Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Julie Joosten

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Julie Joosten is originally from Georgia but now lives in Toronto. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Program and a PhD from Cornell University. Her poems and reviews can be read in like starlings, Lemon Hound, Lit, Jacket 2, Tarpaulin Sky, the Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. She recently guest edited an issue of BafterC, a journal of contemporary poetry. Her first book, Light Light, was shortlisted for the 2014 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, and the 2014 Goldie Award.

You can reach Julie throughout the month of April at

The Proust Questionnaire, with Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten is the April 2015 writer-in-residence at Open Book Toronto! We're thrilled to have Julie, an acclaimed poet, with us to celebrate poetry month. Today we speak to Julie as part of the Proust Questionnaire.
The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

Light Light

By Julie Joosten

From BookThug:

Moving from the Enlightenment science of natural history to the contemporary science of global warming, Light Light is a provocative engagement with the technologies and languages that shape discourses of knowing. It bridges the histories of botany, empire, and mind to take up the claim of “objectivity” as the dissolution of a discrete self and thus explores the mind’s movement toward and with the world. The poems in Light Light range from the epigrammatic to the experimental, from the narrative to the lyric, consistently exploring the way language captures the undulation of a mind’s working, how that rhythm becomes the embodiment of thought, and how that embodiment forms a politics engaged with the environment and its increasing alterations.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

On Blogging, Accompaniment, and Gratitude

This has been an interesting April of blogging for me. While I read blogs, I’ve never myself blogged before. It was more difficult than I’d anticipated, and more enjoyable. What I so value in the blogs I read is their writers’ openness, their generosity with thinking in public, their invitation to their readers to accompany them in the experiences and thoughts they write about. It’s the offer to accompany, and, obliquely, to be accompanied, that I find most moving. It’s one of the solaces writing offers, a thinking with and feeling with that extends across space and time. Which can, in an instant, alter the texture and dimension of solitude. I read to inhabit others writers’ thoughts and modes of thinking.

"A Place in the Sun"

Jane Gregory’s poem articulates exactly my feeling of being in the late afternoon, late April sun today on April 29, 2015:


In the dumb mud of attention, dear Judge, mood was everything, up to a certain
point, a bunch of what there was. And on the lawn the least of what was known
of the bird was not the feather it left behind where everyone was using the word
labor against the rubble rubble thunder rubble and aspired to the condition of the
music of the condition that aspired to destroy you through music. But I have found
a place in the sun, I said, inaccurate place inaccurate besides, sitting here is no way
a place in the sun, a product of chance overheard as chants over our heads, above

Anna Karenina, Dance, and Relief

Last week, I saw the Eifman St. Petersburg Ballet perform Anna Karenina. Before the performance, Julia Zarankin gave a lecture on the novel to ballet-goers. She said that Tolstoy was deeply interested in exploring what the body knows that the mind does not, which makes interpreting Anna Karenina as dance an exciting choice. This thought stayed with me during the performance, which was always beautiful to watch and, in particular sequences, thrilling. In an interview with Globe and Mail writer Martha Schabas, Boris Eifman, founder and artistic director of the Eifman Ballet, said, “I’m not trying to illustrate the plot of the novel.

Geology, Thinking, and a Tent

As Jan Zwicky’s Wittgensteinian “The Geology of Norway” kept and keeps circling through my mind and body, I remembered Liz Howard’s gorgeous poem, “Thinktent,” which also works with, among other things, thinking from/about/with Wittgenstein. “Thinktent” is from Howard’s debut book Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McClelland and Stewart, 2015).

So today, more admiration and gratitude for writing with and of bodies, Wittgenstein, ferality, beauty, outrage, and focus, and all with a startlingly wild exactitude.

Here is the first section of “Thinktent” (it will make you want to read more and more, again and again—)


I am my world. (The microcosm).
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Hospitality: the first demand
what is your name?

On Being Led by a Poem

Yesterday evening, a friend emailed me a copy of Jan Zwicky’s “The Geology of Norway” from the collection Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (Brick Books, 1998). I’d never read the poem before, and I can’t stop rereading it now. I keep returning to it in fierce swoops or languorously or in bed or with the company of an orchid and two sleeping dogs, but always insistently . . .

Here is a link to “The Geology of Norway” in its entirety, with a beautiful introduction to the poem by Zwicky:

These are some of the lines that followed me through last night and are leading me through today:

“You know, it isn’t
what I came for, this bewilderment
by beauty. I came
to find a word, the perfect
syllable, to make it reach up,

Thinking the Future through the Present

To begin with: many thanks if you made it through yesterday’s post; you have my gratitude for sitting with uncertainty and/or dwelling in possibility.

To continue: I’ll now try to offer an account of what I find so compelling about José Muñoz’s and Lauren Berlant’s writings in relation to some of the things I’ve been posting about this month.

Otherwiseness: Thinking with José Muñoz and Lauren Berlant

About seven years ago, I wrote a series of terrible poems, each of which was trying to work out in my own head and writing how to think about “otherwise” as a process of perceiving and thinking. I was trying to make sense of the fact that things could have been and can be otherwise, a possibility I kept encountering, both directly and indirectly, in the reading I was doing at the time about history, politics, thought, and affect (this thought also emerges in Sedgwick’s essay that I cited in an earlier post). The writers who most memorably influenced my thinking on this were Susan Howe, Kamau Brathwaite, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Gayatri Spivak.

On the Otherwise of a Shipwrecked Singularity

In these posts, I keep gesturing towards a transformable/transformed future, one that with different modes of attention, care, action, and responsibility, could emerge. A future that draws on the activities currently at play in our present: organizing bodies to resist oppression, reimagining how bodies signify, and altering the devastating experiences many bodies, because of their particular forms, are made to internalize. As I’ve written in earlier posts, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, a book of generosity and listening, offers ways of thinking through and living after these violences. While thinking about Zong! over the past week, George Oppen’s lines in “Of Being Numerous” kept coming into my mind:

Obsessed, bewildered

By the shipwreck
Of the singular

Spring in Elsinore

In the beginning of Spring I often think of the very beginning of Hamlet:

SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.

FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO

Who's there?

Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.

Thinking (again and more) with M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

In returning to thinking about Zong!, I’m also returning to the idea of neuro-plasticity, the forming and deforming inscriptions experience leaves on the brain. When reading Zong! or when listening to it being performed, something perceptible happens in my body, a vibration, an inhabitation, a resonance, each of which is deeply material. If events and experiences are transcribed in the brain and have the capacity to alter or reframe the inscriptions that have preceded them in an individual brain and also, by extension, in several brains in a community that experience together, how might Zong! quite literally influence our neurology? How might this crucial work be engaged in an affective labor that returns to the slaves their voices through the circuitry of our brains?

Thinking with M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

I thought today I’d write about a text that beautifully, painfully, brilliantly performs some of the affective and political work that I’ve been writing about in past posts: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! Zong! is a listening text; it draws on and intervenes in the legal history of 142 African slaves who, in 1781, were thrown overboard the ship Zong so that the ships owners’ could collect insurance money for their loss. Relying on the language of the legal decision "Gregory vs. Gibson," Philip reimagines history by listening for and to the voices drowned within its violence.

Revision and Sedgwick and Surprise

In my head my posts this month were going to unfold more linearly than they seem currently to be doing. I imagined each post, in advance of writing it (and an advance of writing any of the posts) as a short section in a longer essay. But, as almost always, the plan alters ever so slightly, then ever so completely . . . Each of these posts remains (in my head at least) a continuation of what precedes it and is to-be-continued, each is part of what I now think of note-taking towards an essay, and/but the essay keeps altering as I write—


Parenthetical: On Neural Transformation:

(One of the things I’ve been reading about recently and am deeply engaged with is the idea of neuroplasticity. The internal reality formed by neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to alter in response to external and internal experience—is not only a mental phenomenon but also a somatic one. The traces in the brain left by experience are associated with particular somatic states, some positive, some negative, some an ambivalent combination of both. Plasticity demonstrates that experience leaves a trace on and influences neuronal networks, modifying the way information is transferred through the brain and body. Experience thus leaves a trace that alters the givens or modifications that have preceded it: this the principle of neuroplasticity.

Bodies Called Forth and Bodies Calling

Part of the reason I’ve decided to write about bodies this month is because I’ve been reading and talking so much about them—in newspapers, online, in books, and with friends and family. The transformations of bodies, the inescapable signifying of different kinds of bodies, the ways those significations might alter, have all been part of these readings and conversations.

Chapter 1: Beginning (Again)

It’s strange to think of a formal beginning in the midst of the continuous alterations—some barely perceptible, some profound—that seem always to unfold at this time of year and in the midst of alterations particular to this unfolding year. In Toronto, the hide-and-go-seek appearing and disappearing of Spring, the feel of the thawing ground yielding against my boots, sap running through the trees, the end of one strike and the possibility of new strikes, book season.

Prologue: Context: Sugaring

Today, the sap is running. It has been, on and off, for the last two weeks. I’ve spent as much of that time as possible a couple hours north of Toronto with family and friends tapping trees, carrying sap, cutting firewood, stoking fires, boiling sap into syrup, and finally bottling it. This is anything but a professional operation. The pleasure began on a Thursday when we bricked the evaporator, also called an “arch,” a “fire box,” an “oven,” and which I, for unconscious reasons, cannot help but call “the kiln”: think of an oil drum cut in half and flipped on its long side. Think of fire bricks, of scoring them with a diamond blade and tapping them apart with a wedge, of fitting them, puzzle style, along the sides of the barrel, and then mortaring them into place.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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