Internet Poetry Round-Up #4

I never get tired of poetry that perfects that trick of finding images that are unexpected, yet crisp with just the right feeling. In this week’s poems, the ordinary is made strange, with imagery of the natural world turning our ways of relating to each other into something both expansive and profoundly living.

love poem with aphids” by Ash Davida Jane

from Peach Mag

“every morning I am thankful that you are not

                                                 hundreds of bees swarming

            in the form of a person”

Quoted are the opening lines of this poem, and they set off an extended metaphor full of vivid sensory imagery and, despite the fear a swarm of bees might strike in some readers, nothing but tenderness. This piece feels like summer and longing, a never-close-enough feeling perfectly expressed by the truth that not even atoms can ever fully touch.

 

Radio Dress” by Jessica MacEachern

from Canthius

“In the jarring feedback there is an uncanny home”

The use of space in this poem reinforces its thoughts on the distortion of information. It’s short and simple, but suggests a task of poetry itself, especially pertinent in our time — that from the “technological chaos”, the poet can translate something living and primal: a heartbeat, animal footsteps. It’s this turn in the final lines, this crisp sonic image, that keeps me coming back to this piece.

 

Hotel” by Gabriella R. Tallmadge

from The Boiler 

“Each night I drowned under the drumming

of the ocean’s great retelling”

This poem has the rhythm and grand imagery of a wintry myth. It feels like something read aloud, to recite in circles, over and over again. The images are cryptic, yet precise, icons of a moment, and through them the small space of a hotel room becomes expansive, filled with an impossible wilderness.

 

I had a hard time choosing just one poem from The Boiler Magazine once I started reading, and I would strongly recommend perusing more of Issue 31 — other favourite pieces of mine from the issue are “Hidden Valley” by Alli Cruz, and “Town Under Lake” by Alicia Wright.

high water: video

 

One of the best parts of winter on the west coast is seeing the ocean during storm season. I filmed this video at Sitchanalth / Willows Beach last week, when high winds and several days of rain had pulled the full force of the elements into play even along this relatively sleepy stretch of shore. The combined force of the waves and a rushing outflow shook the railing I sat on to take some of the clips, and the whole scene was a reminder that the ocean remains wild and powerful, even as it creeps ever-closer to our well-ordered suburban parks. The editing emphasizes patterns and sounds (and a little of the impossible) — watch with headphones if you can, and take a moment to enjoy this small shoreline meditation.

Internet Poetry Round-Up #3

Internet Poetry Round-Up is back for the new year, and there are more great poems on my mind than I know what to do with. This batch of poems are ones I haven’t been able to close the tab on, full of strange imagery that pulls me back in to keep searching for meaning, again and again.

Elegy for My Sadness” by Chen Chen

from Breakwater Review

“I wish it could / unbelong itself from me, unstick / from my face.”

This poem is a necklace of utterly unexpected words and phrases, linked seamlessly with repetitions. It’s a fresh, honest and strange perspective on depression and the frustration of having sadness always present, “unsweet, uncharming, completely uninteresting”. It’s a colloquial and grounded, full of sharp-edged truth, with an ending that sits heavy in your chest long after you’ve read it.

“Poem Where The Poet Lies Through Her Teeth” by Gabrielle Hogan

from Ghost City Press

“my / dream girl is a sheet of paper folded in / on itself, & then again, & then again”

This poem pulls the reader in effortlessly through the free-flowing anaphora on “my dream girl”, then sticks in your head with its series of omen-dark images. There is an incredible sense of heartache in the pull between the statements being the opposite of what you expect, and the fact that the same rule of opposition suggests some truth behind the imagery, despite the title; the truth, perhaps, that dreams are never what you want them to be. It’s a tightly written piece, fitted together like a precise and unsettling puzzle, a rubik’s cube of haunting.

They were forced to imagine it through a prism” by Katelyn Oppegard

from Snail Trail Press

“yet every time it snows the air smells the                                                               same”

This poem is a prismatic landscape of fragments, expansive and spread across the page in a way that makes you feel surrounded by it, as if by spreading out the text a real space is carved out to let the moments breathe and mingle. It feels like a celebration of all the small details of nature, all the tiny miracles that can so easily appear and disappear. It’s a long piece, and only loosely held together, but well worth lingering in to savour the playful and delicate moments of life and language it carries.

And from this piece, one more phrase you’ve never seen before:

“a parakeet eats a pickle and is dilled on the spot”

Happy new year, and happy poetry!

What I’m listening to: Oncle Jazz by Men I Trust

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Ever since it was released in September, I’ve been listening to Oncle Jazz on repeat. Men I Trust has the perfect balance of relaxing and upbeat sounds to make this album great background listening for all occasions. There’s a certain level of pop brightness, simmered down to a laid-back and atmospheric Montreal sound, that makes this album appeal to all kinds of listeners while still maintaining its own dreamy D.I.Y. sensibilities.

The album compiles eight of the singles the band has released since 2017, along with sixteen new tracks for a substantial 71 minute runtime. While the original singles are still the catchiest tracks, the new music takes us deeper into the soundscape, drawing the listener into a world of synthy riffs and laid-back beats. The songs of the past two years have already secured the band a strong place as rising stars of the Canadian indie scene, with many of the music videos garnering two or three million views, but the album fills out their sound in a way we haven’t seen since 2015’s Headroom, with more consistency and confidence than in the more experimental angles of that album.

I’ve grown quite fond of the album art as well, and the cassette comes with the special treat of a lyric booklet that, while you might need a magnifying glass to actually read it, contains several bonus doodles of the charming little fellow from the cover. The cassette also emphasizes the symmetry of the album: the second side starts with “Fiero GT”, a shorter track with a spoken sample towards the end that mirrors the opening track, “Oncle Jazz”; and the penultimate track is an instrumental reprise of “Tailwhip”, which appears early in the album. The album is available on CD and vinyl as well, and whatever your medium of choice, this is a polished, feel-good album well worth diving into.

Listen or buy on Bandcamp

Stream the full album on Youtube

Internet Poetry Round-Up #2

Most of this week’s poems experiment with form, and play with language and repetition; all four convey an intense immersion in an experience, some aspect of the everyday becoming symbolic or even prophetic.

 

Sonnet for speech too soft & you who’ve yet to choose a name” by Sam Rush

from Glass: A Journal of Poetry

“Today I keep / the speaker out of me for long enough / to watch a swallow swoon the ghost of song.”

The musicality in this piece is incredible. It reads as easily as free verse but maintains the sonnet form in its constraint to 14 lines and (mostly?) iambic pentameter. Far from these limitations stiffening the piece, they increase the already powerful emotional urgency: repetitions and striking images create a vision both mythic and grounded, comprised of delicate and vivid moments of listening.

 

harvest” by Erin Emily Ann Vance

from Train: a poetry journal

“I wondered / how much of us had become honey and wine”

A sweet poem in more way than one; the love the speaker has for the “you” flows through run-on imagery of honey and bees and gentleness and getting by. The imagery early in the poem of the affectionate handling of the bees draws a character I can’t help but fall for too.

 

who gets anything for keeps?” by Patrycja Humienik

from Dream Pop Press

“somebody with a word that could fill an entire mouth”

The scattered form of this poem suggests the same sense of a busy city street and disjointedness that the imagery conveys. The piece muses on language that surrounds but is disconnected, uncommunicative. What’s left is minutia: crosswalk symbols, flowers and mouths reduced to component parts, coming together in a piece both thoughtful and atmospheric.

 

Stock Footage (kick and spin)” by Lydia Unsworth

from talking about strawberries all of the time

“and we are so warm without even a fireplace or a mantra”

This piece reads like a sexy montage film of everyday life, a delightfully specific stream-of-consciousness. A certain lust for life persists through the scenes, the body retaining an immediacy and magic among mundane daily tasks. The length and unpunctuated prose form can make the poem a bit daunting to read through, but this also creates a fast immediacy and immersiveness. I keep finding myself going back to re-read the poem, but in bits and pieces, cutting it together in new ways like the “stock footage” title suggests.

 

Internet Poetry Round-Up #1

The internet is chock-full of great poems, and as I’ve been scouting out magazines to send my own poetry to, I’ve had the pleasure of reading all kinds of amazing work. I’d like to start sharing a few of my favourite poems each week, and would love to hear what you’re reading as well!

 

“For my friends, who save me” by Lily Wang

from The Puritan

            “A tower of sparrows, dirty and simple.”

The imagery in this poem gives me shivers. The focus on birds gives the mind’s eye something to work with, but it skews sideways, is made strange, and is cavalier about this strangeness. The imagery moves from absurd, to cute, to practical, to dangerous, quickly and unapologetically. The grammar of the piece magnifies this tension: mid-line spaces, shifts between longer and very short sentences, and tight repetitions all keep the reader slightly off balance. This piece wastes no space; simple language and tight metaphors practically vibrate with subtext.

 

“terrestrial helium” by Sam Avery

from Half a Grapefruit Magazine

            “in the end, we were all very wrong about helium”

This piece spins the reader effortlessly between outer space and everyday life. A conversational voice divides ideas neatly into small poems-within-a-poem, then weaves them back together. I’m a long-time fan of the seemingly disparate emotional resonances that can be found rattling around in the supposedly cold-hard-facts world of science, and the subdivided structure of this poem is an effective way of stringing the different elements of the piece together while keeping the pacing tight. The light voice and the odd juxtapositions keep the underlying subject matter of interpersonal tensions fresh.

 

“You Cut my Hair” by Kara Goughnour

from Oceans & Time by Honey & Lime Lit

            “ each thin sensation of love      a spider wisp”

This piece gets me right in the heart. The imagery is buzzing with sensory immediacy, running together in a prose-y & punctuation-less form. The images flow in a natural order, bound together by small repetitions, but the form encourages you to feel them all at once, suggesting the heightened vividness small moments can take on, especially in love.

 

What I’m Reading: Houses & Apartments Under 1000 Square Feet, ed. Yuri Caravaca Gallardo

At the library recently, I picked a copy of Yuri Caravaca Gallardo’s Houses & Apartments Under 1000 Square Feet, a photo-book showcasing small houses and apartments. At up to 1000 square feet, many of the spaces featured are still bigger than a lot of everyday studio and one-bedroom apartments — but the emphasis is on spaces that do more with less, focusing on creative and functional modern design solutions.

In an ever more populated world — and with major cities even here in Canada becoming increasingly expensive to live in — architecture focused on making the most of small spaces seems particularly germane. The country most represented in the collection is Japan, a country often associated with dense population centres and innovative, minimalist solutions. But micro-design has a place anywhere — not just to make space in large cities, but to live more sustainably and economically in any environment.

Modernist minimal aesthetics are prominent in the collection: for example, one of the last buildings showcased, Satoshi Kurosaki’s “Ring” is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s “Villa Savoye,” and hits several of his “5 Points of a New Architecture,” most noticeably ribbon windows and a free façade. The building also features a fairly open inner floor plan, and a cantilevered second-floor ring of steel and concrete that hangs over the front entryway, reminiscent of Villa Savoye’s pilotis. These modernist principles of openness and simplicity certainly have a place in micro-architecture, avoiding clutter and claustrophobia; but the most modernist of the structures also can seem cold, or evoke an elite and luxurious sense with sleek materials.

More exciting are the personalized solutions, and other, fresher trends that emerge. Creative use of vertical space is a key factor, with many of the houses situated on tiny or irregularly shaped lots — zig-zagged floor plans with lofts and built-in storage are a frequent occurrence. There is also an emphasis on light and openness — large windows are common, using light “to amplify the space” (Gallardo 136); and “permeability” is cited in many designs — trees that cross indoors, cutting through storeys, are found in both “Love House” and “3×9 House” (one of my personal favourites), adding a whimsical touch that questions the whole notion of ‘confined space.’

Attention to flow through the space and the particular needs of the inhabitants is also emphasized in many of the designs — while this might not be a recipe for universally functional apartment units, it does lead to some of the most impressive optimizations of space. Naoto Mitsumoto and Naoko Hamana’s “nr1977” fits a family of six into 769 square feet. The primary innovation here is the implementation of two rectangular blocks that allow flow both around and above them. The tops of the blocks leave just over one metre of space to the ceiling, allowing room for play areas and desk space for the family’s children, with bed-sized modules as well as storage space below.

Another particularly economical example is Maziar Behrooz Architecture’s “Container Art Studio” is made of two metal shipping containers on a concrete foundation that utilizes the natural slope of the property. While this particular space’s singular purpose leaves it quite spacious, it was specifically designed for affordability, and inspires questions of how much could be done with simple re-purposed modules.

And even the bizarre is functional in these small spaces — SPACESPACE’s “Ground and Above Roof House” features what Gallardo calls a “strange mound” (123) — a boulder-like concrete structure in the middle of the ground floor, which actually houses the bathroom! However, by situating this space down a few steps and covering it with the upholstered mound, seating and storage pockets are also provided on top (as well as a fascinating focal point for the entryway). This house also includes carefully considered window placements, and the mound is meant to collect solar heat.

These designs, as shown in the collection, all have a certain artistic finesse, with furnishings integrated into the concept for unity, and everything carefully displayed for professional photos. But there are takeaways for more everyday spaces as well, whether in designing low-cost apartments or in making the most of existing small spaces. How can we make use of overlooked areas, whether that means building on unusual lots or just finding ways to use vertical and peripheral space? What functions are really needed, and how can a natural flow through a space be accommodated? How can natural light and heat, as well as aesthetic integrations with the environment, be maximized? Micro-architecture is, at its heart, about optimization — and as such, is a fascinating avenue for designing a more sustainable future.

 

References

Gallardo, Yuri Caravaca, ed. Houses & Apartments Under 1000 Square Feet. Buffalo, New   York: Firefly Books, 2013

“Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture.” Wikipedia. October 08, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier’s_Five_Points_of_Architecture.

 

Photos & further info:

Ring

Love House

3 x 9 House

nr1977

Container Art Studio

Ground and Above Roof House

What I’m reading: Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Pond is one of those books I read 20 pages of and then had to stop myself from immediately trying to write something just like it. The voice, circuitous and vivid, sticks in your head.

The book is Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, and while it seems to be categorized as a short story collection, it also reminds me of some poetic novels; there’s one narrator and one central place, anchoring several stories or chapters comprised mostly of stream-of-consciousness observations, often with some inciting event but rarely with any strong external drama or tension. Bennett doesn’t follow any rules of storytelling: there isn’t an overarching plot, nor a real plot to any of the stories, nor any major shift except digging deeper, perhaps, into the narrator’s psychology, and a small sense that change will happen, inevitably and with little agency, towards the end of the book. Stories centre around things as minute as trying to replace oven knobs, or the colour of ink in a fountain pen. Characters are rarely named and there are no consistent or particularly significant character relationships, nor much direct dialogue; the broadest sense of the narrator’s life comes from a phone conversation with her father in one of the last stories, “Over and Done With,” and the suggestion of history and something ongoing is almost jarring in a book so firmly rooted in present thought & sensation.

I’m a sucker for stories without much story, mostly because it justifies me writing things that are about image and language and states of being but not plot. After all, life rarely has much of a plot anyway, and these minutia of everyday life carry a real honest weight if we let them.

The early part of the book alternates between longer stories and short vignettes (including a two-paragraph ode to tomato puree), but in the later third of the book there are more and more long stories and the weight of it all shifts in proportion. What begins as reasonably light-hearted eccentricity takes on a slightly more melancholy cast; the balance of the narration shifts from outward descriptions to a closer sense of the narrator herself, her psyche and the drifting patterns she’s caught up in, the tenuous ways she forms identity. This tension between internal and external reality seems central to the book, and as it goes on you get a sense of the person emerging from the voice; you move from a sense of timeless oddity to a clearer picture of a life.

It’s a book about food & love & dirt; about solitude and anxiety, but in no clichéd or all-consuming sense. With a narrator indifferent to anyone else’s rules, Bennett moves between every kind of odd and uncomfortable and irreverent truth about day-to-day life. It’s a book I’d like to read at least three more times — each story is full of turns of phrase  worth chewing on, flavours and textures worth examining from every angle, and observations that haunt you until you can tease them apart.

Can robots write poetry??: poem.exe

What does it mean if robots can write poetry? As artificial intelligence grows, don’t we always turn to the arts as the last refuge and proof of humanity? Do bots like poem.exe prove that there’s nothing technology can’t do?? Is all poetry a scam???

Probably not; the bot is created by a human, after all, and so are its source materials: according to the poem.exe website, the basis for the poems is a corpus comprised largely of English translations of haiku, supplemented by other short poetry and some word substitutions. The project is less proof of a robot uprising than a continuation of the long-standing poetic tradition of found poetry, which dates back as far as 4th century centos comprised of re-assembled Virgil. But projects like this are exciting in that they continue to raise questions about what poetry can be, and how new tools can create new ways to play with language.

poem.exe has long been one of my favourite twitter bots because its products are consistently charming: while not every tweet is a winner, the bot consistently produces captivating imagery, and in some ways the incongruity of the random selection only heightens the effect: poetry is about making things new, about seeing the world in fresh and vivid ways, and a bot’s lack of self-doubt leaves it free to make bold (though sometimes absurd) juxtapositions. Like a human poet, the bot “reads” a selection of poetry and then assembles its own work, in this case based on constraints for the number of lines and appropriateness to the current season; unlike a human poet, the bot is relatively unfettered by more abstract concerns with what might be considered “good” or “bad.”

Drawing from haiku is perhaps a particularly strong choice in terms of creating enjoyable poetry without human intervention; my impressions from what I’ve learned about Eastern poetic traditions, especially haiku and Taoist poetry, is that these poetics aren’t necessarily meant to be about individual human experiences — the poet is a vehicle for conveying wisdom and emotion that already exists, through simple and vivid descriptions of nature. If these observational forms of poetry are about reducing the speaker’s presence to create a truer vision of the world, maybe this further step away through the use of technology can allow an even purer view, or at least create another layer of meaning.

Ultimately, poem.exe might just be a fun project and a soothing presence in the twitter-sphere. But any way that technology can be used to play with the boundaries of art — to connect old and new in unexpected ways — strikes me as a hint as to how we can continue to move forward: to create poetry that engages with the digital world not just superficially, but structurally; to create art that keeps up with the internet’s frenetic pace, yet remains an oasis among it.

What I’m listening to: Parallel Person by VARSITY

listen here: varsity.bandcamp.com/album/parallel-person

Listening to VARSITY on repeat has become a summer tradition for me. I first discovered the band in summer 2016, and spent long bus rides to work shuffling through Cult of Personality/So Sad, So Sad and the self-titled album; last summer I dug into the older, more rock-y EPs and learned all the words to Still Apart while trying to hold onto long-distance relationships and friendships. So I was eagerly awaiting Parallel Person, and it’s begun to worm its way into my seasonal consciousness just as its predecessors did.

On first listen, the album is both what you would expect from the progression of VARSITY’s previous work, and maybe also a bit lacklustre, with a mellower and cleaner sound, and a slower pace that lacks some of the earlier albums’ more punk-y edge. But after a few more listens, especially with a decent-quality stereo, the subtleties become increasingly intoxicating. And while a sunshiney sound is one thing that keeps me coming back to VARSITY each summer, the true hook is the quirky and honest portrayals of interpersonal relationships, specific in story but universal in the underlying emotions; this album takes the space to dive into this aspect, with a number of characters being introduced.

“Settle Down” didn’t excite me all that much as a single; while the video, with its ever-growing procession of kooky characters, is endearing and fun, art about making art runs the risk of being too self-reflexive, and maybe a bit lacking in emotional intensity. But “Must Be Nice” adds a more driving energy, with rock refrains more reminiscent of the band’s earlier work. This song, along with ones like “Isolation” and “Lied for You” emerge as the higher-energy and catchier pieces of the album. But what becomes increasingly intriguing in even the mellower tracks is the push and pull; there’s a delicacy to the lighter pieces, with sunny pop sounds moving in and out of minor-key dissonance and lyrics that trace the complicated territory of changing relationships.

The most new and exciting aspects of the album appear in some of the later songs, where experiments with instrumental aspects emerge; “Discipline” has a haunting quality, fading out almost completely before returning to a final refrain. The final track, “Alone in My Principles,” runs a confident eight and a half minutes, and feels like a conclusion to both the lyrical and musical themes of the album — speaking of both loneliness and growth, and building through echoey repetitions that let you really sink into the synthy sounds. This track is a personal favourite of mine — I have a predictable weakness for “songs about leaving,” and this is certainly one; what starts as driving away weaves itself into a more complex exploration of the process of trying to re-create yourself, with the hollow backdrop of loneliness and impermanence. But ultimately the refrain is “I will go on;” ultimately the track is both haunting and strangely uplifting.

Parallel Person has the finesse that comes from being a more mature album, with layers well worth digging into. As always, VARSITY captures the complicated realities that come with growing older, but always with a sense of catharsis or lightness; and as my own life gets more uncertain, the message to carry seems to be this optimism — to accept and even celebrate the complications, and keep moving forward.