Kimiko Hahn’s “Brain Fever”: a review

In her full-length collection Brain Fever, Kimiko Hahn makes use of a luminously diverse array of poetic techniques and approaches in order to speak to Japanese aesthetics, contemporary neuroscience, and the complexities and fragilities of modern life. With a sharp, concise and at times experimental tone, Hahn synthesizes her disparate subject matter in order to produce a body of work that is both visceral and insightful. With the exception of one bizarrely offensive poem which appears towards the end of the collection (more on this later), Brain Fever is excellent and worthy of attentive consideration. 

 Within the poems that make up Brain Fever, Hahn juxtaposes a variety of images, subjects and techniques in order to create a truly unique poetic effect. Epigraphs taken from neuroscientists and writings on dream theory are contrasted with muted, beautiful scenes of home life (“Then again from next door / I hear a matchbox car / racing up and down the shared-wall.”) as well as darker pictures of infidelity and abuse. The poems in this collection are powerfully and universally concise, with most coming in at under 25 lines, and yet they (almost) universally achieve powerful and lasting effects in the small space which they are given. Quotations on the nature of consciousness and the brain give context to the author’s meditations on the complexity and difficulty of human interaction, and the result is a body of work which speaks to some of our deepest collective anxieties and desires. 

 All of this being said, there is one poem within Brain Fever which serves (in a manner which is devastatingly unfortunate) to mire the rest of the collection. “The Problem with Dwarfs”, a poem which speaks to the author’s toxic interactions with her mother-in-law, contains lines and sentiment which are profoundly offensive and certainly wholly beneath an author of Hahn’s caliber. While reflecting on her now mother-in-law’s attempts to dissuade her now-husband from marrying her by calling her a “dwarf” (something which is certainly beyond vile), Hahn makes the claim that “…large women resemble bobbly transvestites” – a statement which is completely unacceptable, on multiple levels and regardless of circumstance. While it may be hoped that the author was attempting something satirical or consciousness-raising in some capacity, it must be said that such attempts (if they exist) must be regarded as a failure. The result is a hateful and ineffectual poem which stains an otherwise wonderful collection. 

 Overall, Kimiko Hahn’s Brain Fever is phenomenal. While there are serious issues which cannot be ignored as far as her poem “The Problem With Dwarfs”, one may hope that this was an error of judgement from an otherwise talented and insightful poet. As long as pages 96 and 97 are looked at in such a critical fashion, this book is an excellent foray into highly complex and important territory and comes (cautiously) recommended.  

Ethan Vilu 

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NoD’s Zine Canteen!

Hello everyone!

We are very excited to announce that our editors will be hosting a zine-making night at the University of Calgary’s Art Lounge (SS main floor) on February 28th from 5:00-7:00pm. We will have some materials available but please feel free to bring some old magazines/books to cut up markers/crayons/pens, and glue or glitter– whatever you have! Bring snacks, bring friends and bring your creative juices! Zine-making is really just an excuse for an “adult” craft night that is slightly more sophisticated, and slightly more provocative than your times in grade school.

We wanna see some weird stuff!!! See you there kiddos.

Sincerely,

The NōDitorial

Samantha Hunt’s “The Seas”: A Book Review

In her debut novel “The Seas,” Samantha Hunt crafts a seamless and raw narrative about war, mysticism, parental loss and love. The narrative mirrors its setting, ebbing and bending between the narrator’s inner dialogue and the outside world, reflecting the awkwardness the narrator feels at being forced to live on land when she is elementally drawn to the ocean. There is a constant tension between water and land at work in this novel and almost every element, interaction, and characterization is skillfully based off this tension.

The story follows the story of a young girl of nineteen, stuck in a dead-end coastal town, bereaving the loss of her father, navigating her mother who “is regularly torn between being herself and being my mother,” the pain of loving an older man with PTSD, and her own belief that she is a mermaid. She also has a fascination with words, reflected in Hunt’s writing style, how she plays with word arrangement, colour, and setting.

The result is a beguiling piece, leaving the reader on edge and at the same time completely immersed in the moment through sharp imagery, emotion, and unpredictability.

Notable Quote: “Those cuts on my ribs are because I am trying to open gills before the flood comes.”

 

– Melody Dowdy 

 

 

 

 

Calling for Submissions!!

Hello to all you weird and crazy writers/artists out there!

NOD is currently accepting submissions for issue #25; the theme for this issue is displacement. Send us all of your best poetry, prose or artwork that incorporate the feelings and experiences of alienation, the Uncanny, a colonized or traumatized human-psyche etc.

ANYONE can submit! We strongly encourage university undergrads and other young people who are passionate about creative writing to submit. Our submissions will close March 11, 2019, at midnight. 

Feel free to read some back issues and pieces on our blog to get a glimpse of the kind of work we crave. You can order back issues on our tictail shop!

Check out our official submission guidelines here and send your best work to nodmagazine@gmail.com.

Our editors are very excited to receive your work!

Sincerely,

The NōDitorial

 

A Review of Claire Fuller’s Novel Bitter Orange

 

Claire Fuller’s novel Bitter Orange follows thirty-nine-year-old Frances Jellico as she enters a dilapidated English estate in the year 1969 and is welcomed into the company of young couple, Cara and Peter.  All three of them have been sent there to gather information about the mansion’s contents, its gardens and architecture. This is a particularly exciting time for Frances as her only friend and companion thus far in her life has been her dying mother.

Frances is delighted at the prospect of having made friends, but her presence creates tension in Peter and Cara’s relationship as stories of the past are revealed and become muddled and foggy as they are explored once again. Frances is able to gain further insights through a portal in her bathroom floor, which she calls the “Judas hole” as it lies directly overhead the bathroom of Cara and Peter.

Fuller’s simplistic writing style is anything but dull and monotonous; her descriptions are subtle yet cut as smooth and sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Lines such as “now my flesh has melted away, but the skin remains and I lie in a puddle of myself” demonstrate Fuller’s ability to craft sentences that are not specific in meaning but paint a picture that each individual can see themselves in. The imagery that is repeated throughout the novel is simple and beautiful while transporting mystery and depth throughout the narrative. The use of multiple unreliable narrators inserts readers amidst the confusion that these three characters are swimming through leaving the ending hazy and subjective. The symbolism is elegant as it oozes delight and the provocative language cannot help but seduce readers to follow at Frances’s side as she looks for answers. This book at 300 and some pages is a quick and delicious read– making you want to savour the last drop of each chapter.

Julia Cottingham

Issue 24 Launch Party!

Hi everyone!

We are celebrating the launch of our newest issue this Thursday, Januar 10th at 7:00pm! Come join us at Rosso Coffee Roasters in Studio Bell to hear some readings and meet our editors. All of us here at NōD are thrilled to present the creative work from many individuals in one cohesive format– and what better way to enjoy and celebrate this feat than with great coffee and the company of exceptional people?!

Thank you for all of your submissions over the semester and we hope to see you in January!

The NōDitorial

Emily Ursuliak’s “Throwing the Diamond Hitch”: a review by Ethan Vilu 

In her debut book of poetry Throwing the Diamond Hitch, Emily Ursuliak takes the reader on a lovely, gripping adventure through both her family history and the story of western Canada. Drawing from diaries kept by her grandmother and her grandmother’s best friend, Ursuliak re-constructs the two women’s odyssey (first by roadster, then by horseback) from Victoria to the prairies of Alberta and back again. In so doing, she captures moments of triumph, humour, intrigue, and warmth, and creates a truly engaging poetic tale for the reader to enjoy.

In terms of craft, two aspects stand out in the experience that is Throwing the Diamond Hitch: the author’s attention to detail, and her skilled use of humour. Ursuliak’s superb capacity for evocative description is encapsulated in such lines as “sweet clover sweat / bruised grass breath” in describing the aura of the women’s horses. Throughout the book, the reader is fully immersed in the experiences of the two protagonists, thanks to the author’s skill. As far as humour, Ursuliak’s talent is best demonstrated in the short poem “Getting Directions”, which vividly and hilariously describes a stubborn pack horse, holding up cars on the highway and steadily gazing at a road directions sign. This use of humour makes a singular contribution to the quality of Ursuliak’s work.

In writing Throwing the Diamond Hitch, Emily Ursuliak has produced a thoroughly enjoyable story through verse, and one which illuminates history from a profoundly unique perspective. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in vivid, luminous narrative poetry, and I greatly look forward to this author’s future works.

Lisa Bird-Wilson’s “The Red Files”: a review by Ethan Vilu

In The Red Files, Cree-Métis author Lisa-Bird Wilson has crafted a call for sincere acknowledgement of the violence done to indigenous peoples throughout Canadian history which is both purposeful and haunting in its masterful clarity. With writing that is supremely sharp and unclouded, Bird-Wilson lays bare the atrocities committed within the residential school system, and the continuity between that system and the abuse towards indigenous peoples which is ongoing in this country. In so doing, she has created a work whose sheer power is truly noteworthy, and deserving of wholehearted attention.

Within The Red Files, Bird-Wilson utilizes the narrative poetry format in a complex and effective manner. Rather than writing in an explicit, plot-driven style, the author makes skilled use of vignettes in order to steadfastly explore the totality of residential schools, including both the horrific violence intrinsic to the system as well as the resilience and humanity of those forced to endure it. With the first section being devoted most unequivocally to the experience of those within residential schools, the second and third sections take the reader on a passage through time, with attention being paid to the intergenerational trauma and hardship which has resulted from the brutality inflicted on indigenous peoples. This, too, is accomplished through the simple illumination of humanity: the reader is given stories of love and intimacy, of resentment and dysfunction and loss, and is tasked with making the connection between these experiences and the reality of colonial violence.

Indeed, the duty towards truly authentic reconciliation to which Bird-Wilson calls the reader is made plain in her poem “The Apology”: “you apologize for having done this / thing that is still in the doing”. In creating this powerful testament to the humanity of those who have suffered at the hands of colonialism, the author has made a resolute call for the rectifying of wrongs which continue to this day, to this country’s shame. At a time in which discussions of what reconciliation is and should be are ongoing, Lisa Bird-Wilson’s The Red Files is a powerful, timely call to action, and comes highly recommended.

Write Night 2018

Hello and welcome to NōD!

Our team of editors for this year are eager to get to know all of you creative weirdos out there; come and hang out with us in the Arts Lounge on Thursday, November 8th starting at 6:00pm! If you like cool, open-minded people–join us! If you like to write (or not), join us! If you like tea or other water-based beverages, join us! Kick off the start of your reading week with a creative buzz that will last you through the weekend. Gather your pens and pencils; bring your friends with you and enjoy what the world of fiction has to offer.

We hope to see you there!

Sincerely,

The NōDitorial

In Conversation: Vivek Shraya

For our most recent issue, we sat down with author, musician, and educator Vivek Shraya to discuss her writing, her career and her imprint at Arsenal Pulp Press. Her most recent publication, “I’m Afraid of Men” is now available for purchase from Penguin Canada.

Sections of the interview were condensed and altered for clarity.

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 12.02.00 PM

Who are your literary and musical idols?

For interdisciplinary artists, I look to Beyoncé. She’s someone in popular culture that I think is doing an incredible job of melding genres¬, especially with Lemonade or the visuals she puts together for her announcements, whether it’s her pregnancy or a tour. Musically, I’ve been listening to a band called H.E.R., that’s what’s on my spotify playlist right now. Literary-wise, I’m really inspired by Michael DeForge, a graphic comic artist with Drawn and Quarterly. Graphic novels have always intimidated me a little bit, but he’s a writer and illustrator that really got me into the genre. His stories blow my mind because I never know where they’re going to go. The most exciting art for me is art that’s unpredictable. I always wonder what it’s like living in his brain.

You’ve done work in lots of different genres and mediums, from graphic novels to pop albums. What’s your favourite medium to work in?

In the past, I probably would have said music because it’s the genre that I started working in first. I’ve been writing songs ever since I was a young teen in Edmonton. But increasingly I’m loving being a multidisciplinary artist and jumping between genres. I’m excited about the possibilities of what you can say and can’t say in different genres and I’m pushing back against those limitations a little bit.

You have a non-fiction book entitled “I’m Afraid of Men” launching in August 2018. What can readers expect from this work? 

It’s a single essay, kind of in the style of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. The book is me exploring my relationship with masculinity as someone who was pushed into masculinity as a teenager, then adopted masculinity in my twenties, then pushed against masculinity in my thirties by coming out as trans, and am still having to encounter the fear of masculinity. As a trans girl, I feel that I have experienced and have had a relationship with masculinity from a variety of perspectives, so this book is unpacking masculinity utilizing those perspectives.

How do you think literary magazines fit into Canadian Literature? How can literary magazines become a force for progress instead of upholding the norms of CanLit?

Truthfully, it’s a medium that I haven’t explored a lot as a writer. I came into writing by self-publishing my first book after feeling frustrated at not being able to make my music career happen. It’s difficult for me to weigh in on the roles and responsibilities of literary journals. That being said, publishing in literary journals is often what book publishers look for in emerging writers. That was something that I didn’t have which made it harder for publishers to take a risk on me. I wasn’t eligible for a lot of grants because they look for “formal” publications in a literary journal or in book format. So I’m in a better position to weigh in on the limitations of what we imagine professional writing to be.

Q &Q

In my case, I had self-published a book called God Loves Hair that was being used in post-secondary institutions as a textbook and was nominated for a Lambda. Despite the book’s success, I still wasn’t seen as a professional writer because I hadn’t been published by a literary journal or because an official publisher hadn’t published the book. I was even asked to be on juries for awards that wouldn’t consider self-published work as legitimate forms of publishing. My opinions were valid, but my books were not. So I think that there need to be more accessible ways into publishing that aren’t just those two mediums. It seems a little bit backwards to me, because I only started getting invitations to submit to literary journals after I’d been published by Arsenal Pulp Press, even though I’d been writing and touring for four years with God Loves Hair. It’s interesting how insiderness perpetuates insiderness. The opportunities exist once you’re inside, but how do you get in when you’re outside?

I’m a huge champion for self-publishing. I don’t think that self-publishing is for everybody and I definitely recognize that I had a certain amount of class privilege that allowed me to put it on my Visa, but there are more affordable ways to self-publish now. At the end of the day, I sold two thousand copies of God Loves Hair without a manager, a publisher, or a publicist, so it can be done and there’s an audience for it, despite what mainstream publishing says. There is an audience that is hungry for work that isn’t just being published by publishers.

You recently released an album with your band Too Attached called “Angry.” What makes you angry about the current CanLit and Canadian music scenes? 

When I started in the literary community eight years ago, it’s not that conversations about race, diversity, gender and sexuality weren’t happening, but those conversations weren’t distributed in the mainstream. Now, especially because of social media, specifically Black Twitter and Indigenous Twitter, the conversations around the need for better forms of representation are a lot more public (both in the music industry and in the literary industry). Racism in both industries also feels a lot more public than when I was starting. I think that there’s a realization that you can be applauded and congratulated for talking about and championing diversity publicly. It’s become a form of cultural cachet; when you start digging a little bit under the surface in terms of tangible action, it makes me wonder about the outward social action of championing diversity versus actual intersectional change. A lot of this feels performative and that feels harder to challenge.

The other thing I’m angry about is the commodification of diversity and I certainly benefit from that. I keep hearing from people in the industry that “diversity is really important right now” and it’s the “right now” that really causes me anxiety. What happens when diversity stops being a trend? But also, what does it mean for organizations and institutions to be looking at diverse writers not as writers that have very important things to say, but as ways to check off their boxes?

It’s been said that you’re spearheading the next era of CanLit culture, who do you see coming with you and what can we do to support these authors/musicians?

I think some of that work is being produced right here at the university and in Alberta from authors like Joshua Whitehead and Billy-Ray Belcourt. Their work is so exciting and vital. Musically, I’m really excited about an artist named TiKa from Montreal and Kamilah Apong.

The best thing that people can do if they like an artist is buy their work. That especially helps them fund their projects if they’re independent. I personally feel so indebted to that kind of support. If you can’t support artists in a commercial way, there are other ways to support like social media, following artists you like and retweeting their posts. I think sometimes people don’t realize that popularity and visibility online are tied to cultural capital. When music bookers are deciding whether or not they want to bring you to their festival, they go to your Facebook page and see how many likes you have. It seems like a superficial ask, but it can make or break whether or not you’re given opportunities as an artist. Even borrowing from the library is a way to support artists. Writers are given a small form of royalty based on how often their books are taken out from the library through public lending rights. If you can’t afford to buy work from writers or musicians, there are always other ways to support them.

You’ve written two books for children and young adults, do you have any plans to write more children’s literature? What issues do you think children’s literature should be confronting?

I really like children’s picture books as a medium. For me, writing The Boy & the Bindi was tied to representation. I was actually on a jury looking at children’s picture books and was disturbed at how few of them were by writers of colour or featured children of colour. Despite the progress and conversations about diversity, we’re still in a cultural moment where it’s still easier for us to talk to children about difference using trucks, vegetables and animals than it is to actually feature children of colour. I was so frustrated that I wrote The Boy & the Bindi J. K. Rowling-style on a napkin. I feel passionate about more children of colour in children’s picture books, but also from an intersectional lens, having gender, sexuality and race in children’s books. There are a lot of LGBTQ picture books, but again, a lot of them feature a white child and I’d like to complicate that a little bit more.

It is a genre that I’m excited about because of its limitations. It’s kind of like a pop song in that you only have so much space and you have to figure out how to use that space effectively. With children’s literature, you can actually witness change in children and hear stories from parents—that’s where change really needs to happen. The biggest frustration about education around bullying, homophobia and transphobia is that these conversations aren’t happening at younger ages. As a political device, I think that children’s picture books are unprecedented in their potential.

I'm afraid of men

We’ve been taught to see mythology as a negative thing because of its patriarchal roots, would you consider “I’m Afraid of Men” to be a deconstruction of myths around gender and toxic masculinity?

With a title like “I’m Afraid of Men,” the deconstruction sort of happens in the title. It really frames men as something to be feared, and so I feel that the work of the book is less about deconstructing myths and more about unpacking the range of ways that fear occurs. I think that women and feminine individuals experience and manage their fears in ways that are so subtle and innocuous that we don’t even realize until we start listening. For me, I think the work of deconstructing the myth happens right at the beginning, and from there it’s about deconstructing fear.

This issue of NOD addresses ritual; you often write about cultural rituals and how they tie into self-presentation. Why do you think ritual is so significant in your work?

I grew up with a Hindu upbringing and it doesn’t get a lot more ritualistic than that. God Loves Hair explored the way that Hinduism was practiced in my religious community (which was very non-denominational) and how this kept me safe as a young gender-creative kid. The dominant narrative we hear are the ways that queer or trans individuals and teenagers are oppressed by their faith or religion, are vital stories, but there are other stories to be told as well. I had space to sing and dance in a religious context and these rituals actually made me special in my community, whereas in school they were seen as “faggy” and abnormal. If anything, my religious context really nurtured my artistic practice. Despite being an atheist now, I feel like I was exposed to the beauty of ritual at a very young age and I keep coming back to the ways that ritual can still be mobilized outside of religion and religious community. The Boy & the Bindi is not tied specifically to religion, but the ritual of a boy watching his mom put a bindi on. Then, her passing it on to the boy becomes this beautiful gesture of family acceptance and self-acceptance.

What has it been like joining academia? How has your approach to your work changed since joining academia? 

Coming into academia as an artist, I do feel imposter syndrome. The number one question you get asked in academia is, “What is your research in?” As an artist, that’s not necessarily how my brain is wired. Aside from that, I really love the teaching. It feels like a really beautiful extension of my art practice. I get to go into a classroom and take ideas and politics that I care about and share them with students who may or may not be interested, but are open to listening. That’s so much of what my art practice is about, taking a politic or an idea and turning it into art, whereas in the classroom I’m taking an idea or a politic and turning it into (hopefully) a riveting lecture. There is also something about teaching that feels performative, which is something I have experience with. I feel really fortunate and privileged which comes with a certain element of accountability.

In teaching a genre like science fiction, which my art hasn’t formally engaged in, I’m definitely imagining science fiction featuring in future works as well.

A note from Vivek on her imprint: 

I am passionate about making space for and supporting other emerging writers. Last year, I launched my own imprint through Arsenal Pulp Press called VS. Books and it is to support one BIPOC writer between the ages of 18 and 28 as a mentorship in any genre. We work together for a year until their book is published. Last year, I selected a writer by the name of Téa Mutonji, who is writing the imprint’s first book coming out in spring 2019. We’ll be opening submissions for this year in April.

For more information about Vivek’s imprint visit:

https://vivekshraya.com/vsbooks/2018-open-call/