Monday, November 22, 2010

Ross McKie: Two Poems, Five Questions

After the Release of Todor Kobakov

This morning saw Todor Kobakov pushing his piano through the streets again. “Good morning,” I said to Todor, his red scarf a massive tongue flapping about his face. “Quite the wind.” It was windy and the rain had me concerned for the finish on his piano. I moved closer and offered to help push the piano but Todor insisted this was something he needed to do for himself, that life was a series of struggles and this was simply another one on another day. Wet leaves found the curved body of Mr Kobakov’s piano. I enjoyed Todor’s compositions but not enough for poetry to be ignored: “Would you mind writing a poem for me?” His tongue settled now and he told me that he was a composer not a poet. He said if I notice the space between the wet leaves and the piano, if I knew that that was a place one could hide from the rain, maybe build a home under there and raise a family, only leave for work from one’s leafhouse when the weather was clear— if I noticed all that life then I had no appreciation for music. We were pushing the piano up a hill now and I was thinking about how things stand for something.

From the Bombing Philosophers Series:
I took up the hobby of building warplanes from scratch
Through a service that matches your aggression level
Precisely with the aircraft most suited to express your potential to blitz
Say, your neighbourhood, town, city or, as one testimony had it,—
your “beloved country.”

After a rigorous assessment process, including a test over the phone involving me listing
Who I might like to kill in order from most to least, a test requiring that I yell the names;
I was soon shipped the parts for the 1939 Bolingbroke,
A version of the Blenheim Mk IV bomber from Bristol, England.

However, sometime in the plane’s construction, while I was mounting
The Twin Wasp Jr. engines, up saunters Wittgenstein onto my front lawn and,
As is the course for many a philosopher, Ludwig begins making assumptions
About the use of concrete language to express the immediate, the given.
Clearly, he was referencing the plane. I was furious.

“It’s right here,” I said, pointing at the still propless engines.
“It is here by your use of physical language. But how can those words
describe a phenomena?” And then his cheeky smile.
I was tired but insisted, “This plane does not require a phenomenological
representation, dickhead, it drops bombs. Plain and simple.”
Then he sits in the cockpit without my permission.

Later, I agreed to take him on a test flight if he promised to shut-up
And keep his harness on the entire time. But not ten minutes into the flight—

He jumped from the plane without a word. I said:
“I like the sound of Wittgenstein” and “Look out below!”

Sina Queyras: You sent two prose poems to us, Ross, After the Release of Todor Kobakov and From the Bombing Philosophers Series. Are these related? Part of a larger project?

Ross McKie: These poems are not related so much with regards intention; nonetheless, I noticed afterward that both somewhat cheekily consider the grand hero as a protagonist— guess I haven't recovered yet from Goethe's or Thomas Carlyle's writings about the Superman. Oftentimes I only register similarities between prose poems after their composition. Both are part of a collection I'm putting together, but will fall into different sections. There is a section entitled, From the Bombing Philosophers Series, a collection of prose poems that reconsiders or perhaps reinvents— at times comically— some of the prominent Thinkers of the 20th Century.

SQ: Why prose poems? Can you recall the first prose poem you came across? Does it seem a particularly "Canadian" or contemporary form?

RM: Prose poems intrigue me and I will check back with poems I've read and see if they're a lie, seeing if their posing as poems, only being uncovered for what they are—flash fiction or some such thing that speaks more to ADD than to metre and sound. So, I have this suspicion, even in writing them, that these pieces are belying the struggle of poetics and how a poem should scan... And yet they are somehow of poetry.

The first prose poem I came across (or crossed) was Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, I think— no wait that's the first novel ever written isn't it? Okay, how about Milton...? I don't know; but I always remember reading Patrick Lane's poem Dinner with its clear storyline and I remember thinking its shape on the page, including the use of enjambment, made it look like traditional free verse; and yet I couldn't help seeing this prosaic element that teased at narrative conventions: character portrayal, plot, conflict— words arranged in time more than that sense of words falling on a page.

Prose poems don't seem to be a particularly "Canadian" form; although I don't know about languages in our country other than English, I confess. Prose poetry has been part of the writing experience in many collections but, more notably, in the 20th Century I think poets tried to marry free verse with prose conventions. Earle Birney's David comes to mind. I do believe that now there's a sense that free verse might have evolved into a prose poetry and that that evolution, as reductionist as this sounds, might be because younger writers don't know what the hell a poem is. In looking where the prose poem is or has been, though, one can easily see that men are attracted to its form. There's reasons for this, but one I would offer up is that the narrative form feels safe and allows less abandon. Many men are inadvertently taught to try to control story, even in prose poems. I think this points to my earlier remark about "words arranged in time" but don't quote me on that 'cause I'm trying to control this interview.

SQ: What does place have to do with your writing practice? What does reading?

RM: I need a lot of quiet. I read constantly. I never claim to have some artsy, (tragic) romantic response to life, except— if I dare!— through other poems. I ain't no self-proclaimed logos channel. I harvest inspiration. Read-Read-a reed.

SQ: Essential online poetry reading?

RM: I loved Ygdrasil: A Journal of Poetic Arts, but its not been updated for a while. Others: Arc; Table Music; Poetry Foundation: Harriet;; rob mclennan's blog; ubuweb; codeorgan; and, uh, Lemon something.

SQ: Most exciting book on your desk?

RM: I have been excited about Julia Kristeva since my twenties (I'm 44). Slowly reading her Desire in Language. Also, Ann Carson's Eros The Bittersweet and Sanity, Madness, Transformation: The Psyche in Romanticism by Ross Woodman. 


Ross McKie is a writer and actor living in Toronto, Ontario. He teaches writing at the University of Toronto's Hart House and has been known to work in television. He is currently completing his first novel. A poetry collection entitled, Pointing the Way With a Severed Finger, is forthcoming. Ross has three beautiful children.

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