I was at the Mike Brown vigil in Ottawa last night. There has been some controversy around the event as organizers had asked non-black people to stick to the edge of the crowd rather than up front where the cameras & megaphone were. This made complete sense. The event was very informal. Black people took turns at the mic sharing their own experiences with racism. I was there because I wanted to hear their stories and express solidarity with their struggles. Those brave people who bared their souls in the cold last night, they deserved a place up front. They deserved a chance to pass the mic from one hand to the next and be heard. Anyone who think that is discrimination needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
“you saw me / the saddest i / know how / to be.” – Jesslyn Delia Smith, “camping, again and again“
1. What am I working on?
Primarily I’m working on what might be (**spoilers**) my first full-length manuscript (as in a book of poems). Largely it’s a lot of building up from So Long As The People Are People, of which I’m immensely proud. Some of the reviews of that work, particularly by JM Francheteau, gave me perpsective on my own work that I’d been lacking – as in, what is it Blackman’s trying to do. The plan, as is, is to try to generate more chapbooks that, along with So Long’ would be harvested towards a cohesive book.
Otherwise, my friend Justin Million and I, who made me participate in this tour, have a lot of big plans. Over the past year we produced two collaborative chapbooks, which you can download here and here. Working with him really shook up my writing, and reminded me poetry’s as fun as any team sport.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
People have been telling me for a decade that I have a very distinct style of writing. 10 years ago one person proclaimed at the end of a workshop course that all my poems have a signature ‘Jeff line.’ Last week a friend told me all my poems contain lines that, quote, “shouldn’t work but do.” But five years ago my good friend Peter Gibbon and I did a collaborative chapbook where we each wrote half – but didn’t note who wrote what – and people were all like, “That’s so you!” and I was all like, “That’s so Pete!” Anyways.
“Jeff is the risk-takingest poet I know—too bad he has a full-time job.” – Bardia Sinaee, Odourless Press
To this day I don’t know what Bardia meant by that, what risks it is I take. Leads into next answer…
3. Why do I write what I do?
So my friend Ben Ladouceur pretty well stole my go to answer, writing in his tour entry:
“It takes guts to know some happiness / & not make a poem about it.” That’s from The Brave Never Write Poetry by Daniel Jones. I write poetry because I am not brave.”
I’ll take a second stab at it: I try to make people happy armed with things that have made me happy. It definitely doesn’t seem that way, especially if I’m posting poems about conservationists mutilating animals to save them or aging, it’s because to me that’s funny in a sort of grand ironic way. And seeing that makes me happy, and I’d like you to be happy too.
4. How does your writing process work?
I under-perform to be honest. The pattern for at least the last year or so has been period of nothing, period of excavating old words, period of destruction, period of lots new, period of excavating, lather, rinse, repeat. I have no loyal routines, at least not for writing.
I am grateful for anyone who’s taken the time to review my work, respond to it, and been honest in their criticism. It’s genuinely hard to find that community, and that’s key to my process; engaging with other poets who are friends or catching as much local poetry as I can. I get charged by it, and can ride a good performance for hours, wind up at a bar alone just writing pages, getting stuff off my chest I’d caged for ages. I guess I could say I’m ready to write when I see/hear/read something that is just amazing, and I feel like, yeah, I could open for them one day. I just gotta sit down and do it.
Thanks to Justin Million for getting me to do this, and my apologies to whoever I said no to before finally conceding. It was fun. And a special thanks to Jesslyn Delia Smith who unknowingly chickened me into finally self-publishing online a year ago. I did not find three friends to do this after me, so I command you: add jesslyndelia.com to your blog reader, and watch her crank out a poem a day for NaPoWriMo, bravely. And publish yourself while you’re at it.