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he’ll (St. John's: Pedlar, 2014)

Former Winnipegger Nathan Dueck finally follows his outstanding 2004 debut, king’s(mère), with he’ll, which explores a fragmentary narrative set in Rat River while playing with Plaut’dietsch.

Dueck explores the sonic qualities of this obscure dialect in a mediation on Mennonites that drags religion, region, and reading across a landscape of lines.

Dueck’s density is as remarkable as his range. Whether plundering the canon for the lines in classic novels that might employ a contraction if written today, transposing songs for musical translations, or simply joking (“‘You haven’t had a night’ / ‘… ’til you’ve had a Mennonite’”), Dueck pushes his language play to the furthest possible extremes.

At the heart of the collections is the apostrophe, both as a punctuation mark and in its literary sense (as an address to an absent abstraction). That’s less alliteration than Dueck would have managed — it’s been a long wait, but he’ll is worth it.

McNally | Amazon

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Downverse (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2014)

Nikki Reimer’s Downverse has lost its faith in the power of poetry to express any emotion without commodifying it. One of Reimer’s most affecting poems is, oddly, a list of “insurance outcomes”: “Life / The Principal Sum / Both Hands / The Principal Sum / … / Entire Sight of One Eye / Two-Thirds of the Principal Sum.”

In this way, life and limb are literally valued. Another poem sees Reimer expressing herself as we all do, through her monthly budget (she spends 4% of her income on books and 0.3% on the afore-mentioned life insurance policy). 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.

Reimer crashing different registers of found text against one another for startling and humorous effects. One poem juxtaposes the oddball opinions that “perhaps what al Qaeda really needed was a fresh start under a new name” and “no matter what his name, or whether he is a stray, the street-savvy dog has captured the public’s imagination.”

Soon the poem announces that “we are focusing more on education when responding to chicken complaints” — whether silly, wry, or deadpan, Reimer plays black comedy off against an anguished frustration.

McNally | Amazon

What You Should Do If You Come Into Contact With Poetry

If you come into contact with poetry, always treat it as potentially infectious.

If you prick yourself with a used poem, hold the affected limb down low to get it to bleed. Do not squeeze the wound or soak it in bleach. Wash the area with warm water and soap.

If you are splashed with an image or metaphor and your skin has an open wound, healing sore, or scratch, wash the area well with soap and water. If you are splashed in the eyes, nose or mouth, rinse well with water. If you have been bitten by a poet, wash the wound with soap and water.

If you feel any emotions after exposure to poetry, go to the hospital emergency department as soon as possible. Reporting the incident immediately after exposure can help to ensure that as much evidence as possible is obtained, to prevent the poet from writing again.

If you have come into contact with poetry in any of the ways described above, you may need a vaccine or medication as soon as possible to protect against infection. It is important that you are assessed as soon as possible after the contact.

Ryan Fitzpatrick on Editing a Poetry Book (Interview)

ryan fitzpatrick is a poet and critic living in Vancouver. He is the author of two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) and Fake Math (Snare, 2007). With Jonathan Ball, he is co-editor of Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014). With Deanna Fong and Janey Dodd, he works on the second iteration of the Fred Wah Digital Archive, originally spearheaded by Susan Rudy. He is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University where he works on contemporary poetics and the social production of space.

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The Interview

Highlighted Pages from Fortified Castles

In the video, Ryan talks about using highlighters in his editing process. Here are a few examples, up close:

More with Ryan on This Site

Two poems from Fortified Castles (McNally | Amazon) in various drafts, so you can compare the early versions with the later versions.

Ryan and I co-edited *Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry.

You can read the introductory essay for Why Poetry Sucks or read a negative review of the book that we also wrote (yes, a negative review of our own book written by us). Ryan also made a few comments as a follow-up in this short video.

Also, check out “Join the Wrinkle Resistance,” a great poem from Ryan’s first book, Fake Math (McNally | Amazon).

And of course, an interview from 2008 about the early stages of Ryan’s Fortified Castles project.

ryan fitzpatrick is a poet and critic living in Vancouver. He is the author of two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) and Fake Math (Snare, 2007). With Jonathan Ball, he is co-editor of Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014). With Deanna Fong and Janey Dodd, he works on the second iteration of the Fred Wah Digital Archive, originally spearheaded by Susan Rudy. He is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University where he works on contemporary poetics and the social production of space.

Highlighted Pages from Fortified Castles

In the video, Ryan talks about using highlighters in his editing process. Here are a few examples, up close:

More with Ryan on This Site

Two poems from Fortified Castles (McNally | Amazon) in various drafts, so you can compare the early versions with the later versions.

Ryan and I co-edited *Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry.

You can read the introductory essay for Why Poetry Sucks or read a negative review of the book that we also wrote (yes, a negative review of our own book written by us). Ryan also made a few comments as a follow-up in this short video.

Also, check out “Join the Wrinkle Resistance,” a great poem from Ryan’s first book, Fake Math (McNally | Amazon).

And of course, an interview from 2008 about the early stages of Ryan’s Fortified Castles project.

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Fortified Castles (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2014)

The book so nice I edited it twice! My favourite poem is dedicated to me!

Abstinence Vampires

The problem with rehearsing Shakespeare for reals
is the puritan bonbons caught in the margins.

There is clearly something wrong with boys,
at least, it’s tough how they act all panoramic.

Imagine Donna Reed as a reverse vampire
except for the missionary-style beatdowns.

There is an infection risk inherent in how we
sit so close to the industrial processing fluids.

It’s funny how the rape fantasy isn’t apparent
until the dancing unicorns get too intimate.

We were tired of the current set of tableaux
(Hollywood, dustbowl, etc.), so we planted trees.

Changing what might indicate an end-of-the-world
scenario is quite important in any new century.

Down here on Earth, we’re happy with teenage
boys and their immigrant solutions in GTA.

Reading smut is a clear gateway to a college education
since the best guys have a purity about them.

These househusbands are so fluffy and silly
for letting themselves become totes gay vampires.

Why do you keep looking at the transformer
towers hoping they’ll become steaming geysers?

Yay for one Tiger Beat fangirl who refuses
to divorce her rainbow-fast ejaculations.

Did you know that vampire blood can cure
any possible STDs, including syphilis?

It’s clearly a tattoo that represents how much
I respect and care for all woodland creatures.

I hope that these half-vampire Juno wannabes
remember to be someone else in their life.

More with Ryan on This Site

An interview with Ryan about us editing his book.

Two poems from Fortified Castles (McNally | Amazon) in various drafts, so you can compare the early versions with the later versions.

Ryan and I co-edited *Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry.

You can read the introductory essay for Why Poetry Sucks or read a negative review of the book that we also wrote (yes, a negative review of our own book written by us). Ryan also made a few comments as a follow-up in this short video.

Also, check out “Join the Wrinkle Resistance,” a great poem from Ryan’s first book, Fake Math (McNally | Amazon).

And of course, an interview from 2008 about the early stages of Ryan’s Fortified Castles project.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Two Poems (in many drafts)

Compare early and late drafts to see the poet's progress

These two poems are from Fortified Castles (McNally | Amazon) Ryan Fitzpatrick, which was published by Talonbooks in 2014. The poems in Fortified Castles underwent many revisions over those years, and below you can compare some early versions with the later versions.

9780889229099

Check out a video interview where Ryan and I discuss the editing process for Fortified Castles and detail some of the decisions that went into the shape of the book and the specific changes made to some of the poems.

ryan fitzpatrick is a poet and critic living in Vancouver. He is the author of two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) and Fake Math (Snare, 2007). With Jonathan Ball, he is co-editor of Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014). With Deanna Fong and Janey Dodd, he works on the second iteration of the Fred Wah Digital Archive, originally spearheaded by Susan Rudy. He is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University where he works on contemporary poetics and the social production of space.

ABSTINENCE VAMPIRES (2014)

for Jonathan Ball

The problem with rehearsing Shakespeare for reals
is the puritan bonbons caught in the margins.

There is clearly something wrong with boys,
at least, it’s tough how they act all panoramic.

Imagine Donna Reed as a reverse vampire
except for the missionary-style beatdowns.

There is an infection risk inherent in how we
sit so close to the industrial processing fluids.

It’s funny how the rape fantasy isn’t apparent
until the dancing unicorns get too intimate.

We were tired of the current set of tableaux
(Hollywood, dustbowl, etc.), so we planted trees.

Changing what might indicate an end-of-the-world
scenario is quite important in any new century.

Down here on Earth, we’re happy with teenage
boys and their immigrant solutions in GTA.

Reading smut is a clear gateway to a college education
since the best guys have a purity about them.

These househusbands are so fluffy and silly
for letting themselves become totes gay vampires.

Why do you keep looking at the transformer
towers hoping they’ll become steaming geysers?

Yay for one Tiger Beat fangirl who refuses
to divorce her rainbow-fast ejaculations.

Did you know that vampire blood can cure
any possible STDs, including syphilis?

It’s clearly a tattoo that represents how much
I respect and care for all woodland creatures.

I hope that these half-vampire Juno wannabes
remember to be someone else in their life.

ABSTINENCE VAMPIRES (2009)

for Jonathan Ball

Yay for one Tiger Beat fangirl who refuses
to divorce her rainbow-fast ejaculations.

There is clearly something wrong with boys,
at least, it’s tough how they act all panoramic.

The problem with rehearsing Shakespeare for
reals is the puritan bonbons in the margins.

Imagine Donna Reed as a reverse vampire
except for the missionary-style beatdowns.

It’s funny how the rape fantasy isn’t apparent
until the dancing unicorns get so intimate.

Down here on Earth, we’re glad that teenage
boys are assaulting each other in GTA.

Reading smut is a clear gateway to a college
education since the best guys are smutty.

These house-husbands are so fluffy and silly
for letting themselves be totes gay vampires.

I hope that these half-vampire Juno wannabes
remember to be someone else in their life.

I’M OBSESSED WITH IT (2014)

The song in the ad upset me so much I cried
for days. All day long, I just want to fucking
get out of here and watch some movies. I shut
the windows then the drapes then opened my eyes.

I pull strips of copper wire from my face. This
film is one I won’t finish. Who cares how it
works? I pick up Windex for the picture window.
I wash the grain and crackle from my exchanges.

Really, I’m just embracing culture. I spool my
nerve into a shopping cart. I watch two cars
unfold in the street outside. I’ve been quietly
humming the fabric of our lives for days now.

I’M OBSESSED WITH IT (2012)

I’ll stay home to watch a movie that I just won’t
finish. Six months since moving and I still don’t
know what an addict is. You won’t know how it
ends. You pull strips of copper wire from my face.
 
The song in the ad upset me so much that I cried
for days. I read a lot of things I have to do. All day
long, I just want to fucking get out of here to watch
some movies. I cover the window with a screen.
 
I love watching the process unfold and I stare at
your face to compare marks. I’ve slowly focused on
small elements of our exchange, washing the grain
and crackle out. Really, I’m just embracing culture. 

I’M OBSESSED WITH IT (2008)

My ugly frown lines upset me. Six months
away from moving. I don’t know what an
addict is. My friends and family never hear
the end. I’ll stay home to watch a movie.

Many things upset me. There’s a song in
the ad. I read a lot of things I have to do.
Sometimes, I just want to fucking get out
of here and watch the movies. All day long

When does the movie start? I love the process.
I stare at their faces to compare. I’m glad
that I’m not obsessed by it. I appreciate and
respect it. Really, I’m just embracing culture.

More from Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan and I co-edited *Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry.

You can read the introductory essay for Why Poetry Sucks or read a negative review of the book that we also wrote (yes, a negative review of our own book written by us). Ryan also made a few comments as a follow-up in this short video.

Also, check out “Join the Wrinkle Resistance,” a great poem from Ryan’s first book, Fake Math (McNally | Amazon).

And of course, an interview from 2008 about the early stages of Ryan’s Fortified Castles project.

Interview with Ryan Fitzpatrick

This interview was published in Dandelion 34.1 (2008) 110-17. At that point, Ryan was in the early stages of working on his book Fortified Castles (McNally | Amazon), which was published by Talonbooks in 2014.

9780889229099

The poems in Fortified Castles underwent many revisions over those years: you can compare some early versions with some published versions here. I served as somebody who gave Ryan early feedback on the project and later became the book’s actual editor at the behest of Talonbooks.

After you read this, check out a video interview where Ryan and I discuss the editing process for Fortified Castles and detail some of the decisions that went into the shape of the book and the specific changes made to some of the poems.

This week, I am republishing the 2008 interview to showcase some of Ryan’s early thinking about the book, so that you can see how the process evolved (by the time I was working on the book with him in 2014, and now talking to him in 2015).

ryan fitzpatrick is a poet and critic living in Vancouver. He is the author of two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) and Fake Math (Snare, 2007). With Jonathan Ball, he is co-editor of Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014). With Deanna Fong and Janey Dodd, he works on the second iteration of the Fred Wah Digital Archive, originally spearheaded by Susan Rudy. He is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University where he works on contemporary poetics and the social production of space.

Ryan Fitzpatrick Interview (2008)

Jonathan Ball: To begin with, I’d like to ask a short question requiring a long answer. What is the influence of Flarf and of Silliman’s new sentence on your work in general?

ryan fitzpatrick: Let’s start with Flarf, because the project that ended up as FAKE MATH (McNally | Amazon) started out as a reverent attempt to mimic the kind of work coming from writers who were part of the Flarf collective – work that is strange, fragmented, and often quite terrifying, albeit in a profoundly terrible way – and ended up going in a different direction in terms of aesthetic (though not completely) while still using the Flarf method of composition – Google Sculpting. At a certain point I found that I wasn’t completely happy with the results I was getting from my “flarfier” work, work that I occasionally found aimless and often toothless. This isn’t to say that Flarf work is toothless (because it isn’t) or apolitical, but that I found that I needed to couple Flarf’s focused engagement with chance with something more explicitly political. Something like Michael Magee’s series of “Fascist Fairytales” (in his book Mainstream) is certainly a touchstone for this, but so is Jeff Derksen’s work in Dwell and Transnational Muscle Cars, which doesn’t work within a “flarfist” paradigm. As I composed FAKE MATH, I was mostly interested in how far Flarf’s flexible engagements with Google allowed a chance to have chance encounters with the world (or at least the world as mediated by the internet) in a way that isn’t rigidly constrained by poetic procedure, something that I find hard to swallow in terms of my own attempts at composition.

As I move on to Silliman’s new sentence, you’ll have to pardon me as it’s been a while since I’ve read Silliman’s book and I don’t have a copy handy, but, as a brief note, I do share Silliman’s interest in parataxis between syntactic units, whether we’re talking about the sentence, the phrase, or whatever. Along with placing limits on how straightforwardly meaning is transmitted from sentence to sentence, this tactic provides a great opportunity to instill a greater ambiguity into a text, which, I think, makes that text more readerly and open to interpretation and dialogue.

JB: I’d like to turn a segment of FAKE MATH back on you and ask you to respond to the following questions: “Which poems / are courts? Which poems are gas stations?” (78).

rf: As I was writing FAKE MATH, I fell in love with the idea that a poem (or any text) could act as a site for dialogue and I think these lines reflect that. It follows then, that if a poem could be a site where we can work and think and play as readers, then perhaps different poems might emulate physical sites in the “real world.” Do poems have certain uses? Are they sites of justice (“courts”), competition (“courts” again), consumption (“gas stations”)? I think this may be the case, but it really is something determined by the reader, which, of course, means that a poem might be a site of several things simultaneously. Maybe a comedy club, maybe a lecture hall, maybe a garbage dump. It depends who you ask.

JB: The line “My assassin brings me products I love” (FAKE MATH 71) seems to me to be a sort of mise en abyme or metonymical moment in which a part of the text (this particular line) stands to comment on the text as a whole, and in analyzing this quotation we can come to an understanding of the book’s movement or purpose as a whole. Certainly, in a basic sense, this phrase encapsulates a general theme of the book, our willing and perhaps knowing capitulation and recapitulation to the more violent and virulent aspects of our language, which we use to code and recode ourselves within capitalist structures. I’m wondering if you could comment on this idea, and also if you could talk in general about the influence of theory on your writing. I’m particularly interested to know if you have much to say about Baudrillard’s notion that it is not production (as Marx would have it) but rather consumption that is the main drive within capitalism, and how social theory relates to your poetics.

rf: Theory is an interesting thing in terms of my poetic practice. If you were to look at what I’ve read over the last few years, you’d probably find that the vast majority of it is theory or philosophy, but I’m not sure you could tell from my writing. I try to avoid using theory as content in my poems, instead trying to use it to direct my thinking about the world and the role of language in it. FAKE MATH is directed as much by the way I composed it as it is by the theorists I was reading. At the time, I was reading books that are interested and engaged by the political: Marxist theory, Democratic theory, Deleuze and Guattari, and other things that I’m sure I’m not remembering.

Marx and other Marxist theorists are very important to my poetic praxis, which is something that I hope becomes clear through the pages of FAKE MATH. Despite of this, I’m not sure I would consider myself a Marxist and the more I read, the more I want to divest myself, not so much from a lot of the ideas, but from the label. Perhaps I could be considered a Post-Marxist, but I’ve taken to saying, to borrow a phrase from Jacques Derrida, that I’m “working in a certain spirit of Marxism,” though I’m still trying to figure out what that means. As far as Baudrillard goes, though I came to his work very late (just recently, actually), I think that you’re right in suggesting that his work is very important to my work. I came to much of Baudrillard’s ideas about consumption through much different sources, the most important being Naomi Klein’s brilliant No Logo, which deftly looks at both North American patterns of consumption and the overseas production that allows it. I think what is most brilliant about Klein’s book is how it underlines the fact that, even though it is so easy for us in North America to imagine consumption as more relevant to our lives than production, consumption and production are fundamentally interlocked.

JB: I’ve heard you talk about the importance of “risk” in your poetry — what does “risk” mean to you as a poetic concern, and why do you value risk?

rf: “Risk” is a troubled word, but is the best word for one of the things that I value in my own and other people’s work. There an idea that I’ve borrowed from psychologist Lev Vygotsky where he says that children learn best when they are thrown into slight discomfort by what they are learning. What I took away from this is that we change and grow when we throw ourselves into areas we aren’t comfortable. I think this is possibly much more useful to a radical poetic than Pound’s dictum that we should “make it new,” which is something that I find increasingly problematic. Maybe instead of worrying about whether our work is “new,” we should be taking our own poetic practice out of the safe zones they occupy to put them at risk.

For me, radicality in writing seeks to be emancipatory. In Pedagogy of Freedom, Paulo Freire says that there is “no such thing as freedom without risk.” Don’t get me wrong, the word “freedom” has a history of being misused and should be under suspicion, but Friere is getting at a meaning of freedom that doesn’t have anything to do with illusion of emancipation provided by “Coke vs. Pepsi” or even the kinds of choice provided by our own “democratic” system in Canada (where voting anything other than Conservative in Alberta seems like a fatalistic exercise). Making choices is important to writing and making choices that consider the social consequences is important to a radical writing keeping in mind that “social consequences” doesn’t mean that you’re worried no one will pick you for their team if you don’t write in a certain style or with a certain content. I find that I need to constantly examine and reconsider how my work affects and effects the world around me. Freire says that “To decide is to break with something, and, to do this, I have to run a risk.” Freire isn’t talking about writing – he’s talking about teaching and pedagogy – but I think his words are applicable if I turn them around a bit. If I want to break with something, I have to run a risk.

JB: What does “taking risks” mean on the craft level? In a less theoretical and more practical sense, how do you go about introducing risk during composition?

rf: For me, introducing risk is something I do whenever I feel myself getting too comfortable in my writing practice. It often has to do with setting up procedures and rules for myself as I write and recognizing when things are getting too easy. Some strategies that I find useful as far as craft goes are things like disallowing certain parts of speech or poetic structures (or alternately, limiting myself to a particular structure). To give you an example, after I finished FAKE MATH, I found a number of the ways I was defining my practice too pat and easy – things ranging from the line/stanza setup I was using to the compositional use of Google sculpting to the type of humour and irony I used in the pieces. A lot of this became second nature, which is great when you’re at the end of a project trying to edit seemingly disparate pieces together, but it is far too easy to fall into the trap of rewriting the project you just finished, because you’re already in that mindset. So after I finished FAKE MATH, I took all of the things that helped me in writing that book and disallowed them, which was the start of writing Ghost Prison – a series of very personal prose poems that is probably the project that was the most difficult for me to navigate, because I needed to rewrite my own set of poetic strategies and reconsider what I value in writing.

JB: You mention Freire, and I know that you also work as a public school teacher. To what degree do you consider your interests in teaching and radical politics to be linked to your writing? Your work, while not didactic as such, is plainly aligned with a radical politics and there is arguably an aspect of the work that seeks not so much to “inform” the reader about anything but to expose her or him to a counter-narrative within capitalism, or display linguistic operations as being part and parcel of a ideological system. Certainly when you cite Vygotsky you aren’t suggesting that your readers are analogous to children who must be led, but is there some degree to which you see writing as a pedagogical project?

rf: I think that your mention of the “didactic” in much political poetry holds the key here. I think that for poetry to even have the possibility of being politically transformative, it can’t dictate a specific viewpoint; like you suggest, Jon, the reader is not an empty vessel to be filled up with knowledge (or, alternatively, a child to be led), but is hopefully an active participant in a dialogue about the state of things (even though “dialogue” as a concept is somewhat problematic as far as global capital goes). I view my job as a writer is to provide a space, a vocabulary, and, hopefully, a spark for that dialogue which is certainly one of the things Freire is interested in. I’m thinking of a quote from Pedagogy of Freedom: “In my relations with others, those who may not have made the same political, ethical, aesthetic, or pedagogical choices as myself, I cannot begin from the standpoint that I have to conquer them at any cost or from the fear that they may conquer me.” I think this is where I begin ethically as a writer and though I’m really not interested in participating in that dialogue in a reasonable way (reason being too dangerous in the wrong hands), I am interested in he openness that Freire talks about. In terms of my writing this means an openness to new practice, an openness to new and different readership, and an openness to whatever feedback or criticism I might get.

JB: You mentioned already (when talking about Flarf) that you felt a need while composing FAKE MATH to inject a certain sense of political engagement into your work, to avoid it feeling “aimless and often toothless.” And I’ve seen the working draft of your book Ghost Prison and now these new poems from the Fortified Castles manuscript that we’ll be reproducing alongside this interview [in Dandelion, not here], and both books-in-progress share a similar interest in the psychological spaces where the political and the personal intersect. I am wondering what this political investment means to you, why it is such a strong and consistent theme in your writing. Because it’s not the simple approach to politics—writing a poem in order to complain about Bush, or make some point about a specific localized event—not something occasional but something sustained. I’m wondering where this concern comes from, and why it manifests itself in these large series concerning ideological superstructures, rather than in occasional poems concerning historical events or figures, a more mainstream approach.

rf: I don’t like pedantic or simplistic thinking about the political and I value writing that is as complex and ambiguous as life is. This doesn’t preclude simpler structures or approaches like the occasional poem (I remember reading a series of poems by Charles Bernstein written during 9/11 that were quite affecting). I think that every action we make is deeply affected by some kind of political or economic structure and most people don’t see this because we tend to write ourselves out of these structures. The political only concerns “historical events or figures” or political leaders. We see politics as a negative, foreign thing rather than what it is: an agreed-upon system a group uses to make decisions. Unless it’s planning to be antisocial or a social, poetry needs to examine the political in some way, because each of us should be examining how we act upon and react to the system we’re handed. Right now, what is really interesting to me is how this personal element constructs and is constructed by the political and economic forces around us. And though it might seem like a throwback to identity politics, but I think that there’s a need to examine the idea of individual subjectivity and how it interacts (or fails to interact) with the structures of global capital.

JB: What strikes me about the poems in Fortified Castles is that you’re using all these I-statements you’ve either written or harvested from the Internet, and putting together these very disjunctive little lyrical poems. So the poems take the form of the traditional lyric and have a serious investment in the expression of subjective experience, yet this isn’t the poet’s subjective experience that’s being expressed, but the experience of some illusory collective subject you’ve cobbled together out of these I-statements. A collective subject that doesn’t “exist” as such, expressing itself through these lyrics that aren’t quite lyrics. It’s an excessive project in a way, an excess of lyricism, of subjective expression, rather than an attempt to void out these elements, like much so-called “avant-garde” poetry attempts. I am wondering what you think of this description—is this something you see yourself doing in these poems, or do you conceive of the project differently—and what is your interest in or connection to the lyric genre?

rf: It’s interesting to consider Ghost Prison and Fortified Castles as two sides of the same coin; whereas Ghost Prison is an intently personal project that actively avoids personal expression, Fortified Castles is a project that explores the idea of personal expression without addressing me personally. Fortified Castles started from a displeasure on my part with some of the more ironic elements of FAKE MATH because people seemed to be responding to the poems as just funny without catching the tragic element I feel the poems have. What I decided to do was to use the same compositional procedure as FAKE MATH with a couple of differences: I would consciously try to avoid the irony and humour that drives much of FAKE MATH and one of the ways I am doing this is to collect common I-statements to use them as search strings in Google. When I find a search string I think might work, I feed it into Google in quotation marks (which searches for the uninterrupted phrase rather than just the collection of words), which usually yields a nice sized bank of sincere or fake sincere language that I can use to compose the poem. The process is one of discovery as I trace out how this “sincere” language is employed and it will be interesting, when I get to the editing phase, to try to sequence the poems so that some of the patterns I’m beginning to see become more visible.

JB: You’ve expressed (in private) an interest in “the trace” and in “ghosts” as well as the abject. Could you flesh out what this interest means to you, in the larger context of a general poetics, and also on the level of craft?

rf: At a recent reading I gave that I think might have spurred your question, I said that the poems from Fortified Castles that I read weren’t “about ghosts” but “had ghosts in them,” which, I think, speaks to my interest in the absent (or, to steal a bit from Baudrillard, the more absent than absent). I’m very intrigued by the idea that we’re affected and driven by something that we can’t see but can sense. There is a trace of something. Something spectral. Something constantly behind me, urging me to move in certain directions. My interest has spurred a lot of reading into psychoanalysis, but the books that spurred my interest are Jacques Derrida’s Spectres of Marx and Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and their shared notion that what we think is dead is actually not and is pursuing us relentlessly. As a writer, what this interest has done for me is that I have had to realize that I can’t get to the root of things (as a good radical writer should) by tackling things head on – I need to approach things sidelong, hoping to catch glimpses of the capitalist hegemony with its pants down.

JB: Where do you see yourself going after Ghost Prison and Fortified Castles are complete? I know you’re doing a conceptual project, which maybe you can talk a bit about, but have you given any thought to the next major project, or do you have any general thoughts on where you’d like your poetry to go, some elements of your practice you’d like to continue to explore, abandon, or reconfigure?

rf: I always find that space between projects to alternates between fun and horror, because I’m never quite sure what project idea I have is going to stick. Before I settle on a project, I’m often working on two or three different things. I have some vague ideas of what might happen after I finish Fortified Castles. When I started Fortified Castles, I was considering attempting longer narrative poems, which is something I’ve never really tried. I might go back to an older unfinished project like “Hounds of Love / Loss Leaders” (my attempt at sound poetry). It’s important for me to keep exploring what is possible in my practice. I like to make sure each project has a different approach so that I can keep myself on my toes and interested, because I think it’s way too tempting to write the same things over again.

More from Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan and I co-edited *Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry.

You can read the introductory essay for Why Poetry Sucks or read a negative review of the book that we also wrote (yes, a negative review of our own book written by us). Ryan also made a few comments as a follow-up in this short video.

Also, check out “Join the Wrinkle Resistance,” a great poem from Ryan’s first book, Fake Math (McNally | Amazon)!

And again, poems from Fortified Castles in various drafts you can compare.

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  1. THROW HATCHET
  2. ???
  3. PROFIT

Thanks to Cathleen Hjalmarson (for the photo) and to Prairie Fire magazine (for the fundraiser) and to some dude at Fort Gibraltar (for hatchet and hatchet lessons)