Carolyn Nakagawa is a poet and playwright studying English literature at UBC. This week, Echo Editor Laura Ritland chats with her about her poem "the path you choose," second-place winner of The Maze chapbook contest.

is it really what you want,
  shapeless summer days
              shifting dust
that would weave itself
  like a blanket, settling
  on lenses brighter than a
          pond's shimmer?

- excerpt from "the path you choose"

LR: Hi Carolyn! Once again, congrats on your publication in The Maze chapbook! If poetry were an Olympic sport, I’d say “the path you choose” scores outrageously high in categories of style, sound, visual shape, and imagery. Musically, the poem is a joy to read aloud. Take the first lines: “shimmer” and “summer” resonate beautifully here, as well as the hushed “s” and “st” in the “shapeless” and “dust.” The poem also uses space on the page very inventively: it’s arranged in two columns, far enough apart to read individually, but close enough together to allow the eye to skate between one column and the other. Did you have this form already in mind when writing the poem?

CN: I had been carrying the idea of "the maze" around with me for a few weeks - and made some false starts - before I started writing “the path you choose”. But I'd already been experimenting with using white space on the page in my poetry, and noticed that arranging the text in unconventional ways made readers unsure of what order to read a poem in. It made sense to me to write a poem that was itself a kind of maze - there are multiple ways to read it, and not a single one that's more "right" than the others. Also, the white space on the page looks like a piece of a maze - there's mazes everywhere.

LR: I also found that reading the poem was less a narrative experience than an aural one for me. And there’s mention of music in the poem itself: “cadence” and “chords.” How does music relate to poetry for you? Does it inform your compositional process in any way?

CN: Too many ways for me to mention without this becoming a term paper! This poem in particular owes a lot to my musical pursuits. I've played the trumpet since I was ten years old, and although it's always been an important part of my life, it's only in the past few years that I've really started thinking consciously above improving myself as a musician. One thing that that’s lead to is trying to train myself to really listen to music. I think about “the path you choose” as a kind of quintet– there are five stanzas, each with a different character and flow, that enter and exit and overlap with one another. When I listen to any group of musicians, I’m always torn between trying to hear each individual line of music being played, but also appreciating the harmonies that emerge through their combination and create the piece as a whole. It’s more or less impossible to do both, especially if you’re listening to a live performance, but the challenge is part of the process, I think.

I also think playing a wind instrument has had a huge influence on how I approach poetry and sound. You learn to take these huge breaths and exhale them in an extremely controlled, directed, and sustained fashion. It can be kind of terrifying to be in the middle of a long phrase (of music) and feel your breath almost pulling you through it, but it’s also exhilarating. I try to replicate that feeling in a lot of my poems because, in my experience, good poetry is often overwhelming like that – it has a life of its own, and it will affect your breathing. Especially if I’m writing a poem that doesn’t have a very defined narrative, I try to still build a sense of momentum by using sounds that carry into one another to create long, interesting phrases.

LR: I know that aside from writing poetry, you're also involve in writing and directing plays. What’s next for you in terms of creative projects or adventures? Anything currently in the works?

CN: So far I actually don't have any shows in the works for this summer, which will be weird for me, unless of course something pops up and I do something after all, which could well happen. I'll be working a couple different jobs, though, including doing some research and community-based work here in Vancouver. I'm looking forward to hopefully having a bit of quiet time to write - theatre productions are amazing and wonderful, but they can really devour your time and headspace and emotional energy.

I actually just printed a small limited-edition run of my very own poetry chapbook - I did it as a creative final project for a class I co-coordinated this past term at UBC on the Japanese Canadian poet and visual artist Roy Kiyooka. A lot of Kiyooka's poetry was only published during his lifetime in limited-edition chapbooks which he designed and printed himself to hand out to friends, so I took a leaf out of his book, so to speak, and made one that's a tribute to him and to our class. I hand-bound the 20 copies and did the artwork for them, and it was a fun experience to physically frame my poetry like that, even if/especially because I really didn't know what I was doing.

I guess right now artistically I'm taking a breath (it's been a crazy year), writing whatever I feel like, and keeping my eye out for more opportunities, both in poetry and playwriting. You can find more of my poetry in the current/forthcoming issues of QWERTY, The Maynard, and hopefully others as I continue to get in the rhythm of submitting to magazines, and people in Vancouver can look for me around the theatre scene. I'm not sure exactly what's next for me, but that's the way I like it - the most amazing things I've done with my writing have usually been the things I didn't really anticipate. I just try to keep my eyes open and be ready for any adventure that might come along.

Carolyn is a poet and playwright studying English literature at UBC. She is an editor for The Garden Statuary, and president and former playwright-in-residence of the UBC Players Club. She also plays the trumpet and tutors math, and sometimes poetry, to high school students.

The Maze Chapbook can be ordered here in print or PDF format. 

We were planning on only running our weekly Writer Features until we closed submissions for Issue 14 (they closed on April 5), but we have made liars of ourselves. Truth be told, we had too many stories and poems from our back catalogue (and some new ones, too) that we wanted to share with you again.

This week's story is falling under the "new" category. We published "Tobaco Babies" by Daniel Perry in Issue 11 (and you can read it here) and now we're following up with an exclusive-to-this-site story by Daniel, called "99 Per Cent", along with a little chat.

Hey Daniel! Would you please introduce yourself to our readers?

My short story, "Tabaco Babies" (sic), appeared in echolocation 11, and is part of a collection of 16 interlinked stories I completed in 2013, titled Nobody Looks That Young Here and currently seeking a publisher. The book is set in Southwestern Ontario small towns a lot like the ones I grew up in before I left for Western University, and after that, the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, where I obtained an MA in 2007. I was accepted to the Ph. D. program, but I didn't go through with it – I finally wrote something about that, recently – and in 2009, I began writing fiction and enrolled in Richard Scarsbrook's Creative Writing courses at George Brown College. Since then, my fiction has been included in more than 25 print and online magazines and anthologies, including Exile Literary Quarterly, The Dalhousie Review,Little Fiction and Maple Tree Literary Supplement. I live in Koreatown ("South" Korea: Bloor & Clinton, not North... uh, York), and I'm also a volunteer blogger for the Brockton Writers Series. ...continue reading

This may or may not be obvious to you, but Echolocation Magazine is run out of the University of Toronto and is mostly staffed by students from the Graduate English department and, in particular, students from the tiny but mighty Masters in English in the Field of Creative Writing program. We might flatter ourselves by saying that we're one of a kind but, really, we're one of many magazines that have made their homes in Universities across Canada.

So this week we're talking to Rob, Managaing Editor of Qwerty Magazine, based out of the University of New Brunswick, about what it's like to run their magazine. Qwerty has been running for 18 years (!) and has published around 30 issues, each one full of the best and brightest writing.

Hey Rob! Thanks for talking to us way over here in Toronto! I wonder if you could you tell us a bit about the relationship between QWERTY and the University of New Brunkswick. Who makes up your staff?

qwert cover 1Qwerty is run by UNB graduate students and receives most of its funding from various channels through the university. People in the Creative Writing program here make up the bulk of staff, but other English grad. Students as well as others from other departments also make up the staff as well. For example, I am finishing a PhD in English. Generally, anyone who puts in the leg work on the slush pile in their first year will have an opportunity to get one of the genre editor or managing positions.

What’s it like working as part of a team?

For me it’s fun. I have an excellent editorial board this year and everyone delivers on deadlines in a most blessed manner. The graduate program here is quite small in comparison to a place like Toronto, so we all knew each other before taking our positions. As a result, Qwerty feels to me like a group of friends who decided to run a magazine. Mostly though, being Qwerty Managing Editor has been about sitting alone at a computer, answering emails and assigning submissions.

Give us a rough breakdown of how your year goes down. How many issues do you print? When do you start the solicitation/editing processes and what does it consist of? ...continue reading

This week we're breaking into the Echolocation vault to bring you a poem by Rebecca Hilda Rosenblum! Rebecca says it's the only poem she's ever published (she also had a short story published with us in the past) - which makes us twinge with a weird mix of tragedy and honour. We're excited to bring it to you again!

Dead Boyfriend Disco

There are things that the dead don’t do—
desire, demand or debate—
but they dance if they feel it and
if you want you can watch,
if vicarious seems like your thing.
In teakettle steam and exhaust from the dryer and
fog on the windows they dance.
All these visuals that just barely are
bring the past for the partnerless waltz.
A little cigarette smoke and the
zydecco’s sliding for aunts who drank sherry out back.
Grandpas who disapproved,
constantly, always,
in rivermist foxtrot like they did in the old days.
And then there’s that best of the specters,
The one that I wait for in dreams:
The dead boyfriend who does disco while I shower, in steam.
The thing about dancing is that you do it in twos,
and the thing about dying is that you go it alone.
So these dead that are dancing, they dance all alone, but
they’re moving to music for me.
A snuffed candle smoking invites smooth ...continue reading

Cynthia Flood
I recently had the opportunity to correspond with Cynthia Flood about her new collection of stories Red Girl Rat Boy (Biblioasis 2013). These stories have been described as taut, elliptical, deft, difficult, and beautiful; Flood, who has won the Journey Prize, can add to her list of successes the acclaim of Caroline Adderson and Steven W. Beattie both of whom named Red Girl Rat Boy one of 2013’s remarkable books (in The Globe and Mail and The National Post, respectively). I agree with Beattie that Flood is a writer’s writer: each story taught me something, made me say, “I can do that?” You’ll learn something, too, I think, from her answers to my questions–-Liz Windhorst Harmer

LWH: Red Girl Rat Boy, if I’m not mistaken, is your fifth book and your fourth book of short stories. I wonder if you could start by telling us a little bit about how you came to this stage in your writing. How has your writing life evolved, in terms of your process, your style, and also your feelings or thoughts about it all? 

CF: During the years when I was writing the linked series that became The English Stories (Biblioasis 2009), occasionally ideas arrived for unrelated short fictions. Thus, by the time ES appeared, I had a backlog of stories-in-draft. (For a writer that's like having a well-stocked freezer). As I worked on them, more ideas came. I concluded that I'd stick with short fiction.

Partly that decision had to do with age. I'm 73. I've published one novel (Making A Stone of the Heart, Key Porter 2002); in some unknown drawer there's one I wrote in the 70s about the women's movement, and a known drawer holds one about a Canadian/American daughter of very-far-lefties. However, a novel demands that its writer disappear into a fictional world for a long deep time. I don't want that. To abandon 20 failed pages is much easier than to dump 200. Also, trying to write good short fiction creates quite enough stress and excitement.

Technology has certainly changed my process. I began by handwriting first drafts, sometimes second drafts, before turning to the typewriter. Revision of typed mss. often involved much cutting, taping, stapling strips of paper. . . and of course endless retyping. Still I sometimes begin by hand, when I'm feeling my way to a new story through an image or a scene-fragment. Soon the computer's lure is irresistible, though. Likely as a computer-writer I throw out way more than when I wrote by hand or typed. ...continue reading