8-Ball Interview with Dina Del Bucchia

Dina Del Bucchia is an otter and dress enthusiast and the author of three collections of poetry: Coping with Emotions and Otters (Talonbooks, 2013), Blind Items (Insomiac Press, 2014), and Rom Com (Talonbooks 2015), the latter written with her Can’t Lit podcast co-host Daniel Zomparelli. She is an editor of Poetry Is Dead magazine and the Artistic Director of the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series. Dina created and updates “Dress Like a Book” (on tumblr and Instagram) to unite two of her great loves: literature and fashion. Her first collection of short stories, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, is out now with Arsenal Pulp Press. There is some stuff about her at dinadelbucchia.com.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

I want to talk about the kind of writing I don’t want to do. People in creative fields are always being described as the next _________. I think writers are often asked to compare themselves to other writers. And I am inspired by so many amazing writers I aspire to be half as good as, to attempt to reach heights of writing I will never achieve. I’m more interested in who not to be. What kind of writing are you not inspired by? That’s a fun question. Is that too negative? Oh well!

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

I wish someone had told me it was okay to be funny. I spent so much time trying to be the most serious, deep, obnoxious writer because I assumed that was the only way writing could work. I needed to take the work seriously, but I needed to lighten up to find my writing self. I’m also kind of happy that I figured it out myself. I put in all those brooding hours.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

My most regular habit is that I write in the morning, or daytime (if I happen to have a day off). I live in a small apartment. I don’t have a separate ooh la la office. I have a corner and I write in it. Or in bed. Or on the couch. I don’t write in coffee shops. I don’t even drink coffee. I like it to be quiet, no music or anything. Just me and my computer getting down to business.  

4. What is your editing process?

I write a lot of notes to myself about what is going on in the writing. Sometimes the notes are very mean, and I have to contend with why I called myself an idiot for not taking a character’s motivation seriously, or for a weak line break. Sometimes the notes are more gentle, and let me find new ways into the work through self-encouragement. These notes are my way through. I also do a lot of thinking away from the computer. Let things just settle, or get super amped up, in my brain. Then I come back to the work. I feel that each piece of writing requires different techniques. That also just might be my way of justifying a messy process.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Finding time to write. Vancouver is expensive and you basically have to work all the time to live here. And also, I’m a very social person so I don’t necessarily prioritize writing if there’s a party or an event or someone texts me that they’re at happy hour. I love writing, but I love hanging out with people more.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

Sometimes, like for Can’t Lit, I’ll have to read a book to prepare for the podcast, so it jumps to the front of the line. Otherwise, it’s all about mood. If I want to be cheered up I’m not going to read the deepest, darkest, most tragic memoir. And often I’ll be anticipating a new release and have to read it right way due to extreme excitement.

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

I want to host a talk show. On television. I want to be paid to wear nice clothes and have interesting conversations. 

8. Why don’t you quit?

I respect people who quit things. It takes a lot of ovaries to step away. But I just am too invested in all of it. And I love it. And I love all the people I’ve met and the community around me. And the attention. I can’t lie. It feeds my need for attention.

8-Ball Interview with GMB Chomichuk

GMB Chomichuk is an award-winning writer, illustrator and public speaker. His work has appeared in film, television, books, comics and graphic novels. Sometimes he writes and/or illustrates occult suspense stories like The Imagination Manifesto, Midnight City and Underworld, science fiction works like Raygun Gothic and Infinitum, or inspirational all-ages adventure stories like Cassie and Tonk. He wants you to join the fight and make comics. Watch his creative process in the Kelly-Anne Riess documentary Artists By Night. (Photo credit: Michael Sanders)

twitter : @gmbchomichuk
instagram : @gmbchomichuk
facebook: GMB Chomichuk
www.alchemicalpress.com

I go way back with GMB Chomichuk, to an amazing creative writing class with Dennis Cooley that included Journey Prize-winning author Saleema Nawaz and many other luminaries, half of whom have gone on to publish multiple books. Greg is also my daughter’s favourite of my artist friends, so that’s the feather in his cap.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

As I do this for a living, more and more I realize that the distinction of what is popular and good isn’t up to the writer. If you want to endlessly craft and rewrite a single manuscript you might be a great writer but you aren’t likely to be able be a professional writer. To write as a job requires you to work everyday if the muse shows up or not. There isn’t much room for self doubt or worry, those are the enemy of momentum. These days I try to save my criticism for the finished piece, then be ruthless.

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

That lots of short stories are failed novels. Use everything.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

Carry a notebook. Write down ideas, when book is full move forward the ideas you like into the new book. Repeat each month. When I need an idea but don’t have one, I check the books. Ideas that I cary forward tend to become stories. Sum up the whole thing on a single page before I start. Infinitum, Midnight City, Snow Troll’s Daughter and the forthcoming The Good Boys and Minus Institute all started that way. Send submissions. Often.

4. What is your editing process?

I write it the way I want, sit on it for a bit while I work of something else, return to it and realized I have to redo everything. Redo everything. Pass it to my editor, who suggests that I change everything back to the way it was.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Recognizing when a new idea I have for a current project would be better as its own thing.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

I look for things that feel like the opposite to what I’m working on.

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

To convince others that they can and should use their time to create things. Even if people have no intention of publishing or exhibiting their work, the act of making something will reveal a lot about themselves they might not have had a means to reveal before.

8. Why don’t you quit?

Making up stories and writing them down has been the single constant in my life since I could read and write. I don’t know how to quit because I can’t remember starting.

8-Ball Interview with A. P. Fuchs

A. P. Fuchs is the author of many novels and short stories. His most recent efforts of putting pen to paper are The Canister X Transmission: Year Two, Axiom-man Episode No. 3: Rumblings, The Dance of Mervo and Father Clown, and Mech Apocalypse. Also a cartoonist, he is known for his superhero series, The Axiom-man Saga, both in novel and comic book format.

Fuchs’s main website is www.canisterx.com

Join his free weekly newsletter at www.tinyletter.com/apfuchs

I met A. P. Fuchs way back when we were all young and foolish and driven. He stuck around while others fell. My warrior-brethren!

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

 
Why the mid-listers who bashed self-publishing and the writers who also did suddenly started doing it themselves. Seems extraordinarily hypocritical and I don’t buy the answer you can now make money self-publishing. You could make money self-publishing before the eBook boom — I did — so a better answer is required.
 
My whole take on what happened is simple: their market dried up so out of desperation to keep things afloat, they self-published their backlist when they either got dropped by a publisher or the publisher closed its doors. The irony is, back in the day, they called us self-publishers desperate and not real writers, and eBooks weren’t real books, etc. My, how the tables have turned. But no one will ever admit to this because it’ll make them look bad and/or foolish and/or desperate. Which is a shame because writing and publishing is supposed to be about honesty and telling the truth (even truth veiled in fiction).

So, in my opinion, they’re dropping the ball in that regard and need to step up their game because publishing goes beyond simply writing books and releasing them. I like the idea that writers — sorry, “authors” — should also be journalists. Again, the idea that truth is prevalent in whatever they’re concocting. I just don’t see it happening and the almighty dollar is part of that reason. Writing should transcend money despite publishing being a business. Art should come first, then the check. I also realize I’m in the minority on this one.
 

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

 
A lot, but if I were to pick just one thing, it would be the importance of point-of-view in a narrative. I didn’t know about point-of-view on my first two books — the first was published by a vanity press, the second one is unpublished — but I wish I did. I hired an editor to edit my second book and what I got back was a manuscript that looked like someone spilled red paint over it. It was the best monetary investment I’ve ever made in my career and I learned so much from the editor’s notes.
 
Nowadays, I’m a massive stickler on point-of-view and any time it strays I get mad. It’s such a simple concept yet writers don’t seem to understand it. You can explain it to them this way: be one with the character. You can only know, think or feel what the character knows, thinks or feels, and you can only know what they perceive through their five senses. Anything beyond that is a breach of point-of-view. It’s the same in life. I only know what I know, feel, and think, and I only perceive what I perceive. I don’t know or feel or think or perceive what you do, Jon, unless you tell me.
 
I also want to take this opportunity to share the greatest piece of writing advice/perspective I’ve ever received, and it’s this: It’s only a book. Kingdoms won’t rise and fall because of it.
 

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

 
Getting shit done every day, whether a little or a lot. My first book took a total of eleven months to write, nine of which were actually writing it. Two of those months were the only time I had writer’s block until I realized writer’s block is horseshit and only an excuse not to write. There is no reason a book should take eleven months to write unless you’re writing an obscenely long fantasy epic or are writing every third or fourth day or something. Case in point: I’ve written a book in a week, and wrote two books in three weeks. The readers loved them. Speed doesn’t mean poor quality so long as you’re invested in the project.
 
I also drink a stupid amount of coffee like most writers and vape and smoke a lot. I’m also on medications to keep me stable so I can work without worrying about falling apart.
 
I keep notes, but not a whole lot. Sometimes I outline, if you want to call it that, because it’s more a point-form list of this happens, then this, then that, then this, each point on the outline — which are no longer than a sentence — the core of a scene.
 
There’s more, but I don’t want to give away all my secrets.
 

4. What is your editing process?

 
This will be a short answer because there is not much information to give. My book goes through six stages and then it’s press time.
 
1) Write the first draft
 
2) Write the second draft (content editing, proofing, expanding or shortening scenes)
 
3) Write the third draft (which is basically the same as number 2)
 
4) Book goes to my editor who does a thorough edit for the same stuff I do.
 
5) Get the book back from my editor and go through his edits to accept or reject them. I accept, on average, about 95% of his edits. The remaining 5% are matters of taste and opinion and I typically stick with what I originally wrote.
 
6) Partially format the book for press then go through it one more time. After that, it’s press day and I don’t sleep for 24 hours while I finish the formatting and do the remainder of the work to turn the galley into a published book.
 

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

 
Sometimes I can’t get into the story as much as I would like. It’s a dream when you live and breathe a book during it’s writing process, but when your heart is not completely into a project — even though you want to do the project — it takes discipline to hit the keyboard anyway and punch out 500 words as a minimum. However, I’ve been fortunate in that the books I’ve found the hardest to write and are the ones that come out the best. No idea why. Maybe some sort of subconscious fuck you to myself to show myself up. I don’t know.
 

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

 
Either whatever’s next on the TBR pile, or whatever one speaks to me. It’s like browsing your DVD collection. Oh, sorry, Blu-ray collection. A movie just jumps out at you. Same with books.
 
Nothing complicated or over thought here.
 

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

 
To be a popular writer and artist, and to finish The Axiom-man Saga, my fifty-book superhero epic. I know you only asked for a single ambition but those two are tied together.
 

8. Why don’t you quit?

 
Because I suck at everything else in life so might as well stick with what others have told me I’m good at.

The Weeknd on His Weekend Off

SATURDAY

10:37 — wakes, orders breakfast from room service: crab and blue cheese omelette with side of pears

11:06 — coffee and the Reader’s Digest

11: 43 — showers, dresses in camo

12:03 — record shopping

1:32 — light lunch in café (whichever one isn’t playing a Weeknd song): crepes and espresso

2:02 — window shopping

2:11 — ignores phone, more window shopping

3:23 — enters bookstore, browses poetry

3:57 — smashes phone

4:03 — back to hotel, late afternoon nap

4:34 — sets curtain on fire

4:52 — leisurely stroll to a far-off restaurant, hobby photography

6:17 — dinner alone: tuna steak and asparagus

7:23 — dessert at a different restaurant: plain apple pie

7:47 — buys new phone

8:36 — back to hotel, rents movie: Weekend at Bernie’s

9:12 — misses hair

10:37 — retires to bed early

SUNDAY

10:37 — wakes, does the exact same things as the previous day, at the exact same times

10:37 — dies inside

8-Ball Interview with Keith Cadieux

Keith Cadieux is the co-editor of the weird fiction anthology The Shadow Over Portage & Main, published by Enfield & Wizenty and recently shortlisted for a Manitoba Book Award. During the day-job hours, he is the administrative coordinator for the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. 

I met Keith Cadieux through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild mentorship program, where he excelled under my tutelage (possibly because he didn’t need my help).

Keith kindly included “Waiting Room,” a short story by my pseudonym Richard Crow, in  The Shadow Over Portage & Main.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

I haven’t done many interviews so I’m not sure how I can offer much here. One thing I have noticed in quite a few interviews with authors is that there usually isn’t much discussion of the work itself. There are always questions about the writing process, something I value as a writer, and occasionally some talk of inspiration, but that’s usually it. There isn’t much talk of thematic fixations or intention versus the final outcome. I suppose I would like someone to ask me what are some themes I’m trying to work through with my writing. That’s something I don’t think anyone has asked me, in my limited experience. 

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

Probably not to take every piece of advice you’ll receive. I’ve that found picking and choosing advice, tips, criticism that particularly resonate is far more effective than having to accept something in its entirety. This is true for everything in life, really, but particularly true of writing advice. A writing manual, for instance, may offer some great thoughts, but it’s unlikely that one author will be able to take every single item in that manual and apply it effectively to their writing. Much like writing itself, you need to be a bit of a scavenger and only hold on to the bits that are pertinent or helpful to you at that moment or for that specific project.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

These tend to change depending on the writing project. When I first started trying to write seriously, I did so almost exclusively at night. I would put on a pot of coffee, re-read what I had written so far, making adjustments and corrections along the way, and then blast forward with new material once I’d gone through all of the older stuff. Eventually, what I had written got to be so long that this became a serious problem and I wouldn’t get to the point of writing new material. More recently, I’ve taken a tip from Stephen King’s On Writing and set a daily word count for myself. I also tend to do a lot of pacing and wandering around when I write, so I usually try to do it when I have the house to myself.

4. What is your editing process?

Usually, I write my first draft by hand. The first revision comes when I type it up, making corrections and line changes along the way. After that, my stories usually need some kind of overhaul, like new scenes or removing scenes, changes to characters, voice, narration, verb tense. So I write it out by hand again, making these substantive changes. Then, when I type it up again, it’s usually pretty lean so the only revision still needed is typographical.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Definitely discipline. You may have noticed that a lot of the “habits” are things that can quite easily be interfered with or thrown off track. Sometimes, having an empty house simply isn’t an option so I need to just sit down, be a little hard on myself, and get the work done.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

This is pretty random. As I assume is the case with most writers, my to-be-read pile is a chaotic and unruly beast. It’s simply not humanly possible to read everything that I would like to in one human life span. I’m usually reading more than one book at a time and I make an effort for them to be different types of books, say a novel and a story collection, or nonfiction. Sometimes poetry but pretty rarely. I also tend to alternate between moods. I usually read mostly horror but eventually I need a break so I’ll lean into things that are more lighthearted. 

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

I suppose it would be to write something that earns some real money. Like a five-figure payday from one book. In Canadian publishing, I think that’s about as ambitious as it gets. 

8. Why don’t you quit?

I doubt I could, even if I wanted to. It’s definitely a compulsion. Sometimes I’m more into it, more productive, more passionate. But even during periods of low productivity or when I’m feeling disheartened, the drive to write never completely goes away. It might dulled. Usually, it comes roaring back if I’ve seen something that really gets to me, that connects to the core of me as a person somehow, and I feel a drive to write something that good, to contribute something of equal substance. Or, sometimes I encounter something so bad that I can’t shake the feeling that I could write something better and that rage drives me to actually get back to work.

The War with the Dead

A Short Story on Halloween

In celebration of Halloween, here is a short story for you. Thanks to Poetry Is Dead for publishing an early version of this story

THE WAR WITH THE DEAD

Its History

Early in the history of the war with the dead, the living invented their gods. Soon these gods were dead. Some rose again in doomed defiance, but at best were brittle zombies. Those the living had imagined as their heroes, the names they thought would secure immortality, soon joined the ranks of the dead.

This is the history of the war with the dead. Every weapon the living invent turns upon them. Yet they keep inventing new gods, new heroes, new weapons. Each new thing arising in response to the death of the old. Yet for the dead, there is no newness, no age. Only death, a gift held aloft, which the living first refuse and then reach for.

Which will one day be given. Where all gods one day go. In which all heroes, all weapons, are enfolded. To which all is destined from birth.

Its Battleground

Yet the living resist. They drag their resistance into the future, where they die, and join the ranks of the dead. They turn on one another in their fury, when they do not willingly turn traitor, marching into the past in defeat.

The great battleground in the war with the dead is time. The dead now hold the past. The living hold the present, though the dead maintain their territories. The future is the realm still in dispute. As the future draws into the present, it is colonized by the living, and then ceded to the dead.

Each secure in their stronghold, the living and the dead both turn their faces to the future. Their weapons turn with them. What complicates the battle is that neither may enter the territory they dispute, only cast things there — their weapons, their resistance, their desire. They set events in motion, chain them forward.

The living set their explosives in the present, sending their explosions into the past. In this way, they plan to take the future. The dead, by contrast, revel in these explosions. They glory in the wakes of their ruins, create objects from the rubble. They launch these into the future, and laugh when the living drag them down into the present. In this way, the dead wage war.

Its Weapons

The dead create dead objects from once-living objects. These objects do not interest the dead. The dead do not know their names. They return them to the living, after radiating them with time. The living should resist them, should destroy them, cast them back into the past. But they do not. Instead, they treasure them and seek their forgotten names.

The living seek to revive these objects, not knowing the mistake of this, not understanding the nature of death. Unknown objects, archaeological objects, these missives from dead cultures, constitute and embody a threat. Dead objects, which are pure objects — without names, without utility for the living — are the greatest possible threat to present concepts, present order.

Testaments to a world which was once, but is no longer. The presence of these dead objects threatens the living, threatens to unravel their world. To void its uniqueness, its consistency. Kill its future. This is why the living put ancient vases in museums, rather than destroying them or putting them to use. Like all dead objects, they must be isolated and categorized, castrated. The threat they pose must be removed.

Its Art

Art, like all else, is a weapon employed by both the living and the dead. The living use art to comprehend dead objects, to imbue them with a living mystery, and in this way exorcise the demons that the dead trapped in these objects. The dead laugh. The dead use art like any other dead object. They take it from the living, draw it into the past, and cast it forward to the future, so that it ends up in the present to destroy.

Thus the art of the living becomes the objects of the dead, alien documents, incomprehensible. The dead imbue these things with death, and then return them to the living. The living, not understanding the nature of art, nor of death, make the same mistake that they make when approaching all dead objects. They attempt to enliven them, to incorporate them into the realm of the living. They interpret, analyze, over-interpret, study, proclaim the undying, universal, classical nature of the dead’s art.

All of these actions are designed to defuse this art, to dampen its disruptive power. To cut the red wire, stop the bomb. But the bomb has already gone off. Life crosses into its continuing explosion.

Its Meaning

For the living, immortality means to walk through then return from the land of the dead, so they build their art on the models they have drawn from the dead. They then cast this art into the past. The dead recreates it for the future. To destroy the future, to disrupt the present. The dead create with violence, to do violence, so craft art as they craft all things — with pleasure.

The future is filled with objects, like art, with traps the dead have laid. The art of the dead, like all of its objects, bears no message. Its presence is its message, its violence. The dead reshape the art of the living so that, after it is returned, its shapes might resist the living’s attempts to understand and defuse them.

What the living do not understand, when they look to the future, is that it may not yet belong to the dead, but it can never belong to them. The future will not be won, except by objects. Their weapons, whether skyscrapers or poems, will be the true victors of this war.

Its End

The living shall never defeat us. We shall enfold the sun in our arms. Already the stars come to us, one by one, dwindling.

We the dead shall defeat our unborn. They shall fall gentle to the earth from ancient storms.

That Most Terrible of Dogs

from THE POLITICS OF KNIVES

from The Politics of Knives — signed copies on sale for $10

Waiting. Waiting to catch the drift. Waiting for something empirical and wise. Waiting for the ration of rainwater to decrease and the run-off to increase, for the river’s end in silt and toil. Waiting to be impressed with all said. Waiting to know who is speaking at all times. Waiting while the pages turn. Waiting to find out it’s really great and since submitting my life has changed. Waiting in the material world. Waiting for all that exists in this cave of forms to be perfect. Waiting for the collision of two plates to produce deadly forces. Waiting for triggers and hairy delirium. Waiting for denial and magpies. Waiting to be conversant in veal. Waiting for acrimony used as a literary device. Waiting to stagger antagonistically toward an ejection. Waiting for my car to humanize and tap reserves. Waiting for less final solutions. Waiting for warlords to decide. Waiting for atrocity, the exhibition begun. Waiting to pole vault over bookmakers. Waiting for compensation. Waiting for the files. Waiting in the rain, lined pockets for waterproofing. Waiting for terroristic improvements. Waiting for a boost to become underrated. Waiting to adopt a panicky creed. Waiting for the theatre of the tabloid. Waiting for phrasing with nitrogen. Waiting to teem. Waiting to cleverly make contact with the myth. Waiting to thwart haste, to recur. Waiting to effectively use the existing infrastructure in the most efficient of possible manners. Waiting to see the real war while the public seethes national isms. Waiting to become more involved in these stories. Waiting to be whatever I want to be, but first I must be willing to work. Waiting for a skin unlike others. Waiting for the empire to mount its tenants, and soon after market my resilience. Waiting to thrive on the wiretaps. Waiting to glow and decay. Waiting for the violence of the megaton. Waiting for inspiration, surreal and corrosive. Waiting to be involved in a third-rate gallery love affair. Waiting for resistance, bleeding hunger strikes. Waiting for your sneaking blush to grey. Waiting for new moderns, in the voting booth dumb. Waiting for provisions to show me the way. Waiting until they can quantify the results. Waiting to love the aggravation and drudgery. Waiting to test my hypothesis, for the best man to become a heavenly windbreaker. Waiting to speak with the creator of society and grapefruit. Waiting for my soup, torrent pummelling the patio. Waiting to embarrass those bourbon federalists. Waiting for the adultery to haemorrhage. Waiting for the period that comes after the outboard motor. Waiting while, over yonder, a credit card gleams. Waiting with crossed thighs for a few posthumous guarantees. Waiting to fasten my principles to cynical schemes. Waiting with the impartiality of a counterfeiter. Waiting for my luck to bygone. Waiting, glorious in insomnia. Waiting for the anniversary of the fetus overcome. Waiting for a series of vicious courtships. Waiting, boastful and rectal, quoting panhandlers. Waiting for the affirmative, to tar the feathers, short circuits, deploy nausea. Waiting to resign over corruption charges, pending one emptied trust fund per day. Waiting for rheumatism, lumbago, and other slash somesuch complaints. Waiting, hands on my guns, for the plain fact that it was my heart. Waiting with my pennants for eternity. Waiting to discover the full potential of my lawn. Waiting for the delish delisting of all of these saccharin products. Waiting with the other parishioners for the generalized entity. Waiting to take the shortcut, the barrel. Waiting to pervert it all. Waiting for exoneration, alleviation, dislocation, to be rephrased. Waiting for my generation to generate. Waiting for nourishment, thus nonchalantly, as the king cheetah stripe. Waiting to increase my vocabulary with an adventure safari, in homeroom where twelve dead monkeys hang. Waiting to appeal to the working class literati. Waiting, succinct. Waiting to swelter and tire. Waiting to address the increasing gap between rich and poor, the huge international debt, and to redesign those now responsible. Waiting for actions and events happening around me to hurtle beyond my control. Waiting for what you want of this jade. Waiting in a non-violence quandary. Waiting to be misread. Waiting for the intense retail reality of the hornet shopkeeper buzzing around its pie charts. Waiting in studied irreverence. Waiting to deflect openness, deforest anarchy. Waiting to nurture the apolitical. Waiting for the athletes to seem tastier. Waiting as an enraged post-artisan. Waiting incongruous with the voyage. Waiting to steamroll over the palaeontology of ice. Waiting to condense after a series of trials. Waiting, confident in my ascetic. Waiting and indulging my inner sociopath. Waiting on the on-ramp to extinction. Waiting for the next step of this program, when the ratings push us through the screen. Waiting, shall we say, with your eyes. Waiting drunk and unsure of my spoon. Waiting in the jaws of Cerberus, that most terrible of dogs.

from The Politics of Knives — signed copies on sale for $10

It Is Easier

(a poem)

It is easier to recognize faces than recall names.
It is easier to smuggle ivory than drugs.
It is easier to pass through the eye of a needle,
for me to shoot up than to think.
It is easier to write when you are sad.

DOWNVERSE (Talonbooks, 2014) by Nikki Reimer

(a review)

The epigraph of Nikki Reimer’s sophomore collection reads as follows:

I hated your poem.

Your poem was so boring.

— inebriated audience member at a poetry reading

It’s easy to dismiss this quote as an ironic joke, in place of the usual weighty epigraph borrowing wisdom and glory from some other poet, in part because it is funny and it does function as a joke. However, since this is the epigraph for Downverse, it remains important to treat it as an epigraph, and take the sentiment seriously, in the way that the inebriated audience member seems to intend.

This is the brilliance of Downverse. Reimer’s poems, on one hand, seem to dismiss the criticism by presenting, variously, the unpoetic lexicon of insurance policies and monthly budgets, or uneducated Internet commentators, rather than conventional lyrical wordplay. In this way, Reimer’s Downverse responds to the inebriated audience’s desire for un-boring poetry by presenting, in a challenge to the challenge, the most boring language imaginable rather than felicitous, properly “poetic” turns of phrase.

On the other hand, Reimer’s Downverse responds to the challenge as if this expected lyricism is not what the audience wants, but what it has rejected as boring. Imagine, for a moment, that Reimer might, in this epigraph, be quoting herself. Imagine that she, or someone she identifies with, is the inebriated audience member ready to die from poetry boredom. Downverse then reads like a continuation of the epigraph, the audience’s ongoing response. The complaint of the epigraph then functions like the slogan of an Occupy Wall Street protestor: an aggressive, inarticulate articulation of frustration at how late-capitalist neo-liberalism has cornered even the bear market of poetry, emptying it of any Romantic, revolutionary potential.

In this way, Downverse reads as if Reimer has lost her faith in the power of poetry to express any emotion without commodifying it. (Isn’t poetry, after all, how we carve up and sell off our unique, snowflake selves? For the little they are worth.) Such anxiety haunts a poem like “materiality,” suggesting a strange affect in its affectlessness:

my monthly rent is 27%

of my monthly household income

my monthly phone bill is 5%

of my monthly household income

my monthly life insurance is 0.3%

of my monthly household income

The poem continues to list out expenditures (medical bills: 12%; books: 4% on average; debt repayment: 10%; etc.), and the first stanza ends with the grim news that “my total monthly household expenditures are 100.3% / of my monthly household income.” Later stanzas inform us of Vancouver’s rental affordability indicator (circa 2011) and other statistical, demographic, and economic information necessary to understanding just how “average” Reimer’s budgeting might be.

However cold such “expressions” feel, they are in fact as raw (in their way) as any properly “poetic” emotion, more indicative of the poet’s real concerns than any sentiment. A poem like this functions as counterpoint to a more “emotional” outpouring of what supposedly “matters” to the speaker, providing instead the bare economic reality of what the speaker actually does. The poem also expresses a frustration of sorts at both the raw data (however slightly, the poem’s speaker is losing ground) and the felt inability to meaningfully return to the kind of emotional lyricism that some readers might expect, now that every discourse, conscious or unconscious, has been overwritten by capitalist concerns.

Reimer’s basic technique in Downverse is to crash differing registers of discourse against one another to explore how they function as, on some level, the same register, a short-circuiting that often has comedic effects. A highlight of the book, “the big other,” reacts to the oft-rehearsed but banal complaint that so-called “experimental” writing flaunts its theoretical basis, by boldly titling itself after a concept from Lacanian theory, then humorously displaying how the related processes of self-construction and self-alienation play out in the social world.

Everyone you knew had houses and jobs

but it was okay, you still had your looks

you still got harassed

(“you’re shoo beeautiful”) at the bus stop.

That is the environment

that 95% of the OWS people live in.

Easy there, don’t force it.

You don’t want to overthink everything like last time.

That’s where the occupy wherever hippies will be

as soon as it gets cold.

Someone was supposed to talk to us about editing

and line breaks, but we missed the phone meeting —

Reimer crashes, here and throughout Downverse, the complaints of the Occupy Wall Street protesters against complaints about the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the language of art, commerce, and frustration, to explore their interconnections and the way that they support one another even as they try to refuse, refute, or retreat from one another.

Reimer captures, collages, and excavates language with an ear for its sometimes hidden, sometimes painfully obvious, political dimensions. Downverse elegantly and often comically questions what poetry might have to do with the language that makes up our world — or might have to do now, since this language has sped past our poetry.