Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Conversation with Bill Yarrow

"Boris, it was Boris I thought of then,
sipping a Gin Rickey on Spring Garden
Street in the Shade of Fairmont Park with a 
blonde woman (not my mother) whose daughter
(granddaughter?) I was watching now under 
colored flood lights, white seashells on the black
walls, whose breasts, eyeing each other like old
foes, shook out of synch like a putative
suicide in an antique novel or 
postwar film. What is art? asked lithe Tolstoy
and the answer fluttered back: "What you suck.""

Excerpt from “THE TWO LERMONTOVS”, Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku

How do you blend the sense of humor with lyricism in your poetry?

I don't know. What can I tell you? I love to laugh. I like to make other people laugh.  I like puns, non sequiturs, malapropisms, the absurd. I like pushing the envelope. I like poking holes in the envelope. I like ripping up the envelope and throwing it in the trashcan. Jokes are timing. Jokes are punchlines. So are poems. I like the windup, the delivery, the off-balance pitcher regaining his posture, the ball sailing across or curving into the strike zone. I like the knife-perfect dive. I'm mad for juxtaposition. Words against words. Lines against lines. This against that. The pretty against the ugly. The raw against the cooked. The cooperative in bed with the unruly. The pristine vs. the stained. The rumpled vs. the starched. I just try to write as precisely as I can. A lapidary sentence floats my boat. "Exuberance is beauty." "Energy is eternal delight."  Blake is the touchstone, but you know who also is inspiring to read? John Bunyan.

I've read a fair bit of your poetry in the past few years. One thing I've always admired—the rhythm and sounds move together seamlessly and the momentum is always fitting with the theme. It often ends with a lot of punch. How do you get there?

The book that's helped me most as a poet is Barbara Herrnstein Smith's 1968 brilliant scholarly study Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End. It won't teach you how to write poetry exactly, but it does unpack poems in quite an extraordinary way. It's one of those books like Colin Wilson's The Outsider or Norman O. Brown's Love's Body that is capable of rewiring your brain. It rewired my writing brain. I learned the ending must be the different brother. It's the ribbon that turns the purchase into a gift.

How do I get there? I write in the thrall of the ending. I write backwards. That is, I write from the bottom up.  It's what Poe said in "The Philosophy of Composition":  "It is only with the dénoument constantly in view that we can give the plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention."  I take Poe's advice seriously:  always know where you are going. (A draft has only the vaguest sense of the journey. A draft is a map looking for an X.) A poem is a postcard from your destination.  The best destination is always a sock in the jaw.  I try not to end up in the middle of a muddy field. I try like hell not to end in a nest of pillows.

Re: rhythm, sound, momentum.... Here are my teachers, the elements in my periodic table: Marlowe and Shakespeare. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Love Peacock. Arthur Schopenhauer and Franz Kafka. Isaac Babel and P.G. Wodehouse. Henry Miller and Edward Dahlberg. Samuel Beckett and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Grace Paley and Donald Barthelme. Jorge Luis Borges and Lydia Davis. I read these authors for their sentences. I relish how their sentences end.

Paper : Scissors : Rock  ::  Alliteration : Assonance : Rhyme
Paper and alliteration are cheap. Scissors cuts paper and assonance cuts alliteration.  Rock and rhyme are dangerous, but what is dominant is not invincible:  paper covers rock and alliteration can obliterate rhyme.  

How did you arrive at the formal variety in The Lice of Christ? I love its contrarian coherence.

I like hybrid cars and I'm attracted to hybrid texts. As I've said, I'm avid for juxtaposition. Juxtaposition of style, tone, perspective, voice, story, form, type, kind, manner, method, approach, material, medium.... I'm interested in texture, heft, collage, collation, kaleidoscopy,  the mixed bag. I'm attracted to works of mixed poetry and prose like William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," William Carlos Williams' Imaginations (collects five early works including the hybrid Spring and All), and Charles Bukowski's Septuagenarian Stew. I like works like Bleak House, Winesburg, Ohio, and Light in August that tell more than one story at the same time. I like the polyphony of voice in Don Quixote, A Tale of a Tub and Jacques the Fatalist, the multifarious talk you find in Bowell's Life of Johnson, the documentary interpolations  of Max Havelaar by Multatuli , the incorporation of footnotes into fiction in Nabokov's Pale Fire, Sinyavsky's The Makepeace Experiment, and in David Foster Wallace. I don't like books, particularly poetry books, that do the same thing over and over. I like works like Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Henry Miller's The Rosy Crucifixion, Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot, and Peter Handke's The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld that do different things over and over. Well, that's what I was trying to do in The Lice of Christ.

What about poets working today? Whose work inspires or resonates with you?"

When I think about inspiration, I think of the great writers of the past. That spigot has no shutoff valve. Contemporary inspiration more often appears as envy, doesn't it? I try not to go down that road. I admire those writers whose ambition is located not in themselves but in their work. Resonance? Individual poets don't usually resonate with me. Individual poems resonate with me, but that changes with my situation and mood. I've been excited by recent work by Bud Smith, Nick Demske, Darryl Price, Pamela Miller, and John Goode, but that's like plunging my hand into the bucket of good poets and plucking out five of the plumpest plums. There are hundreds of others (I hope you know who you are!) that I should, and wish I could, also name.

What are you working on these days?

More Cranshaw poems, a series perhaps. Three Cranshaw poems appear in Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku. Playing with form, seeing what happens when "found" poems are formalized: "found" clauses and "found" phrases fashioned into sestinas, villanelles, pantoums, etc. I also continue to work on mashups of text of public-domain poems and images from public-domain films—inspired by Italian fotomanzi and Mexican fotonovelas. I'd like to do something like Harvey Kurtzman did with his fumetti in HELP, but instead with lines of poetry inserted into characters' mouths.

Where my mind goes, I go. I trust in whim. I work poem to poem. I'm not the kind of poet who decides "railroad" and then writes poem after poem about trains. I trust my poems to figure out how to cohere. My poems are like "the story of the night told over" in A Midsummer Night's Dream which "grows to something of great constancy." I see books of poems like that—discrete poems "transfigured so together" so as to create something "strange and admirable." Theseus knows what's what, but Hippolyta's the better guide. Anyway, I have another book taking shape. It's almost done. As soon as it can walk on its own, I'll let it out the door.

Bill Yarrow is the author of Pointed Sentences, a full-length collection of poems from BlazeVOX and four chapbooks—The Lice of Christ from MadHat Press, Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku from Červená Barva Press, Fourteen from Naked Mannekin Press and Wrench from Erbacce Press. He has been published in many print and online journals including DIAGRAM, Contrary, PANKPoetry International, and RHINO. He is a Professor of English at Joliet Junior College where he teaches creative writing, Shakespeare, and film.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stone Bride Madrigals

Pleased to announce the release of my poetry chapbook, Stone Bride Madrigals, published by corrupt press (Paris). Special thanks to editor Dylan Harris. Love to David Heg for the cover art. See more of David's photography, excerpts from my poems and my video readings here

On a snowy write in Brooklyn, I met the statue who was to appear in many of the poems I'd go on to write -- it was the moment I started writing poetry. My statue walked through all kinds of disintegration. Sometimes she saw death. These poems are her songs. 

US$ 8 (shipping included). Order your signed copy here:

Stone Bride Madrigals, what a lion with terror. What a white blanket baptism in a dreamy kind of rain. What Nicolette has done here is capture the sounds of colors--textures slashed across landscapes, illuminating the bodies and minds of the collection's inhabitants for the disintegrating matter that they are. They have choked a hole, goes the tangle of her text. They have choked a hole

--David Tomaloff, author of SLEEP (Plain Wrap Press)

In this spellbinding collection, Nicolette embraces and forsakes, while conjuring poignant allegories of loss and decay to configure an "atlas of wounds". In the process, beings morph into urban landscapes, and real or imaginary transgressions become flesh. Reconstructed as a dark, elegant origami of a million facets, her work fits into the palm of the beguiled reader, indestructible, never to leave. A true phenomenon of contemporary poetry!

--Mia Avramut, Associate Poetry Editor at Connotations Press

With the authority of heightened emotion, Nicolette's powerfully paced juxtapositions send familiar grammar scurrying to sulk in the face of her haunting imagery on the edge of consciousness. New verbs have taken over, and Nicolette tells them where to go: they go to you. They go to the part of you regular old verbs couldn't reach. You are no longer safe. Thank goodness.

--Tantra Bensko, author of Lucid Membrane 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blood A Cold Blue - Conversation with James Claffey

Get your copy of Blood a Cold Blue here.

Nicolette: I see your characters (esp. the narrators) drift in and out of ruins a lot. How did you tread that fine line yourself when you were writing these stories? 

James: I’m not sure I trod the fine line in the writing of the stories, as the voice of each comes from a place of unknowing, of subconsciousness. Ruin and its avoidance were part of my experience growing up in Dublin. My father lost the family business when I was a small boy, and that experience shaped him as a person for the rest of his life. We’d drive past the place every summer on the way to the West of Ireland on our holidays and he would curse, become morose, and bemoan the loss of what had been a life of some privilege. After 
that loss he worked to support his young family, a lot of sacrafice, a great deal of pride. From those memories, from the struggles my parents went through, I saw the shadow of ruin on our house and it has stayed with me to this day. Also, I’m captivated by the dichotomy between survival and disaster, the gust of fortune that might consign a character one way or the other. I find much to explore in flawed characters and don’t for the most part write about happy, positive people. Strugglers are much more interesting, don’t you think?

Nicolette: Your portrayal of these strugglers is so visceral, too. "My teeth chatter from the cold, the edge of my left eye twitches faster than my heartbeat, and there's a hollow feeling in the roof of my mouth...I knew she was dead from the way her neck angled, the pale skin, her cigarettes on the ground beside her--Marlboro Lites--and me having told her over and over that smoking kills." ("The Way Her Neck Angled")

Besides your memories -- which fill that place of unknowing you re-create on the page -- what else would you say inform/shape your approach to characterization? 

James: Noticing. Paying attention to the small things, the rust on a hinge, the shade of lipstick on an old woman, the shape of arthritic fingers. I fall back on the quote, "God is in the details," to explain my approach to character. For me, the particular is critical to flesh out a character, those particular quirks and traits that mark one person apart from another. As I get responses to the book I notice my writer's eye tends towards the grimness and the seediness of life. This I have to ascribe to my self-reflective manner and the darkness that comes from an Irish childhood where all about me were destroyed people hiding in corners of the Dublin streets. When I was a kid we came across tramps, tinkers, beggars, and in their faces the etched lines of hard lives must have spoken to me at a deep level. It's not that I don't embrace hope and joy and beauty, I do, but through a particular prism that contorts those things into something more problematic, more honest, more real.

Nicolette: One thing I've always loved about your writing -- the rhythm. It's a moving shadow that traces the character's emotions and it's very palpable. How do you find/relate to this music, when you write?

James: The rhythm is something I found happened when I stopped writing for the express purpose of finding an agent, getting a publishing contract, pleasing other parties and other monstrosities! A rhythm existed in my writing before all of that, but it was subverted by my own shortcomings and inadequacies, and when I gave up on the notion of pleasing others, the writing found its own voice, its own path so to speak. Some of the musicality is down to growing up in Ireland, immersion in the patterns of speech that mark our island soul, and even though I've been away now for twenty years, those important formative years when language acquisition took place cemented those Celtic rhythms and notes in my brain. As far as musicality goes I'm useless in terms of playing instruments, though I do a little tone-deaf singing when I read certain stories that contain song lines. Sometimes I listen to music when I write, mostly instrumental, some Sigur Ros, some classical, some operatic, and as background music I find it soothing, though maybe the darkness comes from the mood created by the music. 

Nicolette: Aren't you always juggling a number of writing projects? I think I've mostly read your flash fiction (and some prose-poemy pieces) so far. Are you working on anything else these days? 

James: Juggling is generous. I've fallen in and out of projects, some of which are ongoing, some lie fallow at present and I may go back to them and revive the writing. I've been working on Pure Slush's 2014 project where a story a month set on the same day reveals a world to the reader over the timeframe of one calendar year, and I recently spent three days in Big Sur at a Benedictine monastery working on a novel that Thrice Publishing will be bringing out next year. I spent the time revising the book as it stands, adding new sections to smooth transitions between chapters, and generally polishing the language to a point where I can comfortably say the book is ready for the light of day. I'd like to find a happy medium where I don't have too many projects going on, but that's probably not very likely!

Nicolette: That brings me to the question I've always wanted to ask you. How do you approach the shift from flashing to writing a novel? Whenever I read your flash fiction, I listen to the rhythm and emotions and think, "There's something he's not showing here... The bigger picture." 

James: Yes, there's a great deal "below the water" in the flash pieces, the unsaid, the unmentionable. I like to skirt the edges and give the reader these clues, hints, as to what's going on beneath. The switch to the novel is slightly more difficult in terms of creating a "whole world" situation, and making sure the whole thing has cohesiveness. I've worked hard on showing a world in the novel that encompasses the main character's hometown, and I hope it succeeds on the page. With flash it's easy to declare a piece finished and leave much unsaid, whilst with the novel there's a pull that I feel at work that makes me want to reveal the layers of the story in a more complete way. I'm anticipating the novel will stay true to the rhythm and patterns of my other writing, and that there won't be any sense of the novel "failing" in terms of voice and authenticity.

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work has appeared in the New Orleans Review, Word Riot, Metazen, Necessary Fiction, FWriction and many other places.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

> Language > Place blog carnival

Language > Place blog carnival: a BluePrintReview project and a joined blog cyber journey featuring international perspectives on language and place. 

The second edition of > Language > Place blog carnival features over 20 writers from around the world. It unfolds between directions, detours and codes to arrive at fictive domains that are made real by the yearning for souls adrift. The journey continues, looking into private places and eccentricities, to trace slipping boundaries and the sense of one's ever shifting homes. 

For info on how to join the next carnival, related links and notes on the project, visit the > Language > Place info page



Dorothee Lang lives in Germany. This summer she flew to Vienna for some days. The lingual fun started on a day trip to Bratislava, once a trilingual city and now capital of Slovakia. Through a misunderstanding, she got lost in “Nove Mesto”, the 'new part of town' with a friend. 'The day trip to Bratislava indeed felt like a trip through history, and the Slovak language made it special, and more "abroad".' She blogged about the trip in: ‘Vienna, Bratislava, Istanbul’.

Karyn Eisler from Canada finds herself in foreign places where languages become music. Sometimes they dance in images, as in the Hungarian spa town of Hévíz. Look here.

Steve Wing from Florida grew up in a mono-linguistic place and grew to love other cultures and languages. In ‘road signs’, he muses on the relationships between words, directions and origins: ‘Even where there is one predominant language, though, there are traces of other tongues. So it is with the words on these road signs, which open like doors onto other cultures...'

Exchanges Decoded

Christopher Allen, an American writer and teacher living in Germany, travels the world with his ‘linguistic advantage’. He blogs about his adventures at ‘I MUST BE OFF’ and for this month’s blog carnival, he sent ‘Taksi or Fright’, an entry about his attempts to make himself understood in Southeast Asia in November.

Parmanu is from India and his job with a multinational company has brought him to Germany. For December’s blog carnival he sent ‘Super 8’, an entry about a brief conversation in English he had with a German passenger on the train, the charm and complexities of exchanges spanning cultures and languages.

‘It is with us humans, we fall into our language in times of emotional communication,’ notes Abha Iyengar, a poet and freelance writer from New Delhi, India. During a Writing Residency in Tamil Nadu in Southern India from 2009 to 2010, Abha navigated between the differences in sounds, sights and people in her temporary dwelling and those in her hometown. Follow her discovery in ‘An Ambassador Mercedes in Pondicherry’.

'I love the idea that multiculturalism--or is it duoculturalism? is alive and well and on my back,' Matt Potter notes in his entry 'Dyeing for it’ about his love for the 'trans-global warriors' T-shirts that accompany him across Germany and Australia. Matt loves sex, fashion and words--and he flaunts his stuff with flair (ignore the adult content warning note).

Fictive Domains

Marcus Speh is a native German who mostly writes in English because he thinks in images and a foreign language is a wonderful plaything. He blogs at Nothing to Flawnt, a reference to his long-time nom de plume, Finnegan Flawnt. While on vacation in Texas this October, Marcus wrote whimsical stories on different objects found on a Texan beach. Check them out here.

‘One day, he thought, his postcards to his wife would be found - these drawings would be his last words to her,’ writes Stella Pierides in her short short ‘Postcards’, which looks back on the cruelty of the Greek Civil War from 1946 to 1949. You can also read her notes on the story in ‘Language, Trauma, and Silence’. Originally from Athens, Greece, Stella now divides her time between London and Bavaria.

Linda Simoni-Wastila crunches numbers by day and churns words at night in Baltimore, and much of her writing explores health, in particular the societal and personal facets of medication and medicating. She participates in the blog carnival with her flash fiction ‘Lost in Suomi’, which was inspired by her memories of a distant trip to Finland.

Souls Adrift

Sherry O’Keefe is a poet and she writes beyond the confines of beautiful Montana. She asks the questions whose answers we keep to ourselves: What is common among all languages? What commotions happen in life that no language can adequately express?  in her entry ‘In Case of a Bad Day’ and the poem ‘Mike’. 

Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State, and his writing paints vivid pictures of human suffering and loss. ‘Canto Del Sol’ is an account of his family trip to a remote part of Mexico. While there, they came face to face with extreme poverty and a community whose existence is dependent upon the discarded garbage of others. Len finished a novel this year and he blogs at People You Know by Heart.

‘Australian Friend likes to say, “Bloom where you’re planted.” It’s good advice for anybody, but I think it applies double to expats,’ writes Jennifer Saunders, who is originally from the American Midwest and now lives in The Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. She weaves impressions of US-styled Thanksgiving and memories of homes and traditions in her entry ‘Expat Thanksgiving. And Pie.’

Private Places

Julien Tatham is a filmmaker and experimental arts artist based in Paris. Julien lives for love and stories as he seeks truth in his personal space, an empty place that rings with questions: ‘...often you are alone in front of this silent place, outside we hear the rumor, a city, through the window. I’m surrounded by these objects in the apartment, rooms are stanzas of life.’

‘Behind that door could be anything, but at the same time, the possibilities have already been decided,’ Trang Nguyen writes about her private space in Melbourne in ‘(un)fettered territory’. Trang moved to Australia with her Vietnamese parents when she was two months’ old. Now she draws, takes pictures, writes, dances and loves in a surprising vacuum. 

‘At night I take solitary walks. My mind curls up into a warm embrace for myself and the promise I would give, against the wind...I live a different kind of life,’ writes Nicolette Wong in an entry set in a back alley in her neighborhood, ‘Spring’. Nicolette is a Hong Kong-based writer who wavers between solitude and connection, destinations and abandon, solidity and wound in fiction and in life.

Slipping Boundaries

Natalie d’Arbeloff is a multi-lingual artist and writer living in London. From January to February this year Natalie was an artist-in-residence at the Casa 5 Centre in Tavira, Portugal. ‘Tavira Experienced’ is her visual journey around the city with the natives. Check out the complete archive of her entries on her stay in Tavira here.

‘Green and opaque with a hint of turquoise when the sun lights it. I stare at it and it is a surprise when the waves break in a froth of white foam and not in semi-precious stone chips,’ Julia Davies writes about the China sea in ‘Musing on travelling’. Julia is an English writer living in Germany where she juggles different sides of her personality.

‘...I’d come in the house, where Grandma kept a huge jar of old buttons for which I came to visit. I’d dump them onto the carpet and make up my own worlds full of button people, button animals, and button things...That was the Fajal of my imagination.’ Cathy Douglas ponders the history of his Portuguese immigrant family in her post ‘Faial’. 

Foreign Eccentricities 

Rose Hunter from Australia is a witness to strange scenes wherever she goes. In ‘El viento! El viento! Report’, she gives us glimpses into her ‘domestic situation in Mexcio--her sneaky neighbor, her apartment with an open front view and Rose shrieking about her everyday life: ‘It’s like camping!’

‘One day not long ago I drove home wondering how we were going to eat till Friday, payday...We had 300 baht, which, technically speaking, was not no money. It was $8.81,’ writes American writer Court Merrigan in ‘Democracy for $11.74, or, Serendipity’. Court’s household almost played a part in corruption in Thailand, where he lived his American adventure with his wife, two kids and his writing.

Rachael Fulton is a Scottish girl who writes from Jakarta and other corners of the world. She participates in the blog carnival with an entry on her earlier days in Logrono, Spain, which began with her sharing a place with a man who was a member of the Guardia Civil and another who had strange mystical pictures on his walls and said the flat was protected by spirits.

Shifting Homes

‘When one returns home after a gap of two and a half years, how much does one carry the ‘home’ that one left behind and how much does one carry back the ‘foreign’ one has been a sojourner in?’ Mosarrap Hossain Khan recalls his journey to home in India a year ago. Morsarrap is pursuing his doctoral research in English Literature at New York University.
Originally from Nigeria, Mary Shorun now lives, studies and writes in Texas. Mary calls the Nigerian and American cultures her ‘unique culture’ and their shared language of sport has particularly fascinated her. She captured the transition and familiarity between cultures in a blog entry after having watched an American frisbee game on a pleasant Friday evening. 

Latha Vijaybaskar is a writer and educator living in Dubai. Having grown up in a multi-linguistic country like India, picking up new languages should have been a joyride for Latha. Yet modern times have made it too easy for some to grasp the spirit of learning languages, Latha writes in her entry ‘Paradigm Shift’. 

(Photo credits: Dorothee Lang, Christopher Allen, Marcus Speh, Phyllis Ho, Trang Nguyen, Natalie d'Arbeloff, Rose Hunter)

About + How to Join + Links

> Language > Place blog carnival was started by Dorothee Lang, editor of BluePrintReview, in November 2010. Visit the > Language > Place info page for Dorothee's notes on how the carnival came together and related links.

The December 2010 edition is hosted by Nicolette Wong, fiction writer and art writer from Hong Kong. She is in the editorial teams of Negative Suck and Dark Chaos

The third edition of the carnival will be edited and hosted by MiCrow editor Michael J. Solender at not from here, are you

Submissions are open on December 20 and the edition is planned to go online at the end of January. Check out the guidelines here. Note: please address all submissions to Michael, as the carnival switches editors and hosts with every edition.

Update on 1/1/2011

Check out the carnival contributors' blogroll here.

Language > Place blog carnival is reviewed as a BluePrintReview project on Folded Word blog. Read the interview with Dorothee and Nicolette here