Issue 53.4 is Here and It’s a Handful!

11223743_1156727874354093_3361821410850414474_nOkay, okay: you try to think of crab puns that don’t involve the obvious! The pressure of nailing puns aside, PRISM’s Summer issue 53.4 is here and will be in your mailboxes very soon!

Our affectionately named issue, “Crab Hands”, contains so many great pieces we’re really excited about. We’ve got the winners and runner-ups for the 2015 Poetry and Fiction Contests, judged by Ken Babstock and Marina Endicott. Four poems by Aislinn Hunter about her time as the resident poet at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, four poems by Trillium Award Finalist Steven Heighton from his forthcoming issue with House of Anansi, and poems by four more poets: Chris Banks, Suzannah Showler, Sandry Shreve, and Laura Matwichuk. Orlando Hernández translates two poems by Dionisio Cañas from Spanish, poems with deceptively simple language: “I slept with a future hanged man./ It wasn’t my intention to make love/ to Death, but such is life.” (71)

Toronto writer Trevor Corkum’s stuns with his powerful memoir about his turbulent time in Turkey while Zach VandeZande  imagines Henry David Thoreau as a questionable boyfriend. Marcia Walker’s “Meditation on Dresses” tracks a woman’s relationship with her mother through the purchase of dresses.

Now we can’t forget about the cover! As soon as we saw Davide Luciano’s “Knitting a Stitch”, we were all in agreement. We had to have it! We love the colours, the composition, the crab hands! Yes, we know that’s not what they’re called, but it’s stuck.

We hope you enjoy our latest issue! If you don’t have subscription yet, you can sign up here! If you want to get your pinchers on this issue, you can get it here. Better hurry! With all the fantastic content, we don’t expect them to be around for long!



Posted in Issues, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grappling with Middle Age and Fading Beauty: a Review of “Bunny and Shark”

Bunny-and-Shark-Alisha-Piercy-510-cover1Review by Sarah Richards

Bunny and Shark
Alisha Piercy
Bookthug, 2014

In Bunny and Shark, the protagonist Bunny is exiled from an elite caste of Caribbean island dwellers. A powerful and wealthy tycoon, her husband, aka “the Bastard,” throws Bunny off a cliff and into the ocean, but she survives. The novel takes the format of thirteen chapters, one for each day that follows her attempted murder.

Years of working as a card-dealing Playboy Bunny has taught her how to swim in the so-called shark-infested waters of life. And she believes that she enjoys a special, protective status with the dolphins, who infuse her with the strength to keep swimming. She ekes out an existence in her expulsion from her former social circle and luxurious lifestyle by swimming from boat to boat and beach to beach, stealing the essentials—pâté and pickles, a Prada dress, YSL sunglasses, and “British Red” lipstick.

The attempted murder and Bunny’s survival is a metaphor for grappling with middle age and fading beauty. After a few days of a life on the run without her creature comforts, she catches herself in a mirror and she realizes she’s been “transformed into everything a Playboy Bunny fears but strives to keep at bay. Wrinkles, pouches, white roots straight as an axe running up against your greasy blond locks” (54). But she has a second—even more promising—chance at life. “And yet, hasn’t your body become more malleable and lithe… Has the skin of the dolphin rubbed its myth onto you? Of kingliness, of resurrection?” (56)

After years beholden to “the Bastard,” Bunny succumbs to the power freedom offers. And she gains strength by plotting her payback:

…all you see and all that drives you on are the contorted faces of three men: the bastard’s mixed expression of agony as he threw you over, the young man grimacing with orgasm, the horrified mask of the last man you just ran from. All three merge together like one great floating head, culminating as the singular expression of your power. Your breath goes shallow. Like you are infused again with dolphin sense. Except with more edge and an appetite for revenge. (102)

Bunny and Shark begins as a tale of overcoming adversity, and by the halfway mark, we marvel at Bunny’s rebirth, how she settles comfortably into her new nomadic life free of conventions.

How strong you still are, you think. How capable. It’s possible to be a free, glowing being buoyed by the sun and the immensity of the ocean. Look at you out here alone at dawn living off the sea in secret like a happy vagabond: eating food no one notices, wearing clothes nobody even remembers having, sleeping on luxurious boats, one after the next, without a soul finding a trace of you. (104)

But we know, even if Bunny doesn’t, that the Bastard is coming back for retribution. Only this time he finds her in the water.

“You bastard,” you whisper as your face falls flat in three feet of water, and the shark—who is trying to figure out if you are edible, not what you taste like, but what species you are—bites off one of your feet. (106)

This is Bunny’s second fall from grace; only this time, she can’t save herself because she is incapacitated. She must rely on the kindness and generosity of others. And this is the where clarity wavers momentarily. For it’s the youngest and kindest of the three men she seeks to avenge who rescues her from the water, half a leg lighter, and makes her whole again—literally, by way of a prosthetic leg. What’s missing, perhaps as a casualty of the limited perspective Piercy uses in Bunny and Shark, is the man’s motivation. What does he see in Bunny that he finds worth saving?

We don’t ever find out, at least not really. It’s also not clear why Piercy has chosen a second-person narrator, which has the effect of distancing us from Bunny’s thoughts and memories, and evading character development. The “you” narration is shallow, which is perhaps no accident considering the protagonist’s previous “shallow” life as a Playboy Bunny—a slave to high fashion and male servitude. But a lack of intimacy can preoccupy the reader, especially near the end when we crave the slightest glimpse inside Bunny’s head as she undergoes her second transformation.

Despite the puzzling perspective choice, it’s easy to get swept up in Piercy’s lush and poetic descriptions and thorough yet delicate treatment of heavy themes like beauty, feminism, and social status. Bunny and Shark is a rich tale of reflection, reinvention, and retaliation.

Sarah Richards has published short stories in Room and UNBUILD walls and non-fiction articles in Lonely Planet and She serves on the PRISM International editorial board and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.


Posted in Prose, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tuesday Prompt: Do Your Research

imageIt seems like when I have trouble writing (poetry, specifically), but know what I want to write about, I turn to the same solution every time: research. Yes, I’m about to advocate you sifting through the internet as a means to help you write. It’ll take discipline, yes, but isn’t that what writing is about?

So when you know what you want to write about, but aren’t generating lines, go to your local library and gather a bunch of books on whatever your topic is, or open up your laptop and starting Googling. Hopefully, you won’t be too distracted by social media or other such vices, because you’re still internetting when you should be writing! Most of us do it: click on one thing, then another, then just one more thing, then just one more thing, etc. Now, you can do dive into that black hole and feel good that those hours are no longer wasted and meaningless.

When I’m researching for writing to be specifically inspired by it, I pay close attention to the language of what I’m reading. Even if it’s scientific, it’s amazing some of the good stuff you can think of or include in a poem, story, whatever; facts and jargon come first to mind. If the language isn’t inspiring you, maybe take some notes of facts that you could include or words that interest you. Or, if that’s still not doing it for you, take a paragraph and try some erasure poetry on it.


Posted in Prompts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A post-modern version of the hyper-kinetic moment”: a review of Robertson’s “Cinema of the Present”

Review by Robert Colman.

Cinema-of-the-Present-Cover-ImageCinema of the Present
Lisa Robertson
Coach House Books, 2014

The Coach House Books website describes Lisa Robertson’s book-length poem, Cinema of the Present, using a series of questions:

What if the cinema of the present were a Möbius strip of language, a montage of statements and questions sutured together and gradually accumulating colour? Would the seams afford a new sensibility around the pronoun ‘you’?

The publishers, of course, answer these questions in the affirmative. I would agree that Robertson’s accumulation of statements and questions does build up a kind of sensibility, but where that takes us is a little more difficult to pin down.

The title of the poem immediately made me think of Virginia Woolf and the cinematic present of Mrs. Dalloway. Robertson’s poem feels like a post-modern version of the hyper-kinetic moment, a yet more intellectual exploration of how the mind moves from thought to thought, surface to depth. A line from page 55 describes the sense of the book: “You dream of the cogito, wanting to swim in its work.”

The cogito is the principle establishing the existence of a being from the fact of its thinking or awareness. This book feels like a careful recording of one individual’s awareness. In that recording, it is sometimes circular, repetitive, and intellectually engaged. It is non-narrative—the book describes thoughts, mostly, rather than actions—so any sense of place comes strictly from how the mind reacts to its surroundings.

The poem is structured as single lines of text, alternating from italic to roman. Sometimes these lines appear to play off one another, and sometimes the voices in each appear to wander off on their own exploration of an idea, such that ideas wind and unwind about each other, occasionally returning to a point later on:

What is the condition of a problem if you are the problem?
You move into the distributive texture of an experimental protocol.
A bunch of uncanniness emerges.
At 20 hertz it becomes touch.
A concomitant gate.  (5)

The “you” in the poem appears, to me at least, to be the narrator addressing herself with a carefully chosen pronoun—to be observed always at some distance even while inside the experience. A few lines later:

You set out from consciousness carrying only a small valise. (5)

This line is a perfect setting off point for the intellectual journey of the poem. And this is what Cinema of the Present feels like—an intellectual journey that examines the narrator’s place in the world. There is no set narrative that can act as a guidepost throughout the text. The statements and questions build up to an exploration of the changing “you” from moment to moment, the kinetic energy of being and thinking.

Robertson suggests a plethora of entry points to thought-journeys throughout. Essentially, every object, every man-made thing or piece of nature, is a thought-gate into another moment, another path for the mind, jetting the now into a new now, beholden to ideas but also the random place and context.

This desire to be in the moment inevitably lands among questions and statements about the nature of being, and how to be:

You wanted to release priorness. (16)

You were finding out about the collapsible body. (16)

What’s natural, what’s social, what’s intuitive? (17)

And this is the continuous action of the given world on your person. (75)

Some of these statements are repeated later in the book—for instance, “You wanted to release priorness” is repeated on page 93. As anyone will, we return to the same concerns, the statements of or about ourselves that we need to revisit, to better understand a new moment. The poem circles, and in circling reinforces the ‘you’ at its heart.

rob mclennan, in his review of Cinema of the Present, describes Robertson as “a poet of sentences”. I echo his sentiment. The single statements are strong poetic forms alone. The manner in which they play against one another—whether the juxtapositions are jarring or harmonious—is satisfying for the ear. Consider the following:

Now to enact comically solemn sexual rituals, you said.
You called and got only an echo.
Then psychology reared its battered head.
You came to understand the idea of destiny in this way.
The peculiar indwelling of rime was a roving organ.  (75)

Robertson sets herself an immense challenge by demanding each line live as a sentence. I imagine this was part of the intrigue in creating a poem of blunt statement in this form. In this compression, no line is a throwaway—each can stand on its own.

The most intriguing lines for me were those that seemed to journey far beyond the text. For instance:

Let feminism be this girl raging at a chandelier. (37)

The unachieved is the place that you call meaning. (41)

In just these two phrases, “feminism” and “achievement” are given new contexts. In the first case, it suggests feminism can be defined in any action that the free-thinking “girl” in the statement pursues. And similarly, what is unachieved in the second statement holds more sway, more heft, than achievement. These are just two examples of times in the text that relatively simple phrases arrest the reader and make them ponder.

Given the structure of the book, and its length (over 100 pages), keeping up with the stream of wandering thought is a challenge. That is where the “sentence” form of her work in such a long text can be simply befuddling. I first read the book over the course of one day, which was exhilarating but also occasionally disorienting. I admit, I tend to gravitate to more traditional lyric poetry. But reading the book over a day or two isn’t the same experience—enjoyable, but it becomes less about the whole than moments such as those shared above.

The book concludes with an “index” by Pascal Poyet that is subtitled “looking for characters”. This is part of frustration in reading the text—feeling that you are seeing the shape of a character form through each successive statement, only for the statements to take a different tack a page later. For me, if it could be said that there are characters formed by successive statements, those characters are the many facets of one person expressing the contradictions of living—the constant argument of the self in a world that desires a certainty that is fictitious. Poyet’s index is both vague and fulsome in cataloguing this, and is an intriguing coda to Robertson’s work.

However you view the “you” that gets expressed in these pages, there is a fascinating journey to be experienced delving into Robertson’s most recent book.

Robert Colman is a Newmarket, Ontario-based writer and editor. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Little Empires (Quattro Books 2012) and The Delicate Line (Exile Editions 2008). His new chapbook, Factory, is now available from Frog Hollow Press. He is currently pursuing his MFA through UBC’s Optional Residency program. 

Posted in Poetry, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Announcing PRISM’s 2015/2016 Contest Judges!

Judging our 2015 Creative Non-fiction Contest is Russell Wangersky!

Style: "Portrait B&W"

Photo credit: Ned Pratt

Russell Wangersky is an award-winning writer from St. John’s, Newfoundland.  His latest book is a novel, Walt, released in Sept, 2014. A six-time finalist for Canada’s National Newspaper Awards (winning for editorials in 2002 and 2011), his five books also include the memoir Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself, a memoir of his eight years as a volunteer firefighter that examines the personal toll of firefighting and accident rescue, another novel (The Glass Harmonica), and two short story collections.

Burning Down the House (Thomas Allen Publishers, 2008) won three Canadian literary prizes, including the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, The Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the Rogers Communication Newfoundland and Labrador Non-Fiction Book Award. It was also a finalist for the Writer’s Trust Non-Fiction Prize.

The deadline for the Creative Non-Fiction Contest is November 20th, 2015. For more details on how to enter, see our contests page. 

Judging our 2016 Fiction Contest is Lee Maracle!


Photo Credit: Columpa Carmen Bobb Photography

Ms. Maracle is the author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works including: Sojourner’s and Sundogs,  Ravensong , Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent box, and Celia’s song, I Am Woman and is the co-editor My Home As I Remember , Telling It: Women and Language across Culture. Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto.

She is Traditional Teacher for First Nations.  In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St.  Thomas University.  Maracle recently received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.  Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington. Work-in-progress Memory Serves and other Words and Talking to the Diaspora will be published this fall.  Maracle also received the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

The deadline for the Fiction Contest is January 15th, 2016. For more details on how to enter, see our contests page.

Judging our 2016 Poetry Contest this year is Kayla Czaga!

Photo credit: Janet Kvammen

Photo credit: Janet Kvammen

Kayla Czaga is the author of For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014), which won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and The Debut-litzer. She is the current BC/Yukon representative for the League of Canadian Poets. Her poetry, non-fiction and fiction has been published in The Walrus, Best Canadian Poetry 2013 and 2015, Room Magazine, Event and The Antigonish Review, among others.Her chapbook Enemy of the People is forthcoming from Anstruther Press.

The deadline for the Poetry Contest is January 15th, 2016. For more details on how to enter, see our contests page.

Entry fee: $35 Canadian entries; $40 US entries; $45 Int’l entries (up to three poems may be submitted with each entry, each entry includes a one-year subscription or extension to PRISM international). 

Additional entry: $5 each poem, story or creative non-fiction piece.
You can enter our contests online through Submittable at

You can also mail entries or queries to:
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462 – 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1

If you have any questions, please contact


Posted in Contests | Leave a comment

The Tuesday Prompt: A Change Will Do You Good

exit-changesMore often than not, I find myself writing in the same places. The routine can be nice, especially to establish an association for my brain. Hey Brain, we’re at a coffee shop. That means work, yo. (Because I like to talk to myself like Jesse Pinkman.) I am, unfortunately, a monster of habit, a hater of change, a lover of music references slipped into blog titles.

Point being, like my life, I find my characters and poems in the same settings over and over again. Write what you know, right? But if these characters are in identical settings, doesn’t that mean that other aspects of the story are likely similar? I think so. It means they might have similar backgrounds, which influences the way they interact with the world. I don’t want to keep telling the same story five different ways, and it seems like sometimes I do. Got to keep things fresh, yo.

So this week’s writing prompt is about identifying your pattern(s) and mixing it up. You can take the opposite route, if you want: if you always have the city as a setting, choose the countryside instead. And if you’re thinking, Hey! I don’t know anything about that, so how can I possibly write it? that’s what the internet is for. Leave blanks or highlight areas you don’t know and keeping writing. If the opposite route doesn’t sound like your jam, maybe make one small change and see how it affects the story (or poem even). Choose a different profession and see how that impacts your character’s personality and view of the world.

Whatever you do, change it up, yo, and have fun!


Posted in Prompts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking Risks and Getting a Little Weird: An Interview with Raoul Fernandes

Former PRISM poetry editor Rob Taylor sat down with Raoul Fernandes, whose first poetry collection Transmitter and Receiver was published in Spring 2015. PRISM published five poems from the book in our Fall 2014 issue.

When The Teeth of the Gears Meet – Raoul Fernandes

the music chimes, the bicycle
climbs the hill, the clock releases
a bird. The streetlight blinks, goes night
day night day night. My bed
is a giant reset button I hold down
until morning. When the teeth
of the dream meets the teeth of the morning
I pour myself a cup of numbers in the kitchen.
Daydream a wheel inside a wheel. Daydream
children running from the shore with cupped
phosphorescence that dies out before
they reach us. Rushing back to do it again.
And I am a child running towards myself
and the teeth of the memory meet the teeth
of the day meet the clock, the highway, the heart.
Or the gears don’t touch, just spin like ceiling fans.
What’s a day? asks the sun. What’s night?
asks the moon. Will you send me
that beautiful book about asteroids?
I want my life to change.

from Transmitter and Receiver
(Nightwood Editions, 2015).
Reprinted with permission.
Raoul Fernandes, with various hipster accoutrements.

With a book called Transmitter and Receiver I expected a lot of technology to have worked its way into your poems. And its certainly there in abundance – video games and YouTube videos, .jpgs and cell phone ring tones. But just as prevalent, perhaps more so, are flowers – in the foreground in poems like “The Tulip Vending Machine” and “Flower Arrangements” and also popping up in little cameos, like the night flowers which “open with ease // in the politician’s garden” or the “soft buzzing” of flowers on an otherwise silent morning. I was wondering if you could speak about these two themes in your book – modern technology and flowers – and how they compliment and contrast one another. What does it mean for you when you put flowers in a poem? Could you imagine writing this book with the tech in but not the flowers?

It’s funny, I had absolutely no idea I had put that many flowers in the book until it was too late. It’s like some little imp came in when I was sleeping and pressed them all in. But yes – and let’s say that imp is a subconscious part of me – I have a few explanations. On a purely associative level, I like that sweet note that flowers can play and to use that to disrupt or enhance something in a poem. I have also felt distant or suspicious of something so purely beautiful when I was a moody and dark youth. That skateboarder in “Flower Arrangements” that holds the bouquet at a “precise distance” away from himself? That’s me, in a way. Just overwhelmed and unable to relate to that beauty. I remember a period later when I was reading a lot of Gerald Stern, who has flowers in his poems, and how startling it was to me, somehow. At the time a flower poem to me was the most radical thing. And then of course, I relate them a lot to my wife these days, she’s brought me into a quiet kind of appreciation of them and living green things in general.

As far as the technology goes, I think I was being playful with contrasts, mostly. I was trying to show the organic nature of technology as much as I was trying to place the flowers in unusual contexts as well. Flowers are a cliché right? But it’s also a fun game to try to un-cliché an old cliché.

Yes, I also love the challenge of un-cliché-ing clichés. Unflowering flowers?

Sticking with the recurring themes of the book, another of them seems to me to be commodification, especially commodification within a suburban setting. Flowers and food are turned into products, and thereby deformed. In “Affordable Travel Through Time” a group of teenagers hangs out in front of a rotating billboard and the speaker notes reverently that “Nothing / was purchased tonight and nothing sold.” What was your sense of the commodified world as a suburban teenager growing up in Tsawwassen, BC, and has it changed as you’ve aged and moved into the city?

This is an area I feel very out of my depth on, but I will try to circle around it. It might help if I talked about that moment in the poem you mentioned. I was looking back at a time where I, like probably a lot of young people, was struggling to find a meaningful framework for my identity and life, something authentic or even spiritual. And around me, things like movies, shopping malls, advertising seemed to force a meaning onto us that we didn’t want or at least, were very suspicious of. It was important to find meaning outside that, even though we didn’t know what it was.

Some poems might also relate to the “thingness” I was just talking about. In a poem, does something become more real, more of a specific thing when it’s placed in a dollar store or a vending machine? But being a mass-produced object, it loses uniqueness, so it becomes less real in a way, too. And another quality is that a mass-produced object is something shared, like when we drink a can of coke are we all connecting to the same object, just in different places? Confusing, right? Again, I feel out of my depth and I think I’m often just using it as a texture, not making any statements about it, but knowing when it feels right. Maybe you’d be able to help get a better grip on what I’m doing here.

I suppose I’m projecting my own experience on to your poems a bit, but as a child of Vancouver’s suburbs myself, now living in the city, I feel that my geographic location changes my sense of the commodified world. In the suburbs, growing up, and even now when I return to visit family, I feel awash in a world that is made up of possessions, where the value of “things” comes in the buying and selling and hoarding of them, and where the purpose of existence is the acquisition of the best and most desired items: megahouses and massive shopping mall parking lots full of minivans and Hummers. Then I compare that to the city where, certainly, there is hyper-consumerism in many areas, but also so much resistance to it, resistance I never felt in the suburbs, where consumerism felt like a warm blanket pulled over the lot of us. Maybe it has more to do with childhood/adulthood than suburb/city – I’m not entirely sure.

Though ours is hardly a unique experience – growing up in the suburbs, then moving to the big city – it isn’t a universal one, either. I felt in many of the poems in Transmitter and Receiver you used this perspective to take on questions like “What is a thing?”, “What is its worth?” and “In what currency is that worth measured?”. In these poems, a knowing, urban speaker looks back on their unknowing, suburban upbringing, and some insight or another is cracked open via the comparison. For instance, your poem “Night School”, which faces “Affordable Travel Through Time” – busing into the city looking for something, some answer or perspective the suburb couldn’t provide, something not found by the speaker until they’d made the move both into the city and into adulthood. Then there’s “Grand Theft Auto: Dead Pixels”, which I think you were hinting at above, where the speaker eats a fast food cheeseburger, emboldened by the fact that “maybe tens of thousands” are “experiencing this identical flavour / and texture at this precise time” while also noting that actually enjoying the meal is not important. How much more of a tangled suburban love song can one sing?

transmitter_and_receiver-cover-finalDo you find being in the suburbs substantially – let’s say, hesitantly, “spiritually” – different for you when it comes to how you see and understand the “thingness” of the world, compared to the city? And how, if at all, do you think your upbringing shaped the questions you now find yourself asking about “thingness”?

Goodness, what a question! Well, yes, the suburbs do feel that way now, the warm consumerist blanket of possessions, beautiful lawns, two car garages. Such a privileged and unsustainable ideal. I don’t know if going out into the city was to consciously get away from consumerism in particular (though you’re right, the city is a less materialist place and, in general, people are more conscious about these issues) but it was to go somewhere more noisy and unsettling, to shake us out of that safe and sedated feeling.

There’s a line from that Night School poem, “Friends who appeared / like giants by our town’s driftwood fires, now slapped / pale and diminished in this crowded light.” There was a shift in proportion when we were in the city, we felt smaller, and I think it was important to me to feel small at times. We also attempted this kind of disruption within the suburbs too – experimenting with mind-altering substances, staying awake all night at the beach, hanging out in cemeteries, etc. Music, art, books were also part of this. I didn’t know what my values were but I had resistance to it being money and possessions. Now I suspect what was important was connecting with people. Friendship is a strong theme, I believe, in those suburban poems. And the later poems explore connections with strangers and those close to me, my wife and child. Sometimes it’s through objects, but the objects themselves aren’t where the values lie.

Yes, I like that a lot. Especially the smallness part – the city is good for that. Sometimes too good. I’m wondering, as we talk about life being about friendships before objects, how you feel about peddling a book of your poems (in, say, author interviews) as a commercial item. Do you feel any tension there?

It might be me being biased, but I weirdly don’t feel much tension when it comes to books as commodified things in the world. Books seem kind of empty in a way, like vehicles for thought to be transmitted through, only existing when they are being written and when being read. Of course, it is also a bound physical object you can hold in your hand and a lot of disgruntled trees would have something to say about this somewhat romantic metaphysical idea.

As far as marketing goes, I’m pretty easy about it so far. I’d feel weird if there was marketing extraneous to the poems. Most of the time it’s the poems speaking for themselves (at a reading or on a bus ad), or some reaction or discussion of the poems (in an interview or review) so it feels ok to me.

Raoul, blinking, wearing the coat from a skinned corduroy sofa.

“You have this thing” are the opening words to the opening poem of the book (“By Way of Explanation“). Then again, two pages later, we come upon “this strong coffee, this pulsing sky” (“Bioluminescence“). “This” is a showcase word in Transmitter and Receiver, a word returned to again and again, and it seems to me that the centrality of “this” in the book suggests a bond you feel with the reader. The reader is there in the world of the poem with you and you are giving them a tour: it’s not just some random burger, it’s “this burger, this popular fast food cheeseburger” (“Grand Theft Auto: Dead Pixels”). You can almost reach out and pick it up in your hands. Why do you think you are drawn to “this” instead of “the” or “a” in so many circumstances?

That’s a really good observation. Again, something I haven’t consciously noticed. I like it, I wouldn’t mind a lot of my poems feeling like an intimate show and tell session. I like to bring the reader into the room of the poem, into the specific moment. There’s already so much in poems that risk distancing the reader or suggesting that objects in the poems are only symbols for something else. Sometimes it’s good to be clear on the actual thingness. Which is funny because I think I use the word “thing” often too, which is vague. So “this thing” is both specific and vague at the same time.

How, if at all, do you think your work as Goodnight Streetlight (and/or electronic music generally) informs your poetry? Vice versa?

When I first started making electronic music it was very playful and exploring, building little songs with whatever pieces of sounds I found around, from little Windows system bleeps to recorded ambient noises, to fiddling on a toy keyboard. One could make parallels to how I approach the data of my poems in the same way. Feeling out what’s within reach, then putting odd things next to each other and seeing what energy they produce. Also, people have used similar adjectives to describe my music: weird/dreamy/comforting. So that reveals something of my aesthetic. I just hope there’s a little bit of discomfort in there as well.

In reading the book it felt largely chronological: suburban teenage life at the front, family life with wife and son near the end. How much does that order line up with the order in which you wrote the poems? Have you found you’ve written about certain periods in your history at particular times in your life? What parts/times of your life did you start writing about first?

I tend to go back to my suburban teenage life a lot for material. Not sure why, it was a crazy intense time where I was trying to figure out both myself and the world. I was hanging out with a lot of weird kids who were in a similar position, feeling crazy and different yet existing in this very safe well-manicured pretty little town. I enjoyed that contrast. I’ve revisited that weird suburbia often and will continue to go back there I think. I didn’t write any of those poems during that time though, I should say.

The family domestic poems are a bit newer where I’m consciously trying to write something more current. It’s more of a challenge, in as far as I use memories at all, I usually need the memories to age a bit.

Similar to my last question, I’m wondering if any of these poems were written late in the publication process, maybe to fill holes in the manuscript, and if so, which, and what were the perceived holes? Having seen and read your book in print, did it inspire you to tackle anything different in book number two?

Regarding the newer poems in the book, I found the natural thing to do was to continue to write poems after the manuscript was accepted and then choose the ones I felt were playing different notes than the other poems, but somehow still connected to the themes. I don’t know if there were obvious holes, but I remember having a worry that there were too many poems that had the same feel, that used the same images (hello flowers!) or ended the same way.

I haven’t really started anything for another collection, but I think I’m going to just keep writing and let new poems grow organically and hopefully explore new terrain, voices, approaches. Maybe (probably) get deeper with some of the concerns that are already in this book. So no real plan, but I like the idea of working on a few little chapbooks instead of the somewhat daunting prospect of Book Number Two. I want to give myself the freedom to take risks and get a little weird. Whatever keeps my head lit up.

Raoul is Transmitting like crazy, so make sure you Receive a copy of Transmitter and Receiver soon. You can tune one in from your local bookstore, or from the Nightwood Editions website, or, if you wish to worship at the grand temple of commodification, via Amazon.

Rob Taylor is a former Poetry Editor at PRISM international. You can read more of his interviews here.

Posted in Interviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment