New poem, “Birding in Wolfville” out in this issue of Prism. Kayla Czaga interviewed me on their site about the story behind it (among other things).
I heard you wrote a poem about bird watching with Don McKay, but I couldn’t find it in the book?
As part of the book tour I did about five dates with my friend Kerry-lee Powell, whose book was out in the fall too, it’s called Inheritance. Then a bunch of dates were with Don McKay because his new book is also on Goose Lane. He’s such an amazing reader. He’s so spontaneous. Even his old stuff he reads like it’s brand new. He gets right back into it. He’s one of those people you meet and think, no wonder you’re successful, you’re great at everything—talking to people one on one, the chit-chat between poems, of course the actual reading. He never goes through the motions. He’s always present. I think it was really a master class in terms of those aspects of poetry.
He’s had a lot of time…
Yeah. We went to Wolfville, NS. It’s these windy roads, it’s a valley, and it’s temperate—they grow produce there; they have vineyards. It felt a little bit like New England, the vibe of it—clapboard houses, seaside-things, leaves were blowing down sideways. It was cliché, a little bit like, “This is fucking beautiful, man. Did I die?”
He drove us—I don’t drive—and all I could think was, “I can’t believe I’m making G-d drive me here.” I didn’t really ever rise to the occasion of being around him. I just walked around crushed. We went birdwatching and I didn’t know what the hell to say, I was all: “I guess you’re over seagulls, huh?” So you know, after I wrote a poem…
Whole thing here.
Friday, October 30, 2015: The Best Canadian Poetry Launch w/Barry Dempster, Richard Greene, Stevie Howell, Jeff Latosik, Amanda Jernigan, Jacob McArthur Mooney, A.F. Moritz, Shane Neilson, Hoa Nguyen, Alexandra Oliver, Molly Peacock, Karen Solie, and Priscila Uppal.
7:30 PM, Lakeside Terrace.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015: “Well Versed” w/Claire Caldwell, Ulrikka S. Gernes, Stevie Howell, Damian Rogers, Deanna Young.
7:30 PM, Studio Theatre.
You mentioned your own discipline (psychology), which I noticed a bit throughout [Sharps]. You speak from various psychologies (i.e.: ‘Crunches’), whose voices felt distinct from the general speaker of the book—for instance, when you re-appropriated a comment thread. There’s a lot of inhabiting of different minds, and you also actually talk about mental health facilities, the methadone clinic, and pedophilia. How do your disciplines fuel each other?
Well, I wanted this book to be “peopled.” I agreed with Philip Levine when he said, “our recent poetry seems totally without people.” For one thing, I’m a city kid; nature is alien, an anti-muse. But even more, I often feel that with my background, the odds were against me becoming a writer. And as I get older, and as I get more involved both with academia and the arts, I find I almost never meet people who (admit they?) grew up broke. Or (admit they?) had traumatic times. I feel like I crawled up through the sieve. And there’s a whole host of decent people I’ve known and loved who never read—who only worked—and I wanted as much as possible to give them voice, and to bring them with me.
And then some of the things you mentioned might fall into the category of writing about things that scare you.
Stevie Howell’s [Sharps] opens with “The Guard”—a poem that appears before the collection’s title page, and that serves simultaneously as a gesture of admittance and an administered pause:
King Tut, 5’6”, lies supine on mould-flecked cotton,
ceiling-transfixed. Body broken
as if struck by lightning. Dead at nineteen,
before purpose, before the remark.
Throughout the collection, Howell’s poems are edged with violence and whetted with measured and attentive lines. The speaker of one reflects on her First Communion, then on experiences with Hare Krishnas and Bahá’ís before concluding:
My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after mass. That’s all I know.
Howell’s poems speak of people who “fumble towards intention,” who compare social rivals to the eerie children in The Shining, who see Rip Torn’s likeness in portraits of the Queen, and who debate the longevity of “the three-winged, / fluorescent snow angel of radiation”—a symbol that may mean zilch to whomever or whatever is alive to come across it in 100,000 years. Some poems are sharp and playful, eschewing the Roman alphabet to copy the wax rubbings of children in museums of natural history—“Dinosaurs have a Jungian resonance / with the <5 set,” after all. Others are worrisome and ominous. Some probe the “the one thing you can do / with a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity / about human biology;” others chronicle inventories of online vitriol and hate. Readers may find that Howell’s work calls Karen Solie’s to mind, or that of Ken Babstock (who provided a back-cover blurb). It is exquisitely visceral, and arrestingly intelligent.
“…Then Howell stepped up to the microphone. The poet mentioned the release of Sharps, the first collection of poems published in autumn of last year. The title alludes to disposal boxes typically found in hospitals for used needles, the reference coming from Howell’s hospital work. Before launching into the reading, the poet talked about “men, and other places,” After the first poem, the artist apologized, aware of the rapidity with which the reading was finished. The candor was captivating, and the poems touched on everything from hospital work to the criminal neighbour to San Francisco. Howell connected deeply with the students in the audience, and they gathered around the poet as the reading ended. “I came for Stevie Howell,” confided one attendee. “I just love [Howell’s] imagery.”