Claudia Rankine will be reading at Concordia University on March 10th, 2017. Recipient of the 2016 MacArthur Fellowship, Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. David Hammons is the creator is In the Hood (1993), the artwork featured on the cover of Rankine’s Citizen and pictured above.
We have gathered some links to (re-)visit in anticipation. Visit Writers Read often for more writing on and links to work about our visiting authors.
Writing these essays was of acknowledging my existence that you just don’t see written about all too often. The black experience is often times limited to a one very specific type of story and I think that we have to broaden our cultural understanding of what it means to be black. –Roxane Gay talking about Bad Feminist with Rachel Zellers.
From October 22, 2015. Co-Sponsored by Librarie Drawn & Quarterly.
Writers Read: Elisabeth, The Devil You Know introduces us to a character that I can imagine reoccurring in other narratives. Are you tempted to write a series of literary thrillers?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: I certainly didn’t set out to start a series with The Devil You Know. To be honest, I didn’t even really know I was writing a thriller for the first while, but once it began to develop that way, it got really exciting. I love Evie, and I really enjoy writing her and now that I’m face and eyes into a new, entirely different novel, I find that I am beginning to miss her. So the short answer is: Not right now. But maybe in the future? I have my current project and I think I know what the next book after that will be as well — and I really want to write those — but just in the last couple of weeks I’ve started thinking that after that, it might be fun to write another Evie book. (I recently did a panel with Danish crime queen Sara Blaedel, and that also lit a fire for me. Her job looks awesome.) The other option, or addition, to this is the idea of Evie crossing media. The Devil You Know was optioned back in the spring and is currently in development for television. We have a really fabulous show runner signed on — Karen Walton, who you may know as a lead writer on Orphan Black, and the creator behind the cult horror movie, Ginger Snaps — but in the lucky instance where we find a network for the show, I’ll get to be involved in writing Evie for TV. TV-Evie. Sounds fun.
WR: I loved the urgency of The Devil You Know. The pacing, the energy. Was that something you consciously constructed, or is that–by some lucky miracle–simply how you approach prose?
Elisabeth de Mariaffi: The Devil You Know started, for me, with an image: There’s a young woman standing in her bachelor apartment. It’s night time, and she’s got her all the lights on; outside it’s just black. As she’s standing there, kind of looking at her black windows, something happens. A cat and a raccoon get into it on a back fence someplace and one of her neighbours motion sensor lights kicks on — the window lights up — and she’s there’s a man standing on her fire escape, just outside, looking in at her. Then the motion sensor goes off. The young woman is paralyzed. Is there a stalker outside her window? Is he going to come in? Or is he a product of her imagination, her anxiety?
Originally, I thought I might write a short story about this. But this presented a few problems: I had one character inside the house, and one character outside the house, and they never talk — and also, one of them might not actually exist. So this had huge potential in my mind to be a boring story. I knew I didn’t want to write a boring story, so I scrapped that.
Once I figured out that Evie was going to be a news reporter, the story really started to pick up speed. It gave her some real agency, and she was also young and new at it and committed to overcoming whatever life had thrown at her, in terms of her own fear. So, I guess what I’m saying is: It’s both. I naturally lean to writing tension into my pacing, but also, for me, The Devil You Know is a book about fear. And I think that in order to understand this kind of fear, you have to be made to feel afraid.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the Giller Prize-nominated author of one book of short stories, How To Get Along With Women (Invisible Publishing, 2012) and the new novel, The Devil You Know (HarperCollins, Canada; Simon & Schuster, USA 2015). Her poetry and short fiction have been widely published in magazines across Canada.
She will be headlining Writers Read Concordia’s #NOFILTER event with George Murray at Concordia University on November 17th, at 7pm in the John Molson Building’s Floating Box, room 2.130 (1450 Rue Guy).
“Diversion is essentially an abstract diary of what it means to be distracted. Because of its focus on declarative statements, it resembles in some ways a book of aphorisms, but perhaps a book of aphorisms in the middle of an acid trip or on a ‘roid-rage bender. It’s an angry and funny book about the shrinking space and time available for quiet reflection and subsequently our dwindling ability to distinguish what’s profound from what’s mundane.” ––George Murray
Read the full interview from Open Book Toronto here.
Come see George Murray & Elisabeth Di Mariaffi read at Concordia on November 17th, 7pm, John Molson Building, The Floating Box, room 2.130 (1450 Rue Guy).
With the announcement of Writers Read’s 2013/2014 lineup right around the corner, here is a link to a New York Times article in which one of our upcoming readers, Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year award winner Emma Donoghue, shares some thoughts on fiction and limitation, the child’s eye, and Captain Underpants.
Rae Armantrout, born in California in 1947, is part of the first generation of West Coast Language poets.
Armantrout has published several books of poetry, including: Versed (2009), which earned the Pulitzer Prize in 2010; Next Life (2007), selected by The New York Times as one of the most notable books of 2007; Up to Speed (2004), a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Poetry; Veil: New and Selected Poems (2001), also a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award; The Pretext (2001); Made to Seem (1995); and The Invention of Hunger (1979).
Her latest collection of poetry, Money Shot, was published in 2011.
In a preface to her 2001 collection, Veil, Ron Silliman describes Armantrout’s work as “the literature of the anti-lyric, those poems that at first glance appear contained and perhaps even simple, but which upon the slightest examination rapidly provoke a sort of vertigo effect as element after element begins to spin wildly toward more radical…possibilities.”
Rae Armantrout is a Professor of Poetry and Poetics at the University of California, San Diego.
Of course, ”across”
But light is violent and weightless.
Light is the wail of atoms
pressed to touch.
It is reluctance
to absolute velocity
Melissa Bull:This excerpt of ”Across,” in Money Shot, both ontological and scientific, is, I think a good example of the clear, inclusive, inquisitive eye you give any range of subjects — physics, religion, books — in your work. How intentional are the subjects of your poems? Do your subjects surprise you? Poetry as commentary? Poetry as conversation?
Rae Armantrout: I do see poetry, or my poetry anyway, as a kind of listening, though I’m never entirely sure what I’m listening for. I just try to go through life with one ear open, as it were. (Unfortunate metaphor!) For instance, I’ve seen bad movies that have generated poems.
When something I hear or read or see leaves me with an unresolved feeling or leaves me puzzled, I’ve learned that I can follow that feeling or that puzzlement into what turns out to be a poem. You mention physics as a subject that comes into my work. I almost have to limit how many physics books I can allow myself to read because a good one is almost certain to leave me with the kind of astonishment that will provoke several poems – and I don’t want my books to be all about my reaction to modern physics! I’m not trying to say that I have a really sophisticated understanding of that subject, by the way. Feelings and thoughts aren’t separate for me. Sometimes poems come out of what I feel or visualize while I read books on science – and what I’m visualizing is only tangentially related to what the author means.
Anyway, it’s not all so heady. There’s a poem in my forthcoming book which contains a long passage made from the sales tips I overheard one kitchen-remodel salesman giving to a younger apprentice at an espresso bar. And a few of my poems have even been inspired by the most usual suspect: beauty; clouds seen from an airplane, for instance. Often, what’s interesting in a poem isn’t the specific images so much as how they are framed and re-contextualized. I like to throw wildly different subjects or types of discourse into proximity and see what kinds of overlaps or frictions develop. I don’t know if I would call poetry (or my poetry) a “commentary.” That makes it sound detached. I would call it a conversation. I often want to talk back to the world; it almost seems to require some response. I’ve been listening and then it seems to be my turn to speak somehow…
”I almost have to limit how many physics books I can allow myself to read because a good one is almost certain to leave me with the kind of astonishment that will provoke several poems – and I don’t want my books to be all about my reaction to modern physics!”
And, yes, my poems do surprise me. I think most poets will say that, when they start a poem, they don’t know where or how it’s going to end. William Carlos Williams said, “The poet thinks with his poem.” That’s true for me. If I’d already seen the end, I wouldn’t make the trip.
MB: Although you do make use of punctuation in your work, the period is often absent at the end of a poem. How do you view the narrative properties of the period or lack thereof? It seems, sometimes, as though you are leaving room for silence, a beat of silence, or a breath.
RA: Sometimes I do use a final period and sometimes I don’t. Often my poems begin and end in uncertainty and the lack of a final period might signal that. The absence of the period may mean that I know there’s more to say but I’m not going to try to say everything. At other times, I seem to want a more definite closure. Sometimes, though, a definitive looking statement at the end should be taken with a grain of salt. The imagined speaker, after all, might be someone other than me. And even if it is, in some sense me, I am not always reliable.
MB: Your line breaks are one of your signature trademarks. Who, if anyone, influenced the way you think of breaking up your lines? How do you view your lines versus the page?
RA: I suppose I was influenced by the line breaks of some of my favorite poets such as William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, and Lorine Niedecker. Also, my mother read me poetry when I was a kid and she tended to pick things like ”The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” So when I first started trying to write, my poems tended to sound like that. I needed to intervene and I found I could break out of that pattern by using a short line. As time went on, of course, I saw that you can create surprise and suspense or emphasis, etc. through the way you use line breaks. That’s what someone like Williams does.
I like poems best when you can’t quite tell what’s going to happen in the next line. If I can’t get any useful surprise or double meaning or at least emphasis out of line breaks, then I will move to a prose format. I do occasionally write prose poems.
MB: You’re part of the first generation of Language Poets. Is this community as important to your work now as it may once have been?
RA: Well, any art is part of a particular context. I think groups of young poets give one another permission. They can also challenge one another. A localized poetry community can be like a family. Family isn’t all sweetness and light, but that’s where we learn to be human. I think it’s especially important to assert the importance of communities now at a time when there is so much pressure towards privatization in our politics – at least in the U.S. President Obama was absolutely right when he said that, whatever you achieved or built, you didn’t build it all alone, though, as you know, the right lambasted him for saying so. I am still in frequent contact with some of the original west coast “language writers.” Not so much with others. I think that’s natural. But if that group hadn’t formed and I hadn’t been part of it, my life would have been very different.