Part 1 of The Puritan‘s Summer 2016 Omnibus
Every year, The Puritan Editorial Staff catches up with past magazine contributors who have published a book in the last 12 months. In the first installment, we hear from Melissa Bull, Andrew Forbes, and Liz Worth.
“Mulling Over the Same Shit Like Cud”: Fawn Parker Interviews Melissa Bull
Fawn Parker: Your collection Rue deals a lot with travel, both around the globe and through time. What stood out to me, though, was that things remain the same at times despite the speaker’s growth and movement. She travels all the way to Russia and sees signs for Coke and McDonald’s. You are frequently connecting back to childhood, back to home, back to the self. Do you feel that there is importance in routine—in the perpetual and reoccurring—or are you using this sameness to highlight and explore the transformations taking place?
Melissa Bull edits Maisonneuve‘s “Writing From Quebec” column
Melissa Bull: Tough question, Fawn.
I think we probably all experience a repeated variation on a couple of themes (fewer themes than we’d expect) in our lives that become reference points, focal points, in-jokes with ourselves, or how-have-I-not-learned-this-yet FML face-palms. Apart from liking being alone, and drinking a lot of (I know it’s disgusting) instant decaf coffee (I know) I don’t know that I have any set routines. I work a job during the day and then try to use the remaining awake hours to write.
A lot of my poetry is written when I’m feeling uncomfortable. Or trying to name something. Maybe that discomfort. It can be the discomfort of something beautiful or the discomfort of things going awry.
Re: “You are frequently connecting back to childhood, back to home, back to the self”—I’m sure I’m often viewing one experience against the backdrop of another. All of us must perform some version of that compare-this-event-or-feeling to that one, even unconsciously, since we’re the only ones in charge of tallying up the important moments of our own lives. Travel can trigger retrospection, or drive a kind of hyper focus on some specific particularity from our present or past. Nervy times in our lives can, too. Unexpected events, generated by the displacement of travel or the more ordinary shocks of our everyday lives, can provoke us to reassess ourselves. We realize we’re altered by a new experience. And we might simultaneously realize we’re exactly the same as we always were and that we’re stuck with ourselves, mulling over the same shit like cud.
The Russia McDonald’s thing is mostly just that, apart from the word for restaurant, I can’t read Cyrillic, and when I was travelling there back in ’07 I couldn’t figure out if there were any street signs, so those global American brands just stood out as markers for my way back home from the bar. There was also a Reebok store that I don’t mention in the poem but I still remember clearly. Scarlett Johansson had designed (“designed”) a really ugly sneaker and it was in the window on Nevsky. It looked like a cartoon of a sneaker, something Jessica Rabbit would wear for her pretend workouts. Which I guess, given the context, fits.
“He’s apple pie, he’s Coca-Cola, he’s a tailfinned Chevy”: E Martin Nolan Asks Andrew Forbes about Walt Whitman
E Martin Nolan: Your essay “The Ballparks of America” has a Whitman vibe: “you have seen and can see again the best of America, and the indifferent, and the worst.” Whitman was an early proponent of America’s pastime, so this makes sense. Like Whitman, baseball’s not perfect, but it has always given me some vague hope for America, because however dumb we may collectively seem (cough Trump cough), we can’t be that dumb if we still support a game that requires and rewards the patience and intellectual durability that baseball does. So my question is: how has baseball coloured your perspective on Canada’s southern neighbour?
Andrew Forbes’ work has been nominated for the Journey Prize
Andrew Forbes: What occurs to me right off the bat (forgive me) is that beautiful things are often complicated, or frustratingly something other than simple, or uniformly good. America, for all its natural beauty and the promise of its grand historical experiment, has always been and remains in many ways problematic. We know this. Racial segregation, financial inequality, political opportunism, environmental degradation, arms races, assault rifles. But freedom! But the Rockies! But California! But all those beautiful, straight, well-maintained highways! Baseball, too, is riddled with pocks, from the “gentlemen’s agreement” to the routine swindle that its current owners and operators perpetrate on the buying public.
But something in its makeup makes me want to focus on the positive. Baseball, like Whitman, gives me glimpses of what once was, scraps of history with varying degrees of relevance to the way we/they live now. Mostly it’s myth and symbol, lingering ideas and images that please but don’t do much to inform.
Whitman’s symbolically potent because though the remnants of what he celebrated do persist, he calls back to the completely different world of 19th century America, when all the foundational elements were wholly intact, and the continent looked a lot like it had when the American genocide began. I mean, he’s apple pie, he’s Coca-Cola, he’s a tailfinned Chevy, so we still recognize him, but would he recognize contemporary America? Granted, he’s also bisexuality and intellectual rigour and religious tolerance and “no stander above men or women or apart from them,” so there are elements of him that are alien to contemporary American discourse. He was, as you say, openly enthusiastic about baseball (“the hurrah game of the republic!!”), and his artistic development was concurrent with the rise of the game, so that’s what explicitly links them. And the thing which grants both Whitman and baseball their durable connection to some formal Americanness is terribly faded, but the legends most certainly remain, as does a stubborn desire that those things should reveal something true about and hard-coded within the national character. So maybe they are progressing together toward irrelevance, but that progress is slow, because what they offer is so enticing. It entices me. I want space, and sunshine, and an egalitarian spirit. I want that cornfield in Iowa. Aesthetic and spiritual invigoration. But there’s the creeping suspicion that I’m participating in a living wake for the game as well as for the country that I sometimes have to fight off. Baseball can feel, in some precincts and cloistered enclaves such as Cooperstown, like a trip to Graceland to reminisce and pay your respects. Luckily experience has taught me this feeling can be salved by going someplace where the fans are loud and the beer is cheap. In those places the game and the inexact ideas for which it stands are all still alive.
Andrew Forbes’s work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in The Feathertale Review, Found Press, PRISM International, The New Quarterly, Scrivener Creative Review, This Magazine, Hobart, The Puritan, All Lit Up, The Classical, and Vice Sports. He is the author of What You Need, a collection of fiction, and The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.
“Weirdly Beautiful but Complicated”: Dana Ewachow in Conversation with Liz Worth
Dana Ewachow: Much of Andy Warhol’s creative work played with the concept of revision. Warhol revisited well-known faces, celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Mick Jagger, and made them appear new in his silkscreen prints. He repeated the process, revisiting the same face with different colours, patterns, and moods. Warhol’s skill was taking an existing product and revising it to show its visual potential.
Your collection, No Work Finished Here, features over 400 poems appropriated from Warhol’s a: A Novel. Did you intend to reflect Warhol’s style by re-purposing his own work to make something lively and new?
Liz Worth is a Canadian author and performance artist
Liz Worth: My original intention and inspiration for No Work Finished Here was so much an impetus of reflecting Warhol’s approach to revision. The idea really was in response to my feeling that the work it’s taken from, Warhol’s a: A Novel, was so weirdly beautiful but complicated, opaque and hard to get through. And so I really just wanted to dig away at it, because I kept seeing that it could be shaped into something totally new.
But of course, it wasn’t lost on me that writing found poetry is a very Warhol thing to do. We’re talking about an artist who was famous for appropriating the Campbell’s soup can, after all, without asking for permission. I’ve always loved that about Warhol. He didn’t follow any rules because I don’t think he felt that he lived within the same boundaries as anyone else. And that’s the same energy I tried to bring forward in No Work Finished Here.
Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book,Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at www.lizworth.com, on Facebook, or Twitter @LizWorthXO.