Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Conyer Clayton : 2024 VERSeFest interviews: Chris Turnbull





Chris Turnbull is the author of cipher forthcoming from Beautiful Outlaw Press in spring 2024, [ untitled ] in o w n (CUE Books 2014), and Continua (Chaudiere Books 2015). Her poetry chapbooks, collaborations, and installation pieces are in print, online, and within landscapes. She curates a footpress, rout/e, whereby poetry can be found on trails (

Chris Turnbull reads in Ottawa on Saturday, March 23,2024 as part of VERSeFest 2024.

Conyer Clayton: You have a new book coming out, cipher (Beautiful Outlaw Press) — very exciting! Can you tell readers a bit about it?

Chris Turnbull: cipher considers landscape refashioned by disaster and cyber, including the adoption of words used to refer to tangible/physical experiences and realities. Several figures — The Curator, the kids, we” — flicker in and out. Duration is difficult to pinpoint.

I’ve been working slowly on this manuscript for several years — and over this period considering seeming societal withdrawals ‘from’ the outdoors. I wonder how other generations might mediate their experiences of, or limit fears of, various elements of our physical worlds. I think this conundrum is important — there is no conclusion, but cipher presents possibilities. How do these generations relate to or make world(s)? Land does not take precedence, screens, networks, are central and unbound: the marsh is ripped at corner.

CC: Ive been following along your project rout/e for a while now, where you place poems along trails. On the website, you say, Language is visual, sonic, and kinetic. When I return to the poems in rout/e, theyve usually changed in some way — a crease in the paper shifts a lines interpretation; condensation may obscure the clarity of how a word is visualized; the branches from a fallen tree might cause difficulty in reading the poem or navigating a trail, or someone may have taken the entire poem away.” In your new forthcoming book cipher, you say, the kids refuse the forest.” Is there a connection in the poetics of rout/e and cipher?

CT: No, not really. rout/e was initially a small press publication that I had started in Vancouver and, eventually, didn’t want to continue publishing it in paper format. I am outdoors a fair amount — rout/e started as a result of my experiences outdoors and some thinking about how poetry (language) can be experienced. I started placing/planting poems on trails with an idea that discovering a poem on a trail might enable access, in a way, to poetry outside of a school or scholastic setting. It was a way to get poems off the shelf and out of archive — to try to enable a different form of encounter. Outdoors, a poem might (like the landscape folks walk through/with) not be in a form that’s expected. rout/e and cipher aren’t that much alike in form or impetus.

CC: Can you speak to what change or loss is being mediated throughout your book? What surrounding is cipher attempting to navigate through language?

CT: Our surroundings and relationships are mediated through language and through our senses. Language itself is a surrounding — how a sentence is ordered, or what is left out of a line — organizing syntax to make “sense” or present perspective. Change and loss are different things. cipher presents possibilities of both, experienced through forms of absence and forms of focus.  In cipher, continuities are disrupted by eco-disasters; the figures in cipher are intermittent and from different periods of time. How do they describe their experiences, what they feel, what is remembered? Maybe none of cipher is grounded in ways we understand, maybe experience is best explained by wearables and augmentation — if so, can language adequately describe our sensory and cognitive experiences, such as love? When I started writing cipher, what I wanted was a different lexicon for a changing, curious, time…and as I thought about it, I saw that the language (in English) that we use to describe our environments and the interactions within those environments, have become transposed.

CC: I am really intrigued, as someone who has worked so deeply with the natural world as a collaborator in your poetics, with this movement into deep consideration of cyber realities and virtual environments in your new work. Can you talk a bit about this shift?

CT: We live in a very wired environment; it’s just not obvious, or perhpas is understated. I think humans are very adroit at inventing and creating environments for short term benefit, although the long term effects can have multiples of negatives and positives. I think we’re also very adroit, and invested, in creating stories about our realities and our experiences of our surroundings. I see an enormous investment of time for many of us in online, cyber mediated, realities and wonder about how we might be evolving, or how online environments affect our abilities to inter-relate or understand the varieties of interactions that occur invisibly, minutely, or obviously in a “real” world. I have been involved with a lot of kids in outdoor environments and noted symptoms of agitation and mood changes when away from their devices for a few days; I have noted the same with adults, although adults can mask a bit better. I’ve noted that the “sense” of time — typically aided by getting things done, moving around, interacting — is disrupted too. Things that should be firmanent, in cipher, aren’t. What is being navigated?

CC: Why a long, sequential poem?

CT: It just worked out that way, probably because it’s an exploratory piece. I don’t often write single poems — partially because I prefer not to title pieces and like the open nature of a sequential poem. The other component of writing a longer sequence is that pacing can be modified in ways that, in a shorter poem, is limited. cipher can be very slow in its pacing — this is deliberate — some lines clusters can be, if read out loud, related to the pace of particular movements (e.g. walking).

CC: Your work is often very visual, with ample white space. What is your method for translating your work to performance? 

CT: Well, I come to write/perform from off the page — and continua and [untitled] in o w n — are spatially oriented in ways that cipher is not. White space is an invention for paper. It’s not just visual, or seen by its contrast with the shape of letters or images: it can be represented in performance by breath, time, physical action/gesture. It contributes to the “platform” that is the page. continua, particularly, for example, is a poetry-play — a multi-voice/polyphonic poem. The white spaces are as much prop as the language or the photographs. The page is a dynamic: you can’t avoid white space — so what does that mean for the placement of words on a page, and the movement of the eye “across” or “within” the page?—the focus of one’s eyes…we’re not just reading letters into words. [untitled] is more tightly constrained, in terms of its white space, and acts as a conversation/meditation on environmental policy, degradation, and beauty, among other things. In the past, a few friends have assisted me to read continua, and we marked passages and practiced the pacing, interjection, pauses, and harmonies. The same could be done for [untitled].

Another way to perform them is via videopoem — which is a form I really enjoy developing. continua, [untitled[ in o w n, and cipher are all on vimeo in whole or part form. cipher is here:






Conyer Clayton is an award-winning writer and editor from Kentucky now living in Ottawa, whose multi-genre work often explores grief, disability, addiction, and gender-based violence through a surrealist lens. Their latest book is But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves. (Winner of the Archibald Lampman Award, Anvil Press). They are a Senior Editor at Augur, Nonfiction Editor for untethered magazine, and guest edited issues of CV2 and Room Magazine. You can find their nonfiction and poetry in Best Canadian Poetry 2023, This Magazine, Room Magazine, filling Station, Canthius, Arc Poetry Magazine, CV2, The Capilano Review, and others.

Monday, March 18, 2024

rob mclennan : 2024 VERSeFest interviews: Klara du Plessis





Klara du Plessis is a poet, artist-scholar, and literary curator. Her debut poetry collection, Ekke, won the 2019 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and her critical writing received Arc Poetry Magazine’s 2022 Critic’s Desk Award. She is known for her contributions to long-form and translingual poetics, and writes in and between English and Afrikaans. Welcoming collaborative formations, her narrative poem, Hell Light Flesh, was adapted and produced as a mono-opera film with composer Jimmie LeBlanc, premiered at the International Festival of Films on Art in 2023. Klara develops an ongoing series of experimental and dialogic literary events called Deep Curation, an approach which posits the poetry reading as artform. Her fourth poetry collection Post-Mortem of the Event is forthcoming, Fall 2024.

Klara du Plessis reads collaboratively with Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi in Ottawa on Sunday, March 24, 2024 as part of VERSeFest 2024.

rob mclennan: Moving through your essay collection, I’mpossible collab (Gaspereau Press, 2023), I admire the way your essays begin with the question of how to think and write about anything, well before conversations around the essay, critical approaches to poetry, poetry and collaboration. How does an essay begin for you? How did this collection begin?

Klara du Plessis: An essay begins with enthusiasm, with a surge of desire to write about something I encountered—at the time of I’mpossible collab, that “something” is always a poetry collection, but in more recent work it can also be a concept, an exhibition, a movie. This enthusiasm then directs the entirety of the imagined essay, a thread of what this essay could be. Due to the short scope of these particular essays, I usually write it in one or two sittings. It feels important to do so quickly in league with the strong inclination to get something out of me. Once this energy subsides, writing becomes much more arduous. I'mpossible collab began with Unfurl, a chapbook of four literary essays also published by Gaspereau Press in 2019. Since then, I collected a larger span of pieces on contemporary, Canadian poetry. I noticed how much of myself I was bringing to the writing, considerations present in my own poetry suddenly seen in the work of others. It’s a network. There’s influence. But there’s also the critic’s collaborative projection of self onto the subject.

rm: When sketching out an essay, what are your goals for the piece? What are you aiming towards?

KdP: Well, that would vary from essay to essay. I do approach prose writing in a very similar way as poetry, in the sense that the argument needs to subside in order to signal completion, but also that the work needs to sound its own finale. I always read and edit work out loud, which means that the cadence of the work is almost as important as the content itself.

In terms of I’mpossible collab, there is both a reaching towards and a subversion of scholarly discourse. In my academic research, I often feel throttled by the scope of expected research, that I am not allowed to have thoughts that aren’t substantiated by other critics, that the I is subsidiary, not to a collective and supportive we, but to an antagonistic citational practice. The essays in my book have more lateral moves than institutional research. That said, they also form part of the larger intellectual conversation on contemporary Canadian poetry.

rm: I would suspect that you didn’t necessarily begin writing these pieces with a collection in mind. At what point did you see this as a book-length project? What do you consider the through-line across these pieces?

KdP: Initially, I envisioned a second chapbook like Unfurl, including the essays on Jordan Abel/Dionne Brand, Oana Avasilichioaei, Kaie Kellough, and M. NourbeSe Philip. When I proposed it to Gaspereau Press, Andrew Steeves suggested that I lengthen the chapbook manuscript into a book-length work instead. The essays surrounding those four core pieces grew out of his invitation, specifically “Collab Room” on Erín Moure’s Theophylline and “No Collab” on Lisa Robertson’s Boat. I’ve been thinking about criticism as a form of collaboration for a long time and this is the scaffolding that frames the collection. While the notion of working with and alongside authors’ work is implicit in most of the collection, I foreground the subjective range of my analyses. Some sections read like poetry rather than scholarship. Sometimes I acknowledge that I am bringing a perspective that is based on personal association and not textual evidence.

rm: What I find intriguing about your work, from your own poetry to your translingual work to your essays, is how every corner of it exists in “conversation” with other writers and their works. The best reaction to a poem is another poem, it’s been said, but how do you decide on responding through the essay over the poem, or vice versa?

KdP: You’re the second person in a week to mention the dialogic element of my writing and the funny thing is that I’ve never thought of my work that way before. Yes, I’ve done a lot of collaborative work—writing G with Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi, working with Kadie Salmon on a sculptural artist’s book, and so on—and yes, I think about the relational nature of criticism in I’mpossible collab, and yes, we all write and reflect within the past and present community of writers, but I’ve never seen my poetry as a form of response. My debut collection is literally called Ekke (meaning I) and even I’mpossible collab plays with implications of the first person speaker. If my work is provoked into reaction, then perhaps it’s because I’m striving to find my voice and perspective in the mix.

rm: How do you see your critical work in conversation with your poems? How do you see each one, if at all, impacting upon the other?

KdP: Reading and writing are always in dialogue. Reading a book that really resonates often urges me to write, an essay yes, but also poetry. To frame it in relation to my book, there’s a collaboration at stake, one which inspires me to create new work, but one which also allows me to find traces of my own writerly preoccupations in what I’m reading. It’s important to be broken out of this cycle too.

A different way to answer this question is that I always aim to write criticism with a poetic approach. Similarly, my poetry is somewhat essayistic, perhaps due to its long-form preference.

rm: You mention the collaborative G, a book composed with Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi, which recently appeared with Palimpsest Press. How did this collaboration come about?

KdP: I love that collection! Kess got in touch with me early pandemic and with the curious fact that both Persian and Afrikaans share a guttural g sound or [x] in the phonetic alphabet. Kess also compiled a list of homophones in Persian, Afrikaans, and English that served as the initial trilingual and translingual inspiration. What started as an undefined project became a book-length manuscript in the span of a few months. Collaborative writing has a lot of momentum because you’re not just writing in relation to yourself, but receiving constant signals from another mind.

rm: I’m curious about what insights into your own work such a project might have prompted. Do you see your work any differently now after working on this collaboration? What did such a project provide or allow that might not have been possible otherwise?

KdP: I felt more permissive to myself, working with Kess. Because the work wasn’t mine but ours, there was more scope to roam and play. It’s a bit of a contradiction really, being more yourself when not yourself. I wrote some silly poems, not all that made their way into G, in a tone that felt more like me goofing around at home than being a poet. That said, this is a serious book. It foregrounds connection across languages and geographies. It offers hospitality, while disorienting and rebuilding language. The method of composition was joyful, but the tenor of the poems themselves resonate with important political implications.

G is very much also a continuation of the translingual work that I had started in Ekke and I’m happy to have spent time expanding the practice. There is always more to say about language.

rm: Do you see the two of you extending those conversations, or does this exist as a singular-project? Might there be further work between you two down the road?

KdP: Kess and I aren’t done with events for G yet. This past week we participated in an online conference on translingualism through the University of South Africa. We’re reading at VerseFest on 24 March, of course, and we’re organizing a full read-through of the collection at Montreal’s Articule Gallery on 18 May. As for writing new work together in the future, who knows? It could happen. Working across languages is an important and current thread to follow. We also gained a friendship from this collaboration which will last a long time.

rm: What do you feel the events add to the conversations you two have been having, or to your thinking, or even understanding, around them?

KdP: G is very sonic. The translingual elements come to life when read out loud, for sure, but parts of the work were also composed to be performed. The entire “Speech” section, for example, was spoken before transcribed and so it’s a vibrant work to bring to the stage. Each time that Kess and I perform it, it feels different though. The tenor of a day, what’s happening in our lives, really affects the poems. They have felt virtuosic and they have felt slow-paced and intimate. I think because this book is written collaboratively, being together to present it to audiences feels especially relevant. There’s sociability written into the pages.

rm: Given your work through the essay and collaborating with Kess since the publication of your full-length debut, where does your forthcoming second poetry collection Post-Mortem of the Event fit in this particular trajectory?

KdP: In some ways, Post-Mortem of the Event returns to Ekke’s preoccupation with the essay-poem or transposes the essay from I’mpossible collab back into verse. It’s structured as a series of longer works that relate to events and archives of poetry in performance. It’s also cyclical in nature, in the sense of looking back to a set of book launches of Hell Light Flesh, using digital tools to transcribe, distort, and manipulate discussions of my work. This book is discursive and exploratory in method, but also really lyrical and formal. It opens with a crown of sonnets! Then develops into sonic visual poems. This collection isn’t translingual in the same way as G, but it is interdisciplinary and very sonic, a progression that I see quite clearly from the “Speech” section of G. That said, Post-Mortem of the Event was written not quite in parallel with G, but definitely on an overlapping timeline. It follows different intellectual preoccupations, but it’s composed by the same mind in a roughly similar temporal frame.

rm: How did you first land at the essay-poem? What is it about the form that resonates?

KdP: The essay-poem is a form that I intuitively articulated for myself. This is roughly around 2012-2015, when I was drafting the poems that later appeared in Ekke. I was finding that my poems needed more space than the ¾ page lyrical poem and that my style was pointed, sometimes syntactical and discursive, without ever leaning into the paragraph or argument. This is something that I expanded upon with the more narrative framing and book-length arc of Hell Light Flesh, and am returning to with Post-Mortem of the Event, work adjacent to my scholarly concerns. I like how this conversation has come full circle, moving from my essay-writing, through poetry, to essayistic poetry. It’s all the same thing really.

rm: What have you been working on since the poems in Post-Mortem of the Event, and the essays in I’mpossible collab?

KdP: I’ve been writing poetry in Afrikaans lately and re-curating sections of my work published in Canada for a South African audience. Writing in Afrikaans isn’t new for me, but it is a process of figuring out a different medium. It’s not at all a one-to-one transfiguration of how I work in English or translingually. Each language configuration is a different artform. I’m also starting to articulate a new essay project, but it’s too early to really talk about it yet.

My practice is moving increasingly into interdisciplinary terrain. I exhibited a sound installation called Scree/n at Centre Clark last year and am excited to continue developing in the direction of performance and recording.






The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, rob mclennan’s most recent titles include the poetry collection World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022) and the anthology groundworks: the best of the third decade of above/ground press 2013-2023 (Invisible Publishing, 2023). His collection of short stories, On Beauty (University of Alberta Press) will appear in fall 2024. He is the current Artistic Director of VERSeFest: Ottawa’s annual international poetry festival.

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