogosphere due to some unwanted abusive comments. In trying to manage the situation, I realized that I liked writing on a blog for whatever reason, posting for the few people that did read it, and that regardless of one reader’s harassment, I wouldn’t let someone drive me away from the space I’d created. Therefore, I deleted the original blog, altered the name, the host, and continued to blog under the name of Manageable Imaginations.

It’s interesting now to write about this, to see the how one person’s intrusion into my life created something more “manageable.” One of the biggest changes, I have to admit, with the bad experience of the first blog, was amending what and how I related to the web world. For the longest time on Manageable Imaginations, I hid the blog from public consumption. I tried to keep the personal out of my posts, and still very much do to a certain extent, though as time went on, I realized that what I do is so much a part of who I am, that it’s impossible to keep “me” out. Once I began to feel more secure in my space, I included more “me,” eventually bringing the blog back into the public sphere.

SL: In what ways has the community you've developed via the blog had an impact on your creativity?

TH: Tough question. I think blogging carries a ricochet effect in it’s own community. For example, doing this interview, makes me realize that my writing is read, to some extent and that there IS a community, which as a “prairie writer” (she says tongue in cheek) is important to writing. The support of a community, no matter how small is vital to my writing. And as for my own process, even today, answering these questions led me to write a final report and draft some work; all this writing settled me down to write, albeit none of it poetry, but words are words, and writing is writing, and hopefully, one thing leads to another. I guess by continuing to do what I like to do with the blogs, and feeling confident with the small community I’ve built, I’ll post sporadic occurrences/thoughts/theories, experiment with some poetry, and maybe write some plain ol’ dribble.

What if Gertrude Stein had Blogged by Tracy Hamon

As I prepared questions to send to Tracy Hamon for my series of short interviews on blogging and the creative process, I remembered reading a post she'd written called "What if Gertrude Stein had Blogged." I dove back into her blog The Plural Hoe and found the post. I asked Tracy if I could re-post it here and if she could write a little intro to the piece. So here's the intro, which I think says a lot about the way writers are inspired by other writers' blogs, followed by the poem.

Tracy Hamon: The Plural Hoe (which I openly admit to not having posted on in a long while---I blame work, work, and more work) stemmed from a comment made in a post on another blog, by Lemon Hound. In the blog post, Lemon Hound talked of blogging, and asked “What if Gertrude Stein had blogged?” I carried this question in my head for a few hours (maybe a day) until I’d worked myself up into thinking that the idea of Gertrude Stein blogging might be a good idea for a creative blog. I have a fondness for the modernist women, having studied them at some length in university, and of course, being a person driven by an unmanageable imagination, I dove in and created a creative blog.

A Blog

A well. An inked mountain. Inky swell. Hanging of the hat. Headspace; the rest coming. An opening. Daybreak sliced back in peelings. Sewing into what has been hidden. A needling in. The weeded container of what sprouts in rows. A garden. A rose hipped in the nose of morning. Line of dew. Dropped. The plural hoe, digging through. Dug. Dust. A spot underneath. Rubbed away. Running away. Carried on the backs of furrows.

(Tracy Hamon)