#mywritingprocess

I got this hashtag stuck on my back by Ryan Pratt of deadletterbirds, whom I met after several months of online back-and-forth for Puritan Magazine and after a very short GO bus ride to  Hamilton.

What am I working on?

Revisions to my first manuscript of poems, in part submitted as my MA in Creative Writing thesis. Some of the poems are the age of young children. There is a publisher that has shown a needle waver’s of interest, so there’s a bit of a deadline to my finishing up this draft, and I write best with a sense of real or imagined urgency. Last summer, I finished a chapbook of poems about emergencies and economies, and it’ll be part of another MS that I have mapped out in an orange Moleskine. So I have enough work for the next 2-3 years, which feels wonderful.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Impossible question. I don’t think originality is necessarily my main concern. Mat Laporte once said that what he finds notable of my poems is how much care I take. And this is true: I care about my reader, I want to carry them. Denise Duhamel has noted the “almost cruel lack of finality” of my poems. This is also true. If I’m going to put a knife in my readers I don’t want them to feel it going in.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do because of my very presence in history and in space is circumstantial– because my parents are painters and showed me there’s another parallel life of colour and dreams, because they  spoke idiosyncratic yet fluent English, because I grew up in Ottawa beside a brownfield that was covered in wildflowers every summer that was mowed down every summer, because I have tropical skin and a heart raised in a winter country, because I’m a colonial, because I’m a commuter, because how strange is it that there’s a Japanese garden in the middle of a Pacific Northwest rainforest in the middle of a university in the middle of first nations territory, because I feel at home in Lisbon, because none of this ever made any sense to me, and even when I write it still doesn’t make any sense, but then at least I’m written it.

How does my writing process work?

I circle, circle and circle the poem going crazy aiming for its centre, that feeling when I’ve sunken into it like a big cushion, but it’s that circling that is the actual writing. It’ll never look like I’m writing because this can last for hours, half the day, the whole day. I’ll be watching documentaries, looking at photographs, reading Wikipedia until I’m in a half-trance and there’s a kind of unconscious sifting at work and something will draw out an image like a poultice over a sting.

And it’s physically circling too– long walks on trails, tracks, alleyways, bus rides and train trips and boat races and bike rides. This posed some issues as a young Asian female, but as I get older I’m less embarrassed and more fiercely protective of my solitude, because I can absorb other people’s voices and rhythms in a very eerie way. Then as I let my guard down and go and wash my hands or to cut a pear, half a line or a stanza or a whole poem will drop down, and I’ll run as fast as possible, and then I’m immensely happy to have something to refine the next day. And it begins all over again.

When I’m searching for a word, the dictionary and not the thesaurus is crucial. Other languages– French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Latin, are valuable to shake a cadence or a tired meaning loose. For revisions, I write out the poem by memory– what I can’t remember usually wasn’t worth keeping. If things freeze up, my writing group is brought in for major reconstructive surgery.

I’d like for some of writing group to answer these questions but they’re new/old school and don’t have blogs! So I’ll wait until Bardia Sinaee, Laura Clarke, Catriona Wright, Ted Nolan, Matt Loney and new addition Vincent Colistro have had a bit too much good cheer, surprise them with these questions them and record the results.

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Review of Helen Guri’s Match

The first book review I wrote was on request. Helen Guri asked me to review her debut with Coach House, Match,  in the fall of 2011. It’d barely gotten the attention it deserved, though things were beginning to seethe– CWILA formed around that time, pointing to the dearth of reviews of women-authored books in Canadian publishing.  I was still in school, finishing my MA degree, and by default, Editor-in-Chief of echolocation, a tiny literary print journal put out by the graduate English department. Like so many of the tiny university literary journals, was run entirely on volunteer time, university grants and departmental neglect. All but two of the previous years’ staff had graduated. I’d offered to set up its new blog and found myself conducting the whole set-up. Lesson here? If I name it you might assume I’ve actually learnt it.

In June 2012, Match was nominated for the Trillium prize, and yet still hadn’t been reviewed. My review appeared in echolocation‘s Fall 2012 issue, and soon after it was reviewed in Lemon Hound, then Event and Arc Poetry in early 2013.

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Match by Helen Guri

Helen Guri, Match, Coach House Books, 88pgs, $17.95

I may be giving away the punchline before you’ve heard the joke when I reveal that Helen Guri intended Match to consist of love sonnets, where the love object is a blow-up sex doll and the sonnets bear only a vestige of its formal conventions. Guri divulged this to a recent audience, and my memory may be inaccurate– it’s possible that I extracted from her preamble the explanation that validated my own reading of Match. This experience of craving verification for our assumptions, however, lies at heart of Guri’s novel-in-poems.

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On the making of chapbooks and other spare change

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Last night, I put on my oxford heels to read with four poets at the Odourless Press fall launch. With nearly every fiction writer in town at the Writers’ Trust gala, the evening felt like a tiny cushioned drawer, intimate as a library of rare tobaccos. Occasional Emergencies is a 12 poem series of mostly-ekphrastic poems, published in a first edition of 5o copies with Bardia Sinaee‘s Odourless Press. Bardia only gives me one at a time; ridiculous to think that he’s sold out already. If you want a copy, best to pester him at bardia at odourless dot ca. I trust that he’ll do a better job of packaging and mailing out than I could, and at the same time, you can also order the crisp pamphets by Spencer Gordon, Stevie Howell and Jeramy Dodds, and the longish chapbook by Mat Laporte (who runs the chapbook press Ferno House with his compadre Spencer.)

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Social Media Tips for Indiegogo Fundraisers

Last spring, Vancouver activist and Ph.D. candidate Rodrigo Caballero launched an Indiegogo campaign to support his fantastic  initiative, Comics With a Cause. It’s a free comic that speaks out against violence against women, and he’s both its creator and series writer. However, initially, his communications campaign consisted mainly of creating a Facebook page and reaching out to his  friends list, repeatedly, for donations. After several such messages, I knew I couldn’t keep quiet.

While Facebook can be an effective way to fundraise, its effectiveness relies mainly on the existing networks your organization has built up, and how creatively you communicate your cause. Friends and family can quickly get donor fatigue, or worse, tune out the messages completely. For a crowd-sourced campaign of this kind, fundraisers have to reach a wider audience, and they do this through posting compelling content, partnering with individuals, local businesses, and organizations with similar causes.

For Rodrigo, this wouldn’t be too difficult, as numerous national and local women’s advocacy organizations and graphic artists invested in social justice are active across various media platforms. After suggesting that Comics With a Cause needed a Twitter page to reach beyond his friends circle, I was gratified to see that he started an account within 24 hours. However, the messages he was posting were the same– a direct tweet to a plethora of organizations directing them to donate at his indiegogo site. This kind of inundation amounts almost to spam, no matter how worthy your cause, and can truly damage your future online relationships as well as your organization’s brand identity. I couldn’t understand why Rodrigo, a talented musician, writer and impassioned advocator, wasn’t getting the story behind his cause across.

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More than I’ll Admit

I don’t admit to myself that I’m busy when each day is a list of tasks. In the waning days of March, our landlady announced our house was being sold, the house I’ve lived in since moving to Toronto five years ago. We’ve since packed up, rented a van, signed a new lease, and settled into a cavernous character house overlooking Riverdale Park, and every day sitting down to my desk in our new share office has never felt onerous.

Still, trying to edit and write while in the midst of moving remains one of the most difficult states of being I’ve encountered. Interruptions occur constantly– house viewings on both ends, additional expenses, reference books and files are taped off in boxes. 

Here’s what I managed to get done: I have work in the current issue of CV2, you can here “Mourning Doves” here. I also have two poems forthcoming in Ricepaper Magazine, my first appearance in that publication. A chapbook is in the works for fall release with Bardia Sinaee’s Odourless Press, which for now I’m calling “Occasional Emergencies.” I’m tentatively sending bits of my full-length poetry manuscript to publishers, like throwing pebbles into the well. I can’t even see the ripples they make. I just have to believe there’s water down there. 

My next update may be in Europe! I fly next week into London, where I’ll spend a week seeing all the free galleries, free galleries and Queen’s gardens as I can. Then I take a cross-eyed itinerary of trains down to Lisbon to attend the Disquiet Literary Program. I’ve arranged hostel and homestays, but not much else. I have a rover’s attitude to travel– what I’ll get to, I’ll get to. I’ve found I’m much happier seeing half a gallery a day and wandering into a neighbouring park after asking an attendant where to get a good coffee, than checking another item off a list. It’s this way that a city can get acquainted with you. 

Laborious Fruits

The sporatic-ness of posts here is counter-balanced by reviews and posts elsewhere. In response to the dismal counts of women’s writing being reviewed, as well as women who review on both VIDA and CWILA, I put aside the diffidence I had towards leaping into the critical fray. This reluctance I now see as historically and socially determined. I believe that an insidious kind of self-censoring is internalized when a woman writer doesn’t see other women being published or reviewed in major publications. They are more likely to unconsciously believe their opinions don’t count, thereby perpetuating a cycle where they either don’t submit, or are reluctant to respond even when invited by editors.

The initiatives I’ve taken are incremental, and I still feel I could be more drastic, more ambitious. My reviews of poetry books by Erin Knight, Susan Steudel and Julie Bruck on the Toronto Review of Books’ blog, Chirograph are brief, but I’m glad of the chance to ekk out a kind of ethics of criticism for myself, an approach that is neither necessarily positive or negative, but is instead strives to be attentive, probing, and, if required, explanatory.

The Puritan‘s staff editor informed me that my review of Matthew Tierney’s Probably Inevitable was the first unsolicited review from a female writer they had ever received. It’s troubling that even younger women writers are reluctant to write criticism, as The Puritan features primarily emerging writers. It was a bold move to publish two very different reviews of Tierney’s book, and on The Puritan’s relaunched blog, Town Crier, I address oft-made generalizations about Creative Writing programs and their graduates. In the Town Crier, myself and other Puritan contributors will be exploring topics related to reviewing, criticism, publishing, and myriad issues not typically covered by Canadian print and online media, such as granting cycles, the process of applying to Creative Writing MA and MFA programs, etc.

I have never found myself amid such a robust scene of young and upcoming writers, whose talents are hardwearing, and whose ideas and opinions regarding writing and the writing life are so divergent and diverting. Poet Bardia Sinaee has just launched Micro Bublé, a site reviewing micropresses, locals Dragnet Magazine, Rusty Toque and Little Fiction continue to deliver strong punches, and the Emerging Writers Reading Series is now more than a year old.

With much of my critical writing pitched to other publications and blogs, the focus of this blog will shift slightly as I’ll soon be adding my editing and manuscript reading services, as well as content relating to networking, freelancing and job searching for writers. Meanwhile I’m also working on nonfiction pieces that may or may not dive into the female flâneur, the immigrant in the city, writing and hockey… mentioning them here seems a good way to commit to their eventual coming-into-being.