Checking In: Murray Citron

Ottawa poet Murray Citron won the 2011 Tree Chapbook Award for There is a Tree (shteyt a boim) for which he packed the room with over 120 people. He was published by phafours press in 2018 with Dragonflies and Other Things. He is known for his Itzik Manger translations from Yiddish but writes his own poems with a characteristic wry wit.

PP: Bio?

MC: born young, now old 

PP: What have you read lately that lit you up?

MC: Adam Gopnik, The End of the Line, it’s long past time to reassess rhyme, New Yorker, May 30, 2022, p 65

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

MC: Survival; also meditating: I was too young for the second world war, didn’t join up for any of the others, including Ukraine, have I missed out?

PP: What is underway or forthcoming?

MC: A translation coming in Pakntreger annual online translation issue (magazine of Yiddish Book Center). Have appeared there for several years.

Checking In: With Kevin Spenst

Kevin Spenst taught ESL, like I and many Canadian poets do or did. I first saw him read at AB Series at a Somerset St. cafe that has changed ownership at least 3 times since. He gave a dynamic performance and passed out poems made on coasters on his flight, if I recall correctly.

In 2011 he was in Air In/Air Out chapbook to benefit the Guatemala Stove Project. Since then he’s been on fire, creating works, full-length poetry books : Hearts Amok: a Memoir in Verse (Anvil Press, 2020), Ignite (Anvil Press, 2015), Jabbering with Bing Bong (Anvil Press, 2014). Also chapbooks of poetry: Upend (Frog Hollow Press, 2018), Ward Notes (the serif of nottingham, 2016), Flip-flops Faces and Unexpurgated Lives! (Jackpine Press, 2016)(collaboratively made with Owen Plumber), Pocket Museum (collaboratively written with Raoul Fernandes/self-published, 2015), Surrey Sonnets (Jackpine Press, 2014), snap (Pooka Press, 2013), Retractable (the serif of nottingham, 2013), What the Frag Meant (100 tetes press, 2013) and Pray Goodbye (Alfred Gustav Press, 2013), Happy Hollow and the Surrey Suite (self-published, 2012). He teaches creative writing at Vancouver Community College and Simon Fraser University and he lives in Vancouver on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territory.


PP: Hi Kevin. What have you read lately that lit you up? Why or how? 
KS: I’m waist deep in piles of books in my apartment. I’m most excited about some titles I’ll be reviewing for subTerrain, Malahat and Canadian Notes and Queries. I love writing reviews because they involve reading, rereading and thinking about a text in a way that’s beyond a casual read. Reviews provoke an explicit response on the part of the reviewer. Simultaneously, when I’m reading at this level of attention, I can keep a look out for examples of line endings, titles, similes, etc for Creative Writing courses that I’m teaching. To be honest, I’ve been lit up most by reading my students’ work. 

Last year, Joanne Arnott asked me to fill in for her as poetry mentor at SFU’s The Writer’s Studio for 2022. It’s been one of the most exciting and rewarding roles I’ve ever undertaken. I’ve been working with an exaltation of poets since January. We meet every two weeks to workshop their poems and discuss various aspects of craft. It’s exciting to now see, midway through the year, their styles gel, glisten and glint in some stellar ways. I won’t name names, but in 2023 onwards, I know their poetry will be circulating in print and, knowing how much the process of becoming a poet has meant to me, I’m excited for them and their future readers. From a bigger context, my group of poets are part of a larger cohort of writers who are in other genres, but they all meet every other weekend for various talks given by such notables as Jónína Kirton, Elee Kraljii Gardiner and my fellow mentors. Finally, I’ve received so much support from Laura Farina and Andrew Chesham, the administrators behind The Writers Studio. They are both caring, thoughtful and FUN! (and talented authors in their own right.)

I’m also teaching another poetry class online under the auspices of The Writer’s Studio which is called Poetry 2. It’s a ten-week intensive and once again I’m reading students’ poetry, discussions and thoughts on various aspects of craft. It’s a 40,000 word course that I wrote in 2020 and is designed around Adam Sol’s How a Poem Moves and Best Canadian Poetry 2019. This is the third time through the course and as testament to the staying powers of poetry, I still find the material engaging (to mention some poems from BCP2019: Yusuf Saadi’s “Taxi Drivers’ Therapy,” Kayla “Czaga’s Under Construction,” Ali Blythe’s “Transition,” and on and on.) It’s as if the poems want to be reread or have their own unique gravity that keeps pulling me back.

PP: That sounds super-energizing! It’s so exciting to see poets begin to develop and give them imagination’s fodder. What else is life’s focus today, literary or otherwise? 

KS: One of the poets in my group at TWS asked me about palindromes two months ago and it became a bit of an obsession. I’ve since co-written 40 pages of palindromic poems with my nephew in Montreal. The poems range from lyric to experimental (concrete, translational, IPA-rendered, etc.) We just sent it off yesterday for possible publication! 

PP: Ooh, like Anthony Etherin. Fun.

KS: Today, (yes, I’m taking this question very literally) I’m going to start working on an audio version of my last book of poetry Hearts Amok: a Memoir in Verse. It will hopefully be up on bandcamp in July or August. Right now, there’s only one poem available: https://kevinspenst.bandcamp.com/releases but soon the whole book should be up along with additional musical treatments of some of the tracks. (My niece Lana Pitre, who records under the name Synthcake, has contributed one.)

My reading focus for this afternoon is Neil Surkan’s Unbecoming.

The broader focus involves personal growth and political change and how those two things overlap. I was listening to an On Being podcast yesterday afternoon while going out to get some groceries. It was brilliant and I’m sure I was beaming over the produce (for no good reason to any onlooker), but then the poet started talking about his work with corporations and I felt a cloud cross my face. It seemed disingenuous for the poet to be talking about helping corporations find language to articulate their needs without once mentioning the problematic dimensions of these large corporations. Yet, his poetry about the self seemed to speak some truth, but there was no truth to power at the larger level. Needless to say, I won’t be reading or recommending his work. 

PP: Hm, quite a departure from GE Clarke wiring against the sugar plantations for his commission by Redpath. What is underway or forthcoming there? 

KS: I’m very excited to have a holm (a small chapbook) coming out through Alfred Gustav Press either at the end of this year or June 2023. (Information about ordering it will be on David Zieroth’s website: http://d-zieroth.squarespace.com/the-alfred-gustav-press). Sand in the Bed is the title of the collection and there are nine love poems for my sweetheart. 

PP: Lovely!

KS: I was a runner-up for the Magpie Poetry awards this year and so I will have a poem in issue 36 (Autumn 2022) of Pulp Literature: https://pulpliterature.com/the-bookstore/ I usually don’t submit to contests, but I’ve been immersed in teaching poetry this year and so what I’ve written feels like it’s emerged from a pressure-cooker of poetics and I’ve been extra keen to send this poetry out into the world.

In a month’s time all my teaching will be wrapped for the summer and I will focus on resting, reading (and doing readings), and doing a little travelling.

I’ll be reading in Montreal at the Accent Reading Series July 3rd (La Marche à Côté, au 5043, rue Saint-Denis).

I’m performing a poetic response to a Sex Pistols’ song for Mashed Poetics (Vancouver, July 21st at Lanalou’s).

On August 24th, I’ll be reading in New Westminster (just outside of Vancouver) as part of Poetry in the Park. https://rclas.com/recurring/poetryinthepark-com/#:~:text=Poetry%20in%20the%20Park%20(PIP,stories%2C%20and%2For%20music. 

PP: Anything else to plug?

KS: My most recent writing has appeared in the anthologies Event 50: Collected Notes on Writing and Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing. My book launch during the pandemic was featured in a book about creative practices: The Creative Instigator’s Handbook. You can find out more at kevinspenst.com

photo of Kevin Spenst by Clint Burnham at a backyard pandemic reading.

Checking In: phafours poet: Amanda Earl

Amanda Earl is a powerhouse of Encouragement and of Getting Things Done, through her many arms of publishing including AngelHouse, DevilHouse, Bywords, National Poetry Month, and through individual mentoring and her own writing. She was inducted into the VerseFest Hall of Honour in 2014. She has a flutterbook done by pahfours and was in Air In/Air Out. Read on for leads and links.

PP: What have you read lately that lit you up? why or how?

AE: Bright Spots and Landmines: The Diabetes Guide I Wish Someone Had Handed Me by Adam Brown (The diaTribe Foundation; 1st edition, 2017)

I was diagnosed with diabetes at the end of March. I was overwhelmed and disheartened by the diagnosis, so I began researching, of course. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I happened upon this book during one of my frantic searches for meal possibilities. Brown runs a site called diaTribe.org which has useful advice and recipes, including 50 Shades of Chia Seed Pudding. Chia seed pudding is a miracle food. It has been around long before the chia pet from the 1970s. It is a grain that was cultivated by the Aztecs. It’s delicious, high in fibre and helps to lower blood sugar levels. As long as I don’t overdo the portion size, my colon-less bowels can handle it. This recipe linked to Bright Spots and Landmines, which is based on Brown’s experiences as a diabetic. The book is positive, practical, and informative, exactly what I needed as a newly diagnosed diabetic and still helpful as the journey continues.

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

AE: Managing my diabetes through changes in diet and exercise. I’m writing a poem series about diabetes. As a writer, I am forever curious and need to understand the history, etymology, science and culture in about just about everything I get involved in, I can’t help looking things up in order to learn. My brain doesn’t seem to be built for science, even though I’m fascinated by it, so I’ve been trying to learn more and understand the underpinnings of diabetes, the connection between blood sugar levels to food, exercise and sleep. This leads me down a rabbit hole of wonder and it excites me.  I might as well write about it.

A few days after the diagnosis, I began a blog: the Sexy Diabetic and from there I ended up starting to write poems. I have always written as a form of catharsis, connection, whimsy and exploration. Life and literary pursuits are usually not separate for me.

Paying contributors to AngelHousePress. Getting a new initiative online – the Caring Imagination: a site that will empower those who create, produce and disseminate art to do so with compassion, if they want to. In 2022, I launched our first crowd funding campaign through IndieGoGo, inviting small presses from around the world to contribute publications to offer to supporters of the campaign as perks. It was a hugely successful campaign and is allowing me to pay contributors to NationalPoetryMonth.ca and Experiment-O this year. I’m grateful to all who supported the campaign and by doing so, demonstrated their support of community and caring practice in art. I am baffled by the swaggering smug colonialist of the patriarchy with regard to creating and publishing. I continue to work toward dismantling the patriarchy and amplifying the voices of those who continue to be systematically excluded from canons. That is the most important work any of us can be doing in the literary community today, in my opinion. 

PP: Excellent. We definitely need those efforts. What is underway with you, or forthcoming?

My own writing

  • Trouble, a long poem about a lust affair will be out as a pamphlet by new UK publisher, Hem Press in Autumn 2022. I read an early version of the poem as a feature at an In/Words reading back in 2013, which shows how long some works take to come to fruition.
  • Genesis will be coming out with Timglaset Editions of Sweden sometime this year. This is the first book of the Bible and consequently the first book of the Vispo Bible, which I began in 2015 as a life’s work to translate every book, chapter and verse of the Bible. The Vispo Bible has received support from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC).
  • A video of PURPLE, a long poem about suicide inspired by the Victorian death obsession will be launched in August, thanks to the support of the OAC and the Writers Union of Canada. I started this a year ago.
  • I am going to be self-publishing Beast Body Epic through AngelHousePress in Autumn 2023 when I reach my 60th year and my 14th after my husband was told I would die on the operating table or in ICU. BBE is a series of long poems that address my near-death health crisis of 2009. It’s been edited by at least three people now and revamped completely since I first read part of it to VERSeFest when I was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour in 2014. BBE received City and OAC funding.
  • Fear of Elevators, a chapbook, will be published by Montreal’s Turret House in early 2023. I wrote this long poem in 2012 after my claustrophobia became more extreme, thanks to body memory of intubation and restraints in ICU during my health crisis. I live on the 19th floor, so I had to ride the elevator. Still do. Writing FOE was a way of working through my fear, and it helped, but reader, I’m still afraid of elevators. FOE received OAC funding. 

Publication and curatorial activity through AngelHousePress and Bywords.ca

  • The Caring Imagination site, to be launched later this year or early next.
  • Experiment-O Issue 15 to be published in November or December, 2022.
  • Monthly episodes of the Small Machine Talks, a podcast on poetry, duende, queerness, community and tea, entering its 7th season this year.
  • Ongoing monthly issues of Bywords.ca (est 2003), of which I am the managing editor; the John Newlove Poetry Award in Autumn 2022.

PP: What work do you have out? 

AE: I interpret this question in two ways:
1. What work do I have that is under consideration? 
2. What is published and ready for darling readers to acquire?

PP: I do love your clear mind, and to hear about both.

AE:

Under Consideration

  • Another manuscript involving a key character in my poetry, Ursula, who first appeared in a limited edition self-published chapbook in 2008, and received a grant from the City of Ottawa, is under consideration or possibly not, since I just realized that I never received an acknowledgement e-mail from the publisher, so I’ve resubmitted it.
  • The Seasons, an excerpt from Welcome to Upper Zygonia is currently with an American publisher, but I haven’t had word in some time, so I should probably check on it.

[sidebar – wish these were under consideration]

  • I am looking for a home for Welcome to Upper Zygonia, a series of long poems, visual poems, and doodles about an imaginary world. I am grateful for funding received from the City of Ottawa for this manuscript. 
  • I have to do a revamp and edit of another long poem manuscript, All the Catharines, which began in 2010 and received funding from the Ontario Arts Council. I’d like to turn it into a poetic novel or a novel poem, or something like that.

[another sidebar] I mention the funding sources for my work because I believe it is important for governments to fund arts and culture and I am grateful when they do. 

Publications

  • Kiki, my first and only book of poetry published so far (Chaudiere Books, 2014) is available from Invisible Publishing. Kiki also received support from the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Arts Council.
  • Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl, my collection of short, smutty tales published by Coming Together, a non-profit publisher where all the proceeds go to charity, is on Amazon and can also be found via bookstores like Barnes and Noble and via distributors such as the Book Depository. If you buy one, come find me and I’ll sign it for you.

PP: Awesome range of things! Any author site or social media urls you’d like to drop?

AE: http://amandaearl.com/, https://linktr.ee/amandaearl, http://angelhousepress.com/, on twitter, Kikifolle and https://linktr.ee/angelhousepress

Thanks for the interview, Pearl. I am glad you published cluster of as back in 2013 and I enjoy the work published by phafours.

Checking In: phafours poet: Claudia Coutu Radmore

Claudia Radmore appeared in a group chapbook co-published with Tree Press and phafours over a decade ago as well as with a single author collection of monostitches, Cough of a Sloth (phafours, 2017). She has also published poetry and non-fiction: Rabbit (Aeolus House, 2020), Park Ex Girl: Life with Gasometer (Shoreline Press, 2020), The Business of Isness (Éditions des petits nuages, 2017), fish spine picked clean (Éditions des petits nuages, 2018),  Blackbird’s Throat; and  Three Sets of Literary Haibun, (catkin press, 2015) Accidentals (Apt 9 press, 2011) Your Hands Discover Me / Tes mains me découvrent – poésie et prose poétique (Éditions du tanka francophone, Montréal, 2010), Arctic Twilight: Leornard Budgell and Canada’s Changing North (Blue Butterfly, 2009).

PP: What have you read lately that lit you up?

CCR: Don Domanski, All Our Wonder Unavenged; David Blaikie, A Season in Lowertown. I am fascinated by how I can sit with their poems for hours trying to figure out their magic. With Don Domanski, it only takes a line; with David Blaikie’s poems, each piece is so complete, yet not confining, and gutsy.

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

CCR: Words and Art. I am going through Artwork I’ve done, lots of figure drawings, trying to figure out how to lengthen their lives, get them out in the world. I am working on a large painting incorporating some of these drawings. It is not going particularly well, but it’s great fun getting paint all over me again. I still look forward to The Ruby Tuesday Group each week for stimulation and revision of current work.

My small garden.

PP: What is underway or forthcoming?

CCR: I’m working on a book-length poem based on a house I once designed and built, from the wishful idea and childish drawings of it to its completion and what, and who, were necessary to consider it finished, and why I sold it. I’m near the end of writing its parts (fragments). Soon I’ll put them together and see whether a long poem is there. You’ll connect with this theme! 

I’ve just sent a draft of a novel to novelist Diane Schoemperlen in Kingston. We’ll see what comes of that. It’s based on the hunt for my Aunt Wavy, whom I knew as my aunt, but who was most likely my grandmother. She went back to England in 1925 leaving lots of questions but seemed intent on creating more secrets throughout her life. Fun ones! 

My poetry collection Pink Hibiscus: Poems of the South Pacific will be out in a month or so with Éditions des petits nuages.

I am part way into a memoir of my CUSO stint in Vanuatu from 1986 – 1989. I am hoping to convince the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum to put on a small exhibit of the weavings and artifacts I have from Vanuatu. 

PP: What work do you have out? 

CCR: Sweet Vinegars: The Secret Lives of Wildflowers, a collection of lyric poems. 

A query to The University of Manitoba re possible publishing The Fur Trader and The Artist, the sequel to Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North (ms ready to go)

PP: Any author site or social media urls you’d like to drop?

CCR: My blog claudiaradmore.com