New Recruits Episode 18: Ariel Gershon Reads Emily Izsak

I know, I know, I’m featuring my own poem in my own series. How immodest. I’ve been wanting Ariel to read a poem for New Recruits for a long time. I searched the entire contemporary poetry section at Weldon library and couldn’t find anything that quite fit. When I told him I’d keep looking, he suggested Whistle Stops, half joking. I paused and looked pensive and he said, “you think it’s a good idea, don’t you.” And, I mean, isn’t it? The whole book is dedicated to him.

Welcome to Episode 18 of New Recruits, in which I will attempt to walk the fine line between tasteful homage and obnoxious PDA. Here goes:

Ariel Gershon and I met in 11th grade. We were in the same chemistry class (I just avoided the whole “we had chemistry together” pun so you’re welcome). A year later, our literature teacher had us work together on a project about Shakespearian sonnets. This teacher walked over to the desk we were sharing and said (no joke), “I put you guys together because I think you’re both very smart, and you’re in love… (obvious pause) with literature, and you’re both blushing right now.” I’m skipping a whole big mess between grades 11 and 12, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, that awkwardly and expertly placed pause was right and six and a bit years later, well, here we are.

I chose this poem for Ariel because I wrote it for him (I write them all for him) and because today is April 5th and this is an April 5th poem.

So here’s Ariel Gershon, the best person I know, reading “Apr. 5th 74 to Union Station 07:35″:

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

It was real good. Best I’ve ever read.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

I love all of them, obviously, but I like the last five lines the best. Your lines are too short to just pick one.

Why?

It’s just nice. It’s really hard to parse grammatically but I still find some new understanding every time I read it.

What does this poem make you think of?

Big trains.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

Yes. I have read all your poems and they are all the same.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

Reminds me of Arthur Clarke’s short story – The Nine Billion Names of God.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

Want to make a smoothie later?

Ariel Gershon is a second year medical student at the University of Western Ontario. He plays accordion and ukulele real well even though he’ll tell you he’s not very good at either one. He doesn’t know what he wants to do for residency yet so ya’ll can stop asking him. Sometimes he talks in his sleep.

New Recruits Episode 17: Amy Lindo Reads Billie Chernicoff

Welcome to Episode 17 of New Recruits! If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for a description of how this works.

Amy Lindo is my aunt, my mother’s youngest sister. She’s had a lot of pets in the time that I’ve known her, but right now she has a very large German shepherd named Zen. This is Zen:

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She also has two teenage sons, so I thought that a poem called “Lady of the Beasts” would be perfect for her.

“Lady of the Beasts” was actually first published in an issue of Cough that I edited (8th issue, page 43). You can also find it in Billie’s newest book, Waters Of. Michael Boughn lent me his copy of Waters Of a couple months ago and I don’t want to give it back… but I will because it’s signed to him… and then I’ll get myself my own copy.

Let me tell you something friends, this book is fucking excellent. I want to swim in it. The cover is my favourite colour and the poems are my favourite kind of poems. Recently a lot of people have been asking me what kind of poems I write/like. I never have a good answer, but maybe this kind, whatever this kind is. Mike wrote a whole review of Waters Of  here, which you can read if you’d like.

So here’s Amy reading “Lady of the Beasts”

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

To be brutally honest, I didn’t understand it at all, but I generally don’t understand poetry, but once my niece explained to me why it was chosen for me I instantly felt a connection to it.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

Go ahead / steal my feet, / I have my tiger.

Why?

It is such a relatable line for me because I have had so much taken from me but I have always had a fire within me (my tiger) to keep on going. Also, I obtain a lot of positive energy and strength from my dog who is like a tiger in so many ways.

What does this poem make you think of?

Life.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I don’t recall ever encountering a poem like this.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

The Life of Pi

Do you have any questions for the poet?

What was your inspiration for writing this poem?


 

Amy Lindo is a single mom of two teen boys. She currently has three jobs, or four if she adds being a mom to that list. She has the most adorable dog named Zen, who is anything but zen.

New Recruits Episode 16: Brittany Fisch Reads Hoa Nguyen

Welcome back to New Recruits! As always, if it’s your first time here, check out the description in Episode 1 for more information about how this series works.

Brittany Fisch and I have been friends since middle school. There’s a group of us actually, six ladies who survived a rocky Hebrew school experience and are probably stronger because of it. I am constantly amazed that we aren’t twelve anymore. My friends are all crazy impressive and Brittany is no exception. She’s 23 and she’s a lawyer working at a swanky downtown firm. She’s also lovely and brilliant and gorgeous and I love her. Okay, I’m going to stop bragging about my cool friend now so we can talk about poetry.

I picked up Hoa Nguyen‘s newest title, Violet Energy Ingots, at Knife Fork Book in Kensington Market (by the way, if you haven’t been there yet, go stand in the store and look at all the pretty books and shake hands with Kirby because he’s delightful). The book opens with an epigraph by Jack Spicer, so obviously I loved it before I even got to the first poem, and then once I got into it I loved it even more. I gave Brittany two of my favourite poems from the book to choose from and she chose this one. She told me it was hard to choose because she liked them both, and damn Brit, I feel you. It was hard to choose just two to send to her. So here’s Brittany Fisch reading “Dear Love Not As One.”

And if I thought I loved this poem before, Brittany’s reading of it just slayed me. I am slain.

Q & A

What was your first impression of the poem?

The harsh and pleasant word choices created a very nice balance.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“The tomatoes look like one-pound / ox hearts and impossible / you with soft strong arms (gift)”

Why?

It expresses both the intense passion and warmth felt towards his/her loved one. 

What does this poem make you think of?

 Romance by/and a non-literal fire

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?

 I acknowledge the possibility that I do not understand any of it.

Would you like to understand them?

Definitely

Do you have any questions for the poet?

What was your inspiration?

 

 


Brittany Fisch is a 23 year old lawyer-to-be who likes soccer, art, movie-watching and spending time with friends and family (preferably with food).

New Recruits Episode 15: Nadine Rapps Reads John Ashbery

If you’re new here, check out Episode 1 for more information about how this series works.

Nadine Rapps is my mother’s friend. For most of my childhood, my family and Nadine’s family would spend a week in the summer at a cottage resort called “Silver Eagle.” The cabins were run down and there was a terrifying pinball machine in the rec room and I’m pretty sure the owner was anti-Semitic, but I loved it more than Disney World.

I have a vague memory of playing Scrabble with Nadine and her son in cottage 12 at Silver Eagle. She played the word “spur” and went to check the dictionary to make sure she had the correct spelling. She said something like “what is a spur anyway? Something for horses?” and her son said, “It’s the thing the man uses to make a baby.” Sorry Josh, that story needed to be told on the internet. It was absolutely necessary.

Nadine was also part of the family band that brought us such hits as “Honey on Toast” and “The Statue Game.” You’re welcome Canadians who remember this.

Anyway, I knew I had to choose a poem for Nadine that had trees in it. She likes trees. So, John Ashbery has made it into my little blog series. He can add “New Recruits Feature” to his long list of accolades and hopefully that will console him if he never wins the Nobel. Ashbery is also the first American to grace this website. There’s another one coming. Stay tuned.

So here’s Nadine reading John Ashbery’s “Some Trees“:

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

I really appreciate how he likened the characteristics of trees to the human spirit, because that is something I have been reading and reflecting on for some time.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“That their merely being there/ Means something; that soon/ We may touch, love, explain.”

Why?

I believe that trees in their very existence have meaning and purpose, especially a loving energy.

What does this poem make you think of?

It takes me back to my fond memories of being in the forests of Northern Ontario in the summer time.

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?

comeliness, reticence

Would you like to understand them?

Yes

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I have yet to encounter a poem like this before. I’m very fascinated by the mechanics of its phrasing.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

It reminds me of the paintings by the Group of Seven at the McMichael Art Gallery.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

Do you have a deep connection to nature and trees?


Nadine Rapps is interested in yoga, meditation, journaling, cooking, and nature. She is an interior designer. She feels a great connection to nature, especially trees. When she is in a forest of trees, she finds that they are very healing and full of nourishment.

New Recruits Episode 14: Mari Lise Stonehouse Reads Sharon Thesen

Welcome back to New Recruits! If you’re new to this series, check out the description back in Episode 1 for more information about how it works.

For all four years of my undergrad at U of T, I spent Fridays and Saturdays working at Clay Design, a pottery studio and gallery at the corner of Harbord and Brunswick. I am not a potter. My job involved dumping buckets of old clay into other buckets of old clay, climbing up windows, laundering aprons, and a whole lot of dusting. So, what kept me coming back to a messy, minimum wage, hour away (once I left residence) job? Mari Lise Stonehouse, Phillis McCulloch, and Dennise Buckley. These three women are all incredible artists and have managed to run a successful business for over 35 years.

Mari Lise makes plates, bowls, mugs, vases, and decorative pears. She taught me a lot over four years, like how to put up Christmas lights, how to “balance the books”, how to appreciate flowers, and how to be a feminist.

In my first year of undergrad, as a recent export of the suburbs, my ideas about feminism were mostly shaped by the internet. I learned that it’s hard to maintain your adolescent cynicism when a six foot tall woman who beats clay into submission for a living makes feminism look so damn cool.

Sharon Thesen and Mari Lise Stonehouse are a match made in heaven, even if they don’t know it yet. I could have easily given Mari Lise some of Thesen’s more recent or more eco-focused work, which I’m sure she would have enjoyed just as much as the poem you’re about to hear her read. But for right now, for this moment, it had to be this poem.

So here’s Mari Lise, my former boss and current friend/role model, reading “Biography of a Woman” from Thesen’s 1995 collection, Aurora:

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

I loved the poem right away. Then I was embarrassed because I felt the poem was about me.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“forced to sew/ starlight into shirts enough/ for an army”

Why?

It is not enough to sew starlight into shirts? It has to be for an army? I love the nonsensical fairy tale task. Also so feminine. No boulders being pushed up the hill here. Sewing starlight and sorting ten tons of millet seed.

What does this poem make you think of?

The poem made me think of that half awake time when you are trying to pull yourself out of a dream. I see the heroine twisted in bedsheets.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I think I like poems, but in fact I find them frustrating and I never go out of my way to read them. This poem made me laugh and then laugh at myself. She was so intelligent! It is always about me! Maybe I liked the poem because it touched on that time in a young woman’s life when she is looking for a story book life and is overwhelmed by the mundane tasks and the confusion of having her suitors be swans.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

The poem made me think of nursery rhymes and traditional children’s stories, like Rapunzel and Cinderella. The painting of Leda and the Swan.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

No. I would like to hug her and dance around.


Mari Lise Stonehouse is interested in gardening and pottery. Newly interested in politics. 65yrs old. Her son introduced her to his girlfriend’s Russian parents as an Old Hippie.

New Recruits Episode 13: Devorah Joseph Reads Christine McNair

Welcome back to New Recruits! For more information about this series, check out the description in Episode 1.

Devorah Joseph and I have been friends from the moment we were forced into a canoe with another girl who was very angry about the whole situation (and I mean, rightly so, nobody should be forced to canoe if they don’t want to). This incident was part of a team building field trip at the beginning of high school. The other girl started yelling at us because we weren’t paddling well enough and Devorah and I looked at each other and thought, we’re going to be friends forever. We were basically characters in an Alice Munro story. At this point, we’ve shared so many secrets that downgrading to anything less than BFFs would be a liability.

I gave Devorah Christine McNair’s poem “The State We’re In” because it’s a good poem; but after re-reading it with Devorah in mind, I was struck by how well it echoes our friendship. In the poem, secrets and stories end up “stitched into lawn care” and swallowed by house sounds. I like the idea of secrets tied to place, the fixed locality of stories. Some of ours are in lawns too.

So here’s Devorah reading “The State We’re In” from Christine McNair’s debut collection, ConflictMcNair’s second book, Charm, is forthcoming from BookThug in June 2017.

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

There are negative things that need to go.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“of falling away maps go”

Why?

It sounds very artistic and flows nice, and rhymes, and it talks about getting rid of rules and following strict directions.. I think.

What does this poem make you think of?

It makes me think of being adventurous and not following rules.

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?

Tarmac

Would you like to understand them?

Yes

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I don’t really read poems, and have never encountered one like this before.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

What inspired you to write this poem? If you had to describe the take away point of the poem in one sentence, what would that be?*

* “For me, every poem has a texture of sound which is at least as important to me as the ‘argument.’ This is not to minimize ‘statement.’ But it does annoy me when students, prompted by the approach of their teacher, ask, ‘What is the poet trying to say?’ It implies that the poet is some sort of verbal cripple who can’t quite ‘say’ what he ‘means’ and has to resort to a lot of round-the-mulberry-bush, thereby putting the student to a great deal of trouble extracting his ‘meaning,’ like a prize out of a box of Cracker Jacks.”

—Margaret Atwood in a 1978 interview in the New York Times

I get this question a lot from students and from poetry newbs and always refer back to this Atwood quote. Babe, if she could say it in one sentence, the poem would be one sentence long. So I’m going to throw it back at you. What is the “take away point” of the poem for you?

umm… to throw away the key and take an adventure.


Devorah Joseph is in the second year of her MSW at the University of Toronto. She is 24 and she loves dogs.

New Recruits Episode 12: Aisha Muslim Reads Sachiko Murakami

A new week, a new New Recruits episode. If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for a description of how this series works.

Aisha and I shovelled shit in a barn together for a lot of years. She rode this beautiful white gelding named Leo and I rode a spotty, pudgy quarter horse named Jack. We’ve had many intense discussions in piles of hay and what would be too many adventures to remember if we hadn’t documented most of them on digital cameras:

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(Aisha and me in 2007. We were too young to drive the Gator outside, but apparently through the barn was fine.)

Now Aisha is a badass nurse and Muay Thai fighter and it’s been a long time since either of us has been on a horse.

Sachiko Murakami’s book Get Me Out of Here is “an experiment in crowdsourced inspiration.” Its back cover explains, “Why is it so difficult to stay in the present moment? Poet Sachiko Murakami asked this question in an open call on the internet, and in airports across the globe, from YVR (Vancouver) to RKV (Reykjavik), people in transit stopped to note in only one sentence their impressions of places, events and things.”

Here’s Aisha reading the poem inspired by the one sentence impression:

My lawyer wife calling “frantic girl” about bail: “you can tell me what is actually true it’s private,” “break and enter, burglary tool, secrets on your computer.”

Gary Barwin, YTZ-YTM

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

I liked it. It felt rebellious in nature, as though the poet was trying to prove someone wrong and was adamant that the other person’s position was incorrect.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“Your own shitty, familiar secrets”

Why?

It reminds me that we all have our own demons and we should not judge others for theirs.

What does this poem make you think of?

Being a teenager and being misunderstood (or feeling misunderstood) and trying very hard to make people hear me.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I haven’t encountered a poem that was so angrily worded before. Most poems I have read (although I haven’t read read many) have been softer and less accusatory. I enjoyed this.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

It reminded me of the Girl on the Train -specifically the line “the frantic girl who articulates….”

Do you have any questions for the poet?

No


Aisha Muslim is a 23 year old nursing student, graduating this year. She is a competitive Muay Thai fighter. She is Muslim. She has a sister and two cats.