Damian Rogers is a Social Menace

Off the Page Festival welcomes Damian Rogers Thursday, November 3rd, in Concordia’s Grey Nuns Building (1175 Rue St Mathieu), room M100, starting at 7:30pm.

Damian Rogers is a social person. “I will talk to someone for hours, no problem. I’m good to talk, as they say,” Rogers recently told Trevor Corkum of 49thshelf.com. The same is true of her page. To read her books, Dear Leader (Coach House Books, 2015) and Paper Radio (ECW Press, 2009), is not at all like small talk. A testament to the absorptive power of her work is that hours of enjoyment will occur before one realizes the time. To finish her books poses the problem: what now? The solution is to re-read her work as if for the first time. As Rogers asks in “The Trouble with Wormholes” (Rogers, 23):

How many times must I learn the lesson of compression?
Let go of everything you know and start from scratch.

 

Damian Rogers’ work is menacing. Where her voice is accessible, her style, inviting, and her subjects, familiar, her themes challenge the reader’s sense of safety. Familiar objects – roller skates, pantsuits, soap dishes, and sweaters – lay alongside sensory descriptions of dreams, homes, and childhoods. Desires are addressed in association to these objects and sensations, such as the man and spider in “Poem for Love” who respectively “dreams of a red telephone that will only ring for him” or wishes for a “frame upon which to hitch his home” (Rogers, 48). Neither character will realize their desire. A common theme in Rogers’ work is, then, to remind us that life is a series of struggles wherein we often fail to reach our own desires. Life is gritty, we are imperfect, and we lack control to change course. To read Rogers’ work is to feel threatened by the reminder of what we don’t always see ourselves: That there is no escape from our imperfections but through catharsis. In this respect, Rogers’ work is as refreshing in its honesty and menacing in theme as it is creative in its composition. As she writes in “Storm” (Rogers, 18).

We live in
the arteries
of a large
ugly animal
and I saw
it move.

 

Damian Rogers is the editor of The Walrus and Anansi Press, creative director of “Poetry in Voice,” and the literary curator and co-host of The Basement Review performance series.

Damian Rogers is a hell of a poet.

From Dear Leader:

POEM FOR DEATH

‘Politicians, in my eyes, ruin our best chances
of making this work,’ said the man running for mayor.

Once they wondered, ‘Where do we go from here?’
And here is as far as they got.

‘If I start freaking out over this spill, I’ll never stop,’
said the oil can. ‘I want to get back to my wife.’

‘You’re a prisoner,’ said the snow leopard to the bank teller.
‘You’ll be the last of our kind to be free.’

‘Let the world turn,’ said the witch,
‘as if it would do so without you.’

‘That feels amazing,’ said the rock ‘n’ roll victim,
as he bled from his head. ‘Do it again.’

What can I say? I can’t wait to meet the future beasts that keep
on knocking from the other side of that big red door.

Don’t miss Damian Rogers with Suzanne Buffam and Sarah Burgoyne.
7:30, November 3rd, Grey Nuns Building M100, 1175 Rue St Mathieu

Rogers, Damian. Dear Leader. Toronto: Coach House, 2015. Print.

– Johnathan F. Clark

 

From the Archive: Francine Prose

Writers Read looks back at hosting prolific author, Francine Prose, in March, 2014, in Concordia’s Henry F. Hall building. Attendees crowded into the Hall conference room for a reading of Prose’s novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (HarperTorch, 2014), and later, a Q&A session with the Brooklyn native. Lovers is a multivocal series of epistolaries that spotlight Parisian lives during the rise of German fascism, and the impacts fascism had on various Parisian cultures. The innermost thoughts of Prose’s complex characters entwine to give a voice and face to a separate, abstract character – the motley cityscape of pre-war Paris.

Francine Prose released a new novel this month, entitled, Mister Monkey: A Novel.

As reviewed in the New York Times Book Review: “Expertly constructed, Mister Monkey is so fresh and new it’s almost giddy, almost impudent with originality. Tender and artful, Prose’s 15th novel is a sophisticated satire, a gently spiritual celebration of life, a dark and thoroughly grim depiction of despair, a screwball comedy, a screwball tragedy. . . . It’s gorgeous and bright and fun and multi-faceted, carrying within it the geological force of the ages. It’s a book to be treasured. It’s that good. It’s that funny. It’s that sad. It’s that deceptive and deep.” (New York Times Book Review, front cover review)

Listen to a clip of Prose reading from Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932:

 

– Johnathan F. Clark

 

In with the New Shockley

Off the Page event:
November 4th, 7pm, York Amphitheatre, EV 1.605, 1515 Rue St. Catherine

Those who know Evie Shockley from her 2006 publication, a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2006), will know how her lyrical style contains themes of ancestry and racial identity which flow through contexts of modern existential threats. Shockley’s words are just as markedly sharp in her latest release, the new black (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2011), as she navigates through modern threats facing the lives of racial American-minority and feminist identities. Of the four suites of poems in the new black, it is striking to note how Shockley titles her suites – “out with the old,” “the cold,” and “out with the new” – to underline a treatment of black lives as casual commodities by a modern world, objectified and vilified by a modern American culture seeking to simultaneously appropriate and reprobate. Shockley’s strength in the written word parallels her strength in line presentation, whether it is the experiment of commixing and segregating connotative alliteration in “x marks the spot,” the barren feet tracking page to page in “the cold,” or the words that literally break off from their page and settle on the opposite side of the spine in “explosives.”

Take a listen as Shockley reads and discusses Ed Roberson’s “City Eclogue, Words for It,” and her own poem, “You Must Want This Lonesome.”

Off the Page 2016 welcomes Evie Shockley and Trish Salah to Concordia on November 4th.

– Johnathan F. Clark

 

How Poems Work: A Selection from Suzanne Buffam’s “A Pillow Book”

From A Pillow Book, pages 41-43.

 

Some nights I visit Inés Fernández, the forlorn school teacher from southwestern Spain, who yawned once in the sun at a passing religious procession, felt a brief, searing pain through the back of her skull, and never slept another wink all her life. For the next thirty years she sat up through the night in an armchair in the corner of her bedroom, watching her husband dissolve into dreams in their bed. In the silence and emptiness, she told Rose Grady of Weekly World News, I feel as though I am the only person alive in the world. First published on the 23rd of February, 1989, under the headline “Woman Hasn’t Slept in Thirty Years!” her grainy portrait still haunts some twilit corner of the internet today. Slumped in a bathrobe in the shadows, her spouse long departed, her thin hair wrenched into an angry topknot on her head, she clutches at the dull, black beads of her rosary and eyes the empty future in grim reprise of the Byzantine Lady of Perpetual Succor framed in dark wood on the wall above her chair. In the foreground, blindly reaching for the viewer from its perch atop a narrow pillow, sits a porcelain infant with its chubby arms outstretched.

 

NOT RELAXED

Feminists on a list-serv.
Office potlucks.
Endogamy taboos in ancient Greece.
Betty Davis’s eyebrows.
Boys at a bris.
Backstage at a folkfest.
Dickinson’s dash.

 

A man is chasing me through a dark house. I do not recognize the furniture, but the staircase in the moonlight, as I hurtle down the banister, looks familiar. The front door, I discover, is bolted shut from the outside. I try the back door, which opens, to my horror, onto a series of inner doors, each smaller than the last, each one shaped like a girl’s diminishing silhouette. The final passage is a toddler-sized hatch I must squeeze through as through a swinging doggy door. I hesitate on the threshold, afraid of getting stuck. I am rescued before dawn by Her Majesty climbing beside me into bed, wedging her head next to mine on the pillow and announcing that my nostril breath smells like spaghetti.

 

THINGS THAT ARE DISTANT THOUGH NEAR

Crows on a fence post.
Ex-lovers on Facebook.
Facing-page translations.
Fellow commuters.
Last season’s computers.
Yesterday.
Today.

 

THINGS THAT ARE NEAR THOUGH DISTANT

Paradise.
Hell.
The Andromeda Galaxy.
Pen pals.
Laughter on the far side of the bay.

 

Suzanne Buffam’s A Pillow Book is a collection of short poems that exists in response to Sei Shonagon’s own Pillow Book from the year 1002, as well as various other pillow books since then. Though the poems can be read individually, they stack upon their neighbouring poems and borrow from one another in such a way that reading only a single poem would lose one of the book’s most fascinating dimensions. These poems flit between the cusp of sleep, light nightly “napping,” and REM sleep, while also offering late night research and reading as well as a wide range of late night lists that one might come up with as a modern-day version of “counting sheep.”

“Some nights I visit” becomes a call out to all late night attendees of the internet who similarly find themselves in the company of the outrageous information that is spread there. Whether true or not, there is a correlation between the speaker and this distant sleepless woman on the internet. The sleeping husband is occupying the space of sleep while both wives “haunt some twilit corner of the internet,” and the porcelain doll, a figure of nightmares, is both the holy infant of the “Byzantine Lady of Perpetual Succor” as well as a reflection of “Her Majesty,” Buffam’s chosen title for her daughter throughout these poems. “Her Majesty” then serves an interesting purpose, as both a nightmare and saviour for the speaker, rescuing them “before dawn” from a night terror, while still providing a brutally honest, childish complaint about “nostril breath smell[ing] like spaghetti.”

The juxtaposition of contrasting images becomes the port by which the reader looks into the moments that exist between sleeping and being awake. The detached lists that appear to have little narrative, and exist instead as semi-logical progressions that frame daily life as instances of vastly varying moments, are countered by a rather clear narrative that appears in the midst of dreams and in moments searching on the internet or in books, things that typically appear dissociated from what is called “waking life.” These lists and prose poems together become an amalgamation of what can be correlated between being asleep and awake, and allow the reader to question what belongs to the day-lit world and what belongs to the pillow.

 

Join Suzanne Buffam, along with Damian Rogers and Sarah Burgoyne,
Thursday, November 3, at 7:30 PM
Grey Nuns Building M100, 1175 Rue St. Mathieu

 

“How Poems Work” courtesy of Ben Neelin.

Off the Page Fall 2016: Festival Schedule

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Off The Page November 3rd – 5th, 2016

Following its stellar spring series in March 2016, Off The Page is back this fall with a fresh lineup of panels and readings. The festival, presented by Writers Read & Concordia University, boasts a busy three-day schedule from November 3 – 5 and will feature Concordia Alumni Suzanne Buffam and Trish Salah as well as Evie Shockley, Damian Rogers, and many more. We are also organizing several panels and we need participants. Listed below are the readings, panels, and confirmed guests as well as the time and venue for each event. For updates go to writersreadconcordia.com, or follow @offthepagefest @CUWritersRead on Twitter, and Writers Read Concordia on Facebook. Continue reading “Off the Page Fall 2016: Festival Schedule”

From the Archive: Tanya Tagaq

Writers Read looks back at hosting Tanya Tagaq in October, 2013. That evening, a first-come-first-serve audience crammed into a conference room in Concordia’s Henry F. Hall to witness the unique line-up of throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, experimental poet, Christian Bök, and composer/performance artist, Jaap Blonk. Seating became a competitive event as many people were turned away for a small seating capacity, which created a sense of relief for those who arrived early and, for those turned away, became a howl not unlike the haunting sounds of Tagaq. Following spirited performances by both Blonk and Bök, Tagaq took to the floor and, accompanied by a violinist, displayed the vocal style and range for which she is famous.

Tagaq is about to release her next album, Retribution. To learn more and hear the driving rhythms her single, “Centre,” visit http://tanyatagaq.com/ .

Enjoy a moment captured by an attendee:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWIr-2TJkY4

 

– Johnathan F. Clark

 

Bewitched by Broadbent

Writers Read and Concordia University welcome Lisa Robertson and Laura Broadbent tonight at 7pm, in the York Amphitheatre, EV 1.605, 1515 Rue St. Catherine

Readers first shook hands with Laura Broadbent through the pages of her remarkable, and strikingly titled book, Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining? (Snare Books, 2012). Most notable are the sections entitled “Between A And B,” and “Men in Various States.” The former is a suite of poems that tangentially weaves lines of grit, glass, bodies, sex, and sky. Each poem presents as inky layers of interior perspectives bookended between A. and B., two physical, chronological, and metaphorical touchstones. The latter, another suite of poems, reads as the unspoken confessionals of various male voices — work that brims with an honesty of crude desire and psychological strife. There is a magic in Broadbent’s words and ‘terrestriality’ in her approach, if such a word can be coined, as if locating a ley line meant digging through not just bodies, but the hell of what people mean within and between, what makes a self. Broadbent might contest this interpretation through her invention of Jean Rhys’ voice in Interviews (Metatron 2014): “If I was bound for hell, / let it be hell. / No more false heavens. / No more damned magic.” But reading Broadbent’s work is tantamount to incantation because it summons something palpable, dark, and lurking. The trick of her magic is this: Her work digs deep until it connects to a Hell that was bound for us.

Broadbent’s voice most recently resonates with the publication of In on the Great Joke (Coach House Books, 2016).

Arrive early on campus to hear volunteers read the entirety of Lisa Robertson’s, Debbie: An Epic, throughout Concordia University’s LB building (1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd W) from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

 

Poem from “Between A And B” in Oh There You Are I Can’t See You Is It Raining?:

A.

Even your family can betray you but when there is no you your
family can’t betray you. The place between A and B formally re-
quests you to drop the story. He is not better than you because there
is no you and you have not failed because there is no you. You
did not say the wrong thing because there is no you. There was no
humiliating sexual encounter because there is no you. You didn’t
detect bodily decay because there is no you. He cannot hurt you
because there is no you. You aren’t stuck in your first-world issues
because there is no you. Your task is to walk among the ten thou-
sand things – look at the sky and become it smell the morning
and become it feel the temperature and become it scatter with
the wind. Not a name reaches you in your bassinet of nothing-
ness strung between A and B.

B.

 – Johnathan F. Clark

How Poems Work: “The Stricture” by Lisa Robertson

From Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip.

 

‘The 69 heads of Messerschmidt cast in lead are not heaven.’

‘The magnetic cures of Mesmer on the plastic soul are more

difficult to characterize.’

‘The heavens of Flanders are like textile in lustrousness –

a bridal textile.’

‘We see the classic theme of a woman suffering, with pearl-

sized nipples, pink cotton billowing or nacrous skin

sprouting feathers.’

‘Here is a perfume burner of Khorasan, a bird sitting on top.’

‘Birds perch on heaven habitually. They are not certainty-

seekers.’

 

I wanted to think into the stricture of appearances.

There was a time when I came close.

To help the problem I changed into a clematis, I changed into

a dog, I changed into a perfumed smoke.

Some of my organs were outside history, which gave me an

advantage.

Place here the idea of a necessary inconspicuousness.

 

‘This is wrong’

‘This is beautiful’

‘This is social’

‘This is not thinking’

 

It is the handiwork of appearing only.

 

This is the topic we discussed in your kitchen this winter.

I said I didn’t know what thinking is.

You said you were trying to understand your sense of an

inner voice, which was separate from thinking.

I didn’t understand.

I let myself go blank.

 

I began by taking everything that was doubtful and throwing

it out, like sand.

_

*Information about a live marathon reading of Debbie: An Epic and Lisa Robertson & Laura Broadbent’s reading at Concordia on Friday Oct. 21st is below.

_

The poem opens with nonspecific claims from at least one unidentified, quoted speaker. We are told that “the…heads…are not heaven,” and “the magnetic cures…are [even] more difficult to characterize.” We do not know what the heads are, but we know what they are not, and we know that the cures are more difficult to characterize than these heads that are only characterized by their lack of description. These claims are presented as truths, and we are meant to accept them despite not knowing much and not even knowing the identity of the speaker, the authority. The first stanza is full of allusions to different times and places, pulling the reader from Flanders, to Khorasan (pre-2004 Iran), to heaven. We are inundated with images that increase in lushness, beginning with the heaviness of lead, the smooth synthetic of plastic, onto textile—bridal textile—and “pearl-sized nipples, pink cotton billowing” (here, Robertson names the textile and brings in colour). Then we are met with images of birds: the suffering woman sprouts feathers, a bird sits on a perfume burner, birds perch on heaven…

I was intimidated by this sensorial blitz at first; it is confusing. However, confusion is not a negative state in which to encounter a poem. It provokes thought, it is a productive feeling—like the birds, who are “not certainty-seekers,” Lisa Robertson welcomes uncertainty in her poetry. The speaker admits uncertainty in trying to think about the stricture of appearances and can only “[come] close” to thinking about it. Consider the relationship between the images in the first stanza and the stricture of appearances. A stricture can mean either a simple restriction, or a critical or censorial remark or instruction. We know that information is being censored, but how are we to engage with a poem called “The Stricture?” Is the whole poem, itself, a stricture, and in what way?

Robertson employs gendered language and imagery to explore the historical trajectories of women’s oppression; the theme of a woman suffering is, after all, “classic.” The suffering woman who sprouts feathers parallels the speaker’s metamorphoses in the second stanza. In this initial transformation, in the growing of feathers, the woman almost becomes a bird (another “classic” theme), seeking uncertainty and freedom from suffering. In order to even try to think about the stricture of appearances, which is deeply engrained in both sociocultural ideologies and in the body, the speaker transforms into different bodies and defies the stricture of her own body: she becomes a flower, a dog, and even smoke (perhaps the “perfumed smoke” from the Khorasan burner), which is not living, has no organs, is not even a solid. The stricture of appearances is so entangled in impositions of womanness or womanhood that one can only come close to understanding—or even thinking about—it if one’s organs, specifically one’s reproductive and sexual organs, are outside history. History dictates how we perceive things like standards of beauty, for example, so the stricture is historical and history itself is a stricture, critical and censorial. Confusion is necessary because confusion disrupts.

The next stanza makes firm claims but, again, we do not know who is speaking. Is this a dialogue? A series of remarks from one person? The speaker, or a judge? What follows is more gendered language and imagery: we read “handiwork” and think “handicraft,” or what is traditionally written off as “women’s work.” We are brought into the space of the kitchen, the pelvis of the house, which is a gendered space, also a stricture. Space, in Robertson’s poetry, is never incidental. Time and space seem layered and nonlinear, from the transient images and temporalities in the first stanza, to the modalities of occupying space, either as a shape-shifting smoke cloud or a dog—how do these bodies penetrate space differently, and isn’t the idea of “penetration” also gendered? We must also consider the space of the page, another stricture, upon which the elements of the poem exist.

“You” enters the poem in the second last stanza—but who is “you?” Perhaps “you” is the inner voice of the poem, which is otherwise thinking. We know that, in her poetic practice, Lisa Robertson researches ferociously before writing. So while the content of the poem can be very cerebral, very complex and layered and factual, perhaps the “you” is the opposite. The “you” is here to induce confusion and to disrupt. The speaker responds to “you” with, “I didn’t understand,” and claims uncertainty within their own narration. In throwing everything out that is doubtful, the speaker “[goes] blank.” Therefore, everything is doubtful, and uncertainty inhabits this limitless, liminal space. However, “[going] blank” is perhaps not entirely possible. In order to go blank one would have to free one’s organs from history and escape the body. Language functions in the poem like it does on the body: language is also a stricture and lives both on the page and within us. We are left with the image of sand, which, in relation to history, evokes the hourglass, time in flux, unfixed and uncertain. The speaker’s time is up, the poem is up, but the poem remains. Even if all the copies of this poem were to dissolve into smoke tomorrow, the poem continues to exist, at least in the context of this exchange, immortalized in this way and defying the stricture of time.

-HJK

Come to an evening with Lisa Robertson and Laura Broadbent tomorrow, October 21st, at 7pm. York Amphitheatre, EV 1.605, 1515 Rue St. Catherine. Robertson’s Debbie: An Epic will be performed in its entirety on Friday, October 21st in LB 671.05 at Concordia University’s LB building from 2 PM – 5 PM.

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Submission Call, Off the Page Festival: A Haunting

We have seen ghosts—in the flickering of light bulbs, of the body, and in the persisting reverberations of history. We hear them with our mouths and pens; we write them into memory. Who are they? Do they hear us? What do they know?

“A Haunting” will address the question of what it means to occupy an already occupied space—in the context of ghostly stories, and in narratives of indigeneity and immigration. Canadian-Trinidadian writer Dionne Brand compares her practice to the act of “unforgetting”—of re-engagement with legacies of colonial trauma as they have manifested themselves in the present. How do our bodies in the present act as the ghosts of the future? Are we haunted by our perpetuation of colonial legacies, our voices, our silences? Who and what is implicated?

With our feet on Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) territory, Off the Page invites writers and artists—with priority given to the voices of Black, indigenous, and/or writers of colour—to make words, sounds, songs that manifest their ghosts. Successful submissions may engage historical and generational traumas; they may explore or in fact embody resistance. This event sees writing as possessive, an engagement with identity, history, language, and secrets mediated through the body in performance. Submissions may include, but are not limited to, spoken word, dance, music, theatre. Collaborations between writers and other performance artists are especially encouraged.

The selected works will feature on November 4th, 2016 and lead audiences through a performance-based ghost tour that explores decolonization through haunting. Works must be received by 11:59 PM, Monday, October 24th through this form: https://goo.gl/forms/FoRLb7JuTl1yuu9m1

Submission Call, Off the Page Festival: A Literary Wake

Are you, or is someone you know, a writer living in or near Montreal and looking to read work to an audience? Would you like to know what that work would sound like as re-imagined by a live band?

Learn more and apply to perform here:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeWJ5mQgUWF-wRJPeV84xBUx0RnjB-oRQDYHKhQ98YOpoo1Tw/viewform

About the event:
“What Remains: A Literary Wake” is a literary performance of selected works and experimental rock/electro adaptations that address the Frankensteinian aspect of reanimating the musical orality of the printed word.

We’re looking for artists willing to perform short works of poetry and micro-fiction that deal with notions of sonic haunting, literary decomposition,ephemeral/electrical embodiment, and/or forms of death. Artists must also be willing to recite their piece in the dark.

Think you have a similar theme that might relate? We’d love to hear from you!

We’re not posting the venue location for now. Our aim is to collect submissions for the event.

If you have any questions, contact us at literarywake@gmail.com