Dylan Riley in Conversation with Jeff Blackman

Dylan Riley: From what I can tell, The Moose and Pussy is based out of Ottawa. I actually spent last summer there, and I can remember a conversation I overheard between two people, one from Toronto and one from Ottawa. The person from Toronto kept asking the person from Ottawa what they were still doing in Ottawa. How do you feel about the idea that Ottawa can get painted as a stopover between two larger cities?
Jeff Blackman: Everywhere's a stopover town. Montreal's a stopover for every Canadian going to Europe.

DR: How do you feel the Ottawa writing scene compares to Montreal’s?
JB: I don't know much about the Montreal scene, beyond what I learned in modernist poetry seminars. A new poetry festival, VERSe, debuted this year. What came of that could be called a reconciliation between the page- and slam-poet communities.

DR: There's a lot of play with spaces, indents, lack of capitalization, and italics throughout your poem “tower defense (or, our love is like 9/11 and I don't want to jump).” What were you looking to accomplish with the form of this poem?
JB: I tend to experiment with rules and forms. "tower defense" comes from a time, about a year and change ago, when I was experimenting with multidirectional poetry, which is a term I may have invented just now. The idea was the reader can jump ahead and skip parts, or at least see a separation of ideas. I also on occasion use breaks and spaces to pace a poem. As for the lack of capitalization, that has to do with a desire to uphold proper nouns and characters above the rest of the words. I admit much of this is nonsense.

DR: What's the intent with the sexual edge to the same poem?
JB: When you're in a relationship, the sort that aims to last, you've got to keep pushing on. That means the sex has to develop, and that means danger, pushing boundaries. For me, those boundaries are articulated in speech. Dirty, dirty speech. In "tower defense" I hoped to express that need to test your lover, especially when that lover is just so damned generous it's unnerving.

DR: On your recommendation I found another poem of yours, “Mario in Koopaland circa Movember.” Why Mario?
JB: A couple summers back I was walking home from a friend's in the rain, heavily influenced by this and that, and I had one of those "take a look at yourself" moments: I saw myself walking hurriedly, umbrella clutched, avoiding eye contact with the locals, and realized: what a two-dimensional character! I'd blown off my old Super Mario Bros. 3 cartridge recently and everything just fell into place. "Koopaland circa Movember" was written more recently, the last day of Movember 2010, when, after muttering to friends, "what fools these mustachioed jocks be," I realized, what a snob I have become!
As for "why Mario? Why keep with him?": ask a random twenty-something to name all seven of King Bowser's "Koopa Kids" and you'll probably get at least four. Ask that same person to name four Canadian poets writing today...well, let's just say I'm happy to write "genius poems" that have a chance for broad appeal. There's too much damned retreat-from-society ethos among poets. Let's at least try to meet the masses halfway, eh?

DR: Are you working on a series of these poems?
JB: These poems aren't all about me being a jerk, but there is definitely a theme of seeing oneself. My initial plan was to write eight solid poems, one for each of the "lands" of Mario 3: Grass Land, Desert Land, etc., ultimately ending in Dark Land. I've had trouble sticking to that, and now, once in a while, I write a Mario poem. A lot of my poems these days that have nothing to do with Mario begin as Mario poems; i.e., I try to express something using symbols and such from the mythology and eventually edit them out.

DR: What about the process of editing the work of other people makes it easier to write your own work? What makes it more difficult?
JB: I've only edited little magazines, like In/Words out of Carleton. What makes a little magazine, for me at least, is personal investment. I guess even newspaper editors of major dailies will write copy one way or another. Editing is, in a form, writing. If I edit your poem I am, in a way, writing a poem, using a palette you defined.
I rather believe [editing] makes writing more complex. Reading so many of my contemporaries is humbling and inspiring. When I suggest/order an edit, I make rules which I live by for a while and then discard.

DR: By your own admission you seem to be having trouble drumming up entries for The Moose and Pussy Short Story Contest. Let’s hear the elevator pitch.
JB: Online magazines, statistically speaking and rounded up, suck. When we had a print magazine we'd get a hundred people submitting for every issue. Online, it's hard to distinguish yourself as widely read, while print magazines are given the benefit of the doubt (there's concrete proof of readership). We only received a dozen or so submissions by our original deadline, and not one compared with the best stories we'd ever published. It wouldn't be right to give fifty smackers for a story in a different universe than some of the classics in our back catalogue. That being said, please submit.

DR: Your website’s "About Us" section certainly leaves a lot to the imagination: “We are transforming. That sound you hear is a car part becoming a vulva.” Care to elaborate?
JB: We should probably update that. We used to put out a big ol' print issue every four months. We're reaching a lot more people as a web magazine. The occasional chapbook or broadside still gets made, but it was a lot of hassle to keep things fresh while worrying about layout, advertisers, launch parties, and the rest of the mess. The trouble now is keeping a strong amount of content and distinguishing TheMoose and Pussy from a million other online mags. Right now we're just seeing, playing it by ear, and trying to avoid a concrete definition of The Moose and Pussy.

DR: Have you started planning out a Halloween costume?
JB: The wife and I might do a gender-bending The Monarch/Dr. Mrs. The Monarch.

DR: How is progress on “Oh, Thank Heavens I’m Back To My Old Self Again!” coming along?
JB: Odourless Press requested a sample of my Mario poems and just put them out under the title "Back To My Old Self" (you can hear me read the sextet on CKCU's Literary Landscapes via Odourless). I've been too busy with school and work to focus on a larger manuscript, but I'm hoping this winter, once I'm done my graduate studies, to put a more regular focus on these poems. In the meanwhile, I'm going to try to get "Back To My Old Self" for sale on the counter at the new Chumleighs used games store that just opened here in Ottawa. I just sold them a pile of games so I think we're on good terms.

DR:  Are you sending work out now? Poetry? Fiction?
JB:  Poetry mostly. Bit of a windfall right now. Going to be in Burner Magazine (online/Toronto) and Nōd (student print/Calgary) this fall as well. Waiting to hear back on a few others.

DR:  Fingers crossed.
JB:  This is the first year in my life I've actually made money off of poetry. (George Johnston Poetry Prize, second place; VERSeFest opening act).

DR:  How do you feel about fees for contest entries?
JB:  So it goes. I've never paid one. Actually, I tried once, but Arc never cashed my cheque, or, presumably, read my poem.

Jeff Blackman
Jeff Blackman

Jeff Blackman co-founded The Moose and Pussy, Canada’s premiere sex-lit mag, with his partner Kate Maxfield and award-winning writers Jeremy Hanson-Finger and Rachael Simpson. Jeff was recently featured by the In/Words reading series and VERSeFest, Ottawa’s multi-genre poetry bash. He’s been banging out poems about maturity and Super Mario Bros. 3 for a project tentatively titled, “Oh, Thank Heavens I’m Back To My Old Self Again!”