Building a Book (CALYX Press Guest Post)

Mon, 06 Jun 2016 16:00:49 +0000

Truly feminist collectives are difficult to maintain. At CALYX we try to have titles without having rank, to vote on material without kowtowing to a rigid majority rule, and to celebrate our big-name authors alongside those who are up and coming. It takes effort and hard work to go against the grain, to always stay mindful of each member’s intrinsic value to a forty-year-old publication.

But sometimes, feminist collectives are the most natural systems in the world. The collective that chose material for our fortieth anniversary anthology, Memories Flow in Our Veins, was one of those zen moments where everything clicked and the joy of the work was present at every meeting.

Over the course of several months in mid-2014, our editors and personnel read through the incredibly rich and diverse material that CALYX has published over four decades. Stacks of journals. Dozens of books. The system wasn’t perfect. Each editor was assigned a year, or five years, or a decade, and given the staggering task of choosing representative poetry and prose to be featured in the anthology from those years. What an overwhelming responsibility.

It’s difficult culling material this way. Everything that CALYX has published was chosen because it spoke to someone, because it was polished, because it was doing something new with content or craft. So choosing the “best” pieces was, of course, impossible.

The way it happened was much more organic than any rigid system. Each of us came to the meetings with a list of possible choices, but it didn’t come down to recognizable names or cherry-picking from certain decades. My first meeting I sat down next to our editor Marjorie and said, “I found a story about a woman keeping a rotting pig’s head in her fridge. It was fantastically creepy.” This spoke to everything that makes Marjorie who she is. It had to go in.

The next meeting, Lill, a prose editor, remembered a short story about a woman whose boyfriend has aged backward into a toddler. The story hadn’t been chosen in the first round of readings, but it was immediately added to the discussion (and, eventually, the anthology) because the value of it was immediately clear. CALYX is full of stories that touched people, intrigued them, and stayed with them over the years. It’s not about votes or consensus. It’s about the deep place where good literature changes us.

With a perfect mixture of editors encountering the work for the first time and people who had been involved from the beginning of CALYX, this anthology is as much a product of those meetings as it is the product of forty years of brilliant writing and thousands of hours of editorial work. We could never have set a definitive representation of CALYX because CALYX is something different for every writer, every editor, and every reader.

Olivia Trueb: Write to Publish’s Essay Contest Winner

Wed, 04 Feb 2015 17:30:04 +0000

When asked which author was my biggest influence, I sat and thought on that for a moment. How does one pick an author? It’s like asking you who your favorite parent is, or what your favorite book out of a series is.

Rick Riodrian, the author of Percy Jackson & the Olympians, wrote the books for his son, who needed a bedtime story. He wrote them for his son’s love of Greek mythology. His son has ADHD and dyslexia. Rick formed his characters by showing his son, along with his readers, that you can overcome any obstacle. Rick taught me you can achieve greatness with the small things you do for people, like making a simple promise and intending to keep it until death. He also taught me that you’re never too old to act like a kid again. For goodness’ sake: the man has sword fights in Camp Half-Blood T-shirts!

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, showed me the magic in the world and the victory that lies within yourself. With her amazing characters she captures the highs and lows of humanity. The way Neville goes from the class punching bag to defeating one of the seven horcruxes. Or how Draco goes from being the classic school bully to a full-blown Death Eater, betraying his classmates and school to Voldemort. J.K. Rowling also shows that there really is no such thing as a small character. From Dobby the house elf, to Harry himself, everyone is a part of you by the end of the series. She taught me never to give up and she didn’t when twelve publishers turned down Harry Potter. She taught me that maybe there is magic in the world, but we’re all just too Muggle to see it.

Cassandra Clare, author of the Mortal Instruments series, taught me you don’t have to be generic in your writing—you write to please yourself, not anyone else. Her books are edgy and exciting; they have great detail and amazing grace. She writes of love and struggles the way an actual person would handle them. I have never read such a unique book series. She manages to capture the beauty in the simple things and analyze the smallest detail to make you feel as if you’re there with the characters! You feel their pain and smell what they smell as they fight alongside each other! I felt my own arm muscles tighten as she described plunging a glowing seraph angel blade through a Dahak demon’s chest, making it vanish to its own world.

I think most important of all, the writers of all those small-time fanfictions taught me that you don’t have to be published to be an amazing writer. With their perseverance and original ideas, they are the writers of tomorrow and the voices of the future. They pick at small things in all their favorite books and run with them. They create the most astounding things such as switching the gender of characters to alter the story, making the bad guy a good guy, taking Voldemort from Harry Potter or creating demigods in today as representations of current events. Their stories are inspired by authors, but the writers of fanfictions inspire others and make an endless chain of fascinating writing.

My three favorite authors and the unpublished authors of all the fanfictions around the world have brought different valuable experiences to my own writing and perspective on the spoken word. When I put all those amazing qualities together and add in my own voice and writing, I hope to show a new perspective of youth writing.

Heidi Greco Guest Poet Post

Thu, 23 May 2013 13:00:26 +0000

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Heidi Greco, a poet from Surrey, about an hour south of Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!

Listening for the words that make the song

Recently, I heard a writer friend say that she was, “waiting to hear the start of the next poem.” When she said it, I felt my shoulders go down, as I relaxed into her reminder that I’m not the only one who hears voices. Mine tend to arrive in the middle of the night, so I’ve learned to write in the dark to avoid disturbing my partner, doing his best to sleep through to the morning’s alarm. I’ve mostly learned to read my messy nighttime scribbles, though once in a while they are lost, irretrievable scrawls. But even when legible, they sometimes don’t make sense, at least not with the burning flash of clarity they presented at 2 a.m. That was pretty much the case with the phrase that eventually became my poem, “Wordsong”. The words were enunciated clearly enough. There could be no mistaking them: “Adib, Adele, abed, abell.” Each connected, presented as a single, two-syllable-word. That was how I heard them, so that’s how I wrote them down. In the morning, I read the scribbled words to see where they might take me. Although I didn’t know an Adib or an Adele, the names at least made sense as words. And though it was somewhat archaic-sounding, so did the word ‘abed.’ But ‘abell’—it just plain wasn’t ringing for me. So I dismissed the phrase as merely a gathering of nonsensical sounds, ones that lacked meaning and could be tossed out. But when the same phrase came back the following night, I wrote again. Next morning, when I compared my paper to the previous night’s words and found that they matched, I decided they must be important. Then I remembered a man I’d met in Belize named ‘Abell.’ Although I didn’t think he would be part of the eventual outcome, I suspect the act of remembering his name helped legitimize the words enough for me to start working with them.

"abed, abell..."

“abed a bell…”

Typing letters onto the screen, the phrase came alive. Yes, I had a friend who was currently ‘abed.’ Sadly, he was ill enough that he required a bell to call for help when he needed anything. With the bell set adrift from that initial a- sound, I felt able to proceed. Still, I couldn’t help but noticing the oddly old-fashioned composition of ‘abed’ (at the bed, in bed) and started a casual brainstorm of similar a-words.

A boat ashore...

“a boat ashore…”

Sometimes they presented themselves as pairs of opposites: asleep/awake, amidst/apart, aground/afloat. Or as a string of fiery words—ablaze, aflame, aglitter, agleam, aglow—so hot to the touch, I’m surprised they didn’t ignite a poem of their own. The more I played around with these words, the more I discovered in them: rhymes, sounds that made a sing-song, sounds that led me along. Astray, away; ajar, afar. And even when I set the poem aside, I started noticing that those a- words wouldn’t leave me alone (alone!). Alive, abuzz, amok, agog. They kept appearing everywhere, and wouldn’t abate. When I moved on to the next couplets, in an effort to ground the piece, I permitted myself more objects—a star, as well as a door (Or should that have been ‘adore’?). The star led to the name Estelle, which means ‘star’ and which shares, if not the same first letter, the same (or nearly the same) initial sound as the a-words in the piece. But the poem had to move along, gather some momentum if it were to achieve any kind of conclusion—a conclusion I suspected, as in the case of my friend, was not going to be a happy outcome.

A thing so true / as morning light...

“a thing so true / as morning light…”

Yet halfway through the piece, there came a shift—to brighter, more lilting sounds, to the final line where spirit is released—to go where? Who knows. Hearing things might not be the way your poems usually start. As for Adib and Adele, I still don’t know who they are. Nonetheless, I keep listening for the voices that brought them to me. And I hope, in case they or their friends call on you, that you will be ready to listen too. Wordsong   (remembering Miki) Adib Adele abed a bell a star Estelle alas too far aslant afoot a door ajar akin alike a three-wheeled bike or nothing more than Western Shrike a thing so true as morning light a boat ashore a bird in flight this August day a soul astray

Heidi Greco

Heidi Greco

Heidi Greco is an editor and writer whose poems have appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies. She writes book reviews for newspapers and magazines. Her books include Rattlesnake Plantain (poetry) and Shrinking Violets (a novella). Heidi lives in South Surrey, British Columbia, in a house surrounded by trees. Heidi was a participant in the first Cascadia Poetry Festival, a trans-border celebration of the spoken word. Heidi keeps a sporadic blog entitled out on the big limb. The poem included in this collection, “Wordsong: remembering Miki,” started out with a voice in the night. Although the words didn’t seem to make any sense, they repeated themselves with such an urgent-sounding voice that she had no choice but to write them down. In the light of morning, the singsong nature dictated by the few words on her paper led to a poem that was clearly about, or at least inspired by, her dear friend Miki, who died of cancer. This poem is featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.

Carl Leggo Guest Poet Post: “Evaluating writing: What is a poem good for?”

Thu, 14 Mar 2013 13:00:59 +0000

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Carl Leggo, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy his post!

Evaluating writing: What is a poem good for?

My students ask, “How are you going to evaluate our writing? How do you know what is good?” I reply, “Good writing is writing that gives you pleasure, and/or that gives another person pleasure.” I remind my students that everybody is different. Everybody is starting where he or she is.

There is no doubt that I like some students’ writing more than others, but why should I be the arbiter of taste in the classroom? I am liberal with praise in evaluating students’ writing. My students tease me about how often I use splendid or encourage them to celebrate their accomplishments. I don’t think that I can evaluate writing according to a standard measure. While it is possible to invent a yardstick by measuring the distance from a king’s nose to his big toe, and enshrining that distance in a bar of gold forevermore, writing has no such standard measure.

What is good writing? The answers are multiple, and dependent on the eye and spirit of the writer and the reader. Good writing is writing that people care about, writing that gives pleasure, writing that touches hearts and minds and souls, writing that desires readers and nurtures desire in readers.

I always begin writing classes by focusing on poetry. I propose to students that poetry is the most capacious genre of writing because poetry tells stories, expresses emotions, calls attention to the earth and living experiences, addresses philosophical issues, and promotes social justice. I claim that there is no topic or issue that poets don’t address. Then, I also tell my students that I no longer ask, “Is this a good poem?” Instead, I now ask, “What is this poem good for?”

One reviewer of my last book of poems called me lazy. He also thought I peddled clichés of the heart, and concluded that I was a better story-teller than poet. It was a nasty review, but perhaps the reviewer is correct that I am a better story-teller than poet because I don’t even know where one begins and the other ends.

Still, I am left with a simple question: “Why would anyone savagely attack a book of poems? Or the poet whose name is attached to the book?” Another reviewer called me wry and self-absorbed. What’s wrong with being wry? I think a world run by fundamentalists and corporations and corrupt leaders can use a lot of wry poets. I think the wry poet is a kind of prophet.

Regarding the complaint that I am self-absorbed, I am a postmodern poet who denies the existence of an essential, phenomenal self in order to explore identity and multiple subject positions. So, I doubt I am self-absorbed since I don’t even acknowledge a self to be absorbed in! But I see little value in arguing with critical reviewers. They apparently are convinced that they know “good poetry.” I suspect they don’t even ask a question like: “What is this poem good for?”

So much of my poetry emerges from traditions of story-telling, performance, comedy, music, and psalms. My attitude toward language is significantly oral. I love the sounds of words. I often seek to emulate one of my favorite poets, Dr. Seuss—to know the joyful, rambunctious, ebullient music of language. I am often an alliterative audacious auditory author. I am often more Rubenesque than Audenesque—voluptuous, spilling over, fleshy, flashy—excessive, exceeding, spilling limits, straining against seams, bursting belts.

I don’t want to write poetry like other poets. I want to write with my own voices—whatever they might be. I like to write narrative poetry, and confessional poetry, and spoken word poetry, and language-centered poetry. Sometimes I write prayers and rants and songs. Sometimes I write lyrical poetry. I am frequently eclectic but, according to some reviewers, apparently seldom electric!

Carl and His Inspiration

But I keep asking: “What is a poem good for?” I emphasize playing with language. I am now a grandfather to three granddaughters who are leaning into language, and learning with me the ceaseless joys of rhyme and rhythm and punning and alliteration and…. We become readers and writers by engaging with the spells and mystery of language. We ought to emphasize the mystery rather than the mastery of language. None of us ever masters language. We can never rest assured there’s nothing more to learn. If we embrace the mystery, the playfulness of language, then we remain humbly and joyfully open to imaginative possibilities.

Perhaps a problem with my poetry is that I keep expecting people to respond to my writing so I can rest assured that it has acquired legitimacy, even a little gravitas. But my calling as a poet is to write the poetry and to share it, and to send it out into the world. If it’s not responded to, if it’s rejected, if it’s not liked, that’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to work with the words.

I want to get used to the experience of no response or severely critical responses. Even if my poetry does not give anybody else any pleasure, I know I have never sent a poem into the world that didn’t give me some pleasure, either in the process of making it, or in the action of releasing it. So, when I ask, “Is this a good poem?” I also need to remind myself that if the poem gave me and/or someone else pleasure, then the poem is good, definitely good for something, for somebody.

Carl Leggo is a poet and professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; and Teaching to Wonder: Responding to Poetry in the Secondary Classroom. Integral to his creative and academic life, Carl is a happy grandfather to three darling granddaughters with the magical names Madeleine, Mirabelle, and Gwenoviere.

His submission for Alive at the Center is the poem “Cars.” It emerged from the rhythms of attending, in the midst of business, to the poetry that infuses every moment of each day—seemingly so simple, yet poetically so complex. You can watch him perform a few poems here.

“Cars” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.

Andrea Bennett Guest Poet Post: “Pinball ≈ Prose Poetry”

Thu, 31 Jan 2013 13:00:16 +0000

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Andrea Bennett, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!

Pinball ≈ Prose Poetry

A couple of my favourite poetry books—Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons, Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets—are composed of sonnet sequences, sonnets that knit together over the course of the books to create their own sort of narrative arc. Sometimes I set out to write sonnets just like this, but they never manage to stay sonnetsinevitably they melt together, losing line breaks, metre, even their prescribed turn. They become prose poetry. No trace left of any Berrigan or Hacker, except, maybe, in the approach to narrative.

Last year, trying to explain prose poetry to first-year creative writing students (What’s the difference between it and microfiction?), I fumbled trying to articulate the workings of prose poetry’s narrative. (“It’s like, you know, a David Lynch narrative instead of, um, Toy Story?”) Eventually, I settled on pinball. The narrative is the path of the ball, pinging around, setting off blinking lights if it’s lucky. The end of the poem comes whenever the ball sinks down the drain.

As the poet, your job is to wield the flipper, keep the ball in play for a while, aim for the targets, handle bonus balls if and when they appear. As the reader, your job is to follow what you can, and see what stands out in post-game reflection. Don’t treat it like a horse race or the Indy 500. Let go of the need for traditional narrative closure or catharsis. I gave some of my students prose poems by Matthea Harvey, Lorna Crozier, and Ben Lerner to study, and we talked about what blinked. The metaphor seemed to hold well enough.

Maybe this is too conservative a way to approach poetry, but I don’t care. The drive of a human to construct a narrative is about as strong as the drive of a human to see a face in an electrical socket, or a doorknob, or embedded in a ceiling’s plaster crack. I feel a little marquee of joy whenever a narrative, traditional or not, slides into place.


Andrea Bennett writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in several Canadian literary journals and cultural magazines. She was recently nominated for a National Magazine Award and the Journey Prize, and has previously been shortlisted for the 2010 and 2011 Matrix Litpop Awards, as well as the 2011 EVENT Magazine Nonfiction Contest. She is an associate editor at Adbusters magazine, the News Columns Editor at This Magazine, and she moonlights at PRISM international.

Andrea’s poem “Beaches” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.