Sachiko Murakami is the author of the poetry collections The Invisibility Exhibit (Talonbooks, 2008), a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and Rebuild (Talonbooks, 2011). She has been a literary worker for numerous presses, journals, and organizations, and is Poetry Editor for Insomniac Press. She is the initiator of the online collaborative poetry projects Project Rebuild and PowellStreetHenko.ca. She lives in Toronto.
RUSTY TALK WITH SACHIKO MURAKAMI
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Sachiko Murakami: I would write fake diary entries about what me and my friends did after school. I would write these after school alone in my room (often hiding behind a piece of furniture), as I had no friends.
KM: Why did you become a poet?
SM: Um. See: friendless and hiding behind furniture, above. Clearly I was not going to be a professional soccer player.
KM: Could you describe your writing process? (For example, do you write every day? When? Where? How do you approach revision, etc.)
Step 1: Find something that hooks a thought into a line. Most often I find this happens while walking in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, reading a poem, waking in the middle of the night, etc.
Step 2: Scribble line down (usually on a smudgy receipt, as I am rather bad at keeping notebooks on hand).
Step 3: Bring line to page.
Step 4: Keep going.
Step 5: Revision is an evolutionary process. I wrestle around with the poem for a while, take a break, return, repeat. Then I bring the poem to someone else and watch as they politely break its beautiful legs. Then I begin again.
KM: Rejection or criticism can often stop writers before they start. Do you have any advice on how to deal with rejection?
SM: Stay open! Prepare yourself for the gifts criticism and rejection are going to give you: resilience, yes, but also a curiosity about your work, and better writing. Invite in editors who will politely break your poem's limbs (the key word being politely). Take a workshop. Start a writing group. Get used to criticism, and use criticism. Listen to the questions that are being asked of your poems. Take the serious questions seriously.
Rejection from publishers and literary journals is, for the most part, a numbers game. When I read for literary magazines, there would be a hundred poems submitted for every one page available.
If publication is your goal, then try your best to write publishable material. If writing is your goal, then keep writing.
KM: You used to co-host the Pivot Readings at The Press Club in Toronto. Do you have any advice or tips for new writers about performing their work in front of audience?
Don't: pre-explain your poems, get drunk beforehand, or go over your allotted time.
Do: Talk to your audience. Look at them. Invite them in to your poems. Go under time. Then thank your hosts and the bar.
KM: From your perspectives as an editor and poet, how would you describe the writer/editor relationship? What should a new writer expect once his or her manuscript is accepted by a publisher?
SM: See above re: breaking of limbs, asking serious questions. As an editor, I think I develop a stronger relationship with the manuscript than with the writer.
In terms of the publishing process, a first-book author can expect to develop the quality of patience. A manuscript passes through many busy hands before it becomes a book.
KM: Can you tell us about your collaborative poetry projects? What got you interested in collaborative poetry? What has the response been?
SM: ProjectRebuild.ca began when I invited some poets into a poem about a Vancouver Special (a type of house in Vancouver). I was interested in seeing how they would interpret my invitation to renovate it as they saw fit. I then had a friend, Starkaður Barkarson, create a website in which any of the poems can be "moved into" and "renovated". There has been a tremendous response to this project—over 200 poems on the site from contributors across the world. The source poem, "Vancouver Special", resides in my second collection, Rebuild.
PowellStreetHenko.ca is an online renga commissioned by the 2012 Powell Street Festival. A renga is a collaborative Japanese form in which each stanza is written by a new person. This renga expands outwards, as you can respond to every stanza in the poem (not just the last one written, as in a traditional renga). Powell Street Festival is a Japanese-Canadian festival held in Vancouver. They asked me to create something like Project Rebuild for them, and this is what I came up with (along with Starkaður). I travelled to Vancouver this summer to launch the project at the festival, and since then the poem has slowly grown as people reflect on change ("henko"), the theme of the poem.
Why do this? I like the idea of putting writing out there that can be taken and messed around with and misinterpreted and reused and repurposed. I like the discomfort it brings. I like prying my writing from my ego's fist. I like conversations.
KM: What is your funniest or favourite literary moment that you've experienced.
SM: Jacob McArthur Mooney leaving the stage during his reading at Pivot to buy the audience cotton candy from the street vendor passing by on Dundas. No wonder he's the new host.
KM: What are you working on now?
SM: Poems about airports/the struggle to stay present. A novel about fake orphans.
SACHIKO MURAKAMI'S RECENT WORKS
Rebuild, Talonbooks, 2011
Description from the publisher:
In a city ironically famous for its natural setting, the roving subject’s gaze naturally turns upward, past the condo towers which frame the protected “view corridors” at the heart of Vancouver’s municipally- guaranteed development plan. But look for the city, and one encounters “a kind of standing wave of historical vertigo, where nothing ever stops or grounds one’s feet in free-fall.”
Murakami approaches the urban centre through its inhabitants’ greatest passion: real estate, where the drive to own is coupled with the practice of tearing down and rebuilding. Like Dubai, where the marina looks remarkably like False Creek, Vancouver has become as much a city of cranes and excavation sites as it is of ocean and landscape. Rebuild engraves itself on the absence at the city’s centre, with its vacant civic square and its bulldozed public spaces. The poems crumble in the time it takes to turn the page, words flaking from the line like the rain-damaged stucco of a leaky condominium.
The city’s “native” residential housing style now troubles the eye with its plainness, its flaunting of restraint, its ubiquity. What does it mean to inhabit and yet despise the “Vancouver Special”; to attempt to build poems in its style, when a lyric is supposed to be preciously unique, but similar, in its stanzas or “rooms,” to other lyric poems? What does it mean to wake from a dream in which one buys a presale in a condo development—and is disappointed to have awoken?
In the book’s final section, the poems turn inward, to the legacy left by Murakami’s father, who carried to his death the burden of the displaced and disinherited: the house seized by the government during WWII, having previously seized the land from its native inhabitants—a “mortgage” from which his family has never truly recovered.
The Invisibility Exhibit, Talonbooks, 2008
Description from the publisher:
These poems were written in the political and emotional wake of the “Missing Women” of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Although women had been going missing from the neighbourhood since the late 1970s, police efforts were not coordinated into a full-scale investigation until the issue was given widespread public visibility by Lori Culbert, Lindsay Kines and Kim Bolan’s 2001 “Missing Women” series in the Vancouver Sun. This media coverage, combined with the efforts of activists in political and cultural sectors, finally resulted in increased official investigative efforts, which have so far led to the arrest of Robert Pickton, on whose property the remains of twenty-seven of the sixty-eight listed women were found. In December 2007, Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in what had become one the highest-profile criminal cases to take place in B.C.’s history; yet this is not the focus of this book.
As the title suggests, the concern of this project is an investigation of the troubled relationship between this specific marginalized neighbourhood, its “invisible” populations both past and present, and the wealthy, healthy city that surrounds it. These poems interrogate the comfortable distance from which the public consumes the sensationalist news story by turning their focus toward the normative audience, the equally invisible public. In the speaker’s examination of this subject, assumptions and delineations of community, identity and ultimately citizenship are called into question. Projects such as Lincoln Clarkes’ controversial Heroines photographic series and subsequent book (Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2002), news stories, and even the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games circulate intertextually in this manuscript, while Pickton’s trial is intentionally absent.
Irritated by complacency, troubled by determinate narrative and the relationship between struggle and the artistic representation of struggle, Murakami is a poet bewildered by her city’s indifference to the neglect of its inhabitants.
Photo by David Ellingsen
Elizabeth Bachinsky is the author of three collections of poetry, CURIO (BookThug, 2005), HOME OF SUDDEN SERVICE (Nightwood Editions, 2006), and GOD OF MISSED CONNECTIONS (Nightwood Editions, 2009). Her work has been nominated for the Pat Lowther Award (2010), the Kobzar Literary Award (2010), The George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature (2010) the Governor General's Award for Poetry (2006), and the Bronwen Wallace Award (2004) and has appeared in literary journals, anthologies, and on film in Canada, the United States, France, Ireland, England, China, and Lebanon. She lives in Vancouver where she is an instructor of creative writing and the Editor of EVENT magazine.
RUSTY TALK WITH ELIZABETH BACHINSKY
Sara Jane Strickland: What is your first memory of being creative?
Elizabeth Bachinsky: I pretended I was a small woodland creature, like a squirrel or a bunny in a burrow, late at night under the covers in my princess bed in Prince George B.C., circa 1980.
SJS: How would you describe your writing process?
EB: Intermittent. Furious. Private. Hurray! Writing is one of my favorite things to do. No, it is my favorite because, when I’m writing, that means I’m also reading and watching movies and going for walks and talking with friends or making new friends. It also means I have plenty of time to relax and be by myself. Also, I try not to pay too much attention to what I’m writing until I have a big pile of material to shuffle through. So, I guess I kind of try and sneak up on myself so as not to scare myself away. It can be a daunting idea to try and write a book. So, I just write a little whenever I can. Some of what I write happens by hand in notebooks and some it happens on the computers or on my phone. Eventually I get this feeling that something is cooking. Then I type and print everything out and take a look at what’s going on. If nothing comes clear, I just keep writing. But, usually, some fascination of mine comes to the fore and I’m off. I can start to give the thing a shape. All of my books, so far, have happened this way.
SJS: What is the revision process like for you?
EB: The trick, for me, is to think of revision as sculpting: best to start off with a lot of material and take away and take away until the thing reveals itself. Luckily, writers don’t work in stone. We can put stuff back where it was. Or add new material where it’s needed. That can be fun. And there’s nothing like the feeling of lopping off giant hunks of your book. Best not to get precious. Poems tell me what they need and don’t need, if I pay attention.
SJS: Rejection can stop new writers before they start. How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
EB: I try to ignore it. But, when I can’t, I celebrate. Rejection means you’re in the game, baby. You’ve got ambition and you’re not sitting back on your laurels. I celebrate rejection and move on.
SJS: What is the best thing about being a writer and the worst thing?
EB: For me, the best thing about being a writer is that I get to meet all kinds of people from all over the world and get to travel to places I never thought I would go. Let’s hear it for hospitality suites and hotel shower caps. And some of my poems get to travel even farther than I do. There is my little poem in Beirut! And there it is again in Mainland China! That is super cool. The worst thing? Well… if there was a worst thing, I wouldn’t do it, OK? I have a very low tolerance for agony. Basically, I’m a poet. And there is very little incentive for anyone to write poetry, ever. So, the only reason to do it is because it gives you pleasure or it ignites some curiosity in you somewhere that you simply can’t do without. The moment it becomes laborious or agonizing or whatever, I think I’ll stop writing poetry and do something else.
SJS: What are you working on right now?
EB: My new book is called The Hottest Summer in Recorded History. It will be out in the Spring of 2013 with Nightwood Editions.
ELIZABETH BACHINSKY'S MOST RECENT POETRY BOOK
God of Missed Connections, Nightwood Editions, 2009
Description from Nightwood Editions:
Written in the near absence of creative works by Ukrainian Canadians of her generation, God of Missed Connections is a breakthrough collection by one of Canada's leading young poets. This book is profound, devastating, and draws on Ukraine's brave and bloody history as a means to explore the author’s place in the contemporary world.
"This book explores a century of cultural assimilation in the West, an experience that is not unique to a Ukrainian-Canadian sensibility. In this book, I wanted to capture the sense of what it feels like to not know where you're from, to be looking for connections, and to come up with ghosts. God of Missed Connections is just the way I've gone about sifting through my own cultural detritus. What makes it through time, what doesn’t? That's what interests me."
Karen Schindler is the managing director of the Poetry London Reading Series and a contract researcher at UWO’s Faculty of Education. Previous professions include chemical engineer, systems analyst, and high-school teacher. Her poetry and poetry book reviews have been published in literary journals such as The Antigonish Review, the Fiddlehead, the Malahat Review, and The Windsor ReView, and she was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC literary awards and longlisted for Descant's 2011 Winston Collins Prize.She has served as a grant juror for the Ontario Arts Council and a judge for the Hamilton Literary Awards. Her chapbook press, Baseline Press, was launched in the fall of 2011.
RUST TALK WITH KAREN SCHINDLER
Kathryn Mockler: Why did you decide to start a chapbook press?
KS: Because I was pretty sure I would love it. I’ve spent the last nine years happily becoming more and more immersed in poetry. Doing some writing. Organizing readings. Going to workshops and literary festivals. Picking up some editing and reviewing skills. And reading poetry—books and books of poetry. A friend, Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley, published a chapbook with Jack Pine Press in 2008, and it just blew me away—the book itself. It was such a beautiful thing. A piece of art. I wanted to be involved in the making of something like that. And I saw it as a natural extension of the other poetry-related things I’d been doing.
KM: Why is it called Baseline Press?
KS: London is home to two Baseline Roads—I’ve lived on one of them for the last 15 years, and I grew up on a side street of the other. Also, a baseline is a starting point--something basic and essential to refer back to. Although running a press is a continuation of the things I’ve been doing, I like to think of it as a taking-off point for me, and hopefully for some of the poets I’ll publish too.
KM: Who is in the fall line up? Is there a particular theme for the press or how did you choose your authors?
KS: I’m launching three poetry chapbooks this fall--The Black Car by Christine Walde, Sputniks by Andy McGuire, and Cardiogram by Danielle Devereaux. The London launch is Wed. Nov. 2 at Brennan’s Beer & Bistro. And we’re doing a joint launch with Cactus Press in Toronto on Thu. Nov. 3, as part of the Livewords Reading Series.
Christine and Andy I’ve known for several years through the Poetry London Reading Series. And Danielle I met two years ago at a poetry festival. They’re all terrific poets on their way to publishing their first full-length collections. The chapbook is the perfect stepping stone towards that.
I’m also publishing two single-poem broadsides—by Jeffery Donaldson and Sharon McCartney. As well as helping new writers take that first dip into the publishing pond, I’m looking forward to working with more established poets who I admire.
KM: How many books are in each edition?
KS: 75 copies of each chapbook, and 50 copies of each broadside. Those numbers may change from year to year, as I figure out demand.
KM: How did you approach book design?
KS: I did a lot of playing around before I approached any poets—made a few mock-ups using a dozen poems by Wallace Stevens. Pretended it was the real thing—shopped for cover stock and fly-leaf, chose a title, designed a cover, experimented with layout. This gave me an example to present to my prospective authors. Once each poet was on-board, the design was very much a joint effort. Each provided input regarding paper, graphics, etc. I made suggestions they didn’t like, and vice versa. Compromise is a given.
KM: What surprised you the most about the process of launching a press?
KS: I was overwhelmed by the support of the small-press community. I knew very little about how it all worked—paper suppliers? printing options? poet royalties? A few presses in particular—Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 (Ottawa), and Jim Johnstone’s Cactus Press (Toronto)—were over-the-top helpful. Seemed not the least bit bothered by my endless emails and phone calls. Everyone who does this seems to be in it for the love of poetry, and there’s a nice camaraderie between the presses. I’ve seen this at the small-press fairs I’ve attended too. So I’ve never felt stuck at any point this year. Good advice was always an email away.
The other surprise was how much I enjoyed the hands-on work—the paper cutting, the folding, the thread binding. It became kind of a meditative thing for me. I bought a terrific German-made rotary paper cutter, which I’ve kind of become addicted to (if anyone has any paper they need cutting…)
KM: Did you face any challenges?
KS: My first year has involved a tremendous amount of work, that’s for sure. Especially because I don’t yet have the funds to buy publishing and design software that allows for shortcuts. But I was prepared to put some hours into this. One thing that perhaps took me the whole year to figure out (and that I still can’t get my head around) is how much mistake paper I’d go through…
KM: Do you have any specific goals for the future?
KS: I would love to have access to a letter-press machine at some point. Especially for broadsides.
KM: London's had a rich art and literary history. As a poet, reviewer, reading event organizer, and now publisher, can you tell us a little bit about the literary scene in London, Ontario today?
KS: The Poetry London Reading Series, started by poet Cornelia Hoogland, is at the top of my list. Over the last seven years we’ve featured some of the country’s best (Lorna Crozier, coming October 19th!) as well as giving local writers a chance to take the stage. The poetry community that has grown around the series and the associated workshops is a dedicated group. And we’re always looking for new poetry aficionados. The series runs out of Landon Library in Wortley Village.
And there’s plenty more going on in London. We’re home to a number of excellent writers. Poet Laureate Penn Kemp has done a great job stirring things up this year—with her “Poetry in Motion” bus project, for example. London’s Kitty Lewis, general manager of Brick Books (one of the country’s top publishing houses) is a huge local poetry cheerleader. The London Writers Society is a big support to the city’s writers. And then there are the people you don’t hear so much about, who are doing their thing every day to nurture literature in the community—English teacher Ola Nowosad, who was involved in the Poetry In Voice high school recitation pilot project this year; Kelly Bradley, who facilitates the Grit Uplifted creative writing group for people who are homeless; Amy Van Es, who just launched Writtle Magazine. There are dozens more. Hats off to all of them.
KM: Do you have any advice for new writers and aspiring editors or publishers?
KS: The piece of advice I keep coming back to, concerning all things creative, was given to me six years ago when I attended a writing program at Banff. I was very new to writing and when I saw the work of some of the other participants, I was convinced that I was only there due to some fluky clerical error. One day one of the faculty, novelist Curtis Gillespie, told me that years earlier, when he himself had attended the program as a student, he had felt the same way. But he kept at it. And he told me that if you took all those intimidating writers he’d been thrown in with, and looked at where they were at today, you’d find that very few of them were still writing and getting published. But he was. Point being, to do something, you don’t have to be the best at it right off the bat. The desire to DO it counts for an awful lot.
Photo by John W. MacDonald
Zachariah Wells is the author of Unsettled (Insomniac Press 2004) and Track & Trace (Biblioasis 2009) and the co-author, with Rachel Lebowitz, of Anything But Hank! (Biblioasis 2008), a children's story illustrated by Eric Orchard. He is also the editor of Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets (Biblioasis 2008) and The Essential Kenneth Leslie (Porcupine's Quill 2010). Originally from PEI, Wells lives in Halifax, where he works as a freelance writer and editor, and seasonally for Via Rail aboard the Ocean Ltd.
Zachariah will be reading at the International Festival of Authors October 19-30, 2011.
RUSTY TALK WITH ZACHARIAH WELLS
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first come to writing poetry?
Zachariah Wells: As with most things in my life, quite by accident. I always thought I'd be a writer, but had a vague notion that I'd write novels. I wasn't really into poetry. Then I wrote a couple of plays because I was in a theatre society. Then I took a couple of classes in university that introduced me to modern poets writing in an idiom I recognized and identified with, and I just started writing poems.
KM: What keeps you going as a poet? Or why do you write?
ZW: I try only to write when I really feel compelled to. As a consequence, I often go weeks between poems. So I don't really keep going. I just chug and sputter along. I keep at it because I have yet to grow bored of it.
KM: What is the revision process like for you?
ZW: Teachers tend to hate it when I answer this question, because the fact is that it is usually pretty light. I do a lot of my writing in my head, so by the time I start typing something out, it's already gone through several imaginary "drafts." Revision for me tends to be more a matter of figuring out which poems are worth keeping and which to ditch. That said, it took me many years of practice to get to this point. I used to spill out very rough drafts and then hack and chip away at them till they either fell apart or attained some kind of shape. It wasn't until I'd internalised revision as a process that I started writing the way I do now.
KM: How would you describe the writer/editor relationship?
ZW: Depends entirely on the editor. I've been on both sides of the table, so it's a dynamic I'm pretty comfortable with. An editor should make as strong a case for whatever changes s/he thinks necessary, but needs also to respect the writer's wishes. But the writer better be able to come up with a good reason for rejecting an editor's suggestion. Any writer who won't listen to a good editor's counsel is a fool.
KM: What authors or books would you recommend to new poets?
ZW: As many as possible. It's only by reading deeply and widely that you'll figure out who you are as a writer and what you might be capable of.
KM: A piece of literary advice for new poets?
ZW: How about a piece of extra-literary advice? Because life and work are not separate things: take chances in your life. Don't follow the path of least resistance. The more interesting things you do and the more weird things that happen to you, the more you'll have to write about and the more wisdom you'll bring to the task.
KM: Do you have any advice to help new writers prepare to read their work to an audience? How do you prepare?
ZW: Know it inside and out. Memorize it. Read it aloud to yourself, to your partner, to your pets. Record it and play it back. Respect your audience. They came to hear you, so make it as good as you can. If you're not comfortable with public speaking, get involved in amateur theatre, take voice lessons, etc. A reading should be something to enjoy, not tolerate.
KM: Your funniest literary moment, if you have one.
ZW: A well-known poet and philosopher once offered me condolences on the diminutive stature of my membrum virile. It's more funny because of who it was than what she said.
KM: What you are working on now?
ZW: This fall/winter, I'm collating and revising eight years' worth of literary criticism for book publication. I'm also editing a collection of poems by the excellent senior poet John Smith. And I'll probably write a few poems, but maybe not.
ZACHARIAH WELLS' MOST RECENT BOOK
Track and Trace, Biblioasis, 2009
Description from Biblioasis:
The poems in Zachariah Wells’s second collection range from childhood to dimly foreseen events in the future; they idle on all three of Canada’s coasts, travel the open road, take walks in the city and pause on the banks of country streams and ponds. Using an eclectic array of techniques and forms, from haiku to a crown of sonnets, in a voice that is personal but never private, Wells sketches a fragmentary biography of a life in progress, a study of post-industrial nomadic restlessness in a rootless age. Both elegiac and celebratory, Track & Trace considers how we live, how we shape our lives and how we are eroded and drifted by time and circumstance.
Rusty Talk Editor: